On Being “Messy”

by .pst

by .pst

I got a call from my boss when I was out of town at a conference.  He was sitting down at my desk and trying to access something with my login.  When my “desktop” came up, he remarked at how “messy” it was.  It’s really not – it’s organized how I understand it, because it’s not used by anyone else, and I know where everything is located.

The Man has problems with my “messiness” as well, and that’s just how it is.  He is a super neat-freak who has a place for everything and everything is in its place.  He gets upset when a receipt is left on the counter, but he is learning to curb it now that he is sharing living space with me. “I used to be much worse,” he often remarks to me, and I think, “How is that even possible??”

But, I too, have curbed my messiness because I am now sharing space with him.  I live in a neater bedroom than I ever have in my life, as my mom can probably attest.  She used to some in my room periodically and threaten to throw everything on the floor into a garbage bag to be thrown out so that I would clean it up, and I, in turn, used to shove it all into my closet so she would leave me alone.

I must clarify that by messy, I do not mean dirty.

But it bothers me that “messy” is still such a bad thing.  I think it’s a personality trait and organizational style rather than any reflection on a person’s work ethic, as years of societal and motherly admonitions would have you believe.  I do not need others looking down on me because I am not as neat as they would have me be.  It obviously works for me, because I haven’t changed in all my years on the planet.

And apparently, being messy is a sign of a creative mind, not something I would disagree with, nor be ashamed of.  I think we “messy” ones need to be cut some slack, and be allowed to keep our own personal spaces as we wish without fear of being reprimanded or looked down upon.  Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

Baby Steps with Showering & Autism

The Boy hates to shower.  Well, like most kids he actually loves it once he’s in the water, but absolutely hates the idea of a shower or bath.  Compound that with the fact that he is super-sensitive about his body (i.e. can’t take a shirt off in front of me, and wears hoodies like they’re going out of style, even when it’s warm), and we have a constant battle on our hands to get clean.  And when puberty has hit, it is imperative for a boy his age to get clean, let me tell you.

He has also not had the skills to wash his own hair, which can be quite the challenge when he does everything in his power to hide his body from you.  For a few months, he would take his shower, and then I would wash his hair in the kitchen sink with the sprayer.  This became quite the production.

A few weeks ago, I finally decided to show him how to do this, embarrassment about his body be damned.  And I can tell you, he is learning.  The hardest part is getting him to back up far enough in the shower to get his entire head wet prior to applying the shampoo, and again to get the shampoo out.  I stand at one end of the shower, with the curtain held up so I “can’t see anything,” shouting out directions.  “Back up!  Tilt your head back!  Now turn your head to the right!”  I’m sure The Man is just shaking his head in the family room listening to it all, but it’s a learning process, and how the heck else are we going to do it?  I’ve thought about having him put his swim trunks on so I can climb in with him in my bathing suit, but…  Well, I’m not usually up for that after a long day at work, to be honest.  And besides, I think this is working.

I’ve also told him he needs to start taking more showers a week, because that’s what you have to do when you turn 12-and-a-quarter…

We’re getting there with baby steps, like usual.

The Sightreading of the Parenting World

When I was a band director, it was always expected that I took the bands to “Festival,” which is a nicey-nice term for what it really was – competition.  Ideally, the judges would rate each band according to an ideal, a standard, but in reality, they were comparing your group to the other groups they’d just heard, and would hear after yours, and indeed the phantom college band they had playing in their head at all times, being conducted by some very famous college band director.  And when you were done they would post your scores in the cafeteria, right under the group that had performed before you, and right above the group after you, so everyone could compare…  Yep, it was a competition through and through.

My favorite part as an educator, and my own gauge of my effectiveness as a teacher, though, was sightreading.  This involved taking your group of stage-frightened, stressed-out kids into an unfamiliar band room, and handing them manila envelopes with explicit rules not to touch the envelopes until directed to.  Then, after reading an interminably long page of more rules, the kids and I were able to see the music, and then had seven minutes in which to discuss two pieces of music.  We were not allowed to play a note, just review it together as quickly as possible, and try to catch all of the notes, rhythms, dynamic markings, and other nuances that normally take several months of rehearsal to bring to the stage.  Sometimes we ran out of time and didn’t get through it all.  Sometimes we had time left over.  But when time was up, we played, and were scored on how well we played by the judge.

I often feel like parenting is a lot like being a band director, preparing, rehearsing, going over details until they “get-it,” and then moving on to the next thing.  But that being an autism parent is more like sightreading.  Using all of your knowledge and skills, sometimes in what seems like a very condensed amount of time (because it usually just takes our kids a longer amount of time to do everything), on a stressed-out and overwhelmed kid, and hoping that you’ve done enough for them to be able to apply what you’ve taught them.  There’s a lot of adrenaline and anxiety, and at the end of the day, if you did the best you could do, you take what you’re given, reflect on what could have gone better, and get ready to do it again.

