Independence…it’s what’s for breakfast!


Little by little, we make progress.  Scrambling eggs was not easy at first, but we’ve figured out the proper wrist movement, and now, instead of stirring the eggs, we actually scramble them in the bowl.  No more back and forth, or side to side moving the fork…nope…we now flick our wrist in a circular motion, breaking up yolks and perfectly blending with the whites…bubbles form, my friends…

We no longer blitz the eggs in an overheated pan.  We no longer throw the butter in and don’t let it melt.  We are cooking…wait for it…at medium-low heat, and gently stirring the eggs so they cook slowly, gently.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

There was a time, as you might remember, when breakfast was a package of ramen noodle, drained of the broth, eaten without cooling and in less than 15 seconds.  Inhaled noodles, we called them.

Everything J ate, in fact, was basically inhaled.  No savoring.  No enjoying.  No taking his time.  Nope.  He would just sit in front of his food and it would disappear in seconds.  No joy there.  Just sustenance of the least savory, healthy kind.

Now we look through the Menu Binder and we choose our breakfast.  Pictures guide us through the process of making sweet potato pancakes, breakfast burritos and quesadillas with things like spinach, mushrooms, sliced chicken.  We no longer need a panini press to make a grilled breakfast sandwich…we can now grill it on the crepe pan.  WITHOUT BURNING IT!

We inch forward.  We learn something new, and keep at it until I can just be an observer, or -better yet- an assistant.  There is joy in being shown the ham and being asked to slice it, rather than having to point J in the right direction.  From being taught, he is now showing he has learned what to do, and he just needs help because of the timing of the whole thing.  Timing is the hardest thing to master.  I have, after over thirty years of cooking for others in the small scale of a home kitchen, found myself running around trying to make sure all the food is at the right temperature at the same time.  So  J is definitely making great strides towards feeding himself and helping me feed us.

The prospect of assisting with meals is exciting to J.  The prospect of setting the table because dinner is just around the corner makes him happy.  Emptying the dishwasher, doing laundry, choosing what he wants at the grocery store.  Hesitation is at a minimum level these days, and it is so nice!  I can tell him to go get his popcorn, or his chips, or to find three onions, and J walks away and does it.  I can see him.  I am close enough to assist him if he gets overwhelmed, but he feels confident enough to take over those tasks.  Never mind that he follows me closely at home because one morning he woke up and found the sitter here.  I mean “at home” to him.  I get that, but I also am someone who works side-by-side with him.  That’s kinda cool, isn’t it?

What is best about all this is that now I can say “hey, get your breakfast going” while I’m getting other things done in the vicinity.  By the same token, I can now issue instructions without having to repeat, or oversimplify.  J is now totally fine with “would you please take the trash from the kitchen to the garage, and bring a new bag to put in the bin?”  He gets all that (because he stops to actually listen,) and there’s no need to follow him, use hand gestures, or worry that he will forget any of what he’s been asked to do.  I can send him off to gather trash from the small bins, and he will do it without me having to help him, AND he will replace the small bags we save from the grocery store to line the bins.

J is more independent.  J is more able to participate in the life of our household as a self-starter.  The other day he gathered the laundry without a word of guidance from me.  I can say “it’s time to clean bathrooms,” and he takes over cleaning his own.  Just like that…



It’s pretty cool.

I like it.  He likes it.  It’s good for us.  I think it’ll be for lunch and dinner, too.


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!

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.

An “a” in any other other other font…

J has the rudimentary makings of a forger.  He will not succeed at it, but he has what it takes to -with careful training and dedication- become a master at copying people’s handwriting exactly.  I know because, in my younger years, I wrote many an excuse in my mother’s handwriting and got away with it…  No worries, I quit while I was ahead.  Actually, I quit when I realized that I was in danger of having missed Phys Ed under the guise of having my period one time too many.

Today we had a snow day and J and I dedicated quite a bit of time to our garage/pantry/gym/that area of the house that cars never go into.  During his (final) IEP on Monday we discussed one of my big undertakings this year: putting J in control of the inventory.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am willing to risk an excess of cans of chopped tomatoes so that J can learn how to manage our pantry and all its secrets.

