Anxiety about the Unkown

When I was about 10, my parents and I watched “Iceman,” a movie about a neanderthal man found in ice and resuscitated. The question I had for my mom at the end was if it was ever possible for us to return to that state of being – unfamiliar with the technology of the day, and possessing only the most meager of skills. She answered that it was possible in the event of a nuclear war (this was in the mid-80s). Unbeknownst to her, I began to panic about the possibility of nuclear war, and the media coverage of the cold war only fed my frenzy to the point that I was afraid when I heard planes flying overhead, thinking it was the Russians about to drop the bomb.

My dad finally talked me off that ledge (he really would have been a fantastic teacher or counselor) one night, explaining to me that my fears were not founded in logic, and that I was safe.

I went about my life, and I was fine.

But every once in awhile, I get gripped by a current worry, and it turns into an irrational fixation. The internet is a wonderful tool and the most fantastic invention of our time, but during these moments, it is my worst enemy. Rather than trusting my own intuition, experience, and intelligence, I go searching for an answer from strangers who don’t know me or my situation. The answer must be out there, I tell myself.

how I worryAnd so, with my child’s future seemingly in the balance, and a boy who looked at me with panic in his eyes last night, asking “Do I have to quit band?” this is where I am today. In front of the computer, searching for answers, for someone to tell me the right thing to do. Do I choose one of the pre-existing paths for The Boy to follow through high school, possibly denying him access to college or, on the other hand, subjecting him to years of struggle and stress in general ed classes with little support? Do I try to blaze a new trail and fight for a hybrid that is legally his right (with little hope of succeeding)? Do I fight for  him to be in marching band when I’m not sure whether his love for it is more obsession or genuine interest? Do I just pull him out and homeschool (somehow)?

For my sake, I’m putting it out of my mind for a bit, waiting to hear when the meeting with the director of special ed will occur, and asking for the IEP to be postponed at least a week. Coping through distraction and delay. :/

 

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Dead Computer

Sunday, The Boy had a computer go down.

I can usually get things up and running, or at least figure out the problem. That day, the problem turned out to be a really old computer that just wasn’t going to turn on anymore.

He had found it high up on a shelf in my closet, and had been using it for awhile, primarily to watch videos. Why can’t he watch videos on the portable DVD player he has? You’re asking the wrong person. It was a Gateway computer (I don’t think they even make them anymore, do they?) that his dad and I had bought, possibly before he was even born. It wasn’t even capable of accessing wi-fi. Yep, OLD.

pexels-photo-51415But to him, it was like watching a friend die, and that core piece of The Boy’s autism, attachment to things, reared its head again. He insisted he had damaged it by dropping it, which he hadn’t. He insisted that it couldn’t possibly be replaced. We kept focusing on the fact that he is getting a new computer – a delayed Christmas present to replace the brand new one that crapped out on us the day after Christmas. He didn’t want to hear any of it. His old friend, the Gateway, was toast, and his world was ending.

The Man turned to me at one point in the day-long drama with utter disbelief that he felt so strongly about a thing.  “I don’t get it,” he said. I tried to explain about attachment to things, but it is difficult for us NTs to understand.

I do know when The Boy is hurting, though. We made the best of the day, tried to be gentle and talk him through it. By evening, he was making peace with himself and the reality that the computer was not going to turn on again. And the next day he was searching online for a new one.

It’s not going to go away, this attachment to things. Or maybe it will. I don’t know. It’s hard to predict and prepare for, though. So in the meantime, we just have to try to understand, get some perspective, and be gentle. Poor kiddo.

Participation

Participation trophies.

Let me tell you that I’m on the fence here, but I’m leaning.

Kids should not get something for nothing.

I do not think you need to have a graduation ceremony from preschool.  Nor do I think you need one from kindergarten, 5th grade, or 8th grade.  There should be one graduation ceremony, honoring your hard work, which was a long-term goal.  The rest of that nonsense does not need to happen.  A celebration?  Sure! Graduation? No.

Nor do I think 8th graders should be taking limos and renting tuxes for their 8th grade dance.  That’s a prom thing, and some traditions should be kept to the original event.

