A birthday…


Seventeen years ago today, at 7:30 a.m. AST, J was born.  His due date was in mid-February, but the doctor scheduled a C-section two weeks early for reasons not clearly explained to me.  The Great Gonzo had been due in mid-April, but decided to hunker down in my uterus for as long as he could do so without interruption.  In early May, a Black Ops team decided to go in and extricate him…he came out -a swarthy, lusty-voiced, big baby- with his arms crossed and a frown on his handsome face.  He might have been holding a cigar in his hand.  In contrast, J came out in a Zen-like state of bliss; he was the happiest, most placid, fair-skinned, almost red-haired seven-pound baby I’d ever seen.  Life as I knew it had stopped and re-started in a new pattern.

This morning, The Great Gonzo was still at work when I walked into J’s room and greeted him in the usual way.  The response came from under blankets and pillows, and not without a tinge of irritation: “goo norming.  Laht!  BYE!”  I took a step closer to the bed and, bending my knees and forcing my alto closer to soprano, said:  “Happy birthday!”

As if spring-loaded, all 200-plus pounds of J sat up and said: “Habbeeh dirthbeh?”  Yes, I said, TODAY is your birthday.  We’ve been discussing it all week, but TODAY is IT!  I have to admit I expected some sort of fond embrace to mark the occasion and the (not insignificant, judging by the size of the scar) part that I played in it.  Instead, J sprang out of bed and dashed to his closet, giggling as if I’d just told him that Selena Gomez and Katy Perry were waiting to give him a sponge bath.

While J got dressed, giggles bounced off the walls all over the upstairs level.  Dada, dressing for work, said “ah…he knows now, doesn’t he?”  Teeth brushed, bed made, dressed for school (in a thermal striped shirt with a M*A*S*H 4077th t-shirt, cargo pants and his snazzy plaid deck shoes,) J bounced into our room and made every picture dangle on the walls ever so slightly skewed.  Happy birthday, said Dada…the youngest face in the room split side to side with the brightest smile and the loudest giggle we’ve heard in a while.  Giddiness, it seems, was the order of the day.

We bantered with him as he helped with our bed.  We do that, we have conversations that we think would’ve taken place had J not been autistic.  “Can I take the car?  Suzie wants a ride home from cheerleading practice!  Why NOT?  How come The Great Gonzo gets to take the car all the time?  Not fair!  I didn’t ask to be younger!!!!”  J laughed at the deep voice we affect to imitate his, then down the stairs he bounced to get his jacket, giggling all the way.

Yesterday J received a birthday card from his paternal grandparents.  It was a musical card.  “The Chicken Dance Song,” I think.  He opened it, jumped back a bit as he closed it, but then felt a surge of valor that made him open it again: there were $45 inside.  The swiftness of movement, the finely-tuned agility with which he retrieved the money and immediately shut the card was impressive.  I wish I could show it to you in slow-motion.  Out came his wallet and in went the money; this morning I told him he has to leave it at home because I wouldn’t want him to lose it at school and he gave me a look that clearly stated “as if ANYONE would go near my wallet, woman!”  I agree…I wouldn’t want to go for his wallet either; that is why he still has three dollars and two balloons in there.  Yes, balloons…it gives me hope that, if ever the opportunity arises, he will not be against carrying condoms in there.

The last “baby” in the household is seventeen today.  Six-thousand two-hundred and nine days of my life have been marked by his presence.  Roughly 4,700 of those days have been marked by the awareness that J is autistic.  Obla-di, obla-da, right?  There are things that are meant to happen and we have to go along with them if we want to maintain our sanity…

No. 2 pencil marks on matte-finish walls can be easily removed with baby wipes.

Forest Green, Pine Green, Midnight Blue, Maroon, Brick Red, Black crayon markings can be removed with either kneaded rubber or vinyl erasers.

There is a special spot in Purgatory saved for people who make lumpy pancakes…it’s called “the place where the hurl bucket and the mop are kept,” and J will not hesitate to send you there.

The ability of sliced cheese to stick to a wall is commensurate with its cheapness…the cheaper the sliced cheese, the more easily it will attach itself to the wall.

Toasting bread can be a form of entertainment if a child is left to his own devices without firm instructions to NOT TOAST A WHOLE BAG OF SLICED BREAD!

In any argument, J will take The Great Gonzo’s side…even if HE is the one arguing with The Great Gonzo.

Flipping people off with your finger is sign language, and J will learn it and repeat it and then point at you and accuse you of teaching him this.

Always hang your wind chimes inside…they are an alarm system, and J will quickly figure out how to open anything, remove any safety devices installed and hang his ass out a window…always hang your wind chimes INSIDE!

There is no such thing as asking too often and being told “no” too often.  

A 200-plus pound male can be as stealthy as he was when he only weighed 30 lbs., and he will enter your room in the morning and sit on your leg to ask if he can have cereal…regardless of the time.