First, however, we had to deal with the freezer that will be delivered some time tomorrow to replace the one that is about to gasp its last gasp.  We discovered a few weeks ago that the light that indicates the power is on had switched from solid to a quick blink; on Saturday we had noticed the blink had slowed down, and by Tuesday it seemed more like a very wan, half-assed blink.  We keep going in there, thanking it for its loyal service and begging it to hold on ’til Friday.  On the plus-side: it’s so cold that I can easily store things in the coolers we keep on the balcony and nothing will be compromised.  I don’t want to do that, though…

So J and I braved the garage that I’ve been cringing at since sometime in late December.  The first thing we did was reorganize the shelves.  Then I took out a big sketchpad so that J could write down the items we need from the store.  You may wonder why the big sketchpad.  Even if you’re not wondering I’ll explain: J is known for his expansive block letters…a large sketchpad is the next best thing to a wide, tall wall…

The other (not irrelevant) reason is that J copies the names of the items directly from the label.  While I make sure that he doesn’t write down the brand, J will copy the name EXACTLY as it appears on the label.  Whatever font is on there, regardless of how ornate, J will replicate.  It doesn’t look like the one on the label, but it is as close to a reasonable facsimile as you can get without actually reproducing it.  A label with “cooking oil” printed in Arial font, will be reproduced in Arial font.  If you have words written in American Typewriter, J will copy them as such.  Cursive gets a similar treatment.  Curlicues, tails, serifs…they all get in there.  If he wants to make sure that you buy the brand he likes, he will copy the logo.  A list of twelve items took twelve pages.

Spacing is not his forte, either.  We work hard on learning margins, but J has a tendency to get creative.  Much like young children who have yet learned to estimate how much space they need, J will start too far into the line, do really well, and then -upon realizing that he has six letters to go- he will then do the equivalent of hitting the brakes and letting every upcoming letter look like it’s about to crash into a brick wall.  They do, in fact, look somewhat horrified.  The other effect he manages is the “turn tail and run away” effect; the letters look like they’ve realized they’re about to go over the edge of the sheet of paper, and they try to avoid it.  Anthropomorphizing letters much?  You bet I am!

The work that would take a Third- or Fourth grade student a matter of moments (or that I could complete in a flash) becomes a rather convoluted process.  J writes what we need, and then we write it all over again.  I write it in neat block letters, and he has to copy it with margins and lines I’ve drawn to accommodate his inner graffiti artist.  Then we take that list, and we type things out in the Proloquo2Go.  First he copies them by looking at the letters as I read them, and then he attempts to type it while I dictate the letters one by one.  By the time we are done, J has earned his cookie snack, and I’m ready to not find any more things we need.

While this had been an activity we engaged in to reinforce writing skills, it is about to become a cornerstone of J’s at-home routine.  His ability to work in groups for prolonged periods of time continues to be minimal.  This presents a problem in the “employability” department.  Even in the most independent of jobs, J would have to spend significant amounts of time working with others, and he really has very little patience for group work.  If he’s in the mood, of course, he will be the most gregarious person you’ve ever met, but if he’s not…well, he closes up like a clam and that’s that.  No amount of friendly cajoling, kind persuasion, outright insistence will move him to participate.  We need to be ready for the time when he gets turned away from more and more opportunities because of his inclination to isolationism.

It’s not that he’s not gregarious, but the fact that he is so method-guided, and so strict with how he does things (Sheldon Cooper anyone????) leads him to easily get frustrated when he has to deal with other people’s schedules, quirks, and so on and so forth.  We need, then, to work around the limitations and exploit the assets he has.  We will devise a process for maintaining our pantry and household goods inventory together, and we will work towards J being able to manage it independently with monthly administrative “meetings” to make sure we don’t have more corn than is needed to feed a small army.

It’s all in the early stages.  And we have to work on identifying, communicating and organizing first.  We’ll get there, though…I know J, and he will fall in love with the notion of being the master of the garage.

The Dawning of the Age of Chester the XXXI…

Every Thanksgiving turkey is called Chester.  This goes back to 1983 and my first maiden voyage cooking Thanksgiving dinner.  I spent most of that day on the phone with my cousin (who is TGG’s godmother) consulting books, comparing notes and hoping we didn’t totally botch our families’ respective holiday meals.  This year we’ve been messaging back and forth discussing the weather and comparing notes on what our side dishes will be…  We’ve come a long way.

I can announce, quite proudly, that J has become a sous chef extraordinaire; he has made excellent work of chopping vegetables for the stuffing, and he took command of the whole slicing, cubing, seasoning, and toasting the bread for the stuffing…  I had to demonstrate everything from the other side of the counter (since he is left-handed,) but he very aptly did the rest with me keeping an eye on the sharp knives and the ten fingers I wanted him to still have when the work was done.

Little by little (because lot by lot doesn’t quite feel the same) we’ve been cleaning, prepping and helping each other all day.  When it started snowing, J took a break from the task he was performing to stand next to me and announce SNOW with a mixture of “really?” and “oh, Christmas.”  Out came the Christmas music piping all over the kitchen level of our townhouse, and J kept working while humming along to the tunes.