But participation awards?

That’s a little different.

This country has an obsession with sports.  If you look at the highest paid people in any society, you will see what they value in their culture.  Look at how competitive kids sports are.  Look at how young they enter AAU leagues, and spend their entire summers (and sometimes school years) traveling, training, and competing.  Look at how many news stories you see about parents who don’t know how to support their children, and cannot control themselves at games.

Every field day, my kid comes home with a participation ribbon.  He doesn’t win stuff in sports.  I didn’t either.  Just about every kid in my elementary school was on a soccer team.  I wasn’t.  I had absolutely no interest.  I played parks and rec basketball and softball a bit.  I was on middle school and freshman volleyball, and I played co-rec in college.  But it wasn’t my bag.

And it gets old seeing other people get stuff all the time.  It’s like watching the popular kid be popular all the time, or the really pretty girl be the center of attention all the time.  It just gets old.

And maybe the participation is kind of a socialist thing, spreading the good feelings around to everyone, regardless of athletic ability.  But before you jump on the socialist part of that statement, think about the other part.  The part about spreading good feelings around to all the kids.  Isn’t that something we want?

I don’t think participation ribbons make any kid think they deserve stuff for not earning it.  A participation ribbon never made me think I had really won anything.  But it told me that at least I showed up and tried at this thing I wasn’t really into.  And in truth, there’s a lot of value in that.  Lots of people grow up and have jobs that they’re not really into, and they aren’t the very best in their field, but they still get paid because they show up and try.

The Boy has taught me a lot.  Every kid is different, and too much in our society tries to peg them into the same interests and hierarchies.  It’s time we really look at kids as people in their own right.  Just because they didn’t win the tournament doesn’t mean they didn’t learn anything from it.  In fact, they probably learned much more from losing.

So if a participation ribbon commemorates showing up, trying, and learning, isn’t that what life’s really all about?

Participation ribbons for everyone. Everyone.

ran-at-school-carnival-got-a-participation-ribbon

Pets and a Big Dose of Mommy Guilt

Thursday, The Man and I decided to rescue a cat that had walked into his worksite as if he owned the place.  In fact, we surmised that the previous renters did abandon him there and he was just too sweet of a cat to leave to the whims of fate.  We struggled for a couple of hours with the idea of the commitment and what it would mean to The Boy, and in the end, I brought him home in the car.

When I went to pick up The Boy, he was overjoyed once he understood what was happening, and was jumping up and down with excitement.  I, too, was excited, as I had missed the thought of a little furball to cuddle with in the evenings, someone to come home to…

We bought the requisite pet stuff, and I caught The Boy laying on the floor with him more than once, just petting him as they lay parallel to each other. It was incredibly sweet.

Raphael

And then yesterday, reality caught up with me, and reminded me why I hadn’t had cats in the house since The Boy was in preschool… My allergies reared up and smacked me in the face. I was miserable. And then to make matters worse, our bedroom overnight was probably in the 80s, temperature-wise, because we have to keep the door closed so the cat won’t be in my face, making it impossible to breathe.  And when the door is closed, the antiquated A/C cannot physically push any cool air into that room.  Miserable upon miserable.

And before you say, “Just get Claritin/Zyrtec/Allegra/whatever-OTC-med-most-people-take-for-allergies,” there’s a funny story about that… I’m allergic to allergy meds.  They make me break out in hives.  Yep, I’ve been on this merry-go-round before and it is not fun.

And I am KICKING myself for getting myself into this all over again because now I have broken The Boy’s heart.

Thank you monthly hormones, for amplifying this crazy mommy-guilt to an inhuman level.  The Boy is actually doing OK with the probability that we will have to find “Raphael” a new home.  He’s processing, but he is not being dramatic and blubbery as I kind of expected.  He’s actually trying to offer solutions, albeit not entirely rational ones.

And I am sad because Raphael really is just the sweetest cat, and he and I could have really gotten along well together if my immune system didn’t believe he was killing me.