Children are work.  Some more than others.  You will want to scream some days.  You will wonder “don’t I get a chance to go back to being me?  Isn’t everyone supposed to eventually send them off to live their own lives?”  You will realize that, no, this doesn’t happen to everyone, and you’re one of the ones it doesn’t happen to…

I am now heading upstairs.  I have a cake to bake.  I have balloons to fill up (lung-powered, of course…I can’t find the darned thing one uses to make it easier.  It won’t turn up until tomorrow or the day after.)  I have a slideshow to put together for the kid to watch in his room after we unveil it in the living room…

I feel old today.  I feel seasoned and experienced in ways I never thought possible.  I know things I didn’t know before and which I never suspected would be part of my mental database.  It’s not a bad feeling at all, except for the creaking in my joints and the sense of doom that tells me my time on this Earth is not as lengthy as it used to seem.  I don’t mind the feeling, though…if you look at the fruits of my “labors”…they were both C-sections…

I leave you now…and I go humming to myself from that great old Van Heusen/Burke standard Swinging On a Star:

And all the monkeys aren’t in the zoo
Every day you meet quite a few
So you see it’s all up to you
You can be better than you are
You could be swingin’ on a star 

With all their craziness, boxing gloves, medication, PECS, Rasta hats, humidifiers, athlete’s foot, cartoons, tantrums, crying, frustration, extra weight…the past six-thousand two-hundred and nine days of our family life have been pretty awesome thanks to the J-ness of them.  Not too shabby…not too shabby at all.  😀


Autisme oblige…

My sister tells me via e-mail that I wear her out.  I don’t mean to, really.  This is just the way things are, and I am as willing to admit I have too much of the “perpetual motion” gene in me for my own good.  I try to downplay the goings-on around these parts, but I always come across as some sort of whirling dervish…I wear myself out, too.

Yesterday morning I asked, for the millionth time, if anyone here has any idea of what I do all day.  There were feet shuffling, eyes rolling to the ceiling and shifting suddenly to the side, throats being cleared…and a meek “no, not really” from my husband.  “I know it’s a lot, though,” he added.  I told him, point blank, it isn’t…it seems that way, but it isn’t.  And that is the truth…at the end of the day I usually realize I’ve been mired in trivialities that, regrettably, amount to a lot if they go unattended for too long.  I am the whirling dervish of folderol and all things trifling.

I would love to make everyone think that, after everyone leaves each morning, I take a secret elevator to a secret underground level where I work on my plans to improve mankind.  Not like the Batcave, please…Batman is all gadgets and I tend to break things.  Not like an alternate location to Krypton…or like Aquaman’s underwater residence.  Just a cave where I am able to solve every domestic issue, plan for every domestic contingency, remove every stain caused by even the most harmless-looking substance that could mar any garment.  In this cave I am able to return the sweater that my “helpful” husband shrank when he threw it in the wash after I’d worn it only once and left it on the chair while I went to address some sort of family crisis involving the difference between “pine green” and “forest green” crayons.  This cave holds a treasure trove of protractors, compasses, cardboard sheets, construction paper, no. 2 pencils, white glue, paper cement, dowels, and any other hare-brained request a teacher might make in August and a child might remember at 11:45 P.M. on a Sunday before it is due at 7:35 a.m. on a Monday…without fail!

This cave is equipped to easily produce 36 cupcakes of any flavor, and taking into consideration all the nutritional restrictions and allergies, of the entire population of a grade-school classroom.  This cave is equipped with a sensor that detects when a child is about to say “my mom can do that” in any location within a 200-mile radius and, through telekinesis, will make sure that child’s mouth stays impenetrably closed during the “who wants to volunteer” portion of any interaction with teachers, scoutmasters, den mothers, etc., etc.  I am invincible in this cave.  I can solve anything in this cave.  I don’t have this cave…

Every morning I do the same things: I go through the daily chores and tasks with as much alacrity as I can muster so that I can get all those things out of the way.  I have no desire for perfection; I have no illusions about my “blank canvas” remaining blank.  I am happy when, like morning glories, my family’s presence climbs and curls up and clings to the structure of my everyday existence.  Morning glories are infinitely preferable to Venus Fly Traps, don’t you think?

I am a multi-tasker by necessity, not because I thoroughly enjoy picking things up from the floor with my toes while talking on the phone and folding clothes.  I marinate tonight’s meat while tomorrow’s chicken is slowly defrosting in the refrigerator because I have often realized “oh, shit!  It’s almost five and I forgot the chicken!”  J gets his shave and his face scrubbed in the tub while he bathes because he is contained to one area and won’t protest being interrupted while he’s doing something else to interject something he considers unnecessary.  I schedule certain things for certain days because it’s easier to address them in J’s calendar than to try to persuade him spontaneously.  Yes, sheets are changed on Sunday…if it’s on the schedule NO ONE complains, but heaven forbid I should say on a Wednesday “doesn’t your bed need clean sheets?”