It is almost a year to the day since J’s then-doctor (who has since finished her residency and moved to a different area of the state to set up her practice) discussed with us changing J’s eating habits to follow the Mediterranean Diet.  I did my homework, and I took some chances.  A year later, J is approximately fifty pounds lighter, and a whole lot healthier.

We started out by hiding the changes from him, and now we can cook and mix vegetables into his food without so much as him batting an eyelash.  The kid (yes, I know he’s almost 20, but he’s always going to be “the kid” around these parts) eats SOUP…home-made tomato soup!  He eats 1/100th of the cheese he used to eat, and he loves his hummus and vegetable chips.  If there was a time when “we’re out of Ramen noodles” was a crisis in this household, now we are sent into a panic when we’re running low on yogurt and home-made pear chips.  Size 44 pants make J look like he rummaged through someone else’s closet to find something to wear.  His XXL t-shirts are loose to the point of looking like we made a mistake reading the label at the store.

A lot has changed in a year.  A lot.  We now have a grandchild, even if we will never meet him.  We now have a smaller, more functional autistic son.  TGG is moving out, and we get another room to use for another purpose.  We have lost a beloved father, and another father is in poorer health than he was last year at this time.  In the middle of Life, because that’s what the ups and downs are, we are grateful that we are together, even if we have the occasional argument about, well, Life and its peculiarities, or -more accurately- our peculiarities as humans performing the choreography of living without quite having learned it beforehand.

In a rocky year, we’ve managed to persevere, and for that we have to be grateful.  We don’t always see it, but…there you have it.  It’s not just the short and illustrious reign of Chester the XXXI we are concerning ourselves with tomorrow, but rather that we’ve been around to see him and his predecessors, and we might be fortunate enough to see many of those who follow, too.

There will be no Black Friday shopping for us, but J does want to go to the movies for The Penguins of Madagascar.  We’ll leave The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything for upcoming weekends when we need to get out of the house.  Friday will be the day we work on our stamping our parcel paper roll with Christmas motifs to wrap our gifts in for Twelve Days.  Sunday we’ll work on biscotti to pack for those little giveaway presents Dada takes to the office.  TGG has to start working on packing up to move, and J will have to start thinking of the reality of his brother not living here.

I mentioned this while we were vacuuming and airing out the top floor, and J opened his eyes so big that I almost felt bad about saying anything.  I made him sit on the bench in his room, and I explained that TGG won’t be too far away, and that it will be easier to see him here than when he was in Texas visiting my brother.  I didn’t promise, because I can’t and I shouldn’t, that he will see TGG every single day, but I did promise that we will show him where TGG is moving to this coming weekend.  The rest of the prep work, sadly, doesn’t fall on my shoulders; TGG will have to have an adult conversation with his brother and make a case for independence without making it sound like they’re never seeing each other again, and without making it seem like they will see each other like they do now.

We start climbing, then, the slippery slope of adjusting to a new household arrangement.  We spend the last official holiday as all residents of the same home, and we get ready for holiday plans being optional rather than required.  I can no longer say “Sunday dinner is at six-thirty on the dot and you WILL be here.”  I just can’t.  I can invite to dinner, and the invitation can be declined.  That’s something that all of us, especially J, have to get used to from here on end.

So we will make Chester the XXXI as memorable and delicious as we can, and we have the perfect sous chef to help us achieve our goal.

Why overhearing the news in the morning can be hazardous to your health…

If your household is anything like ours, you have too many remote controllers, and -in spite of the differences in their appearance- you often pick up and use one you don’t mean to use in an attempt to control a device that will not be persuaded to work unless you use the correct apparatus to send it commands.  We have attempted to use a universal remote controller, and it (as well as all the small appliances we’ve wanted to sync to it) has laughed in our faces while slapping an imaginary knee and uttering “you’re so funny!”

That prologue is to give you a general idea why, on this lovely autumn morning when I was sleep deprived because of a timer that was set to “continuous on” rather than “timed on” and a bout of hot flashes, I used the wrong remote controllers long enough to create “a situation.”  Let me explain, please…

TGG had already left, and Dada was pulling out of the driveway when J requested his Pandora station so that we could have some background music while doing the dishes.  In my sleep-deprived, not-caffeinated-enough state, I grabbed the controller for the TV (so that I could switch it to the right input for the blu-ray player) and the one for the cable box.  By the time I realized my mistake, the words that marked the rest of our day had been uttered by some candidate or pundit while being interviewed on this General Election Day.  The exact words were “today is the day to clean the House and the Senate.”