Now I just need to find an adult cat a new home (easy, right?) and make things better for my autistic son who obsesses about cats, and has for years (also a no-brainer, right?), while reassuring myself that this situation can’t be helped (while I just *smh* at myself inside my head).

*sigh*

A First: Saying No to an Obsession

Obsessions are a part of autism.  And most of the time they are at least benign (like Sonic the Hedgehog), if not something we parents wish to encourage towards a future career (like computers).  Usually, we tolerate the obsession until we ourselves become experts, learning about every type of car dome headlight that is made on the planet.  Sometimes we have to limit the time we talk about cats for our very sanity.

But I have never before had to say no to an obsession.

363px-Decorative_toilet_seatSeveral years ago, The Boy had an obsession with toilets.  He went through a period where he learned just about every brand of toilet, and would watch YouTube videos of toilets flushing all day if we let him (and yes, there are lots and lots of YouTube videos about toilets, if you didn’t know).  And after awhile, as most obsessions do, it petered out, replaced by something else.

And after his visit to his dad’s this spring, The Boy’s obsession with toilets resurfaced, as obsessions sometimes do (especially after infrequent visits with his dad).  But this time, he graduated to an obsessive (almost compulsive) desire to experience real live toilets.  He would spend hours in the toilet aisle at Lowe’s (if we let him), and at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.  He began to take his iPad into the bathrooms at home and at Grammy’s to videotape them flushing.  And then he began to take his iPad into public restrooms, when empty, to videotape them, as well.

He seemed to understand that it was not OK to make videos when other people were in the restroom, but that necessitated our waiting until the coast was clear, which was not always easy.  And then the obsession intensified so that he would need to see and/or video every toilet at every stop we made in a day (and if you’ve read the blog at all, you may remember that The Man stops in quite a few convenience stores in a day to refill his diet coke or to pee, the only vice he has).

And then a few weekends ago, we spent $50 to take a ferry ride to a nearby National Park site (The Boy’s idea so he could “visit” the toilets there), which resulted in a meltdown and another ferry ride back within the hour.  I didn’t even get to the beach.

I began to plan a reduced amount of time where he would be allowed to do this, which I knew would be painful.

And then we had another incident this past weekend. And we had to just say no more.  No more videotaping of toilets in public restrooms.  We were in the car a couple of hours from home, so he couldn’t run away, and couldn’t really rage too much.  He is a better listener and communicator in the car. He wasn’t happy, and I wasn’t comfortable with the complete elimination, knowing it would be a very difficult transition for him.  But he seemed to accept it by the time we arrived home.  “I can take pictures with my invisible camera and save them to the cloud,” he said.  “Or you could take them with the camera in your mind and just remember them,” I offered.  He seemed to like that.

The Man and I were cautiously hopeful.

The next day, the Boy expected to be able to go videotape some bathroom again, and again I told him we weren’t going to do that anymore.  He still didn’t like it.

“I guess I’m not interested in that anymore,” he said angrily.  And my heart broke a little.

I know his interests are a part of him, and by saying “no more” it is hurting him.  But he is a big kid now, taller than me, and people out there are not as patient with tweens as they are with the cute little ones.  I just don’t trust that someone won’t call the cops on him for being creepy.  We have explained that to The Boy in the simplest terms, and I hope he is starting to understand, but there’s really no way to know.

So far, it hasn’t been a daily battle, but I think it will be tougher on the weekends, when we are out and about.  I know we need to try to “replace” this obsession with a new one, too, but that is much easier said than done.  So this will be a struggle for us, and we’ll just have to see how it plays out.  It’s a first for all of us, and no fun for any of us.

Agitation

The Boy was agitated Saturday, it seemed like all day.  Nothing was working right for him, he couldn’t find things when he needed them, and he was on edge.  Everyone has days like this, but not everyone’s agitation could end up in a full blown meltdown, so I was also on edge as a result.

We tried to take it easy, and take him places he would enjoy.  He particularly loves to go to dealerships with The Man and look at cars, and sit in as many as he can to check out the interior dome lights, one of his obsessions.  While we were pulling in to the local flea mall, where The Man bought him a toy Town & Country van similar to the one that now picks him up for school in the morning, The Boy spotted a place that repairs cars, and sometimes sells used ones.  He made us promise we would stop to look at the cars when we were done at the flea mall, and we complied.

