The countdown begins…

It is the Monday of the last week of school.  J isn’t having a good time there.  I got a message from his teacher using the expressions OCD and SIB.  Nice!  The kid who has been behaving nicely at home is being a handful at school.  He broke his headphones.  He didn’t mean to, but there you have it…they are broken, and this made matters worse.

The last thing one wants to hear when we’re almost to the finish line is “this is not going well.”  I am of two minds about this: J’s an a-hole, or J’s just responding to the lassitude that creeps into everyone as the end of the school year approaches.  Well, maybe (just maybe) J’s an a-hole that’s responding to the lassitude that creeps into everyone as the end of the school year approaches.  He can be persnickety that way.  He’s not ready to call it a day, and he wants everyone to rally like he does.  This will test the most saintly of creatures, and I’m sure that patience is wearing thin over there with a few kids chomping at the bit to not do much for a few weeks, and one stomping around trying to get everyone on board with being all-hands-on-deck and beat-to-quarters to the very last minute.

Today I am working on that blanket of paper we call the summer PECS board.  This year we get to put a road trip on it, and we hope J will be excited about this prospect.  On Friday he will get home and, weather permitting, we will walk at a leisurely pace while I explain the map of our lives for the next twelve weeks: a trip to D.C., visits to the doctor and dentist (he might run when he hears these, but it HAS to be done,) ESY, walks to the pool, gardening, making soaps and such…  If he’s not totally bored to tears by the time we get to our townhouse, we’ll be fine.

I confess that hearing about J’s difficulties this morning gives me pause.  He really isn’t being that way at home.  I have searched and searched my mental database, and I cannot find one single instance of SIB in the past few months.  Maybe he does it when we’re not looking?  There are no signs, though, that J has engaged in any of it.  He has been happy and full of energy; when he wants to be alone, he asks us to leave his TV room.  When he wants company, he comes looking for us.  We do things together, but not so many that it seems we don’t give him space.  His appetite has been good, and he loves going to the gym with TGG.

We did notice that he put on a few pounds (nothing to be alarmed…just four pounds that weren’t there before,) and we checked his wallet and the school-sanctioned snacking continues.  That, of course, will be off the table on Friday.  We take him out and he buys his usual snacks, and he accepts the portions we have agreed to at home.  He gets his cookies, chips, popcorn, cheese, and so on in the measure that is healthy.  He doesn’t complain, and he actually looks forward to the Thursday evening visit from the ice cream truck.  If he’s planning The Great Escape, he’s being more discreet than Steve McQueen et al.  Maybe he’s just taking a page from James Thurber’s The Cat-bird Seat, and we will all look like fools in the end.

We are by now, I think, old pros at this transition process, and we will have to apply all our hard-earned wisdom and knowledge when the time comes (next June…oh my!) to end J’s school days.  For now, though, we are simply adjusting to another shift in the routine, and we need to figure out if J’s just ready for summer, or if he’s annoyed and anxious about something else entirely.

When I go back to the summer I was 20 (many, many years ago) I remember that trip to Europe and the frustration of not getting my Three Coins In the Fountain summer.  My mother and godmother took us to The Vatican more times than required, and we didn’t get to see the Sistine Chapel because “it will hurt our necks!  I didn’t come to Rome to end up with a pain in my neck!!!”  In Florence I had to fight for the right to look at Michelangelo’s David without censorship, and the Moulin Rouge in Paris was verboten (“it’s not all fun and games like Toulouse-Lautrec made it seem!”,) but we did get our bit of unwanted nudity at the Lido.  I discovered I had early-onset rheumatism in London, and wasn’t allowed to stay out late in Spain in spite of the fact that the sun had yet to set when we left whatever restaurant we’d gone to for the umpteenth time.  J probably views his life in the same terms; even if we’ve covered his walls with Kate Upton, pin-up girls, and his bedtime is only restricted on school nights (and that because he drags ass with the best of them in the morning,) he probably thinks there’s this huge conspiracy to make him miserable.  Just as I felt that I was on the most anticipated trip ruined by my mother, J probably will think that all the fun and games will be parentally kiboshed while we’re in D.C.  Either that or, in true J fashion, he will be so enamored of the hotel experience (because he LOVES hotels) that we won’t be able to drag him out of the room for the whole four days.  J, it is said around these parts, has a bit of the Hugh-Hefner-in-his-silk-pajamas about him…he likes to lounge and enjoy the AC and the luxury of a room where he won’t be asked to make the bed.