My sister thinks I “wear her out” with my constant activity because I like being recognized for it.  Really?  I want to be known as the lady who has a neat house?  I have a piece of paper hanging on the wall over my desk that reads: dull women have immaculate houses.  Yes, I would rather be in a constant flurry of housewifely activity than watching Gilmore Girls episodes back to back to back while eating popcorn.  My day, as it were, wouldn’t be complete without cleaning the granite countertop (which, by the way, has quickly and incorrigibly become a part of the list entitled “the banes of my existence.)  I wear her out because I have to be focused on Monsieur Autiste once he gets home and that means dragging the menial stuff out of the way (kicking and screaming, by the hair if necessary) so that I am not bogged down by “the friggin’ chicken isn’t defrosted” once J gets here.

I think every mom out there can say she does a million menial things each day.  Once you attach the words “sprinkles,” “gymboree,” “dry cleaners,” “Rasta hat” to anything it’s evident that we’re not up there with Dr. Christian Barnard or Henry Kissinger.  Or…are we?  In the limited scope of our family lives, we ARE the end-all, be-all…  All of us, to one or another degree, solve a crisis each day (and that’s on a slow day,) and try to carve out one second of peace and quiet and individualism for ourselves.

You know the second I mean: the one when you’re not thinking about dinner, laundry, little Annie’s school project, Tommy’s jock strap for Little League, whether that was a frayed edge you noticed on your husband’s shirt when he left this morning, if the car is due for maintenance, did you send the check for lunches, the electric bill, do you have enough groceries to cover you ’til next paycheck, do you have time to squeeze in a little bit of yoga or should you eat those cookies that forgot to put in Mickey’s lunchbox…  I finished my book this morning while the cats were meowing because the milk was too cold for their taste; I ate my leftovers while watching the news (and immediately developed acid reflux because it’s not even February and we have months and months of political campaigning to be drummed into our brains until November…)

I don’t know you…but I’m worn out already…and it’s only Monday.

The best way to guarantee good weather…

After the snow day we had a few days ago, my husband and I opted for buying chains for our car.  We are used to driving in snow and ice as the winters in Santa Fe, NM can be rather dramatic in this sense, but the land there is basically flat.  Here we have to go up and down to rather interesting hills and countless curves to get from home to work and back.

Our van is equipped with a small shovel, a container of ice melt, an extra blanket, a change of clothes for each member of the family, ice scrapers, umbrellas, fire extinguisher, assorted flashlights.  Not a single precautionary measure has been forgotten or deemed too trivial or hyperbolic.  So far this has been a saving grace because Nature has opted to not mess with us…we’re too prepared for it, I guess.

Last weekend it was cold enough for the snow and ice to stick around.  The soundtrack of life at home was the chatter of kids as they moved to the top of the slope and the squealing and screaming as they made their way down in their toboggans.  Everyone was out there…even the kids that seldom play outside.  I would poke my head out from time to time when I heard a louder-than-usual yelp, just in case it was necessary to dig out someone who had landed headfirst into a pile of snow.  Several times we saw kids go across the driveway and into the row of new townhomes across the way.

The chains arrived at our door on Monday.  Much ooohing and aaahing took place and the review was “we’re ready for snow now!!!!”  The weather forecast called for increasing cloud cover, colder weather, rain and, eventually, snow as the week progressed.  Every single weather forecaster we listened to up to yesterday afternoon told us to get ready for some precipitation, and that we shouldn’t be surprised if we woke up today with a dusting of snow on the ground.

Yesterday morning, as we walked into the store with J, heavy drops of icy rain were falling and the clouds seemed to be gathering to the west and heading in our direction.  We found a toboggan that will carry two people and, as it was on clearance, we bought it; last night we put it on the floor in the dining room and we sat in it, pretending to slide down the slope while steering it with the nylon rope attached.  We batted names around and decided to write either Tangerine Dream or Tangerine Machine on the side.  Much discussion has taken place relating to “Machine” being a misnomer as it is propelled by weight and steered by rope.  You’d think we’re naming the next space shuttle.

The sky couldn’t be clearer or brighter today.  There isn’t a cloud to be seen for miles and miles around, and -believe me-  we’ve been looking.  The forecast calls for mild temperatures (in the fifties) and a 60% probability of rain showers on Wednesday.  There is not one flake of snow in the foreseeable future unless an Arctic Express carrying rain from a South East Asian Monsoon has lost its way, track of time and develops a sense of humor.   J has been teasing us with Christmas music, but we can tell he doesn’t really mean it…he’s not expecting weather!  He’s happily dangling the carrot of snow in front of us because we are so thrilled about a plastic toboggan.