When we stopped, I stayed in the car, as I usually do, because I am not obsessed with cars, and quickly become bored.  The Man is fairly deft at handling The Boy and redirecting him when necessary on these excursions.  But today, The Boy opened a car door, and The Man found a key in the ignition.  It was fairly important to get that key back to the shop, so I carefully watched The Boy as The Man went inside.  The Boy, of course, began to flit toward cars that I couldn’t be certain didn’t belong to anyone, because people leave their cars unlocked down here.

He chose a Saab sitting next to the shop, and when he opened the back door to see the some lights, I saw a jacket and a tennis racket inside, and realized this was someone’s car!  I carefully steered him away, trying to explain that we couldn’t go in that car because it wasn’t for sale, and The Boy wasn’t quite understanding – if they belonged to someone, why were they open?  Then he chose a Jeep right in front of the shop, and The Man motioned to him from inside to get out of that one, too.  That one was also not for sale.

I redirected him toward the front section of cars, and let him be until the Man returned.  It was then we realized The Boy was upset.

Keys to the SonicHe “has” an imaginary Chevy Sonic, to which he has created a set of keys, complete with a computer-generated and printed key fob with lock, unlock, and alarm buttons, as well as a cat charm.  He takes them to school everyday.  The key is an actual key that was an engraving mistake from the hardware store, given to him for free.

As his eyes brimmed with tears, he told me that he had to give up his Sonic now, and trade it in for a Land Rover.

This was his punishment, I believe for going in cars that he wasn’t supposed to.  Neither The Man nor I had been upset with him, but he felt like he had done something wrong, and needed a punishment, so his “car” needed to be traded in.

I felt awful for him, and I didn’t really know how to help.  I insisted he didn’t need to give up his Sonic, and then tried to redirect his attention elsewhere.  When we stopped at the hardware store on the way home, he picked up another key, deciding that he needed to replace his current keys with Land Rover keys…  OK.  Whatever you need to do.

This morning, he announced that he was able to return the Land Rover and exchange it for the Sonic, so something had shifted, and all was right in his world again.  These are the times when I would love to have just an hour inside his head…

This is a Stepdad

Today, The Man and I got up early and went to the store to get 6 gallons of paint – we were finally going to start painting the house!  The Man has single-handedly remodeled this place, and this summer, we replaced the siding, which was 20 years old.  To save money we used panels that were “seconds” and therefore marked on the corners with blue paint.  Because of those marks, staring us in the face every time we drove up, we were anxious to finish the job, and the exterior paint was almost the last step.

I’ve helped the man do a fair share of painting, in our own house, as well as on a few large jobs he’s had.  But I am not a painter.  I was doing pretty good this morning, but got extremely frustrated after lunch and quit.  I am not usually a quitter, but it was beyond what I could handle, so I walked away.  The Man finished that side of the house on his own, and then moved on to cutting the lawn.

He had asked The Boy if he wanted to “drive” the mower today, so when he was ready, he took him for a few rides around the house before he started mowing in earnest.  I took a few snaps, and came inside to relax for awhile (the sound of the mower tends to put me to sleep).

mowing101

And then I heard voices.  I looked through the back doors and saw The Boy and The Man on the mower.  The Man was directing him where to go, and The Boy was actually mowing the lawn, steering, going in reverse, slowing down, and keeping his lines straight.  It was a pretty neat sight, and erased all of my earlier frustration.

Because this was more than a stepdad showing his stepson how to mow the lawn.

This is a stepdad who understands how fascinated his autistic stepson is with cars, and watches how he pretends to start his own car every time he climbs into a vehicle.  This is a stepdad who took his stepson to his favorite hardware store, and asked them to give him one of the mistakes from the key-making counter, so he could have his own set of car keys.  This is a stepdad who watched his stepson pretending to steer and use turn signals in his truck this very morning, and decided to give him an opportunity to steer something with a real-live running engine, while throwing a hands-on lesson in there, to boot.