Between now and then, of course, I have to square away the transition to vacation-mode.  I’m sure that the current state of dissatisfaction comes from the limbo between “nose to the grindstone” and “what the heck…it’s the last week!!!!”  We’ll try to remove the SIB.  I’m on it.  I really am…  Especially with the med about to go away and leave us…forever…

Day Four…not “just a dummy”

Oh, sacrosanct bovine…I was doing fine, I swear, and then we went to the pool.  Now I’m here, all of forty-eight years old, hyperventilating like the little kid I was in the playground when someone insulted me and I couldn’t respond immediately.  My response now, as then, was to simply gather my things and leave…

I pride myself in being a frequent traveler along the high road, but today I wish I was not so dignified.  I wish I could turn around and comment on someone’s parenting right to their face, but -I admit- I am both oozing dignity and a horrible coward.  That and I was taken by surprise.

Let me explain:

This morning we had to make a rush trip to the store because we couldn’t find J’s swim trunks.  On our way back we stopped for lunch so it wasn’t until nearly three that I finally managed to get him into his new flamingo-print board shorts and down to the pool.  He immediately parked himself on the step…that’s what he does.  J sits on the step and there he stays until he’s good and ready to get into the water…say around August.

Today he went in and actually made a more proactive attempt to get farther into the pool than he usually does this early in the season.  Today he reached mid-July depths.  This, mind you, is an excellent sign.  The kid is not just apparently adjusting well to the decrease in his medication, but he’s also enunciating more, trying to spontaneously express what he wants and actually stepping out of his comfort zone and into the pool.  Good stuff, right???

And then the kid with the big mouth showed up and we had to go…

Harmless seeming enough, a dad and his two young children approach the pool.  A heavy Southern accent, but a happy, open smile from the dad and the little girl who walked past us.  Into the water they went, and little whatisname (maybe all of seven or eight years old) immediately starts teasing his sister and commanding attention.  The little girl, maybe five years old?, makes her way past J and tries to engage him in conversation.  He smiles, but -of course- doesn’t respond to her chattiness with anything other than a grin.  The little girl, I can hear from where I’m sitting because J has asked to SIT, is telling him the water is nice and come in and see.  J does nothing other than smile, and I sign from a distance GO WATER PLAY and SAY HELLO.  He just smiles, but he’s not rejecting the little girl’s friendliness, he’s just being…well…autistic.

Up on the terrace, sitting in the shade, another member of this particular party is strumming a guitar quite soothingly.  J smiles at the sound, and I sign to him LISTEN GUITAR.  And he signs GUITAR back to me, and smiles even more broadly.  His eyes lift up to the sky and he closes his eyes, clearly enjoying this little bonus around the pool.

TGG is sunning himself nearby, enjoying his day off and getting ready for class tonight by just plain ol’ chillin’ out.  When he sits up and comes to me, I see the little girl becoming more insistent and, because she comes closer and makes the water splash a bit, J lets out a little AH-AAAH that indicates the water is cold, but not unpleasant.

I tell TGG to sit near J and help him say HELLO to this little girl, and TGG promptly moves over to his side and I can hear him saying SAY HI.  The boy with the long blond hair starts approaching his little sister, and she splashes him playfully and, here it comes, clear as a bell we hear:


As I feel my shoulders tense up, I see TGG’s echoing this reaction.  To my left, out of the corner of my eye, I see the dad  still in the water, looking at his kids with a stupid smile on his face.  And wait to see if I hear so much as a low “hey, come here” directed at his son, or perhaps some movement in the boy’s direction.


I hear the boy say the word DUMMY again.  I look at TGG and I can tell he’s looking back at me.  I sign DID THE BOY JUST CALL J DUMMY?  TGG’s face says YES better than any sign could.  I wait a couple more minutes, and then I motion for J to get up and come get his shirt.  Without making eye contact, we calmly gather our things, and leave…

As we walk away from the pool area, I verbally ask TGG if he heard what I heard.  Yes, he says, that kid called J dummy.  That’s when I feel like I’m going to cry, and simply hook my arm around TGG’s and guide J towards the Mail Room because he’s asking for the key.  On the way up the hill, I have to talk TGG into not going back and saying a thing or two to these people…

I don’t know where they live.  I know there are three families that have moved within a few doors of us in recent days, but since I don’t particularly keep looking out the window to locate the new neighbors, I don’t know where they live.  And even if I did, what would I do?  Ring their doorbell and tell them “teach your child acceptance?”  Leave a note on their door that says “he’s not just a dummy?”  Post a note in the Mail Room for the whole neighborhood to see stating that my son is as valuable as their children and…what????