That’s what usually happens, isn’t it?  People are coming over and you make sure you have enough appetizers, drinks, napkins…and people aren’t really hungry (you wonder if they just don’t like your cooking,) and don’t stay long enough to drink water or need to dab at their lips.  Weather, it seems, likes to do the same thing.  Where I come from we prepare for hurricanes as if it is 100% certain one will hit.  We follow the weather forecast with such interest that we are made fun of because we’re “prone to panic.”  People shop for dry goods and stock up; women do all the laundry in the house and give their kids really thorough baths; we have batteries in every size and brand, and we check if they’re about to expire (which can be translated to “they’re good ’til this time next year…we need new ones!”)  My husband says “are you going into hurricane mode?” every time winter rolls around because I prepare as if we will be stuck on top of a mountain from October to April, and then the river might be swollen to capacity and the roads blocked…I always think calamity is just around the corner, and I prepare for it.

So, at my behest, we just bought (at least on clearance) a plastic toboggan that, unless it is properly stored in the garage, is likely to become “the thing that falls on the car, people trip on, the cats are buried under” and so forth.  J, thank goodness, will not be tempted to carry it to the top of the stairs and attempt to travel from his room to the kitchen (I know this because it would require more effort than he’s willing to put into the task…but he MIGHT be able to talk his brother into helping!)  We now own a large plastic tray that is such a bright shade of orange it doesn’t really blend in with its surroundings and this will guarantee I will be reminded of its unnecessary (and space-hogging) presence until we get the chance to use it…

I have single-handedly persuaded my family to guarantee the absolute absence of significant snow accumulation until the day when we decide “we’ve never really used that thing so we don’t need to hang on to it any longer.”  Then we will have snow in biblical proportions…

and J will be listening to fake Elvis while laughing at us.


Why we didn’t buy a lottery ticket today…

You know that feeling when something fantastic has just happened and you are so happy, so stunned, so grateful that you are actually calm down to your very core?  Yeah…we feel like that.

This morning, very early, my husband went to pick The Great Gonzo from his 12-hour shift at work; he has finished his probationary period and is now a full-time, permanent employee who, by the by, had an excellent performance evaluation.  That was one level of Cloud Nine…pretty hefty stuff, I must say.  Upon receiving the news my husband said “you should tell your mom…it’ll make her day.”  The Great Gonzo countered with “nah, she’ll just rub in my face the stuff they said about my impressive work ethic!”  Both things happened: my day was made (because The Great Gonzo is a dunderhead as we all know, but he IS -in essence- a very decent person) and I got a jab in about how all our annoying, insistent, relentless drumming into his brain of the importance of being reliable has left its (grudging) mark on him.  There was a lot of eye-rolling and a sweet, bashful smile that tells me he’s proud that he’s a work in progress rather than a lost cause.

And then, of course, we have J.  Where to begin?  My father called early this morning to discuss matters unrelated to our side of the family and, after a little over an hour on the phone, he asked if I’d taken J birthday-present shopping.  I told him it was on the agenda for this morning, along with a trip to the public library, the dry cleaners in the downtown area and the grocery store.  We left the house with Slinky, but without the boxing gloves, and we parked across the street from the library.

For the first time in a looooong time, we looked for books at a leisurely pace, and J even selected a big book about the making of Fantasia, one of his favorite movies.  Once done with that errand, he patiently waited with me as his dad crossed over to the parking lot, left the books in the car and returned to meet up with us.  We walked, again at a leisurely pace, to the next street where we made our way to the dry cleaners, and then we went next door to a new bakery that we’d heard had just opened in town.  J selected a cinnamon roll and we bought a couple more pastries and a baguette, and then we walked back to our car.

After these errands were completed, we drove across town to the department store that J prefers and, in a light drizzle of rain, we made our way in; since this was not a “snack shopping” trip, we moved directly to the areas of the store where J might find items that would interest him for birthday presents.  The Muppet Show Season 2 was his selection, and a DVD of Shirley Temple movies; I will defend this choice by saying that they’ve relentlessly  played a commercial for this on TV and she’s pretty appealing when she’s singing “animal crackers in my soup…,” which makes J laugh.  Not one set of Legos appealed to him, so we moved on through the store at a pace that would indicate our son was quite a his ease.  Winter is but a month old and all the winter outdoor gear is on clearance sale so J selected a toboggan that will hold him and another human being (one who will have to be very, very brave and very, very daring to navigate the slope behind the house with J in tow) for a mere 20 dollars.

There was no demand for snacks and I offered him a treat.  He selected cookies and a soda.  Aside from a few other incidentals, we left the store with very little by way of J-friendly items.  And then…

I asked “is anyone hungry?”  My husband’s eyes opened wide and narrowed to their normal size so quickly a less observant person would have missed the change.  “I…could eat…” he said.  I looked at J and said “let’s go eat.”  Not “let’s go get food.”  Not “let’s go grab something.”  I said “let’s go eat.”

