Life…with a grain of salt…or we might as well just salt the rim of a glass

Why, oh why, oh why?

Early morning calls from the school are becoming par for the course.  J complaining and being irascible in the background are par for the course.  That there is no clear antecedent to all this is par for the course.  That we can’t seem to figure out why this is happening is par for the course.  Not only are we STUMPED, we’re pretty fed up with the whole thing.

J loves school.  J looks forward to school like plants look forward to the sun shining.  J wants to go to school.  J enjoys school.  Apparently, J wants to go to school so he can have the opportunity to wreak some sort of havoc every morning.  If that’s how he’s rolling these days, someone’s going to have to stop that boulder…

It’s rather clear that, as it was for Sisyphus, rolling that boulder up the hill isn’t working.  The darned thing keeps rolling back.  So we have to find a way to wedge the rock in place…at the top of the slope.  Anyone here in the mood to reinvent the wheel?  It sure seems like that’s what we’re gearing up for!!!

This all is happening at a time when we thought we’d be reducing J’s med once more.  We were sure that, once he got settled into his routine at school, we’d be ready to go down to .50 mg of Risperidone a day from .75 mg.  I’m not sure that’s happening next week when we go to see the doctor.  In fact, I’m going to have to tell the doctor that, in fact, J seems to be reverting to SIB when he’s at school.  Not at home…at school.  For a short period of time almost every single morning, J is basically trying to rule the roost and keep his classroom hostage.  Why?  This is the question that is gnawing at me…and gnawing…and gnawing…

The worst-case-scenario for this is J is going back to having behavioral issues that are slowly escalating until our life becomes Hell all over again.  I don’t think (in spite of how hard I try to be pessimistic) that this is the case.  I think something, or someone, at school is creating an antecedent that we haven’t been able to pinpoint yet.  Mind you, it’s not that I think anyone is triggering J by whispering at him, but -perhaps- someone has had a reaction that has been “pleasurable” to him.  Someone, maybe, did something during an outburst that he found satisfying, funny, soothing, encouraging…and he now is trying to replicate that.  Or…

Bear with me here because, in spite of this not sounding logical, there is a shred of a chance that it’s what J is doing.  What if (a big IF) J is simply trying to find an antecedent that is easy, no-fuss, consistent so that he can resort to it when he wants something.  J is, perhaps, trying to simplify his process?

This morning, while on speakerphone with J and his teacher, I could hear him making all the usual noises that indicate a meltdown is underway.  I asked him to use his iPad to talk to his teacher, and he did.  He’s not initiating this.  He’s not resorting to his iPad to access the words he needs without prompting.  This, to my mind, is part of the problem.  And that part of the problem, I think, is an offshoot of adolescence, not of Autism.

Adolescence: the bane of every parent’s existence.  They say into every life a little rain must fall.  Well, adolescence is a flood of biblical proportions, and whatever umbrella or raft we think is good enough for the situation will prove mediocre when it comes to this phase in life.  In our case, with J being developmentally disabled, we don’t need a raft or an umbrella…we need a freight ship and a water-repellent geodesic dome.  We are dealing with a nearly-nineteen year-old body of sizable heft, and much younger mind.  At home, for some reason, the lines are clearly drawn and he’s handling this with grace, but at school???  This has become “our daily bread.”

I am trying to stay focused on what needs to get done, but the main problem with that approach is that I’ve yet to figure out WHAT needs to get done.  J is a creature of habit, comforted by routine and clear expectations.  At home this is working beautifully, but at school – in spite of the fact that HE establishes the chain of tasks for himself – this is not working.  As I said: it’s almost as if J creates a list of things that will displease him so he can externalize his dissatisfaction and reflect it on someone else through SIB.  This kind of emotional terrorism is unfair to all adults concerned, and all his classmates and to himself.  I know that acid reflux has become a possibility during each and every school day.

Take right now, for instance.  About twenty minutes ago the phone rang, and the Caller ID indicated it was from the main number at school.  I answered immediately, of course, but there was no one there.  I said HELLO?  HELLO?  for 21 seconds before calling the school back.  Constant busy signal on two tries.  That was when I tried his teacher’s cell number.  No answer.  I bounced up the stairs and dialed the cell number for the kindly assistant principal who said to call him if I needed anything.  I identified myself and explained that J had had a “rough patch” this morning (because who wants to say “he was being horrible and demanding,” right?) and I’d just had a call from the school but no one spoke.  “I will call you back,” he said after informing me that he was heading to the classroom to check.  Still no word.