It’s not my job to teach other people how to raise their children.  It’s not my job to teach other people’s children that they are being offensive.  I’ve taught my children how to behave.  I think I did it again today, though perhaps it would have been better (in the eyes of others) if I’d taught them to face up to an unpleasant situation by making it a “teachable moment.”  If the dad heard what his son said, I’m sure he either doesn’t think it was that offensive (kids will be kids, I guess) or he’s mortified and will tell his wife about it when they go home.  Maybe they’ll be embarrassed.  Maybe they’ll think it’s no big deal.  Maybe I’m overreacting.

At the end of the day, all we can do in this household is echo John Mayer’s words: We keep on waiting.  
Waiting on the world to change.

Waltzing to a jitterbug…

The past three days we’ve dedicated all our efforts to wilting.  This is not voluntary, but it is inevitable.  The temperatures and humidity have conflated to have this effect on us, and we have -obedient humans that we are- given in with very little resistance.  Oh, the A/C is going, but it’s doing its best against a powerful force.  I have been watering the plants when I get up (and the temperature is at 70℉,) and again in the afternoon when the sun is no longer directly attacking the north-east facing side of the house.  Before I go to bed, I water them again.  They look so grateful that it’s hard to complain about how much work this is…

J is unfazed.  He has his patio umbrella, his shady corner on the deck, his many bottles of water and his (result of an inspired moment at the store) battery-powered mister.  The only thing missing is the girl in a bikini bringing him ice and rubbing his feet.  I hope he doesn’t get any ideas.

By nine a.m. we were heading to the pool.  TGG and J were in charge of towels and pool toys.  I was in charge of the camera.  Yes, I am one of those annoying mothers who has pictures of her children doing all sorts of mundane things.  Today I got pictures of TGG soaking his tired body in the pool while J shot at him with a high-powered water gun.  I also managed to take pictures of the duck that came to swim with TGG.  She flew in, rather abruptly, and landed in the water.  After a few seconds of paddling around, she realized we were there…in the water.  We were more amazed than she was, that’s for sure.  We were the ones gaping.  She was dismissive of our presence, and only got out because she probably gets shooed away by other people she runs into.

TGG called out to her in duck-ese.  It must have been an appealing entreaty because our newfound friend turned to look at TGG and approached the edge of the pool.  J just sat on one of the lounge chairs quacking softly to himself, a big smile curling his lips.  TGG continued to speak to the duck, and she jumped back in the water.  I took as many pictures as I could without spooking her, and I kept asking J “can you see this?”  He smiled and said SEE THIS in response.

It was obviously a moment that J was enjoying thoroughly.  With the water gun in his hand, he simply sat there, quietly quacking and smiling, not making a single move to scare our friend away.  Ten minutes she stayed with us, happily swimming around and then preening.  (Do ducks preen?  I know cats preen, but I have to google what it is that ducks do…)  All the while, TGG kept his ducky chatter, and she responded with loud quacks here and there, and with movements of her head and wings.

And then TGG must’ve said something rather offensive.  The duck turned her head and glared at him in much the same way a human girl would have.  She quacked loudly, turned around and, without so much as a goodbye, flew away.

J thought this was highly entertaining.  He observed the interaction between his brother and the duck as he would a cartoon.  When the duck flew away, he felt like he could approach the pool and TGG…and that’s when the water fight (a rather one-sided one, by the by) started.

All TGG could manage was splashing J lightly.  J, with the advantage of his higher perch and his powerful “weapon,” proved to us that his aim is very good.  That TGG over-dramatized every reaction to J’s attacks made things more fun for J.  When you manage to react like James Cagney in the final scene of White Heat every time your baby brother shoots you with a water gun, you’re going to be the coolest guy in the world.  That you’ve conducted a conversation with a duck moments before doesn’t hurt either.

