Kudos to Summer Camp

I think we can all agree that the sleep-away summer camp is the single greatest invention in the history of parenting. You really can’t oversell this one. The parents get a break from refereeing and nagging, and the kids get to swim, climb, hike, and try new things without giving their parents the satisfaction of knowing about it. Summer camp is also the only time Justin gets excited about being in a non-digital environment for a week. It’s win-win.

The only knock against summer camp is the fact that it is a giant black hole into which my kids’ possessions disappear. Over the years, I have donated four towels, two shirts, three socks, and a set of glasses. (On the other hand, the little bottles of soap and shampoo that I throw in never go astray; they always come back untouched.)

So this year when it was time to come home, Justin insisted he had everything. I wasn’t foolish enough to accept this at face value. We’re talking about a guy who will insist he washed his hands despite not having been within three feet of a known water source. But incredibly, it turned out that everything that went to camp also came home from camp. When I asked him how he’d done it, he said, and I quote, “I just picked up all the stuff that was mine.”

If only someone had explained that to him before.

A Balance of Good and Evil

Our second born is a “typical” child, which is to say he can be a huge pain in the ass. I would conservatively estimate that 95% of his waking hours are devoted to annoying the people around him. He hasn’t actually ended up in the principal’s office or been beaten up on the playground, but it’s only a matter of time. Yes. He’s that kid.

At least at home he is. I get a completely different vibe from his teachers, who have been singing his praises for years. His report cards consistently describe him as a bright, well-mannered and well-adjusted young man. The fact that the teacher he started out with in September has been on stress leave for the past four months is probably just a coincidence.

But once in a while, his redeeming qualities shine through. Yesterday I took Brayden shopping for his brother’s upcoming birthday. For years now I’ve been trying to get my kids to independently come up with thoughtful gift ideas for each other, but what usually ends up happening is:

a) they avoid the whole issue by mutually agreeing not to buy each other anything, or
b) they find something they themselves want and make a I’ll-buy-you-this-if-you’ll-buy-me-that deal.

So I was pleasantly surprised when Brayden came up with a gift idea for Justin that was appropriate, well thought out and within his budget. It was also what I’d already purchased, but I applauded his effort.

It took us a while, but we did manage to find something else. And in a fitting twist, he ended up spending almost as much on candy as he did on his brother.

I guess it all balances out.

Bathroom Battles: The Hygiene War

Personal hygiene has never been my boys’ strong suit. For one thing, they have yet to accept the premise that “wet” does not mean “clean.” If I want them to wash their faces, I have to specifically mention a cloth, warm water and soap, and even then they might wipe only the parts they think are dirty. Many times, my kids claim to have washed despite never having turned the tap on.

Kids with Asperger’s really struggle in this area, as it’s just not something they care about. If you can get Justin into a routine, he’s generally good. But it has to be repeated enough that he does it by rote, cause he certainly doesn’t stop to think about why he needs to brush his teeth or wash his hair. It’s not about getting things clean; it’s about getting me off his case.

In that way, he’s not much different from his father. In our pre-kid days, Chris and I would eat our meals in the dining room, and he would wipe the table as part of the clean-up process. Once we had babies, we started eating in the kitchen —  but Chris continued to wipe the table in the dining room, cause that was his routine. He wasn’t focused on cleaning anything; he was just wiping cause he’d been told to wipe. Argh.

When Justin first went to summer camp at age seven, the camp gave us a list with all the items he’d need. I diligently packed it all. I even threw in a facecloth, despite the fact that Justin had never used a facecloth and would be hard pressed to identify what it was for. I figured the counselors, who were used to dealing with kids with disabilities, would have some magical way of getting him to stay clean.

I’ve been sending the exact same bottles of soap and shampoo every year since. He’s now 11 and those bottles have never been refilled. I’m thinking of having them bronzed.

I sent those same bottles on his school camping trip a few weeks ago, except this time we forgot to pack his toothbrush. He never noticed, because he never took his toiletries out of his bag. He did manage to lose his towel, though.



Why I Spend My Life in the Lost and Found

Sometimes I wish I could staple items directly to my children’s foreheads so I could have some hope of seeing the stuff again. How is it that a compulsively organized planner like myself managed to spawn two of the most scatterbrained human beings ever conceived?

