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.
I often forget that other 10-year-olds think nothing of staying up until 9 or 10 at night and have to be dragged out of bed in the morning, like mini teenagers. For the entire two weeks of Christmas break, my 10-year-old was consistently getting up around 4:45 am.
(In summertime when I complain about the early wakeups, some parents nod knowingly and tell me it’s because of the early morning sun, and that all I need to do is black out his window to make him sleep longer. But it’s pretty freaking dark at 4:45 am in December, and he still wanted to get on with the day. Argh.)
He’s always been an early riser, but that was just crazy — he’d be yawning by 6 pm and could not keep his eyes open past 7:45, even if we were all watching the last few minutes of a tight hockey game. When Justin can’t stay awake for hockey, you know something’s wrong.
So we started Project Slumber to try to adjust his schedule. That meant torturing him in the evenings to keep him awake until at least 8 pm. We made him play games with us, Brayden chased him around a bit, I trimmed his toenails…anything to keep him from falling asleep.
We were completely thrilled when he made it to 5:00 one morning. Sometimes I can’t believe our standards have sunk so low.
Then today we had a major breakthrough: he did not stir until 6:15. I wasn’t sure he was still breathing, but I didn’t dare check on him for fear of ruining this miracle.
When he finally did emerge, he was well rested — but had a nasty-sounding cough.
Those two things couldn’t possibly be related, right?
What’s the right time to give a kid their own cell phone? When they start going places independently? When they reach a certain age? When they’re capable of paying for it?
More to the point: can there ever be a right time to entrust a $500 device to a guy who can’t even keep track of his water bottle/gym clothes/day planner?
I realize Justin’s organizational challenges are more than a character flaw; they’re part and parcel of having Asperger’s. His brain tends to misfire when it comes to managing resources in order to achieve a goal. (The irony is that he spends much of his free time making lists. Go figure.)
That doesn’t mean he’s completely irresponsible. I trust him to walk to and from school, to stay home alone, even to cook a simple meal. But I’m not sure I could ever trust him not to lose an item in his possession.
To be fair, it’s not just him. My older brother never leaves the house without coming back at least once for something he forgot, routinely buys two pairs of glasses at a time because he knows he’ll lose them, and cannot use his Apple TV device because he can’t find the remote. Yet he somehow became the director of supply chain management for a multinational company. So there is hope.
But back to the phone issue. Brayden recently mentioned some of the older kids at school have phones, and I said getting a phone depends on a combination of being old enough and being responsible enough. He thought about that for a second, then announced, “I’ll probably be less responsible when I get older, so you better give it to me now.”
At bedtime the other night, Justin was reading to me from one of our many Amazing Fact books. The page he was focused on had 100 facts about stars. I was only half listening as he read through the list one by one.
“Number 63: Before they had compasses, sailors used the North Star to help guide their ships in the right direction,” he announced, then paused. I looked at him.
“Oh,” he said, nodding his head sagely. “They got help from Santa.”
So not only does he have an appalling grasp of astronomy, but at age 10 and a half, he clearly still believes a fat stranger in a red suit slips down our chimney every Christmas. And whether it’s thanks to his talent for living in his own world, his aversion to change, or his unwillingness to get off the gravy train, he will likely continue to believe that for quite some time.
Not that I’m dissing the magic of Santa. I have many fond memories of staring out the window on Christmas Eve hoping to catch a glimpse of some reindeer…being too excited to sleep…sneaking into my brothers’ room at 4 a.m. to sing Christmas carols until it was time to go see what Santa brought. I was happy to give my kids the same experience.
It’s just that I really thought they would have figured it out by now. (Brayden might be getting close: he did notice that the last loonie he got from the tooth fairy had traces of Mom’s hand lotion on it.) I have a hard enough time coming up with one decent gift idea for them, let alone two (plus stockings!) so it would be really nice if they could wise up. Then they could move on to a mature appreciation of the true meaning of Christmas.
Or at least stop arguing about which mall has the “real” Santa.
I’d like to dig up whoever thought of daylight savings time and beat him with the shovel. Some of us have body clocks that can’t be easily reset. More to the point: some of us have children whose body clocks can’t be easily reset.
