The Second Week of School…and the weather starts to change…

This is no longer SUMMER!  We are now is the milder, declining days of the season.  There is, in spite of the weather forecast, a dulling of the green leaves, a ribbon of coolness in the air, a softening of the light that are harbingers of AUTUMN!  We are in Summer Light…sort of a gluten-free, fat-free, sodium-free, sugar-free version of the season.  It has been repackaged.  The look has changed, and so have the ingredients.

Our tomato plants are ignoring this new data.  They are producing more tomatoes than any human family can consume with ease.  Our chili peppers are still doing calisthenics.  The rest of the garden is looking more muted, more willing to relax in the coming weeks.

J has settled nicely into school.  All the reports I’m getting say that he takes his thumb immobilizer off to work and eat, and since he is continually occupied with something, the brace is off most of the day.  He seems ok with this arrangement, the teacher tells me.  I am happy to hear this.

J is also adjusting to the new schedule TGG has.  For the past two weeks TGG has been home all day, waited for J to get off the bus, and then left for class.  Since his class schedule doesn’t allow for weekday workouts, TGG has been taking J to the gym on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the rest of the week, J is happily committed to the elliptical machine in our garage.  He watches movies while he exercises, and we do our best to keep up with his pace.  We are sorely out of shape.

Tomorrow comes yet another change in J’s environment.  TGG has a new job.  It’s a little outside of his field (ok, A LOT outside of his field,) but it does accommodate his school schedule and the pay isn’t bad and covers his main expenses.  This job will also elevate him to a near-deity status with J because TGG will be working at Target.

Yes, the home of Bullseye the Mascot.  J’s favorite store.  The place where we can easily be found on weekends walking the aisles in the same exact pattern as prescribed by our lovely youngest son.    We haven’t told J.  He doesn’t even know that TGG interviewed for this job.  He doesn’t know that TGG will be donning the red and khaki threads of a Target employee.  What J will do when he realizes is something we’re all on pins and needles about…

Our guess is that J will be more than happy to visit his brother at work, promptly plunking down money to make sure the company stays in business.  Our guess is that J will expect TGG to keep Bullseye under control.  Our guess is that the older brother that is already viewed as something of a superhero will be seen with something of a halo surrounding him.  I am hoping for an employee discount, but more than anything I’m happy that TGG has a job.

For the past two weeks, the same kid who flatly refuses to get up when asked has been getting up early and interrupting my brief restorative shut-eye from 8 to 9 a.m.  I’ve opened my eyes to be startled by his bright smile and a chirpy “what do you need me to do?????”  I’ve sent him to the gym.  I’ve sent him to vacuum the TV room.  I’ve sent him to check the mail and take the trash.  I’ve asked him to gather the laundry and start that chore for me.  The same 24 year-old who usually drags his feet when asked to hand me a spoon while I’m cooking has completed every task in record time.  Today I asked Dada if it would be unseemly for me to call Target and beg them to cut to the chase and give him a schedule.

I almost cried when he hung up after speaking to his manager and said “I have to be there at 8:30 tomorrow!”  By my calculations (which I made faster than any of my Math teachers ever thought possible) that means I have to wait until he calls to say he made it, and then I will have an uninterrupted hour to prepare myself for the daunting task of managing this household.  I looked at him and said: “oh, so soon?”  The look he gave me told me unequivocally that he knew I was putting on an act.  It was sort of worth the try…

So the kids are settling in, and they’re not kids anymore.  The nest is properly feathered, and it’s still full of birds, but I’m satisfied that we’re slowly getting into our respective grooves and we’ll soon figure the little bits and pieces of the whole new order out.  J is settling in nicely; J is happy; J has actually become more adept at negotiating and accepting things at school, and maybe it’s because he knows it’s the last year.  Maybe it’s because I look ragged and tired and middle-aged, and he wants me to know he cares, but…maybe it’s really because he wants to have a good year.

We’ll see.  It’s early days yet.  Twenty-seven days to AUTUMN! and the skinny, weak side of summer is slowly unraveling.  Yes, yes…temperatures in the 80s next week, but we had those last week and they lacked the usual bite.  Let’s face it…it’s almost over.  We’re about to go back to boots and sweaters and jackets and scarves and soups and stews and pumpkin and blankets and cocoa.

It’s ok.  It wasn’t The Most Fantastic Summer Ever, but we made it through and we learned a lot.  We picked up a new friend (the brace,) and lost a few others (patience comes to mind.)  We are here on the other side of the last ESY, and on the opening bars of the Last School Year Ever!  I’m sure we’ll slip and fall, and we’ll get overwhelmed before it’s all said and done, but so far we’re humming…

The Last First Day of School Ever…

Today is the beginning of the end.  Sounds grim, huh?  Well, it sort of is.