Here’s a brief rundown of the fun we’ve had just in the past couple months:

Justin came home from a trip to the pool holding a) a towel and b) a plastic bag with nothing in it. No goggles, no swim shorts. Both were eventually located in the pool’s lost and found (which is so abundant that they actually divide the stuff into different boxes for each day of the week.)

Brayden’s student planner hasn’t been seen for two weeks. He’s been writing me important notes on scraps of crumpled notebook paper, not all of which remain intact enough to read.

Justin lost his towel on a school winter camping trip. (This is his signature move: he left his towel at summer camp four years in a row.) Before I even knew it was missing, one of the parent chaperones said she’d found a towel and asked if it was ours. I was not at all surprised that she came to me first.

Brayden lost his swim shorts on a class trip despite his own father being along as chaperone. The shorts were eventually discovered on the floor of his classroom, right under the shoes that were supposed to be up on a shelf. Sigh.

One of Justin’s snack bowls is permanently AWOL. I’m fairly sure it disappeared into the abyss that is his school desk, but by this point I no longer want to see it. Or smell it.

So when Brayden came out of the pool change room today, I asked if he had everything. I specifically asked about his swim shorts (see above), socks (cause he refuses to put them on again after swimming), and underwear (don’t ask). He got all offended and swore everything was in his bag.

At that exact moment, Justin opened the door of the change room and tossed out Brayden’s goggles.

Tell me we’re not alone.

Christmas Holidays: Week 2

Twas the second week of Christmas, and all through the house
All the creatures were fighting over the computer mouse
The backpacks were hung by the front door with care
In hopes that their owners soon would be there

The children were nestled in front of the Wii
While visions of Mario danced on the screen
And Papa in his sweater, and I in my cap
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap

When out in the den there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter
Away to the game room I flew like a flash
And strangled the children to stop their #@$! bickering.

The end

Rockin’ Around the !@# Tree

I never learn. Every year I look forward to decorating the Christmas tree as a Norman Rockwell-esque moment filled with holiday magic, heartwarming memories and family togetherness. I picture the four of us hanging ornaments and smiling tenderly at each other while a light snow falls outside. We might even break into song.

Except it never works out like that. Dad curses and swears because the !@# tree has no assembly instructions and the incompetent fools who manufactured it didn’t bother to explain how the built-in light strings are supposed to go together. Brayden gets impatient with the delay and keeps himself busy pretending the tree box is a coffin, causing Dad to curse even more. Justin watches all of this from the couch while he plays with bubble wrap and insists the one branch he fluffed out was all he should be required to do.

And when the boys finally do get around to decorating (in between all the jokes about hanging their balls on the tree), I have to bite my tongue to keep from pointing out that they’ve clustered all the red ornaments in one place and all the gold ones in another and it’s a crime against tree design and my head is going to explode.

Ho ho ho.

I swear it was easier when they were younger. You’d certainly think so based on the photos I took: smiling brothers with their arms around each other in front of a beautifully designed tree. But maybe I’m a victim of my own Fakebooking. Somehow I never recall the fights over who got to hang more gold balls or whose homemade snowman got the place of honor. I just remember the end result: a family that was excited for Christmas.

Which of course is the whole point.

Say What?

I pity the fool who tries to get my son to explain anything.

Justin has the phenomenal memory that comes with Asperger’s, which you’d think would make it easier for him to relay the facts of a situation. But he also has the perspective-taking problems that come with Asperger’s (he often acts like if he saw it, you must already know about it, even if you weren’t there), which means he tends to leave out key details.

Take yesterday. Justin came home from school and said something about the “theme assembly.” I asked what that was.

“You know, the theme assembly,” he repeated. “We have one every year.”

This is his seventh year at that school. Not once has he ever mentioned a theme assembly.

After some more prodding, I came to understand that it’s an assembly wherein the entire school chooses a theme for the way they will behave in the coming year. It’s basically a forum for agreeing to a code of conduct. This year’s theme is love. Ah.

Back to his original story. “So at the assembly I got to sit on the benches…” (a privilege reserved for the sixth graders; here he looked at his younger brother in a neener-neener kind of way) “…and then we watched a pig rescue a goat.”

I waited for some context, but he had already moved on.