After all that excitement, we came home to get ready to wilt.  The sky is overcast and it makes for even more oppressive humidity.  J is taking it in his stride, though, with Elvis Costello and The Attractions singing The Only Flame in Town while he sits on his cheap plastic chair and holds the battery-operated mister in his hand.  When I went outside to announce that the song was originally in an album called Goodbye Cruel World, he looked at me as if I’d just said the funniest thing in the world, and then instructed me to go back inside and SIT.  I can prove this, I called out, and he closed the door on me.

Tomorrow we go to Farmers’ Market again, and then to the bakery and the library.  J doesn’t know it yet, but he’s going to the movies to watch Brave.  We haven’t told him because we don’t want him to rush through everything else to get to the movie theater all too early.  The art of timing things for him requires a lot of fine-tuning indeed…his internal clock and my energy don’t quite understand each other yet.

It’s all good, though.  We are enjoying this dance of ours, even if it happens at two different speeds and rhythms.  The faster J tries to work through something, the more I slow down.  I am not trying to irritate him, but I do want him to savor certain things a little more.  In a hot and humid climate, lethargy can be a good thing…the slow approach to a vigorous activity, lassitude that encourages daydreaming…an soft-serve ice cream cone from the truck that comes to the neighborhood in the early evening hours and melts over your fingers because it’s hot out and you’re just savoring it.  That is so much better than a popsicle from the freezer, eaten quickly to alleviate the heat of the afternoon.

That’s why I encourage duck-talking, and slowly easing one’s self into the pool…those are the things you remember and make you laugh…

The discreet and judicious return of Water Baby…

The board, like paper, will hold whatever you put on it, and I wasn’t particularly convinced that the PECS for SWIM would fly with J.  When he attended the swimming program with his class, it took weeks for him to actually get into the water.  He did this on the last day.  Before then, my son had dipped his toes into the pool, then his whole feet, then the ankles, the calves…on the last day he decided he was ready, and they couldn’t talk him out of that pool until he was completely satisfied that he’d been in the water.

The story that got back to me from the teacher was that everyone there was so stunned that they just sat and watched him.  I am going to assume they were fascinated by J’s ability to find joy in something as simple as getting into the pool and laughing his head off with delight.  This always comes as a happy surprise, that J can do that with such abandon.

I remember a time when it was impossible to keep J out of the water.  When I was pregnant with J and he got rowdy, kicking hard enough to wake me up in the middle of the night, all I had to do to relax him was sit in the tub.  This was not easy, mind you, because the tub was really a galvanized metal tub where -quite frankly- I was mostly out of the water.  I’ve never seen a baby happier to be in his bath.  When he finally discovered swimming pools (at the age of four, when we moved to CA,) J would drag Dada to the water.  When we went down to the beach, J was the first barreling towards the surf, even before we put our things down on the sand.  So I’d be left setting things up while TGG and Dada went to make sure J didn’t make it all the way to Catalina.

One hot summer day, without warning, J arrived at the beach and started to scream.  When I say he started to scream, I mean to the point where people thought we were abducting him.  That was in 2003, and every attempt to take him to the water from that day until we moved to landlocked New Mexico was futile.  At most, J would get into an inflatable pool we set up in our backyard, but that was it.

To this day, I cannot figure out what happened to turn J off in regards to the ocean, or to swimming pools.  We checked and, no, the soles of his feet were not burned by too-hot sand; there were no jellyfish, and he didn’t get tangled in seaweed.  There were people there, and airplanes flying low with advertisement banners, but that was not an unusual occurrence, and it shouldn’t have made that much of a difference.

Whatever it was that caused his sudden and violent dislike for the beach, we missed taking him.  You cannot imagine how many beautiful pictures we have of J running and laughing at the edge of the water.

So this morning I was worried about introducing the idea of going to the pool.  J jumped at it.  He said POOL quite clearly, and immediately changed into the swimming trunks I bought for him a few weeks ago.  The doctor told us yesterday that, yes, our J has lost some weight.  He’s paring it off slowly, and we’re now having to tighten our drawstrings more than we did before.  To walk down to the pool, J wore an XL t-shirt that didn’t look like The Incredible Hulk might burst out of it at any moment.  The same can be said, thank you very much, about my bathing suit.  Ever the optimist, I had bought a bathing suit last summer and couldn’t persuade J to go to the pool, today I finally put it on, and into the water I went.

