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.