Except band directors (and students) do it once a year.  Autism parents do it every day.

Cheers to all the maestros out there.

He’s Baaaack…

I have a sneaking suspicion that the ex and his girlfriend broke up, because he’s decided to remember he has a son of his own.  He texted me in the middle of the week, saying he was sorry he was behind on child support, but that he’s been laid off, and would make a payment by the end of the week, oh, and he’s definitely a go for Easter, and could he call Thursday?

Sure, I replied.

Thursday evening rolled around, and another text that said he was still at work, and could he call Friday instead.

Sure, I replied.

He called while we were out to dinner, and I missed it, so I called him back before he could get to The Boy and start making promises that I would have to deal with when they were broken.

He laid out his plans for picking up The Boy for Easter Break, and didn’t ask for too much travel on our end.  He went on to talk about us bringing The Boy to Florida in May, because he has a friend who works at Discovery Cove, and could get us in free to every park in Orlando.  He suggested The Man and I come, too, and hang out with them for a couple of days if we wanted…

I told him I’d check the school calendar.

When he finally called to talk to The Boy on Saturday, I told him he could talk about Easter Break, but not to mention the other plans until they were more firm.

The unfortunate reality is that even positive contact with his dad has an impact on The Boy.  We are now bracing ourselves and warning his teachers, who have never experienced The Boy post-visit-to-dad’s.

And it has already begun. The slightest up-tick in defiance and rigidity, the constant fear of being left behind… All of the old emotions (and negative behaviors) return with a phone call and a promise.

The ex will never understand his own power.

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Instruction Manual

By Mestigoit

Whenever the ex re-enters The Boy’s life, I feel like he needs a new instruction manual. He doesn’t communicate all that regularly with him, and even then asks open-ended questions, which are difficult for those in the spectrum. I had to interrupt, get on the phone and remind him that yes or no questions work better and to keep trying when he spoke to The Boy this weekend, because I could hear the frustration in his voice, and could tell he was getting ready to quit trying to engage him in conversation.

When he goes to visit him in April, what will they talk about? He has no idea what The Boy’s interests are, or his friend’s names, or how he likes to spend his time.

Does he remember that he needs time for transitions? Does he remember that raising your voice is risky? Does he have any idea what he likes to eat?

No, he doesn’t. Because that’s what happens when you don’t see your kid for an entire year, and only attempt to talk to him every six weeks or so. That is what happens when you don’t have a relationship with someone on the spectrum.

I worry, but there’s not much I can do. There’s no instruction manual for any of us. Much of parenting is figuring it all out as you go along. Some of us have figured out that building a strong relationship with our kiddos makes things so much easier. Others of us haven’t figured that out yet.

An Unusual Space

I am in an unusual space, and it has me a bit disoriented.

I am in a hotel room by myself, while my husband and son are hours away.  It’s the first night I’ve spent away from my husband since before we were married, and it’s the first trip I’ve taken like this since I-can’t-remember-when.

And it feels weird.

Not bad weird, and not good weird.  Just weird.  To be truthful, I was kind of looking forward to some time all to myself, a rare thing anymore these days.  I value my alone-time and protect it fiercely, even getting slightly miffed at The Man when he’s running late in the morning, savoring those precious ten minutes when I am alone in the house and it. is. silent.

Maybe it’s from all those years of being a band teacher, but I crave silence.  And there isn’t much of it in our house because the TV is always on.  I don’t begrudge it, really – everyone has to have a vice, and I’m glad The Man isn’t hooked on anything worse.  But I have to admit I miss the quiet more than I thought I would.

So I was looking forward to some time to myself with no Family Guy, no Weather Channel, no squawks on the could-be-a-meltdown-radar…  But I miss my boys, and I’m cranky.

In the meantime, I’ll soak up the silence while I can get it.  It’s too bad it can’t be bottled. :)

Time and Space

After the divorce, The Boy talked to his dad about once a week on the phone.  At least, his dad did most of the talking, unsure of how to get him to respond, and frequently pissed off because The Boy didn’t speak much at all.  Over the years, his contact with The Boy has decreased dramatically, as I somehow knew it would, sooner or later.

The ex hasn’t seen his son in almost a year.  He hasn’t spoken to him since January 23.

People rarely change, unless they invite it, seek it, and educate themselves to effect it.  None of these, unfortunately, apply to the ex.  Unfortunately for The Boy, who will probably always have a strained relationship with his dad, if he has one at all.  And unfortunately for the ex, who obviously hasn’t a clue what he is missing, and won’t be able to get this missed time with his son back.

Luckily for The Boy, I think he notices it less now that he has a step-dad around, full-time.  One who takes him for rides in the truck, wrestles with him, jokes with him, and obviously cares about him.  The Man will never replace his dad, but he sure makes up for what his dad lacks in his life.  And that’s a good thing.  Couldn’t get much better, in fact.