After being married for a while one communicates telepathically.  I could hear my husband’s brain screaming “are you out of your mind, woman????  Is it the hot flashes?  If it’s the hot flashes, we can get you something…I don’t know what, but this is INSANITY!  Where are we going?  What are we doing?  Are you NUTS??????”  Outwardly he seemed calmer when he said (only half in jest) “so…where do you never want to go to again?”

I guess I’ve mentioned before our experience at our favorite Chinese restaurant in Southern California.  They have, since 2001, age-progression photos of J, my husband and I so they can invite us to leave should we ever attempt to eat there again.  Eleven years later, the joke still is “we can take him somewhere…we never want to be allowed into again!”  Hardee-har-har…

I said, quite calmly, the name of our favorite Mexican place.  Horror-stricken, my husband gasped and gripped the wheel…but I remained so cool and collected that he just went with it.  I promised him, once he parked, that I’d reconnoitre and determine how possible this endeavor was…if the place was too full, I’d signal and he could respond with the headlights.  (Yeah…very non-suspicious behavior in post 9-11 America, I know!)  It was still drizzling and the air was getting colder so I walked briskly and determined the line was long enough to warrant a half-hour eating window of opportunity and short enough that I could say “just serve our food in to-go containers, but give me a tray so we can start here.”

We took a table close to the door, the fire extinguisher, a plant and a trash bin.  I explained to the ladies (who know us already because it IS our favorite Mexican joint in town) what I was doing…all eyes opened wide and reverted to normal size quite quickly.  I ordered a plain cheese quesadilla, a Coke bottle (glass…figured it would give J a thrill,) two sodas, a chimichanga and two carnitas tacos.  All dishes include rice, beans, chips and salsa.  We sat down, elevated a silent prayer and started eating…

Fifty minutes later I went back to the counter.  “Did he like his quesadilla?”  “Is he happy?”  “How did it go?”  J ate his quesadilla, part of my rice, some of my carnitas, everyone’s chips and drank his soda calmly, slowly, savoring it…all while clapping, giggling and laughing…  It is our favorite Mexican restaurant for a reason: the food is good…the people are wonderful.  I bought more chips and salsa to bring home.  A collective elevation to Cloud Nine had taken place.  Nirvana, as it were, had been achieved between bites of quesadilla and swigs of Coca-Cola…

Gone seem to be the days of Godzilla tearing through Tokyo while people run for their lives.  Gone seem to be the days when we take a step with trepidation.  I thanked my husband when we got home and sat down to reminisce about the events of the day.  It was not yet two o’clock in the afternoon and we felt as if we’d invented the wheel, found the shores of America, struck gold and oil, discovered penicillin and fired the shot that destroyed the Death Star.  He asked me why I was thanking him (he looked stunned, shocked, relieved, grateful,) and I said “you walked into the restaurant and sat down with both feet under the table.”

Only he understands what I meant by that.  Only other parents who have been through the same crap we’ve been with their autistic kids will know why this is such a big deal…

In a nutshell, my friends…why buy a lottery ticket when you’ve already won?

Resistance to the mess is futile…

Against my better judgment (and fighting my desire to stay in bed,) I got up bright and early and cleaned the house top-to-bottom (literally, I started upstairs and worked my way to the basement level) so the men will have a “blank canvas” to work on this weekend.  The weather forecast puts on teetering on the edge of yucky so I am expecting there will be plenty of opportunities for them to pile books, newspapers, shoes, Legos, cups, discarded sweatshirts and such all over the place, but I am at peace with it because I took pictures and I will always have the memory of this neat house I’m in right now.

Yes, they’ll help pick up.  They are not cavemen, my men…but it’s never as neat and clean and fresh as when I’ve done it myself.  Perhaps, yes, this is anal retentive of me, but I feel very satisfied that I know where everything is right now because by six o’clock we’ll be back to normal.

We have someone working a 12-hour shift tonight so the evening will be spent just J, Dada and I, and we’ll probably be told -in no uncertain terms- that our company is neither wanted nor welcome so we might just end up reading or watching a movie.  Today I had the audacity of organizing J’s movies (because a mountain of DVDs is not anyone’s idea of “accessible”) and I’m certain this will ruffle some feathers; J LOVES it when his room is neat as a pin because, once he’s done protesting about it, he can put it back the way it was except for the layer of dust that he will have to labor to collect on every surface…

I discovered, while cleaning the boys’ bathroom (boys…fool…those are NOT boys, not even the one with the boxing gloves and the Maxim calendar on his wall) I discovered that they have more hair products than hair, that the same people who are always looking for the nail clippers in my bathroom have all the nail clippers in theirs, that there is a very distinct imaginary line drawn on that countertop separating J’s mess from his brother’s mess.  The only thing they agree on is the Peanuts shower curtain.  While one always misses the laundry basket, the other one puts his dirty clothes in all but folded.  I turned around and both their bedroom doors were open…the distinct imaginary line marks their territory as clearly as the wall between their rooms does.  For all of J’s mess, it is NOTHING in comparison to his brother’s; I dare anyone to go into that bedroom without a pith helmet and machete.

