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.
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.
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.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled that my boys play team sports. Way back when he was first diagnosed, I would not have imagined that Justin would ever be capable of interacting with a team and following the ebb and flow of a game. But he grew to love sports, and both he and his brother played soccer, and our springs were filled with practices and games and fun with friends and teammates.
But this year, Justin decided to switch from soccer to baseball. This was actually more in line with my own childhood – I grew up playing softball, along with my brothers and cousins and every other member of my family. But that just meant I knew what we were in for.
The thing is, baseball is boring. It can be fun to play, but it’s deadly dull to watch, especially at this level. The kids are still learning how to pitch, so virtually everyone walks, and the innings just go on and on. Last night it took them 2.5 hours to play four innings, and they only got that far because of run limits. At one point we went 60 straight minutes without anyone swinging at a single pitch. Kill me now.
But Justin is loving it, so I’m trying to suck it up and cheer him on. Chris is in charge of keeping score for the next game, which means we really have to pay attention. It might be time for some Red Bull.
Three games down, nine to go (sigh)…
In a moment of wild optimism, I chose to make no advance plans for the 17 days of spring break: no trips, no sports camps, no special outings. I was frankly curious to see if the kids and I could spend two-plus weeks together without getting on each other’s nerves (SPOILER ALERT: No.) I told anyone who asked that our only plan was to enjoy each other’s company…and may the Force be with us.
I quickly discovered, however, that we enjoyed each other’s company much more when there were other people around. We needed a buffer. Left on our own, the sniping and arguing and complaining would escalate until somebody screamed, something got slammed and we all wished we could be somewhere (anywhere!) else.
But having other people around made us all behave better, so I actively set out to arrange play dates and get us out in public. By a stroke of luck, the boys started spending untold hours playing football/soccer/random games in the yard with the kids from next door, during which nobody argued, cried or complained about anything. It was like magic.
I realize it’s kind of sad that we have to be saved from ourselves, but I’m fairly sure we’re not the only ones.
We have frequent fashion fights in our household. Justin will generally insist on wearing whatever happens to be on top when he opens his dresser drawers. He will insist on wearing that outfit even if the pants are black and green, the shirt is orange and the socks are blue. When I suggest that he try to find clothes that match, he claims it doesn’t matter.
“You’re the only one who cares, Mom,” he’ll tell me.
Mismatched colors aren’t even the worst of it. My boys frequently end up with their shirt and/or pants on backwards and don’t even notice. (I can see getting a shirt turned around, but pants? Seriously?) After swimming lessons the other day, Justin came out of the change room with his track pants on inside out. Somehow he didn’t notice that the pockets were flapping around on the outside. Huh.
I realize that the total lack of fashion sense is a hallmark of Asperger’s. To Aspies, clothes are literally just fabric on a hanger. Their purpose is to keep us warm and keep our private parts covered. That’s it.
If he’s just hanging around the house all day, I let it go. But if he’s going out in public, I tell him he has to change. I try to explain that while he doesn’t care, other people will judge him based on how he looks. Even while I’m saying the words I know it’s ridiculous–why can’t he wear whatever he likes, fashion be damned?–but I also know I have a responsibility to help him adapt to societal norms. He won’t figure this out on his own; I have to show him how it works.
Which is hilarious, because I’m hardly one to follow fashion trends. I’ve been known to keep the same clothes for 20 consecutive years. I despise shoe shopping and never notice what people have on their feet. I own no makeup and wear no jewellery. I am the last person who should be giving fashion advice.
But even I have standards, and those standards include not wearing striped shirts with plaid pants. Or anything inside out. Or backwards.
Set the bar low…
My boys had an interesting conversation with a couple other kids on their walk to school the other day:
OTHER KID: So do you guys walk home from school too?
MY KID: Yeah, mostly.
OTHER KID: Do your parents work?
MY KID: Well, our dad works.
OTHER KID: What about your mom?
MY KID: (pause) Well, she runs Kiss and Ride [the morning drive-thru-drop-off service at the school].
OTHER KID: (clearly unimpressed) Oh. That’s cool.
I was slightly stunned that my kids didn’t think to mention that their mom is a professional writer. When I called them on it, Justin said he didn’t know how to describe what I do, since I work from home and I don’t work for one particular company. It didn’t fit his concept of a job, so he dismissed it.
I couldn’t really fault him for that, since I only work a few hours here and there, and generally only while they’re at school. And even if they saw me working, it would just look like I was messing around on the computer.
But it bugged me. Why? Because while I wish I didn’t identify myself through my work…I actually do. Way back when I quit my job to stay home with my kids, I found it really hard that I could no longer say “I’m an editor” or “I work for Company X.” I remember filling out a passport application and having to list my occupation as “mom.” It seemed so inadequate.
It wasn’t, of course. Being a stay-at-home mom to two young children is a hell of a lot of work. I knew I was performing an important service, but I often felt like the rest of the world didn’t see it that way. And as my kids got older and more self-sufficient, I didn’t really see it that way either. I needed to feel like I was contributing.
So now I get to be a mom, and I get paid to write. It’s very close to a perfect arrangement for me.
And the opinion of a 10-year-old shouldn’t bother me at all.