Oh, crap…

Now, you and I know what is being said in that quote.  It is, unequivocally, a reference to a change in command, a shift in balance, a process of voting out and voting in people.  Regrettably, J’s mind doesn’t work that way, and I have very few resources (unless I dig out his Schoolhouse Rock! DVDs and skip to I’m Just a Bill, and then proceed to wire my son’s thought process to work in the same abstract loops and circles that a neurotypical person’s does) to keep J from homing in on “today is the day to clean the house” in a literal way.

Technology, aided by my clumsy, middle-aged, and obviously addled by the knowledge that my son would take this as any autistic individual would, moved at such a glacial pace that by the time I’d switched the TV to HDMI2 and had turned on the blu-ray player my morning had been mapped out by J.  He had the paper towels, duster, spray cleaners, rags, vacuum cleaner, trash bags and a from-ear-to-ear grin on his handsome face.

TGG was a believing child.  He believed that fairies were dancing on the lawn when it was just fireflies, and that toadstools popped up overnight because the fairies were having a camp-out.  He believed in Santa Claus, the Great Pumpkin (if Linus said so…well…,) the Three Wise Men, the Man In the Moon, and all sorts of fantastic notions that, as he got older, he let go of without losing his ability to imagine wonderful fancies.  He wasn’t a literal child.  If I said “it’s raining cats and dogs,” TGG wouldn’t step out to see if felines and canines were falling from the sky, but he could laugh at this picture in his mind.  J, on the other hand, is -like many autistic individuals- a literal person.  What you say is what he picks up…exactly.

Saying things like “bring me that box” can be too general.  Unless there is ONE box and J can’t fail to realize that’s THE box I want, he will stand there and wait until I’m more specific.  I can’t just say “please, bring me some water;” I have to say “please, bring me a water bottle.”  J has reacted with great curiosity upon hearing the expressions “I think I just opened a can of worms,” “you could’ve knocked me over with a feather,” “shake a leg.”  Like Noah Webster in Tex Avery’s old MGM cartoon Symphony in Slang (, J pictures EXACTLY what he’s being told.

The house has been cleaned from top to bottom, and -thankfully- J hasn’t pressed the issue on cleaning the Senate.  I don’t even know how I’d start to explain, in terms that he could grasp and handle properly, what the Senate actually is, and why the expression about cleaning the legislature came up this morning.

I’m counting my blessings.  J could have heard something far worse that could have made for an even more grueling day.  I try to steer him clear from the news because, well, he might hear something that confuses him and sets the tone for his school day.  The one time I had to worry about TGG being a “believing” child resulted in an impromptu trip to the beach house to retrieve him from a weekend with Dada’s father and his nieces and nephews.  The Discovery Channel had a show about how Skylab had fallen after many years of service in orbit.  They referred to it as “the space hotel.”  TGG was actually worried that this thing was going to drop on his loved ones and flatten them, and the other kids (knowing that there was a language barrier there) ran with the situation, egging him on to an even greater level of panic.

Eight year-old TGG was quickly set to rights by Dada, who sat him down and explained that Skylab had been down for a while already, and that -in spite of our best intentions- we can never guarantee that some freak accident won’t happen to us, or to those we love.  Unlike the young protagonist of Zenna Chlarson Henderson’s short story “The Believing Child,” TGG wasn’t overwhelmed by what he’d heard.

J, on the other hand, takes thing literally, and we have to carefully weigh what we’re going to say.  Most of the time the TV is white noise that he doesn’t pay attention to, but this morning he was waiting for something to emanate from it, and he got instructions rather than entertainment…

The house is clean…the Senate will have to take care of itself.

Time, tide and the common cold wait for no man…

There is, quite early in the year, a chill in the air.  We are definitely in season-changing mode.  On Saturday we dropped from 82 to 63 degrees in a matter of two hours, and this morning we were engulfed in fog and our handy-dandy we-keep-it-by-the-door thermometer indicated it was 54 degrees out there…

And J is home with a cold.

At the first hint of sniffling, my heart froze.  You know I’m not a coward, but a sniffle means a possible alteration of the beloved, calming, peace-maintaining routine, and -having had a holiday LAST Monday, and having a visit to the psychiatrist scheduled TODAY- keeping J at home is not something I was looking forward to at all.