Before moving cross-country I weeded out so many things we didn’t need that I am surprised to still have as much stuff as we do.  My rule of thumb was “don’t need, don’t want, don’t keep.”  The kitchen stuff I packed in a plastic bin because “I’ll need it sooner or later” became the stuff that is still sitting in that plastic bin and will soon be sent to the shelves in the garage.  Almost six months after moving in, I am still trying to find a better way to organize the hallway closet because our oldest insists that a whole shelf has to reserved for First Aid Equipment (you’d think he has a defibrillator up there) and all the medication that we have for colds, upset stomachs, rashes, and such.  Do we need a soft cast?  Really?  Isn’t that like inviting doom?  This is the house where if you look tired, a certain someone will take your blood pressure and ask when you last ate.  J sometimes fakes symptoms just to keep his brother entertained; perhaps he remembers the days when they’d go through a whole box of band-aids and walked around looking like low-budget mummies.

Today I came into contact with stuffed toys, action figures, DVDs, CDs, photo albums…the morning went by in a flurry of “THIS is where THAT had been left!  Huh!”  People will come home (or wake up) to discover all their socks are in matching pairs, the spice and herb rack is alphabetized (it makes cooking a lot quicker and more efficient, ok?,) the recycling has been sorted, the trash has been taken out, the laundry has been folded and neatly put away.  A collective groan will fill the air, punctuated here and there by “where did you FIND this?  I’ve been looking for this!,” and then the complaining will resume.  J will look around his room with something akin to despair, and then -surreptitiously- he will start moving things so that his mess starts looking more like its usual self.  The Great Gonzo will complain that all the hair products are in the bottom drawer and that he is the one who uses the brightening-whitening toothpaste not the minty-fresh, and my husband, bless him, will leave his socks in his shoes and say “I’ll throw them in with the dirty stuff later.”

Why did I do it?  Why did I go room by room cleaning the whole house?  Why did I dust and wipe and polish and sweep and refresh and air out and gather and store?  Why did I invest an entire morning using every cleaning product I own and making sure the pillows were fluffed and the ceiling fans cleaned?  Because I was feeling lazy, because winter is getting to me and I don’t want to turn into a lump of me while the weather goes on outside.  That and I relish a clean house that suddenly becomes occupied by the usual suspects with their noises, their messes, their smells (yes, they smell…some sweeter than others.)  By six o’clock the house will smell like pizza and dirty socks and sneakers, like shampoo and deodorant and wet towel.  By six o’clock J’s music will be tumbling down the stairs, ebbing and flowing as he opens his door, the jingle of the bell on his doorknob interrupting the melodies; I will hear the wood floors creaking, the giggles traveling through the air vents, The Great Gonzo singing in the shower and my husband knocking things over in the kitchen (thirteen years and as many coffee makers in that time…always a clatter somewhere here.)

Today is Mozart’s birthday and I’ve been cleaning with music streaming all over the place…it has all been very calm and happy and, well, lonely.  J’s birthday is next Tuesday!  The last baby I’ll ever have is going to be seventeen, is 5’9″ and has a rather substantial mustache (the picture you see on my page is from his fourteenth birthday…)  This weekend I had to start from scratch…savor their arrival, the way they weave themselves into the fabric of the house…

The canvas is blank and I feel like clapping my hands while saying “the painters are coming!  The painters are coming!”



The Birthday Present Conundrum…

We’ve been sitting around shooting ideas into the air, our own interpretation of Professor Henry Higgins and Colonel Hugh Pickering dejectedly waiting for Eliza Doolittle to nail “the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”  Again!  It hardly seems possible that three fairly-intelligent, fairly-competent, fairly-inventive adults cannot come up with one single, solitary idea that might drum up more than “meh” enthusiasm for J’s birthday.  The dancing girls were ruled out for fear that whatever agency looks after children’s welfare might target us for indecency…and since J cannot drive, any vehicle propelled by anything other than his feet is flat out.

Zumba anyone?  That’s about as exciting an idea as we’ve come up with, and -truthfully- it’s pretty lame.  Yes, he might be into it, but then we’d ALL have to join in and, quite frankly, there are knees in this house old enough to creak when we sit…adding Zumba to them is not advisable.  We DO have the hospital less than two miles away, and the orthopedics department is first-rate, but I’m not in the mood for replacement of any joint, thank you…

We are trying to think of what a seventeen year-old would want.  Our oldest immediately said “a car!”  Yes, of course…NOT HAPPENING!  His next suggestion?  “NOT CLOTHES!”  Yeah, we figured that much out by ourselves, thanks.  There are more “nos” on the list than “maybes.”  There is a definite “yes” on a Lego set, but that’s because it serves a purpose…there are skills to be honed in that present.  This makes the choice a definite “yes” and tremendously “lame.”