J started his last year of school this morning.  I made sure to remind him that he is to have as much fun, learn as much, enjoy as much, grow as much as possible from today until the end of May 2016 because then school will be over for him.  He looked at me as if part of him understood, and as if part of him just wanted to dash out the door for the bus.

Yesterday we started talking about today very early.  J was happy for the greater part of the morning; he listened to his classical music, smiled and chilled out for a long time…and then he got taciturn and moody in the afternoon.  Our guess is that he was happy school would be back in session while realizing that some of his classmates moved on last year and wouldn’t be there.

Transitions aren’t easy for people in the Spectrum.  Any change in routine comes with a healthy dash of caution attached to it; parents tend to overanalyze, worry, plan, cross fingers, knock on wood, and so on and so forth.  We’re not just thinking about how WE will deal with an upset child; we are thinking of the upset child.

I had long considered I would slowly introduce the idea of “this is the last year of school!!!!”  This morning I decided I’d be blunt; I decided to go with the same candor that I use on the kids’ birthdays: you will only be this age once…relish it!  Well…this is the last year…make the most of it…

Nostalgia, of course, hits me.  I remember the many first days of school, and how this particular one seemed such a long way off.  I remember TGG’s First Day of School, and I remember his First Day of College…and now he’s had Another First Day of College (and this time I think he means it.)  I remember J’s First Day of School, and every First Day of School after that one.  If at one time he wasn’t thrilled, J grew to love school…to be excited about going…to look forward to it…to dread the long lulls between end-of-school and summer-school.

This, obviously, is the time of year when people proudly display pictures of their kids dressed up for the First Day of School.  Kids in uniforms; kids in kicky outfits; kids driving their hand-me-down car; kids getting their Class Rings; kids transitioning from grade school to middle school, from middle school to high school, and kids leaving for college.  It is a joyous time of year regardless of how it ultimately unfolds academically, socially, athletically, extracurricularly…  The beginning of the school year always smells of possibility, of the future, of progress…

Over here it smells of the beginning of the end, and it’s not a nasty smell.  It’s just a sad smell.  Or, rather, a bittersweet smell.  Once the School Year 2015-2016 is done, school is done.  There’s no college; there’s no vocational training; there’s no buying school supplies, singing the Bus Song…  We reach the end of a road and we don’t have a map to guide us any further.

OK…the truth is I’m sad.  This is the apex, the climax, the swan song of J’s school years, and it sort of says “well, your productive, intellectually-absorbent years are over, kid.”  I know J has a boatload of potential, but I know the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily see it that way (even if they don’t come right out and say it.)  The truth is that the system can only do so much, and the corollaries of the system are equipped to do just a little more.  Both resources are overtaxed as is, and there is a (quiet, secretive, resentful) sector of society that says “WHAT are we supposed to do?  These kids/adults/people are not our problem.  Let the families deal with it.  We can’t carry them forever!!!”

It’s absolutely true.  The school system can only provide services for J until a certain point, and when he moves on it is to make room for others like him who will move up the ranks until there’s no more ranks to move up through.  That’s the way of the world.  I accept that, and I know that much progress has been made by J, and that people have put their hearts and souls into helping him.

But I can still be sad, can’t I?  I can be sad (even if it is a little stupid because I’ve always known) that this is it.  That this is where we get off the train and stay at this particular station.  I can be sad that there is no college, no parties, no Big Game, no tailgating, no college friends, no college sweetheart…  I guess, in some stupid and totally ridiculous way, I am mourning that I don’t get to see my son finish high school and move on to be…someone else?

Of course, I am also mourning the Empty Nest I’ll never have, and I foresee a lot of work in my silver and golden years.  I will miss out on Me-Time, and being a Happy Go-Lucky Empty Nester.  I will have to find time, once school is over and done with, to still be me in spite of J’s constant presence.  But I knew that already, and I’m sort of ready for it all…sort of, but not quite, not yet…

Getting there, though.  That speech this morning was as much for me as it was for J.  Take advantage.  Seize the day.  Enjoy the last year of rushing home to sit with a book while sipping tea on cold winter mornings, going for walks with the camera and immortalizing autumn leaves, napping for 20 minutes after finishing chores, taking a long shower and leaving the conditioner in for as long as the bottle suggests…

It was our Last First Day of School Ever…time to go wait for the yellow bus!