Now, it may seem to you that there’s no reason to reach for the anti-acids yet, but this is what I’m picturing in my mind: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,  David Banner and The Incredible Hulk, the Tasmanian Devil…

The phone has rung and all is well.  It seems that a glitch in the automated call system at the school had me reaching for the Tums…  Maybe this weekend I will relive this moment of having a burden taken from my shoulders with some home-made tacos, a nice batch of guacamole and a margarita…that’s the grain of salt, I guess…it’s on the rim of the glass along with many others.  What does it say about me that I prefer my margaritas on the rocks?  Does that mean that I’m suited to this perilous ocean that we navigate???  Whether I’m suited or not, I have to sit in front of the drawing board for a while yet…a solution will present itself…

eventually.

 

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The way things are…

J is a stubborn individual.  This can work for or against us.  On a day when he is inclined to collaborate with us, we can make great strides.  On a day when he is unwilling to negotiate even the smallest thing, we can all end up frustrated.  Autism is, obviously, one of the issues we’re dealing with here, but Adolescence (capitalized because even in its garden-variety form it is a force to be reckoned with) is also very much front-and-center.  The developmental delays that come with this territory we’ve claimed, colonized and have yet to (fully) understand give us an 18 year-old body with a sliding-scale of maturity that is hard to predict.  The kid who somewhat maturely accepts today that Slinky cannot be held while he’s eating could possibly throw a nuclear-meltdown tantrum tomorrow when the same thing is brought to his attention.

Less than two weeks from today we’ll be going back to the doctor to give him an update on how J’s doing.  Looking back, we know we’re on a see-saw…one day we’re up, another day we’re down, then up and possibly in the air…flying off the thing and landing on our heads on the floor.  That is the nature of this process, but we can’t seem to find a way to be completely negative about it.  Let’s say we’re “guarded” and “optimistic,” shall we?

I firmly believe (and J’s teacher seems to agree) that J is very much acting like a teenager.  Aside from the one ridiculously harmful instance which we’ve yet to get a full report on (don’t worry, I’m sending a note tomorrow so that I can get a proper answer before I go to the psych with J on the 4th,) J seems to be doing OK, but he is…most definitely…MOODY.  That’s the word that comes to mind.  Even when I try to think of it in a dispassionate, clinical, “this could be really bad” way: J is moody.  J is impatient with us.  J feels about us the way we often felt about our parents and other grownups when we  were in a similar developmental stage in life.

I will be honest with you: J’s occasional outburst of SIB would worry me more if they took place in private, if we weren’t there to witness them.  When something like this happens in front of adults who care and want to help, J is -to my mind- seeking attention and asking for something he cannot quite express otherwise.  If, after putting him to bed and going to sleep, I came into his room to find that he has hurt himself when no one was around, I’d freak out…I’d take it as a very, very, very, very bad sign.  This has never happened.

Mind you, J does gnaw at his cuticles, and has been known to chew his fingernails.  If something itches, he will scratch almost obsessively, but these are things that I can work with.  Once a week I spend time checking his nails, making sure that nothing will snag on anything when he uses his hands.  I also check for patches of dry skin that might bother him, and for any spots where clothes might be rubbing the wrong way (I am a firm believer that taking labels off of clothes as been the greatest improvement in the garment industry.)  I check his ears and nose.  I check his scalp.  I make sure that if something might bother him in those departments, we can catch it as soon as possible.  Why?  Because J can be as obsessive about things as any other autistic individual, and because his threshold for pain is one of the most confounding things about him.  The kid who could be bleeding and won’t so much as peep will scream his head off if the plastic thread that used to hold a price tag on a piece of clothing jabs him slightly.

These are things that only “we” understand.  The people who directly deal with autistic individuals on a day to day basis…”we.”  Unlike Fred and Barney, we don’t get the funny hat, but we do seem to have a handless secret-handshake, a lingo all our own.  UnknownWhen J’s teacher calls me, I know we’re going to synchronize our watches, hop on the same frequency, insert the matching keys and enter the matching codes, use the decoder ring we found in the box of Cracker Jacks that is J.  This week, through phone calls and text messages, notes and cryptic communications, we’ve figured out a few things, and we’ve set up a two-front battle plan.  J is, as it were, surrounded by strategy and our battle plan is so well-coordinated that he has decided to go along with it for the time being.

Or, maybe, he is going along because he finds that our synchronized routine fits into his needs.  Whatever it is that J thinks about this, it’s working for the best at this time.  There are now four “Slinky parks here” wood blocks in different areas of the house; when J is working or eating or showering, Slinky sits on one of the blocks.  The same thing is happening at school.  Before we would just let him put Slinky on the table or the countertop, but now we’ve realized that -because his boxing gloves are gone and Slinky has been his beloved constant companion since February- J gets anxious when he loses sight of it.  So Slinky has a resting place…like the cat and the basket.  J feels comfortable with Zelda because he knows Zelda will be parked in the red plastic basket she has in front of every set of sliding glass doors.  From all this we’ve learned that J can now pronounce the word Slinky so clearly as to make us think someone else has been saying it for him…yes, his enunciation is THAT perfect.  That letter S comes out so crystal clear that I almost cry when I hear it…it’s a beautiful sound.