Things I discovered today:

  1. J takes his time getting into the water, but it’s not out of fear; he seems to savor the experience.
  2. Spiders swim…or they float appearing to be dead and, when removed with the pool skimmer, they start vigorously moving towards whomever is holding the pole, and the person then screams, runs and, thankfully, no one other than J is there to see her make a fool of herself.
  3. J can’t tell that leaves are not fish when they’re in the water.
  4. J knows he’s taller than I am, but he doesn’t think my feet are touching the bottom of the pool when I stand at the deep end (deep?  Ok, deep to a four-foot tall person…) with my arms up.
  5. J will return to the pool because (even when he was freaking out about the “fish” leaves) he was smiling all the time.
  6. I still fit into that bathing suit, but that might be because I opted for an “older lady” bathing suit.  This, however, continues to be a huge relief to me.

On Friday, when J has no summer program, we will go back to the pool.  It is best, I think, to do it early in the morning when no one else is there.  J is not self-conscious, but people might not understand why he reacts in the way he does.  I don’t want small children running away in a panic and parents either challenging us or whispering about us.

Our appointment with the psych went well.  He was under the impression, and only the Good Lord knows why he would think this, that we would be phasing the med out on our own rather than consulting with him.  J sat there, hatless and happy, for the half-hour our visit lasted.  When we walked out of there, he was still happy, possibly because he knew he doesn’t have to go again until September.  Quite honestly, the rest of us feel happy about that too…

And we’re heading into Thursday.  Summer is officially beginning on this side of the planet…and it will go fast.  It always does…



The unofficial start of summer…

This last weekend in May is when America decides summer has begun.  The pool has been packed all weekend, people have been grilling, and we have been acclimating J to the new and improved board, and to the idea that now comes a lull between school-year and summer school.  These tasks have been easier than I imagined…and Amen!

Our Sunday morning breakfast was lazy, as usual; we lingered around the table and sipped our coffee…oh, restorative elixir.  Of course, J had a better idea on how to start the day, namely doing chores.  With as much enthusiasm as we could muster to mimic his, we handed him clean sheets, a duster and the vacuum cleaner.  In minutes, with a huge smile on his face, J had cleaned his room and shamed us into doing the same to the rest of the house.

The weather has made for a lot of indoor time.  J parked himself in the basement and, for the first time in months, the fans and air conditioner are not making us refer to it as “the frozen tundra.”  He has emerged to the general areas of the kitchen and dining area to have lunch and dinner with us, eloquently requesting leftover pizza (which TGG took him to pick up from their favorite pizza joint last night) and partaking of tacos with the rest of us.

Tomorrow we will sit down and write thank-you notes for his mentors and teacher, and we will put together a tray of pastries to take on Tuesday morning.  This is the part where J starts easing into “goodbye for now,” and I’m sure I’ll end up taking notes for the psychiatrist.  Sadness, to a degree, is understandable, and having had a great school year, sadness is even more justified.  J has made such good friends that I would worry if there wasn’t a bit of nostalgia and tugging at his heartstrings.

The rest of us are fine.  We have realized that we are officially settled here.  We have gone from summer to autumn to winter to spring and are easing into summer…we are completing a circle.  We have plants to care for, living things that need us to survive.  We have furniture that looks like it belongs where we’ve set it, and we can easily find our way even in neighborhoods we had never frequented before a few weeks ago.  Last year, at this time, we were pondering the possibility of moving out here with the skepticism of people who didn’t expect such a great opportunity to favor us…yes, the economy is that bad and we know there were others rooting for a change like the one we effected.  That we are here, that we survived a drive across the country with two cats, a moving truck, our van, TGG driving and a bike rack that wouldn’t stay put regardless of how hard we tried to persuade it or secure it…all this seems quite miraculous.

The first yellow squash has emerged…the zucchini is starting to strut its stuff.  Morning glories seem poised to bloom, and our herbs are doing so well we are giddy with excitement.  We are home, and J is happy.  We have successfully completed a cycle that we started with trepidation and, trust us to be the ones to do such a thing, now we’re going to shake the can and hear the pebbles rattle.  Yes, my friends, in less than a month we will pare the meds down to one dose a day.  We had said “we’ll do it come summer!” like it would take forever for summer to get here…

Well…tick, tick, tick…we’re working our way to the day when it happens…

We hope the pool is not as crowded early tomorrow morning, but we’re not holding our breath…