I hate the fall change the most. Supposedly it means an extra hour of sleep. In our house, it means the guy who gets up freakishly early now gets up at a truly unholy hour. This is the third straight morning of Justin waking up at 4:30 a.m. Yes, he’s old enough that I don’t have to get up with him, and yes, I know he’ll adjust eventually (back to 5:30…can’t wait!) I just don’t see why we have to go through this.
Changing the clocks seems especially absurd to those of us who grew up in Saskatchewan, where they don’t follow this particular ritual. (Years ago, when the province was looking for a new slogan for its vehicle license plate, a friend of mine suggested Saskatchewan: Our Clocks Don’t Change. They settled on Saskatchewan: Land of Living Skies. In case anyone was unaware the place is flat and boring.)
Maybe the Chinese have it right. Not only does the country not observe daylight savings, but all of China is in the same time zone – so if it’s 3 p.m. in Shanghai, it’s also 3 p.m. in Hotan, a city 5,000 km further west. That would be like having Vancouver and Montreal on the same time. It might be mid-afternoon in one place and evening in the other, but the actual hour is the same. Huh.
Here’s another news flash: the number of daylight hours doesn’t change just because the clocks do. Winter days are short. That sucks no matter what you do to the time. Even once Justin starts “sleeping in” until 5:30, it will still be dark outside. Ugh.
Time to (yawn) get on with the day…
One of the kids’ chores is to help with dishes once a week. It’s been almost a year since we started that, so you’d think they’d have gotten better at it by now. Practice makes perfect, right?
Wrong. Somehow the dishes end up even wetter after Justin claims to have dried them. The rule is “no water, no bubbles,” but he doesn’t seem to notice — or care — when there’s half an inch of suds in the bottom of the bowl he just finished. And when we make him go back and redo it, he whines and moans like the overworked 10-year-old he believes he is.
I get not wanting to do the dishes. I don’t get not caring whether you get your allowance. Justin could take or leave the money, even when he’s actively saving for a new video game or something. A few times we tried the natural consequences approach, where we said look, you don’t get the money unless you do the work…and it backfired every time, cause he was totally OK with not getting paid if it meant he didn’t have to do the chore. Argh.
We finally had a breakthrough, though. He started going to a weekly youth group with his friends that sometimes requires cash for activities, and we told him that had to come from his pocket. You could almost see the light bulb go on over his head — suddenly he got the connection between having a job and having money to do fun stuff with his friends. I guess we finally found something he really, really wanted.
He still isn’t any better at drying dishes, but he no longer complains about having to do them — and he sometimes even volunteers for extra work to make extra cash.
70 down, three to go. Sounds easy, right? 95% of the summer break is over, so what’s three more days? OMG THREE MORE DAYS. We had a good holiday, but that’s hard to remember now that we’re having day-long arguments over who let the spider in the house and coming to blows over who looked at who. We are done. Out of gas. Kaput. Finito.
But like I said, we had a good summer. It helped that this was the first year I could leave the boys at home alone for short periods, so no dragging them through the grocery store and fighting over who has to push the cart. They found plenty of other things to fight about, however, as evidenced by the following exchange during a 10-minute car ride:
CHILD 1: Look! Squirrel!
CHILD 2: (turns his head) What?
CHILD 1: Made you look!
CHILD 2: No you didn’t.
CHILD 1: Yes I did!
CHILD 2: I didn’t look there.
CHILD 1: You totally did!
CHILD 2: My head was pointing that way, but my eyes were looking over there.
CHILD 1: Liar! You can’t point your head and your eyes in different directions.
CHILD 2: Sure you can!
CHILD 1: But that’s cheating! MOM! Is that cheating?
CHILD 2: Look! A buffalo!
CHILD 1: I’m not falling for that.
CHILD 2: OK, fine. Look! A deer!
CHILD 1: I’m not playing with you, Cheater.
CHILD 2: MOM! He’s calling me names!
(Meanwhile, Mom is seriously considering crashing the car into a tree.)
To those moms who cherish these last few days as time at home with their offspring relaxing and enjoying each other’s company: I salute you.
To the rest of you: I’ll meet you at the bar on Tuesday.