Brayden took pity on me. “We saw a film where a pig saved a baby goat from drowning,” he explained. “It was illustrating the love theme.”

It’s going to be a long year.

Life After Summer Camp

You never really know how Justin is going to react when it’s time to go home after being away at camp for a week. It can’t be easy going from camp (where he can stay up late, eat buffet meals and do whatever he wants) back to home (where he has to follow a curfew, make his own breakfast and listen to his mother.) The first year he went, when he was seven, he burst into tears and ran off to hide in the dorm when I arrived to pick him up. Feel the love.

But this year, pickup went exceptionally well: his bag was all packed, he smiled when he saw me, and he managed to wait almost a full 10 minutes before bickering with his brother.  He even broke with tradition and brought his towel home for the first time in five years. Miracles do happen.

One of the reasons he loves that particular camp so much is because they hand out awards for just about everything. Seriously, everything. They’re all about making the kids feel like superstars.

Justin, for instance, was totally stoked about a pile of Styrofoam balls he’d colored and brought home. This seemed odd for a kid who rates doing arts and crafts somewhere below going to the dentist, so I asked him about them. He told me they were Pokeballs. I should’ve known.

“And guess what? I broke the camp record by making 27 of them,” he said proudly.

Then he paused. “Actually, I think the previous camp record was zero, so…” he shrugged.

Hey, everyone likes to be the best at something.

After the Final Bell

There are generally two types of parents that come through the drive-thru drop-off service at the school. The first type pulls up, kisses their child, hands them their backpack and lovingly assures them that Mommy/Daddy will see them after school. They wave to their child and hold up traffic because they can’t bear to leave until their little one is out of sight.

The second type barely slows down long enough to open the door, boot their child out and toss a water bottle out the window as they speed away. Sometimes they are in such a rush to flee that their child ends up running after the vehicle trying to get Mommy to stop and give them their backpack. Seriously.

I am the second type. I get it. It’s not that I don’t love my children. It’s just that I spend plenty of time with them as it is, and I cherish the hours when they’re in class so I can write my articles, cut the grass, buy the groceries and finish the laundry in peace.

I am especially militant about “my” time as the school year draws to a close, because I know what 10 weeks of summer with two boys can be like. Not my first rodeo.

On the eve of my fifth grader’s field trip to the waterslides this week, another mom asked if I was going along as a chaperone. She asked it perfectly innocently, but I had to stifle an urge to laugh. Not on your life. Not with a mere two days left of school. There will be plenty of time this summer to deal with hordes of screaming children.

So on this, the final day of classes, I will treat my children by giving them a ride home from school. I will offer them ice cream and help them celebrate the end of math tests, book reports and science experiments.

And we’ll see how long we all stay friends.

Confronting the Facts of Life

It’s the subject you most need your child to understand but you least want to talk about. When I was in school, the class was called “lifestyles.” At Justin’s school, they call it “family life.” And all the fifth graders are being introduced to it in the last few weeks before the summer break.

The school gave parents the option of exempting their child from the lessons if they had any moral or religious objections. There may be some people who prefer to teach these things to their kids in their own way, but I am not one of them. If a professional educator is willing to explain the birds and the bees to my child, leaving me to cover my ears and chant “blah blah blah” in blissful ignorance, I’m good with that.

Except I don’t think I’ll really get a free pass. I am somewhat saved by the fact that I have boys — their father will be on the hook for the nitty gritty details. (A friend of mine once mentioned that while her mother had explained about menstruation, she was given to understand that it was a one-time thing. I don’t want to be responsible for such misinformation.)

Brayden got an early introduction to the whole concept of reproduction when his grade 2 class raised baby chicks last year. The eggs stayed in an incubator for a few weeks, eventually the chicks hatched (the odd one died, which was a lesson in itself) and the kids got a hands-on study of the cycle of life. I wish I knew exactly how the teacher explained it all, cause Brayden somehow accepted that the hen got a seed from the rooster without ever being curious about how. (He recently commented that “you kiss someone and they have a baby,” so there’s still some work to be done.)

So anyway, after Justin’s class had their introduction to family life, I happened to overhear some parents talking. One of them said that at one point, the teacher mentioned the word “vulva,” and one kid blurted out, “Hey, my dad drives one of those!”

You wonder how we got this far as a species.