We’re back to timing No-Hats Time, and encouraging Hatlessness.  Perhaps it is another one of those adolescent things, or perhaps it’s a result of ESY not having removed the hats promptly enough, but J has been trying to keep his hats on at school and surrendering them only grudgingly when reminded of the No Hats Rule.

With Slinky he is a four year-old who misses his blanky; with the hats, he’s a ten year-old complaining about not being able to his favorite ratty t-shirt to church on Sunday.

Are we ganging up on J?  Maybe.  Maybe that’s what it is, but we’d rather think of it as collaboration, as helpful-to-J collaboration.  As long as he reacts where we can see him, and we can intervene  as gently as possible to help him through whatever frustration he’s feeling, I think we’re all doing fine.  I like things the way they are…the openness of it.  I worry that someday J might not want to share with us the things that bother him, and -while I confess that it’s heart-wrenching to see him upset when it escalates- I wouldn’t trade being there and aware for anything.  You see so many kids who, in hindsight, were suffering and didn’t get the attention they needed, whose parents voices were not louder than the voices of their fears and frustrations, of their detractors that I’d really rather deal with KNOWING that there’s something to address than not…

Funny hat is optional, but communication is essential.

 

 

 

Cue Monday…

The aroma of spiderwebs being consumed by the sudden (and necessary) maiden voyage of our central heating unit filled the air on Saturday evening.  We had been living A/C free for weeks, and the temperature was being regulated by ceiling fans circulating air that came in through strategically opened/closed windows. For a short while, we lived with the stench and the knowledge that we were evicting many arachnids (not that we like them, but one does wonder where they go…under beds?  Into boxes?  Lurking in corners???  Quoth the raven…especially with Halloween coming,) but were comforted by feeling the temperature go from 62 degrees indoors to a comparatively cozy and whopping 67 (we are NOT the Rockefellers.)

J, suddenly hearing the vaguely familiar sound of the heater turning on, dashed out of his TV room, eyes wide with surprise.  That sound, even more than the Christmas tunes he’s been drowning us with, indicates that cold weather has arrived and, finally, all the really fun holidays are around the corner.  The smile on his face was well worth the smell emanating from the vents.

The pumpkin we promised him has arrived.  He went with Dada to find one that suited his taste, and he is very happy.  Right now it’s sitting on the balcony, waiting for pumpkin-carving night (which we think will be tomorrow.)  Once in a while, J goes out there, runs his hand over the orange orb and says PUMPKIN as if to inform it of what it is.  Then he taps it gently and smiles, as if to remind it that it’s about to get its insides torn out and its surface carved into some sort of facial expression.

Three pairs of pants were found.  And, because one is lucky in ways one sometimes tends to underestimate, they are the same exact make and model as the ones J loves.  Not only that, but one of the pairs is exactly the same color, albeit not yet faded.  It was this fact that allowed me to extract the torn, ripped, faded ones and set them aside for mending.  They are now, as I informed J, “weekend pants.”  J doesn’t mind that much; he has new pants and they are perfect.  He surrendered the pants that need mending and the red compression shirt that has a seam undone before turning back to organizing his closet.

Turning on the heater prompted several changes in the household.  J, for example, went straight for the hallway closet upstairs and took out the new flannel sheets he’d bought on Friday.  These are “winter-themed.”  J doesn’t much like the plaids and fall-themed ones; he always goes for bears in the snow, snowflakes, penguins…this year he danced joyously in front of the display until some music in his head moved him to grab the sheets with birds and pine cones.  Seeing J make his bed with the same enthusiasm other males reserve for waxing and polishing a sports car is pretty cool.  He crawled into his bed with the look of one who is being enveloped in the sweetest embrace.  Of course, part of this might be Kate Upton’s doing.

While TGG has grown out of the “scantily clad girl on the wall” phase, J is still very much about the girls he can see in his room.  Selena Gomez (circa the days of early Wizards of Waverly Place) has been relegated to the TV room along with Phineas and Ferb.  Kate Upton, in all her Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover glory, now hangs on the wall opposite J’s bed.  The poster is revealing enough to make a boy happy, and discreet enough to not scare mom out of the room.  It also caused a brief pilgrimage into J’s room “to admire how neatly he made his bed and look at his new pants!” from TGG and Dada.  This purchase was my idea so I have no right or desire to complain.  I’m just glad that everyone seems to be falling into some new sort of normal.  After a few rough weeks, we are starting to dig a new groove for ourselves, and its familiarity is growing.

