If you choreograph it well, it’s not a fight…it’s a dance…

I’ve long suspected that J can read.  I am now suspecting that he has read The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli and George Carlin’s entire literary output.  The kid’s sense of humor and his ability to negotiate and counter our logic get sharper with each passing day.  If you throw in several loops of Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down and you’ve got J…in a nutshell.

Yesterday we were at an impasse for about ten minutes.  There was some growling, squealing, hands smacking against each other, fingers drumming on temples and a foot being stomped for about two minutes.  And that was just me.  J wasn’t happy either, but we somehow (miraculously?  Should I call The Vatican’s Miracle Hotline again?) got through it.

We have two timers we use for J’s hats.  The regular, run-of-the-mill egg timer that ticks the time away and announces it’s done with a jarring ring, and the digital timer that silently ticks the time away and can be easily cleared with the touch of a button.  The red timer goes only up to an hour while the digital one can be set for up to 99 minutes.  Guess which one J stealthily cleared yesterday while I was in the basement?  It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?

Now, allow me to explain that I don’t mind his clearing the timer.  I think J is the best judge of when he needs his hats back and I am willing to listen to his request for a cessation of hatless-time.  This is not a contest in which the victor gets his/her way and parades his/her success with a rather loud “neener-neener” attitude.  The process of segueing into longer periods of hatlessness is a learning process; it’s not about one of us getting our way and period.  (Hatlessness, by the way, has become part of our vernacular even though it isn’t a word at all…as attested to by the red squiggle of “misspelling” that underscores it on my screen.)

As I said yesterday, we are NOT trying to make J less autistic or less J…we are trying to introduce viable alternatives.  Sneaking behind my back and fixing the timer surreptitiously is not a viable alternative.  Telling me he wants his hat back in a polite and reasonable manner, on the other hand, is acceptable and encouraged.  Ergo: when I walked up the stairs (fully aware that there were 40 minutes left on the timer when I’d gone downstairs) and realizing that J was standing there with his hats on all askew and the digital timer was affixed magnetically to the refrigerator door, I knew something was afoot.  J gave up the game when he tried to rush upstairs saying BYE in a high-pitched voice.


I could almost hear the brakes screeching.  His face fell.  He emitted a sound under his breath that was, quite obviously, an expletive, and turned around slowly to face me.  “Hats,” I said calmly, pointing at the counter.  Then we went into a cycle of “wah-WAAAH” and hand-slapping, finger-drumming…etc…  Not only was he sneaking off after having turned off the timer, he had COOKIES with him.  That was IT!  With my other hand I pointed at the “kitchen island” (ok, it’s a chrome shelf with a wood top attached to it…sshhh) and made him put the cookies down.

More hand-slapping, finger-drumming and wah-waaahing ensued.

I wonder if this is how diplomats are trained.  I wonder if this is what Signora Machiavelli had to put up with when little Niccolo was a wee tot.

I took both timers and put them on the counter while J continued his emoting.  I was so calm you would’ve thought I’d gone deaf and lost all peripheral vision.

“J!”  He looked up at me, his hands red and his face scrunched up in an expression that indicated he was not amused.  “YOU TURNED OFF THE TIMER.”  I said and signed this, and he kept looking at me with his thunderous expression.  “I don’t mind if you do that, BUT you can’t just turn it off and NOT tell me.”  The thunder became more distant…rumbling beyond my line of sight.  “If you want your hats back, you have to ask.  You have to tell me you’re FINISHED and PLEASE.”

Another brief spat of rebellious hand-slapping, finger-drumming, wah-waaahing…  “J!”  He stopped.  “We are putting this timer for a half-hour hatless period.”  Thunder became “HUH?!  You’re joking, right????”  A light-as-a-feather wah-waaah issued from J’s lips.  COOKIE?  “About that…you can’t just SNEAK the cookies and hat.  You either GET the cookies OR the hat, and you have to ASK!”

I saw more than heard the expletive.  And then I saw that he knew what I was saying.  I WANT COOKIE PLEASE.  I gave him the cookies (2 small ones) and the timer.  He turned it to 30 minutes and we marched downstairs to watch some Disney Channel show.  The timer ticked away as the hats waited for the head they perch on in clear view of J.  Half an hour later, the jarring ring announced time was up and, quite politely and calmly, J turned around and asked for his hats.  They were returned to him.

At dinner, the hats came off and the timer (the tic-tic-tic one) was placed where J could clearly see it as he ate.  When he was done with dinner, he excused himself, and went (hatless) up to his room.  The timer rang in due course and J, entertained by what he was doing, didn’t even notice.  He got his hats back as soon as he was done with his bath.

We aren’t trying to get rid of the hats if J wants to keep wearing them.  What we are trying to do, and I suspect we are slowly succeeding, is trying to show the kid that he can give a little and get a little in return.  I suspect he is feeling less dependent on the hats when we’re not watching him.  I feel confident in this fact because this morning he had a luxuriously fluffy head of hair when I went in to say good morning.  I’d heard him tinkering around in his room during the night, and -because of the state his mane was in- I suspect he was hatless; it usually takes some manual fluffing to take away the “I’ve been sleeping with a scrum cap on” look.

Signora Macchiavelli never had it this good…


3 thoughts on “If you choreograph it well, it’s not a fight…it’s a dance…

  1. In my own obsessive way, I had to stop half-way through your post and Google “hatlessness.” How can this not be a word?! Then I realized that I was missing the big picture, so I returned to reading your post. And I’m glad I did.

    • Trust me: I would have checked if the word was real, too. Furthermore, being bilingual, there are days when my Spanish is more prominently “connected” than my English and I KNOW I’m spelling something correctly, but I still see it and it looks “wrong.” Does that make sense?

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