When I informed him, after checking his temperature, listening to his congestion, and looking at the hang-dog expression that accompanies any shred of illness J might experience, that he’d be staying home today, J complained quite vocally, slapped his hands several times, assumed the “woe is me” position on the couch, and requested (in his best Richard Dreyfuss imitation) that I clean his nose.

After his Sunday-night reading of Ferdinand the Bull, he curled up in bed and turned off his lights.  No sooner had we done the same that he was standing on our doorway announcing COFFEE!!!!  I told him to turn on his heels and go to sleep.  No sooner had I turned over and found a semi-comfortable position for my neck that, once more, he came rapping on our chamber door.  Donning my robe and dragging myself, I returned him to his room, deposited him in his bed, tucked him in, and told him we didn’t want to see him until morning.

And then, of course, the same individual who requires a massive dose of persuading, cajoling, insisting, nagging and clapping of the hands to remove his fanny from bed on a school day, was up and at ’em at four a.m.  I could hear the distant rumbling of J trying to figure out when was a good time to wake us up.  He had the decency to wait until 4:30, and 4:45, and 5:00, and at 5:14 I cut him at the pass, announced he should go downstairs, and noticed his bed was neatly made, and his movies and iPad were ready to go in the red basket he uses to transfer his belongings from his night-room to his day-room, and viceversa.

The day, of course, was in full-swing once J hit the common areas of the house, and any attempts made to -surreptitiously, of course- return to bed for a brief respite were foiled by our very own version of Julie the Cruise Director from The Love Boat.  As my feet touched the carpet beside my bed (for the tenth time in a thirty-minute period) I was ready to deliver a Tony-winning performance of Miss Hannigan’s Little Girls from Annie.  Alas, when J is up and about on a day when he SHOULD be in school but will NOT be, it is impossible to break into song except under the most auspicious of circumstances, and the revitalizing qualities of coffee (the root of the whole “we’re up too early” debacle) are needed pronto…

At nearly eleven a.m. we are settled and content.  J has acknowledged that he has a cold, and that his nose is bothering him, and that he’s tired.  I haven’t yet told him that we are going to the psychiatrist this afternoon, but I’m sure once he sees WHO he’s going to meet with he’ll be fine.  This is the doctor’s office where there are no needles, no tweezers, nothing that pinches…  If his congestion doesn’t improve, well, then we’ll go to the unpleasant place where they’ll take a swab and determine if he needs stronger meds, but for the time being I am not expecting much resistance.

The change in weather, as you might expect if you’ve been previously acquainted with J’s super-power, has been predicted by the gradual appearance of Christmas music, Christmas movies, and snow-themed pictures that randomly pop up on J’s coffee table.  The other day, as we walked home from school in the blistering heat, I said “wow, J!  It’s HOT!,” and my son laughed.  I thought it had been the way I’d delivered this line, or the fact that I was sweating profusely thanks to the combination of mourning colors and the hot sun, but it seems like he was laughing because he KNEW it wouldn’t last.

Ah, mourning clothes…I forgot to mention that.  Yeah, you read right…I -like the aunts who raised me- dress in mourning according to the pre-established rules they (and I) were raised with; in a nutshell, I look like Wednesday Addams but with shorter, grayer hair.  OK, it’s not THAT severe, but it’s mourning, and no one (aside from my husband and children) notices that I’ve been dressing in black for a few weeks.  I am sweating quite a bit out there, and I can hear my aunts saying “do you now understand why we’d say please, God, let so-and-so last until the weather cools?  If it’s Your will?”  Yeah, I understand, and I also understand -because they raised me right- that comfort, fashion and recognition have very little to do with this process.  Mourning, while expressed outwardly in clothing, takes place deep within…I don’t know how well I’d deal with wearing colorful clothing at this time.

The house is not weighed-down by sadness, but there’s a ribbon of it threading through our days.  We acknowledge it, and we move forward with it because sadness and loss are a part of life that our children (not quite children anymore, right) need to learn to accept.  How well J acknowledges, accepts, understands and identifies this feeling of loss is questionable, but he has learned to adjust to the more muted aspects that have suddenly entered our everyday existence as a family.  We do our best to make it easy for him, not because he isn’t deserving of the full-blown effect of emotion, but because we know he doesn’t process grief like a neuro-typical person does.  The database in his mind has a picture of Dada’s father, but it is among many others, and we can’t expect him to react as we are reacting, but we know he’s good for a hug, a quiet sitting side-by-side…  Of all the situations we’ve tried to prepare for, in terms of “how to handle this with J,” the death of a parent hadn’t really, exactly, precisely crossed our minds…

The absence of overwhelming tantrums is very helpful…indeed.  And, at least, the kid knows how to make coffee.