In spite of some of the recent upheaval in J’s behavior, we are still planning on reducing the medication one more time.  You’re probably wondering why we would do this if J has had issues at school recently, and if he’s being somewhat stubborn at home (which, by the way, he totally is,) but the fact is that we can’t hide behind the Risperdal forever.  There are things we need to adjust ahead of this upcoming transition, and I’m working on them even as we speak.  I don’t think, in J’s case, we were premature in medicating him, but it does feel like he has run the course of this particular treatment, and we are ready (because he is more open to so many things) to move on to something else…like less and less med until it’s all gone.

So we have introduced the clock in his room with the times when he can come get us for COFFEE.  I am fine-tuning the board that goes with it while I type this. We have also introduced the laminated cards he can exchange for the contents of his snack box, and I am adding a “wild card.”  We have noticed that our beloved son is a lot more inclined to skimp on the contents of his snack box so he can finagle extras later.  We review the box with him, post the cards where they are easily traded out, and will put a wild card up for him to earn with chores.  I’ll let you know how much outrage this causes.  The schedule board in the TV room is working wonders, and I make sure to print enough materials related to his storybooks so that we have what to work on when we’re done reading.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, for the next big step in me losing my mind: J and I are going to start working on counting to 30.  You know how he repeats things 20 times now?  Well, if I succeed in getting to 30 with him, then we’ll be hearing everything repeated thirty times.  In preparation for this task I purchased a tray of large beads, foam board to make a game with, stickers for rewards (we don’t pay for learning in snacks, thank you,) colorful buttons in assorted sizes, and the biggest tub of acetaminophen I could find…

And that, my friends, is the way the Monday is starting, and let’s see how it shapes up the rest of the week…

 

 

You take the good…you take the bad…you end up with everyday life…

When I was younger, one of my favorite songs was John Mellencamp’s “Authority Song.”  You know that one?  I fight authority, authority always wins???  As often happens when I listen to The Who singing “hope I die before I get old,” I wonder how John Mellencamp (who is all of 62 years old) feels when he sings “growing up leads to growing old and then to dying, and dying to me don’t sound like all that much fun.”  How do Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, both already approaching the age of 70, feel when they realize they are going to die old?  They probably feel as silly as I do when it comes to mind that, for a while now, I’ve been “authority” and I used to rail against all that represents.  I feel a little cheated because it almost seems like I went from railing against the darned thing to being the darned thing…

And the battle of the laundry basket has been won…by me.  Either to humor me or to save himself the trouble of a potential catastrophe in the middle of a hot-flash heavy, busy week, TGG is now doing his laundry with nary a peep of complaint, nary a roll of the eyes.  Strangely enough, I don’t take it as much of a triumph; it’s rather more of a rite of passage.  As much as it means that TGG is being less of a whiny kid, it also means that I’m getting to be much less of a whiny mom.  What I’m doing is, also, admitting that my sails are not filled by as strong a wind as they used to, and that is something that, if your kids find out about it, could work against you.  I have known individuals who think they can create the illusion of something if they don’t let their parents let them go.

I am welcoming the respite from always been on top of everything.  I admit it, friends, I have been tired, run-down even…  Like I told Dada this morning: had I been a bridge, I’d have been declared unsound and closed for repairs a while back; I am a classic automobile in need of tender loving care…  I need a break!  So I’ve been lazy lately.  I don’t mean doing less.  I mean doing significantly less.  I have read books, magazines; I’ve plucked my eyebrows (which desperately needed it, by the way, because I was starting to look like Bert and Ernie;) I’ve gone for walks to take pictures of leaves and trees and the sky.  When J gets home from school, he does his laundry and helps with dinner.  When Dada gets home from work, we have a nice quiet dinner and we relax before he sits down to catch up with whatever needs to get done before the next morning.

In J’s TV room I’ve installed a very simple workstation that allows us to do one small project each day.  I’ve hung string on the walls so that his work can be displayed as if on a clothesline.  I’ve caught J leaning back on his beanbag, admiring his handiwork, enjoying the play of light on the glittery part of it.  I’ve set up a board in that room so he can make a schedule for his time in there, and -after much printing and laminating- he now can pick out from tiny pictures of book covers.  When we’re done with the story, we do worksheets related to it, and we have fun.  There is a lovely quietness to this, and J seems happy to have less stress among the occupants of this space we call home.  TGG knows this, and I think it matters enough to him to make a huge difference in how we all conduct our business with each other.