That’s how we learn…

Yesterday evening, I sent Dada and TGG on one errand while J (who would have been horribly bored elsewhere) and I went to Target.  The flight plan was the same as usual: make sure the seatbelt straps in the cart are not tangled, lift the red flap to “close” the seating area of the basket, and off to do the long circuit of the store.

We walked around the Men’s section to look at lounge pants, and J couldn’t find anything he wanted.  We moved on to the movies, and J made sure everything was properly lined up, stacked in the right stack, and -of course- as his reward for all this labor he chose Goof Troop Volume I for purchase.  I had promised him Super Mario Kart for his Wii so we made sure they had it available, and then I set off to find a friendly Electronics employee to get it for us.  All was well, and J was happy, but then Bullseye walked out of the stock room and straight towards us….

Poor Bullseye!  I am sure when this person got hired to wear this costume they weren’t told “some day a tall, strapping young man wearing a newsboy cap, a thumb immobilizer, and six-hundred bandaids will react to your enthusiastic appearance as if you were wearing the garments of the Grim Reaper himself.”  Not ten yards stood between us, and J started squealing (OK…it was more like screeching) and backing away as if Bullseye was about to pounce on him.

When J was very young we took him to Knott’s Berry Farm, and he was totally fine with Snoopy coming up to him at Camp Snoopy.  He posed happily, squeezed Snoopy’s nose (and was informed by the human within to NOT TOUCH) and that was that.  He was seven at the time…you’d think that’s the core memory in his database…

Well, no…not exactly…

Seven years ago, TGG was The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz in high school.  He was FANTASTIC!  He had the costume, the hair, the growl, the makeup…  J LOVED watching the show, listening to the songs, watching Dorothy, The Tin Man, The Scarecrow and The Cowardly Lion prancing around the theater to get back to the stage and arrive at Oz.  It was an amazing experience.  J was thrilled to hear something familiar under all that fake fur and paint.  After the show came the meet-and-greet, and the whole audience was out and about saying hello to Munchkins, witches, flying monkeys, the Lollipop Guild and the brave quartet that had traipsed around on its way to see the Wizard…

“Hey, J!  HI!,” said the Lion…and the screeching, screaming and backing away started in earnest.  That thing, we’re sure he thought, had swallowed his brother…  Dada took J with him to calm him down, TGG finished his meet-and-greet, got cleaned up and then came out to prove he was alive, well, and in one piece…

Yesterday I found myself trying to get Bullseye (who probably couldn’t hear anything other than J’s screaming) to back away without feeling offended.  “AUTISM!  HE DOESN’T KNOW YOU’RE A HUMAN!!!” I said this while trying to keep J from bolting, people from staring and our friendly Electronics employee from calling security.  Bullseye got the picture, and skedaddled.  J, however, was shaken enough by the appearance of the mascot to cling to me while looking around, wondering if Bullseye was just waiting to jump out from behind a display to scare him.

It is move-in weekend at the college so there are a lot of people out and about shopping for things their kids need for the dorms.  I am sure that we cut quite a figure walking surreptitiously and looking around every corner to determine if the person clad in fake fur, and an oversized dog’s head was around.  J would motion for me to go ahead of him to reconnoiter, and I obliged because I didn’t really want a repeat of the squealing and screaming.

I caught sight of Bullseye in the distance a couple of times; the closest we got was about thirty feet, but I managed to steer J away from the path of the poor (underpaid, I’m sure) employee dressed in what amounts to a very pretty sauna to engage with customers.  After about fifteen minutes of this, I saw Dada and TGG in the distance, and waved vigorously for them to join us.  When they came closer I explained what had happened, and we formed a ring around J, moving towards the registers in what can only be compared to rescuing the world’s biggest pop star from a horde of fans chasing after him/her.  I have no doubt that people who didn’t know what was happening questioned our sanity before going back to their shopping.

Suffice it to say we’re never taking J to Disneyland, Disney World or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade…  If he couldn’t take a little trip to the Natural History Museum in D.C. without thinking the animals were about to start moving, he won’t be able to deal with Goofy and all Seven Dwarves approaching him.  I would really hate for him to be afraid of Donald Duck, Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger…  The princesses are another story…seeing those live would be a thrill, but the other stuff???  Too traumatic for him.

I’d like to state clearly that I feel very guilty about whatever emotional distress the poor employee in the Bullseye suit felt when J reacted as he did.  The kid (it might’ve been a girl, but I’m not sure) was just doing a job and trying to earn a living, and J reacted like J reacts to these things.  I had a talk with him later, and I can tell he isn’t buying the whole “it’s just a person in there, you know” argument.  In his mind there is no way he can, unless he sees them getting dressed, that someone would get into The Cowardly Lion, Bullseye or any other character, voluntarily.  There HAS to be some sort of devouring of people happening…

As I say when he encounters dogs and reacts in a negative way: he has to learn.  How I will get around him learning about the inner workings of a mascot?  I have no idea…but I’ll figure it out somehow.