My Boys

Middle of the Night

Every once in awhile, I come across some book or movie, something that speaks to me in a profound way, and I just have to share it.

The Man and I love to watch old movies.  Turner Classic Movies is our fall back, and we check to see what’s on every night of the week.  The Man often falls asleep to it, and sometimes wakes up to it.  Last night, as so often happens, he fell asleep, and I realized I was awake and started watching “Middle of the Night” from 1959 with Fredric March and Kim Novak.

You’ve probably never heard of it, but the script was by the same person who wrote “Marty,” which you probably have heard of if you know anything about old movies.  I’ve seen “Marty” and liked it – gritty and realistic about what it’s like to be lonely with little chance of finding love.  “Middle of the Night” is even better, and it’s unfortunate that it isn’t as well known.

Why am I writing about this old movie no one’s ever heard of?  Because it still has relevance, and I empathized with its characters, as some of you might, as well.

Middle_of_the_Night_(1959)_trailer_1Fredric March plays a 50-something business man, which was considered teetering on old age back then, while Kim Novak plays his 24 year-old secretary with whom he falls in love.  I won’t give the whole plot away, but suffice it to say that even in 1959, their families didn’t take too kindly to the age disparity in their relationships.  And in their own way, their friends and family began to tear away at what they had with their well-intentioned interference.  Saying how much they cared for them, not wanting them to make a mistake they would regret, cautioning them against being impetuous, they needled and cajoled and turned something positive into something negative until the couple was bickering and on the verge of breaking up.

Luckily, my own friends and family were largely supportive of The Man and I.  But there were some who were (and are) not.  And it hurts to have people who love you not be happy for you, out of misplaced “concern” for you.  And ultimately, they either accept your relationship, or you have to move on, and if not sever your relationship with them, at least keep them at a distance.  Because that kind of negativity will tear anyone down, and no one needs that.

In any case, this is an old movie that still resonates today, and I highly recommend it.  It’s amazing how little people change.

The Tuba is Here

tuba practiceIt seems the crisis has passed, although I have had to email the band director to find out the current assignments, and to ask him to make changes to his last quarter grade based on the tests I had sent him on video.  I think “maintenance” will be required within our new arrangement, but I don’t think they will again try to steamroll me into something that just isn’t right.

The tuba has arrived, and I again thank all of my readers that tried to help.  I actually found a decent one on ebay, and it is a smaller, easier size for The Boy to handle.  It isn’t pretty, but it does work, and hopefully we can work from where we are now.

According to the director, The Boy has begun playing more in class, but is still having problems starting with everyone else.  I had asked to come in and take video to do some reverse modeling, as suggested by the autism specialist, but the director was not comfortable having me come in to do that – just wanted me to “explain” to The Boy when to start playing.  So we continue to play this game, with him pretending like he is making accommodations and modifications, when he really just doesn’t get it, and isn’t going to lift a finger to try.

But I see progress, and I’ve stopped them from going down the usual path when they encounter a kid who “doesn’t meet the criteria,” so maybe, just maybe they’ll think twice before doing it to the next kid.

The Lego Movie: An Autism Mom’s Review

Last weekend, Grammy and I took The Boy to see the Lego Movie, and if you haven’t seen it, you should.  It is delightful, and not just for children.

The main reason I enjoyed it was the message.  For years, I have lamented the lack of room for creativity in today’s schools.  I used to have a poem somewhere about how school crushes creativity by creating sameness, and the paradox is that in a society that claims to celebrate the individual, the opposite is usually the case, at least as I have observed.

When I was young, I was involved in Odyssey of the Mind, which was a contest in creativity, giving kids the parameters of a problem, and seeing how they could solve the problem.  I don’t even know if it exitsts anymore, but  I doubt kids today would have any interest in something like that, let alone excel in it, and it’s through no fault of their own.

The Boy's building - no instructions! - constructed at the Lego exhibit at the museum last year

The Boy’s building – no instructions! – constructed at the Lego exhibit at the museum last year

In fact, Legos themselves have changed over the years, increasingly being sold in kits with directions on how to make something specific, rather than a bucket of bricks with which to make anything a kid desires.  This can create problems in an autism household when a specific brick goes missing, and therefore the directions cannot be followed!  I posted about a fix for this a long while ago, but directions can become a problem, for sure. The message of the movie, surprisingly, was that it doesn’t have to be that way.  That there is a benefit in following the directions, and teamwork, but that it has to be balanced with individual desires, and creative thinking.

From the autism mom’s perspective, I watched my son actively engaged throughout the movie, often laughing loudly, and catching lots of the subtle jokes.  It was fantastic to see him enjoy it so much.  And Grammy and I enjoyed it thoroughly, as well.  If you haven’t gone, you need to.  There’s a reason it’s still in the theaters!