Mind you, not all is peachy.  Children tend to take turns challenging their parents, and TGG has opened the way for J to try asserting his will.  I know what he’s doing, and I’ve made a deal with him: we now post laminated cards with the contents of his snack box, and he has to take them down and put them away as they are consumed.  Once the space where they are displayed on the fridge door is bare, J’s done snacking.  Eventually we will just hand him the cards and he can redeem them, but for now we’re making sure to go through a very obvious process of lining them up, saying out loud what there is in the box, reviewing the list, and making a big deal of removing them and repeating what is left.  Believe it or not, since he likes the Five Little Monkeys song, this totally fits into his frame of mind, and I intend to stick to it until he accepts that that’s the way it goes.

Tomorrow is our great shopping excursion.  The pants are more necessary than ever.  I don’t know if this particular pair of pants KNOWS it’s getting replaced and has decided to fall apart faster, but I’m pretty sure that it’s disintegrating before our eyes.  The endeavor to keep it from falling apart is tedious, and I’m hoping we can find a replacement when we go shopping or I will be forced to buy a pair online, and that might not be something J appreciates or is willing to accept.  A t-shirt is one thing; J can easily shrug his shoulders and say “ok, I’ll wear this” by simply putting it on and letting it segue into the rotation of clothes he wears each week.  Pants, on the other hand, require a greater degree of comfort.

So the quandary about the pants remains, and I am crossing fingers and toes that we can figure this out tomorrow.  In the middle of that process, of course, we will brave the crowds of people that will be in town for Homecoming Weekend, and we will seek out the pumpkin we promised J.  Rain is in the forecast, of course, because what would all this be without a little rain thrown into the mix, but…

I don’t have to do laundry, my friends.  THAT is on the plus-side of the situation, and we take our joys wherever we can find them.  Since we are now the authority we used to complain about, we might as well look for the bright side, right???

In search of…

J’s green cargo pants (the ones we got to replace the beloved original green cargo pants that, ultimately, fell apart after years of abuse) are ready to give up the ghost.  Finding a replacement isn’t easy.  The brand is sold everywhere, but not farther up than a size 40 waist, which means we’re traveling in search of pants.  This morning I spent some time looking for pants online, and I definitely can order them from several websites, but I’d rather have J try them on and determine if it’s yea or nay on whatever style we find.

In the meantime, I am going to (as I tend to do whenever the need arises) mend the pair he’s madly in love with until we can find a suitable replacement.  J’s love for these pants is so great that instead of seeing a sack of ugly, mended fabric, he sees Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas.  images

As long as he’s happy and he has pants to wear, I’m ok with the mending and darning that’s going on, but the pants do need replacing, and that’s what we’re aiming for this upcoming weekend.  Family road trip.  Pants-buying road trip.

After spending the better part of Saturday morning looking for pants that would fit, we all walked away from the stores frustrated.  All we could find that J would like was two sizes too small…and there are remedies for too big, but there is no immediate fix for too small.  As we walked out of the last store we went to, I told J “look, buddy, we’re ALL going to have to exercise.  I have these pants I ordered online that are the right size but…” and I made a bloated face and used my arms to show how paunchy my paunch is inside them.  Famous last words spoken while leaving a store…this morning J dragged me to the garage and we did California Gurls on his Just Dance (and I miraculously survived the experience) and then we did the Long run from the Wii Fit Plus.  Mind you, to get J to move in the way he’s supposed to, I have to vastly exaggerate my speed and movements or else he’ll walk in place in a very leisurely fashion.

I flatly refuse to buy bigger pants than he wears now.  I am not concerned about his appearance, but I do believe that we have to help him get smaller for his health…  I can promise you that he is doing a lot better in terms of endurance, but with the colder weather approaching quite quickly, we see more indoor time ahead of us, and it’s best to establish the exercise routine and movement habits now than wait ’til later.  And I really need to fit into those pants…not that I don’t FIT into them, but they’re basically flannel-lined mom jeans that -regrettably- assume one’s waist is as high and as slim as the ladies’ in the catalog.  I am not the reed-thin, long and lanky type…I’m wider, more anchored to the ground…the pants fit beautifully everywhere except the waist.  So I’m guessing that for the waist to not pinch, I have about five to ten pounds I need to shed…

The other side of the coin, friends, is that I ordered three lovely pairs of leggings that fit wonderfully from the thighs to the ankles.  The waist, however, seems to be sized for clown-pants.  How did this happen?  Well…you know that whole thing about how we see ourselves one way and buy clothes for that???  I bought them XL because, silly me, that’s what I think I wear.   In this world, a woman wearing size 12 pants is considered plus-sized, and I bought them for what the measurements in the size-chart indicated…XL.  I cannot believe that three pairs of leggings from a reputable brand would all be defective in the same way so I made a mistake or…it COULD happen…my measuring tape is a cheating, two-timing, two-faced liar and vile betrayer…  The worst part is that if the legs fit perfectly in the XL, they would probably be too tight in a Large…and, no, running the pants through the washer and dryer did nothing to shrink them.  (That’s what happens when you get a guarantee that they won’t.)

