Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf?

We walk.

My son has a firm grip on the “Thatcher’s” leash when a very large mastiff wanders down his own lawn towards the path. I would swear that they flinched at the same moment, my son and Thatcher. My older son cries “OH EM GEE” in a tone of doom, from a few paces behind, as his little brother yells “WHOA!” