Developmental Dilemma: What To Keep

Part of me thinks that no one should ever have to outgrow Toy Story.

Part of me thinks that no one should ever have to outgrow Toy Story.

Ever since the 18th birthday earlier this spring, I’ve been in a state of emotional turmoil. It’s only a slight exaggeration. Now I try to make some sense of a teenager’s room that runs the gamut from Winnie-the-Pooh to Scooby Doo with everything in between. It’s a collector’s dream and a parent’s nightmare. I’ve learned the hard way that throwing the wrong thing out means I will be hounded eventually to replace it – it could be five weeks or 5 years from now, just long enough to make what cost me $1.99 in 2003 now cost $67.99 on Ebay today. I know parents who have purged their house of everything Thomas and Pixar to help their kids become adults but my problem is that I really am loath to replace Toy Story with the Man of Steel. To me, that’s just another kind of arrested development. More importantly, he’s not interested in that stuff – he sleeps soundly through superhero movies on a regular basis. He loves what he loves.

IMG_4800And the books. Which ones will he ever read? How can we know what will prove useful or interesting, just by waiting patiently for him to notice the ones placed where he sees them every day? To get rid of the easy readers seems mean, to get rid of the more advanced books seems pessimistic.

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Will he look beyond the action figures to the books behind them? Maybe.

Downstairs are the bins of paperwork that requires filing or tossing – one for school, one for insurance, one for general ASD stuff, one for transition, one for keepsakes and artwork that show developmental progress, or the lack thereof. But I only end up weeding things out I know are redundant – I just don’t know when a school or a court will need to see what we have and I’m afraid to get rid of something that could be a key piece of evidence of … I don’t know. And every bin or toys or papers brings a flood of memories and emotions that don’t want to stay on the shelf where I keep them. I am trying so hard to focus on the future that sifting through the past seems like a bad idea just now.

So I guess I’ll stick with The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music – at least they are live action – and wait a bit longer for the moment when we can at least move some stuff up to the attic. And we will know soon enough what schools, doctors, agencies and lawyers require and then, maybe then, we can let go of at least some of the past.

Remember Cats versus Dogs? They’re all in here.

The April 15 Post That Wasn’t

IMG_4098I was almost ready to publish a post on April 15. I just needed to load the fox photo. But I had an appointment, and on the way home the news on the radio changed everything. Bombs going off in my adopted city on a street I used to traverse every day. I’m still processing  the bombing and all that happened in the days after – me and millions of others. So, after today’s moment of silence I returned to the post I wrote on that day, a day that was already profound for me, even before 2:50pm.

A Different Kind of Marathon.

April 15. Boston Marathon Day. Tax Day. Halfway Point in Autism Acceptance Month.

SONY DSCI bailed on posting every day this month, obviously. Priorities change, and with so many people saying so many things about autism, if I am going to add to the noise it had better be worth it. But on this marathon day there is something to be said about the value of pacing yourself when facing the long haul of parenting. I’ve been following a thread online in which parents share their strategies for separating from their kids for personal time, shoring up their marriages, and finding ways to talk about things that aren’t autism (it’s harder than you think). That conversation follows a number of pieces I’ve read lately in the mainstream media where people without children feel the need to weigh in on the foibles of those who do have children. Too much time on your childless hands, Mr. Bruni? If people without kids are irked by people who talk about their kids a lot, imagine the pique in those who find themselves surrounded by the misplaced angst of parents struggling with sports team playing time or ivy league SAT requirements. And it’s not so much pique really as it is having absolutely nothing to add to such conversations. It makes a better listener and people watcher out of me, for sure, but as the years go by whatever skill I had for small talk sort of waxes and wanes with wherever we are with our boy. Sometimes it seems to have atrophied and I almost don’t trust myself at parent functions for my typical children anymore because the urge to say something truly inappropriate (but funny, I assure you) is almost overwhelming. It’s like the vegan invited to an event at a steakhouse – just because the parameters of your life are different you don’t get to ruin it for everyone else. If it bothers you that much, stay home, right? Wrong. Choose events wisely, but go, and bring your empathy with you.

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So, I left writing this post to do work things and then I checked back on the parenting thread I was talking about, and was validated and educated by what I read there. People have made some hard choices to keep balance in their lives and create independence for their children. It made me think, and so I went and sat in the rare spring sun to contemplate the long-term plan. Out of nowhere (kind of) appeared the boy. He wrapped his arms around my head, kissed it and said, “Are you worried about something?” He wedged himself into the chair with me, leaned his head on my shoulder, and twirled the hair at the nape of my neck with his fingers the same way he did as a toddler. I couldn’t answer him. We heard a door open – saved by the Dad, taking a break from work. We scrambled upstairs and while I crossed the room to talk to Dad, the boy looked past us out the window and pointed (now he points!):

“Baby foxes!” He spotted them – four in all – scampering about, camouflaged almost perfectly against the oak and maple leaves. We would have been too preoccupied to notice, but we found ourselves checking in on them all day as they wrestled and napped, waiting for Mom to come back to the den that sits just up the hill from our house.