So J and I are both having pants issues.  I can cover my bunchy ones with tunics and long sweaters, and he has to wear his patched up ones until we find others he will love even remotely as much as he loves those.  The shopping trip will also serve the purpose of finding for Dada shirts with longer sleeves (he thinks his arms are growing because all his shirts seem to be too short in the sleeves all of a sudden) and an alternative pair of shoes that J can wear for warmth, but not necessarily for snow.  On Friday, you see, he went up to his annual class picnic wearing sandals and socks because he cannot be persuaded to wear closed-toe shoes until there’s snow on the ground.  Such is the way of the J-dictated wardrobe.  The folks at What Not To Wear would have crawled into the fetal position if faced with this challenge…starting with the hats and working down to the shoes…

One thing can be said about J: he knows what he likes, and he sticks to it like glue.  It’s not just that he’s comfortable in those pants: he has a relationship with them.  Granted, it the same type of relationship a three year-old has with their favorite blankie, but it’s a relationship nonetheless.  If something doesn’t fit, he doesn’t wear it; if he doesn’t like a garment, or if he’s not ready to wear it, he ignores it, sets it aside, shuns it like it plague-ridden.  He doesn’t care about fashion because J has what most people aspire to: style.  Granted, there are glitches in his style, but it’s style nonetheless.  And his style is currently running around with one out of three pairs of pants at risk of falling to pieces sooner rather than later.

They say your clothes shouldn’t wear you, and they’re right…and J, better than anyone I know, embodies the notion of wearing the clothes rather the other way around, but he’s run them ragged and to the point of disintegration.  This process would be easier if J himself was in the “two sizes smaller” department.  The .35 mg of med that we’ve reduced has controlled his weight, but it hasn’t really done much in terms of weight loss.  Perhaps the next .25 will help more???  Nearly two months to go until then…let’s cross our fingers that our search for pants is successful…

 

The ever-growing laundry pile…

TGG won’t budge.  Neither will I.  I have bypassed his laundry basket several times when working around the house, and I will continue to do so.  J thinks this is amusing.  When TGG gets home from work, we greet each other in the usual affectionate way, but a quick look over my shoulder tells him I haven’t washed a stitch of clothing belonging to him.  J looks from one to the other of us and smiles…

Because I am bound and determined to not jump in and save him from himself, I haven’t even checked if there’s toilet paper in his bathroom.  Don’t worry, there’s a caddy with plenty of extra TP in there, but by now it might be running low.  If TGG needs more, he will have to actually walk down to the garage and find the spot where we store a treasure trove of toilet paper.  I won’t tell him where it is.  I will tell him he needs to look for it.  Dada has said “well, nothing’s stopping him from going to buy some, right?”  I fail to see the downside of this alternative…extra toilet paper at no charge to us…hmmmmm…

We have also stopped worrying about whether we hear him move around upstairs after a certain time each morning.  We know he sets his alarm.  We can hear it blaring all the way down in the dining room.  We also know that there have been times when he has risen from his bed, turned it off, and crawled back in to sleep.  On Monday I sent Dada upstairs to check if he was stirring as we couldn’t hear him walking back and forth from his room to the bathroom.  He was up.  He was also being stealthy so he could go A-HA!!!!! when we slipped back into being “parents” and yelled at him for not getting up.  Since I was definitely not born yesterday, I wasn’t going to fall for that…  J, who doesn’t believe in people lingering in bed, inevitably opens TGG’s door on his way downstairs to leave for school.  The only adjustment we’ve convinced him to make is not leaving the glaring hallway lights on, but there’s no way to talk him out of trying to jostle TGG out of bed.  I can guarantee you we don’t put him up to this tactic.

This is neither all-out war nor cold war.  This is Mother Hen clucking a resounding NO to herself whenever she’s ready to swoop in and treat a chicken hawk as if he still was a baby chick.  This particular chicken hawk is more Henery Hawk than fierce hawk, by the way…

200px-Heneryhawk

 

Every morning I used to ask TGG if he wanted coffee, if he was having breakfast.  I always got a grumbled NO and “it’s too early.”  This morning, in light of a batch of chocolate chip scones I made yesterday, TGG bounced down the stairs asking what was for breakfast.  “You had me at chocolate chip,” he said.  I should put a bag of chocolate chips at the bottom of his laundry basket, at the bottom of the washer and dryer, and in his closet…but only after he has folded clothes and brought them upstairs to put away.

If you think I’m being intractable and unfair, welcome to the club.  TGG agrees with you.  He, after all, has to get his intractability from somewhere.  I don’t want him to merely acquiesce, though.  I want him to understand.  That, perhaps, is the most difficult thing for a parent to achieve.   I think this, among all the others, is our main struggle in the parent/child relationship.

Take, for example, J’s insistence on repeating a phrase or word over and over again until HE is satisfied.  Last night was such a night, my friends.  First we went through a constant repetition of a request for CANDY that was, of course, turned down in the same constantly repetitious way.  Before bed, the phrase was YELLOW BUS, but broken into YELLOW and BUS until we echoed the words.  This pattern usually lasts for about 20 repetitions per night…last night we went well over fifty repetitions.  Trying to get Dada and TGG to understand why I had to play along until J was satisfied was not easy, and it made me look more J-friendly than TGG-friendly.  I won’t give in to one kid, but I give in to the other.  I could tell that TGG was not particularly amused by my willingness to answer back through the closed door while J kept saying YELLOW and BUS.

I can reason with TGG.  I can’t always reason with J.  The burgeoning pile of laundry is not something that, until he’s ready, will alleviate an anxiety for TGG.  The repetition of words and phrases is soothing to J for reasons I can’t quite explain.  Repeating things, for J, is like “stroking the furry wall” in Get Him To The Greek; it brings him down from some sort of spin his mind is in, and I have to actually help him focus (which is what he’s trying to do) rather than leave him to obsess on his own.  There you have an instance of me absolutely NOT understanding something, but wanting to figure out what to do with it.  My way of negotiating these things with J has to be, because circumstances force it, different from how I negotiate with TGG, and yet…J gets a lot of my intractability, too.  I sometimes dig my heels in even though I know it’s going to create a temporary crisis in our midst because it is, in the long run, more productive to do so than to not do so at all.

It’s not that I don’t understand TGG.  I do.  I understand that he’s been forced, in many ways, to grow up beyond his years because of J.  I also understand that I have to, whether I like it or not, force a little more independence out of him if he is to claim his independence fully at all.  I am, I know he feels this way at times, the albatross around his neck, the main reason a covenant exists between him and his brother.  I have made it clear that this is a relationship that requires a great deal of commitment, and I’m sure TGG feels that he has some leeway to ease into adulthood at his leisure.  Regrettably, as John Lennon wisely put it, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  At one point or another, that laundry basket will have to be addressed…

I’m adding chocolate chips to the list, just in case…

 

 

What if you threw a parade and nobody even rained on it????

The concept of a generational gap hadn’t crossed my mind for a long time.  In fact, it hadn’t crossed my mind since I was on the younger side of the gap, and now -as I find myself revisiting it- it looks more like a canyon (a deep, wide one) than a simple gap.  Also, surprise surprise, my knees are not in any shape to allow me to jump that distance…a) I couldn’t really spring up that high, and b) I would botch the landing.

J and TGG are both at stages in life that are, in a sense, worse than adolescence.  At times I suspect that their generation (the so-called Generation Y) has been very poorly treated by mine.  What generation I belong to can probably be figured out algebraically: seventeen days too late to be a Baby Boomer, I’m considered a Generation Jones baby, but I was by three members of the Lost Generation, one of the G.I. Generation and a great-grandfather who was born in 1880.  In my childhood home there was no “you are special,” “here’s a sticker,” “good effort,” or “you deserve a cookie!” when all I did was what was expected of me.  Praise was reserved for the truly notable actions and achievements that didn’t fall under “that’s what you do on a Monday.”  My aunts coddled me, in a way, but they were also very clear about what was happening out there that I had to face up to when I grew up.  I appreciated the coddling parts, and I listened to the “bitter pills of reality.”  I tried to do the same with my kids, but that wasn’t the prevalent mentality when I was raising them.  Barney the Dinosaur made everything super-dee-dooper.  Everything and everyone was special and awesome.  Kids stopped “losing” and “came in second.”  Everyone was talented and everyone got recognized.

I often wonder if all the clapping we did when our kids were getting potty trained, all the “everyone’s a winner” attitude, and all the participation ribbons that read “You Are Special!” did more harm than good.  There are days when I ask myself (without a hint of irony) if TGG has received more positive reinforcement than J has…being that he craves it so much more than his “I struggle with so many things” younger brother.  Don’t get me wrong, please, because we give J a lot of positive reinforcement, but it is heavily laced with pragmatism.  “Yes, you can slice your own chicken now!!!  Good job, J!”  “Yes, that is how we wash our hands to prevent communicable diseases, J!  Good job!”  “You have successfully learned how to turn the key without nearly snapping it in half while it’s still in the lock!  Wonderful!!”  We did almost throw a parade when he finally potty-trained himself, but that is understandable because he was EIGHT!  We cannot lather the same kind of praise on both brothers because TGG and J are not on the same footing.