A trip to town…

With a great deal of equanimity, J accepted that we were going on an outing, and he trusted me when I said it was for fun.  What I mean by “for fun” is “no doctors.”  We ran errands.  We walked a lot.  We rode the bus and discovered that it isn’t just the potholes that cause problems; poor suspension in any vehicle will make for a bumpy ride even if the road is (more or less) in good repair.  By the time we reached High Street, J and I were more than ready to get off the bus; I’m sure the other passengers were ready for us to leave, too, because J said GOING TO TOWN a minimum of 200 times during the half-hour ride.

Our first stop was the courthouse.  Because the world we live in has become increasingly threatening and violent, we had to go through metal detectors and empty our pockets before going in to complete the errands we had for the morning.  J had been to this building before, and he was a little taken aback by the new contraptions standing between him and getting in and out of there quickly.  A brief moment of confusion, a relinquishing of his beloved Slinky and kind patience from the security team at the door, but we made it through without problems.

Of course, I had a minor glitch with the paperwork, and we had to do two of the things we had on our list, but leave and return for the third.  J was patient about this, too.  There were a lot of people waiting their turn, and he navigated this fairly well.  I say fairly well because J takes up a lot of space when he sits down, and I had to ask him to “gather his feet” so as not to create an unnecessary obstacle course for the other patrons.

I had promised J we’d go to his favorite store in town when we were done with our errands, but I had to dash to the library to try printing a piece of paper I needed for that pesky third errand.  When I realized the printers weren’t working, I let J walk the Children’s section and I texted back and forth with Dada trying to find a solution.  The proceedings reached a stalemate and, to recover from the stress of the moment, I told J we were going to the toy store.  THIS was the moment he’d been waiting for, and he was so happy that it was well worth having sat down and taken that deep breath.

We walked around the store, looking at dolls, games, plush toys, books, Playmobil sets.  I asked J if there was anything he wanted before we left.  Another turn around the store helped him make his choice: the biggest set he could possibly choose from among the Playmobils, and the little motor to power it!  I explained that, yes, he could buy it, but HE had to carry it around town.  As we were paying, the store owner (we have known her since we moved into town four years ago) helped me figure out how to complete my final errand.  Immense Playmobil set in hand, we went back to the courthouse (and through security, of course) and finalized our official business.

I asked J where he wanted to have lunch, and he stood looking around at the different store fronts.  In the end, he opted to go to a diner that he’s been to when he’s walked into town from school.  I had never been so he guided me to it, and when we were led to our table, he plopped down like a regular customer.  Since it was after eleven a.m. I ordered French Toast and J ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and some chicken strips.  He ordered his food with his Proloquo.

I can understand why J likes the place.  The booths are spacious, and the music was perfectly in tune with J’s tastes.  As we sat there waiting for our meal, J was happily moving around in his seat, following the songs they were playing.  He was so happy, in fact, that he didn’t hesitate to remove his brace to cut up the chicken strips, and didn’t complain when I reminded him that he has full use of his thumb and I expect him to move, curl, wriggle, and command it.

We counted the money to pay our bill, and made a pit stop before heading home.  Dada kindly drove into town and brought us home.  All in all, we were out and about since 9 in the morning, and didn’t walk into our townhouse until shortly after 1 P.M.  It was a very full and active morning, and J was stretching and yawning when we got back.

We spent the better part of the afternoon putting his toy together.  The nice thing about Playmobils is that they’re easy (for me) to figure out.  I’ve grown too old for Legos.  And before you argue that “you can never be too old for Legos” I will explain that I fully agree with the spirit of that, but my eyes aren’t what they used to be, and some of those tiny pieces are hard to handle with my arthritic fingers.  J was especially thrilled when he realized that one of the figures in his new Playmobil Ferris Wheel set looks a lot like him, down to the newsboy cap it’s wearing.

As you can tell, our trip to town was mostly successful.  The one glitch was the red-tape, but we figured out what to do to properly and promptly complete our errands.  I didn’t flat-out lie to J; I meant for him to have fun, but I also meant to get things done, and we managed both.  The rest of the weekend went well because we set the proper tone for errands and fun.

Today is the first day of the two school-less weeks in August.  We are doing a little work, and we are trying to do some fun activities.  The mood is light, and we are determined to sail through the next couple of weeks without too much drama.  And the brace?  It comes off for chores and meals, and I keep reminding J that his thumb works just fine.