When we sat around over pancakes last night (yes, it was Breakfast Night in our household,) we figured that we all wanted money when we were J’s age.  He has a wallet that has been holding the same amount of money since I put it in there six months ago…do we add more to it?  Do we get him a card of the sort that has a peephole so he can see a President’s face peeking at him?  Certainly not a musical card…

We had an acquaintance who, regardless of our ample reminders of J’s hypersensitive hearing, insisted on getting him a musical birthday card every single year.  It didn’t matter how carefully we monitored the situation, she always managed to sneak the card to J when one of us wasn’t there to supervise.  We were usually drawn to the room by sounds that indicated “Animal” from The Muppets and “The Monster” from Young Frankenstein had had a rather rowdy baby and it was screaming and stomping on a musical card that sounded increasingly less musical.  “Oh, he’s so sweet!  Look!  He likes it!,” the clueless female would say while J ran away to the safety of a greeting card-less location.  Whatever money or gift card had been included in the envelope would then become rei non grata and J wouldn’t want it in his wallet.

How wise is it to give “money” to a person who has no concept of its value?  We’ve explained to J, over and over, what money is, how much it can acquire for him, but it’s hard to make this set of ideas stick when money isn’t as valuable as it used to be and it buys less than it formerly did.  Try to explain “oh, look!  It’s on SALE!” to a kid who doesn’t yet have full understanding of the concept of “buying.”  Yes, he knows we don’t walk out of stores without paying, but he thinks it’s because of the loud thing that screeches at the door rather than because it would be wrong to do so…so we can give him money, the likely scenario is that it will sit in his wallet keeping the other money already in there company.

Yes, he has a bank account, and we COULD put the money in there, but how much fun was it when -at seventeen- your parents or grandparents said “here’s some money for your savings account?”  Between that and “here, I bought you some underwear” it’s hard to determine which one was less appealing.

We’d take him to the movies, but Beauty and the Beast has been re-released in 3D for reasons incomprehensible to us. Why everything has to be 3D these days is beyond me.  Yes, there is a market for it out there, but people with disabilities (and their forty-something parents) are sometimes disconcerted by the added accoutrements of 3D.

So we are leaning towards the Zumba for the Wii (along with some calcium pills for the elderly people in the household,) a popcorn machine (because the uncooked rice I spilled on the shag carpeting last week is feeling lonely,) or a waffle maker (because J likes anything having to do with being in the kitchen.)

Teenagers are difficult stuff, aren’t they?  And that’s when they speak and give opinions; imagine what it’s like when they don’t because they can’t!  A stock-market ticket on the forehead would be nice.  A dartboard or a spinning wheel Iwith images of objects that appeal would be, perhaps, helpful.  Nodding or shaking of the head as I mention items would work, maybe?  Interpretive dancing a la Isadora Duncan would be awesome…and entertaining.  Any hint, not reliant on the usual shopping habits of a certain young man who goes by the (abridged) name of J, would be most welcome.

The truth of the matter is that J has become his own person and we’ve been keenly observing this all along, but there are parts of him that he keeps to himself, teasing us with a “wouldn’t you just love to know!” attitude.  I understand how this would be appealing to him because it makes US more entertaining in his eyes.  Admit it: you would think it’s a hoot if I walked around playing Twenty Questions while you smile at me like the Mona Lisa.  That’s what J does…he smiles at me with the benevolent and mysterious smile of Da Vinci’s Gioconda…no wonder he likes that Shawn Colvin song You and the Mona Lisa.  Well, I’ll be darned…

The kid got me…yet again!  😀




A comfort object by any other name…

Yesterday I mentioned a certain Herman the Pet Rock.  I’d like to point out that, from the age of eleven, Herman was to me what Slinky is to J.  Yes, I eventually outgrew him…when I was about fourteen.

Herman the Pet Rock was delivered to me by my oldest brother who, perhaps in an altered state of consciousness, dropped a quarter in a prize machine and received for his trouble a clear-plastic acorn with a pet rock and a short bio in it; I don’t know many 21 year-olds with the IQ of a genius who would find any use for a pet rock.  Unceremoniously -and uncharacteristically as he’s never particularly nice to me- he handed me the clear-plastic acorn and thus a friendship (one-sided, of course) was born.

I carried Herman in my school uniform pocket and, in moments of anxiety, I’d slip my hand into that pocket and hold on to Herman for dear life.  Puberty had arrived for the entire population of my grade…and my school, but it was taking its sweet time finding me so I was tremendously awkward and ill-equipped to socialize with all the other living creatures surrounding me.  Not even the boys were as excited as I was about Star Wars!  I, on the other hand, well…I stood in line with my dad, dressed in my brother’s hand-me-down jeans, a pair of Keds and a Miami Dolphins t-shirt I’d had since 1972 waiting to buy tickets for the first show…nary a classmate in sight.  I was a dork, a nerd, a geek…and Herman was my Slinky.