Allow me to illustrate.  TGG is an older, employed version of Axl Heck from The Middle:

At the age of 22, he still walks around in his boxers, reacts with the arrested development version of himself, and is appalled when we don’t make a fuss about every little thing he does.  Don’t get me wrong, the kid’s a darling…he’s better than many, but he can come across as horribly helpless at the worst possible moment and, while tremendously competent and independent at work, will act like I’ve just asked him to remove and then replace his own kidneys with his eyes closed and one hand tied behind his back when I say “clean your bathroom.”  I think this happens A LOT in A LOT of households like ours.  These kids, sadly, have had all these expectations thrust upon them (some of them by us, their parents, and others by, well, media) and now it’s just not happening the way they expected.  This Boomerang Generation got a raw deal, and we -partially- are responsible for it???

J, on the other hand, is more like Brick Heck:

If J could talk, I’m sure there’d be more than a fair share of “I’m lying” moments under his breath.  Because Autism makes it easier for him to take things at face value, conversations like the one between Brick and his mother, Frankie, happen around here…only wordlessly.  While we can finesse our way out of certain situations, other times we are knee-deep in panicky moments that could be prevented.

The fact is that we’re all getting too old for this kind of interaction, and it shows.  TGG is doing his best to feel empathy for our plight, but he’s just not old enough for that…just too old to react like a teenager when I remind him that his work ID card (which opens doors, people!!!,) the earbuds to his iWhatever, pens and markers (all of them permanent ink) should be processed in the laundry room.  He also doesn’t take it very well when I tell him “you should REALLY have only ONE stack of bills on your desk, not five different stacks ALL OVER THE ROOM.”  This led to an impasse, and we’re now facing a shutdown less severe  and as annoying as the one the US Government is in…

This type of rebellion is really a non-issue.  Doing chores, and I’ve said this to him, is not a way to get me to say “yes, you can go out” because he’s a grown-up.  Doing chores is a way of alleviating some of the burden that falls on me, and that is caused by -guess!!- the kids themselves.  Every day a basket full of scrubs, work uniforms, Axl Heck-like boxer shorts, socks and t-shirts are brought downstairs by TGG.  Every day J marches downstairs with a laundry bag full of clothes; even if you’ve done two loads the day before, here come two full loads again.  The amount of clothes they generate is only comparable to the amount of toilet paper they go through…

So I’ve thrown the gauntlet down.  I’m letting the laundry accumulate.  I’m not opening doors and checking if people made their beds.  I KNOW the bed has been made…I can hear the exertion and “notice me, notice me” flapping of sheets and plumping of pillows.  The same kid (TGG) who cannot hear me calling out that it’s dinner time or the vacuum cleaner approaching his vicinity in the same menacing way as Jaws would makes sure I hear him making his bed, announces his bed has been made, and then waits to see if I will OOOH and AAAH in the doorway while he stands in the kitchen with bated breath.  Not…happening…

This generation, as I said, is overly dependent on stickers, ribbons, praise and rewards.  Not to whine, but where are my stickers, ribbons, praise and rewards????  I don’t get any, thank you, and I don’t expect them either.  If the consistency of my housework hinged on praised and rewards, we’d be living in a pigsty.  Taking a cue from his older brother, J has been trying to get rewards for doing what he used to do for fun.  That bird???  Not…flying…  And, strangely enough, negotiating with the irascible, stubborn, autistic kid is infinitely easier than negotiating with his neuro-typical older brother.  J is moved to action by his desire to wear clean clothes; TGG is currently motivated by some strange “stick it to the mom” mentality.  I’m all out of stickers, and I think it’s time for praise-worthy to be redefined in the family dictionary…my great-grandfather would have said something about when the Americans arrived on the Island in 1898, and I’d have slunk back to the kitchen to shell peas.  Yes, it was a “not another SPEECH!!!” tactic, but it taught me that sometimes it’s better to do the thing you’re asked to do to prevent yet another “lesson.”  TGG has yet to learn this…much to my chagrin; as long as J doesn’t start emulating his brother, we’re cool.

The laundry basket is full, but rumor has it (or so I was told by a room-mate’s boyfriend some thirty years ago) that there are FOUR ways one can wear the same pair of boxer shorts before having to wash them barring any nasty accidents.

While I feel a little like that humorous quote about the boomerang that was thrown three years ago and never came back (the person lives in fear,) my foot is down and it’s staying down.  No more stickers.  No cookies for effort.  The gauntlet…it’s about to get thrown…my foot is waiting for it.