This is a stepdad.

Deconstructing Glasses

I’m pretty sure no one on Earth will need this tip, but just in case…

I think I’ve mentioned The Boy’s penchant for fake eyewear.  He wears them so regularly that his teachers have even been fooled into thinking that they are prescription.  Lately, however, he has been preferring the pair of 3D glasses brought home from Toy Story 3, from which he has torn the flimsy black “lenses”.  The reason?  He doesn’t have to clean them if there are no lenses. (Of course, duh…)

Except that he has outgrown the 3D pair (graduating from the all-purpose “kids’ size” to the all-purpose “adult size” in the interim, I suppose), so they look rather silly.  Not a big deal, but we are trying to make new friends in our new community… The Man and I had found a set of three pairs of reading glasses for $3 at the local discount store, and I mentioned it to The Boy, saying we could probably pop the lenses out.  He liked the sound of that, so we bought a set.

glasses de-gooingAnd he decided he wanted me to pop the lenses out about half hour before we had to leave for camp this morning…  Bleh!  So I pushed on those plastic lenses until my thumbs hurt, and could only budge them a bit.  I tried hot water and then cold water to see if expanding and contracting the plastic of the frames would help, but to no avail.  Finally I considered my old friend Goo Gone.  I poured some into a plastic plate, and places the glasses, lenses down, into the Goo Gone.  After about 20 minutes, the lenses popped out with little resistance.  Not sure why this worked, but it did.

So, if you ever find yourself in the position of needing to pop lenses out of some plastic frames, now you know what to do.  Glad to be of help 😉

His Latest Obsession

His latest obsession is killing me.  Ever since he returned home from being at his dad’s for two weeks, it has been non-stop cats: dressing like a cat (which consists of sticking a scarf in your pantwaist), meowing, crawling on the floor, and talking about “Gary”, his imaginary cat.

The Boy's hands after he returned from his dad's in January...

The Boy’s hands after he returned from his dad’s in January…

Today, I snapped.  Not feeling well and trying to get some rest, I asked if we could take a break from the meowing.  And as soon as the words left my lips I knew what a mistake I had made.  You just can’t suggest that he take a break from his obsession.  That would be like asking someone to take a break from their career.  It’s not that easy.

But it’s driving me batty.  Mostly because I can’t really help him make this one useful.  And he keeps asking about when he can get a cat, and when I will outgrow my allergy.  And I’m not a huge fan of cats to begin with.  If the “visitor cat” were coming around, he’d get his fix that way, but I don’t think he’ll be coming around with multiple inches of snow on the ground.

And so.  I’m at an impasse.  And slowly going insane.

Bec at snagglebox.com wrote an amazing post about this very topic.  I think I need to re-read it a few hundred times to get me through this.

Testing His Hypothesis

The Boy has a science project: develop and test a hypothesis.  His wonderful ASD teacher suggested hooking him with a subject he likes.  The Boy and I read through the assignment, and one of the suggestions was “Test what food your pet likes…” — we didn’t even finish the sentence, and he started hopping around, saying we should do that with “Gary”.

“Gary” is his imaginary cat.  Or rather, Fantastic Babysitter picked up a tiny little stuffed kitty, and wrote an adoption letter from the shelter (and included a tiny little litter box, food tray, etc.), and The Boy promptly named him “Gary”.  You know, like the snail.  From Spongebob.  Anyway, when we leave the house now, The Boy has to get on his imaginary phone and call the cat sitter to come over to watch Gary…

Gary, chillin' in the bathroom

Anyway, I told him that if we were to do this, we would have to use a real cat.  I contacted Fantastic Babysitter who has a plethora of animals, and asked if we could, you know, borrow one for an experiment…  No, I explained the premise, and she said yes!  The Boy and I will be cooking up some homemade cat treats, and purchasing some store-bought ones as well, to test his hypothesis that the average cat would enjoy homemade treats more than store-bought ones.

If his obsession is with pets in general, and cats in particular at the moment, then we shall run with it.  I just hope it is relatively short-lived.  He asked the other day when I would grow out of my cat allergy, and it just about broke my heart…