I worry about J’s ability to fit into the world with as little anxiety as possible, of course.  Every day I go about my business wondering, at the back of my mind, if he’s having a good day, if he’s enjoying his activities, if he’s not anxious to an intolerable or unmanageable degree.  I wonder about these things as we walk home from the bus, while I’m carrying on my monologue and he is either smiling, squinting, giggling, grimacing, shrugging or keeping a neutral expression on his handsome face.  Sometimes, before I open the comm book, I try to ascertain what kind of a day he’s had by the state of his clothes: he had spaghetti for lunch or too much ketchup on his fries; he painted!; he helped mix the dog biscuit batter; he used markers; that’s glue; he ate Doritos; he had a bit of a tiff and cried because J’s the type of person who doesn’t look ethereal and beautiful when he cries (much like his mother…)  When I open the comm book (if it hasn’t been an overwhelmingly busy day) some of the blanks are filled in, and I know that J will find a way to “regulate” the day’s events through his music selections as soon as he reaches his room.

As we approach each and every tiny milestone (hey, sometimes they’re more like “inchstones”,) I realize that J is definitely maturing and that things are developing in ways I never dared hope.  For one: the shoe box is totally working; J not only respects the contents of the box, he actually has figured out he needs to pace himself or the box will be empty and not replenished until the next day.  He is not being starved, don’t worry; he gets his mac and cheese snack (which is about 3/4 cup of the veggie-smart variety,) his crackers, a very small soda, a cup of cereal and a small serving of pretzels.  He eats his meats and, hopefully, veggies at dinnertime and has realized that the meat serving is the size of his fist (lucky, big-fisted dude!,) the “white” stuff is the size of his fist flattened out, and the veggies are the size of his open hand.  So far he’s not really into the veggies, but we’re really working on it and being patient.

The boxing gloves are remaining in the basket at the foot of the stairs from the moment he gets home to the moment he decides to go to sleep.  They no longer are an absolute necessity when he goes out to the store, and we feel this is a huge amount of progress.  I’ve wondered if I should just offer him a rugby ball to carry around in lieu of the boxing gloves, but I guess that’s something that should be left up to J to decide.  We get the World Rugby Shop catalog in the mail so I might make that suggestion one of these days, when he looks receptive.

A creature of habit, J has learned a few new ones.  He still goes for the first piece of underwear in the basket when he gets dressed in the morning.  Because we do laundry every day and every day it gets put away, it’s usually the same piece of underwear.  I felt compelled to send a note to the teacher: “please, be advised that J always grabs the same piece of underwear from his basket.  He has at least 20 pieces of underwear in the basket, in various colors, but he always grabs the same one.  It’s clean.  EVERY DAY it’s clean.  Thank you.”  On my list of “things to do today” is dumping the whole basket on the floor and having him re-fold and re-store his undies…I’m sure he’ll put the same pair on top when I’m not looking.

(If you are wondering HOW he ends up with the same one when we do laundry every day, keep in mind that J changes into his jammies when he gets home and has a strict self-imposed “no underwear with jammies” rule.  I asked my husband and my oldest if this is OK and “normal.”  I’ve been told that it’s not just OK and normal, it’s also very comfortable and liberating.  The look on their faces gave me the impression that I had just asked the most amazingly stupid question in the history of woman’s interaction with man.  Excuse me, I don’t have that sort of stuff dangling so I couldn’t possibly KNOW, could I?)

So, yes, Herman the Pet Rock was eventually sent to the shoe box where I kept all my treasures (baseball cards, Bazooka Joe jokes, mood ring, cigar paper rings, bottle caps, marbles, pictures of Harrison Ford torn from Tiger Beat magazines dressed as Han Solo and Indiana Jones, love letters, decoder rings, The Clash and Elvis Costello buttons, my First Communion prayer book…) as a sort of depot from where said shoe box was sent to oblivion.  Maybe that’s what will happen to Pinky and Red (who still sit on J’s shelf, staring at everything like shell-shocked victims of his childhood,) to whatever generation of Slinky he carries, to boxing gloves, Rasta hats, rugby helmets.

Next door, in a room with Led Zeppelin and Cowboy Bebop decorating the walls, Don Corleone stills and quotes, high school acting awards and an action figure of Kiefer Sutherland pointing his weapon at terrorists in 24, sleeps Mr. I-Drink-Rum himself, with Chompers the T-Rex hand-puppet from Jurassic Park 2, a “friend” he’s relied on heavily since 1997…  There’s another kid who’s not as fierce as he wants to look!!!

I wonder what Herman is doing now…