He feels ahead of me, he sees beyond us. We have a lot of thinking to do.

Today is National Siblings Day. Isn’t Every Day? Okay, Maybe Not.

SONY DSCWho thought this day up? Hallmark? Well, it’s a good excuse to sift through the photos, and it’s amazing how hard it is to find a photo that includes everyone that captures the spirit of our brood and still preserves some privacy. I think I found it.

Siblings of autistic children don’t have it easy, and we do our best to recognize their challenges and build some rewards into the process of accommodating the necessary quirks of life with autism. Remember my movie post earlier this week? Access to movies, screens and electronic devices like iPods is exponentially greater in our house than it would have been without autism (I think). We’ve made more trips to the beach, given more nods to everyone’s food preference (a special diet for one person demands more flexibility for everyone, sometimes), and we’ve tried, not always successfully, to give everyone the spotlight at time when they wanted it (sometimes they don’t).

The hardest thing so far is giving each child space from the others when they need it to create their own identity. Sometimes it’s difficult for ASD people with a developmental delay or cognitive impairment to see a younger child grow past them, as it were. And siblings are not always diplomatic in creating the separation that’s necessary for them to grow up. It’s hard to do and hard to watch; everyone involved experiences frustration, anger and hurt. It’s typical for all families to go through this, but as parents it is much harder to keep ourselves from intervening than we expected – we are so invested in the idea of inclusion that we have to remind ourselves that our children need to prepare for a life apart from each other. If we give them the space they need now, we hope the bonds they forged when they were young will stay strong after the angst of adolescence has passed. That’s the idea, anyway.

Rocking Autism Awareness

Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear

Many high schools in our area have a big rock on which students advertise the latest fad, inside joke, or activity. They scamper in after hours and paint the rock, and this week some of our enterprising seniors painted it up blue. It’s touching. Still, all I can hear in my head is the voice of Charlie Brown on Halloween night as he looked in what was supposed to have been his bag of candy and moaned, “I got a rock.”

Ten Years On: Revisiting the Magic Pebble

This is an essay I wrote before blogging was invented, composed for someone who was our first magic pebble. I posted it a few years ago on LettersHead, but here is clearly where it belongs. This is for you, K.

We used to read William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble every night.  It’s the story of Sylvester Duncan, a young donkey that finds a magic red pebble, and, faced with a fierce lion on his way home, Sylvester panics and turns himself into a rock.  His frantic parents look all over for him, but give up in despair after a month of searching.  They are reunited a year later when his parents lay out a picnic on the rock that is Sylvester, and happen to find the red pebble and put it on the rock.  Sylvester wishes successfully to be himself again and they all go on happily with their lives, saving the pebble for a time when they may need something more than to be together as a family.

Whenever I read this story to our children, I find myself identifying with various characters in the story.  On some days, I am the mother and W. is Sylvester, hidden in the stone of autism, wanting to get out but locked in the by the spell of the pebble.  We are Mr. and Mrs. Duncan, haplessly eating lunch on the rock, wondering how we can possibly go on with our lives when the fate of our son is such a complete mystery to us.  On some nights, the story in my head ended there, with W. still trapped inside the rock.

There are more dramatic versions.  There’s the Harry Potter version where Sylvester the Dobby rock starts hurling itself around, crashing into people and things, a possessed bludger that no petrifying spell can stop.  The wayward rock eventually wears itself out, but only after leaving most of the Duncans’ town of Oatsdale beaten and bewildered.  Mr. and Mrs. Duncan split a bottle of dandelion wine and dream of summer on the beach.

Occasionally, I am Sylvester, trapped inside the rock, wondering how I got there and wanting only to sleep to forget how I got myself into such a spot.  The world moves around me, the people and seasons come and go but because I am a rock and I don’t look like myself no one knows I am there.  I am inches from the magic pebble that will set me free, but I am helpless to touch it or even be sure that it is there.  My parents are gone.  I cannot be rescued the way Sylvester was; there is no one to rejoice over my return so perhaps it doesn’t matter whether I am a rock or not.  But just as I warm to my mid-life crisis, I am touched by my magic pebble – it is W., reaching with two fingers to push up the sides of my mouth to make me smile.  And it is M., with a smooch that could bring the hardest granite to life.  And A., too, working her own magic just by reading her own book on the floor next to us.

And there are magic pebble days, days in which someone or something brings our beloved W. back to us.  On these days the story ends just as it should; the boy I see and the person he is inside are one and the same and we inhabit the same world.  The magic is the love we share, in his friends, in the water and sand of the beach, and in the people who work so hard to make the world understandable to him and to make him understandable to us.  These are the best days of all, and as the years go by there are more and more of them, and that is a miracle I don’t need a book to help me understand.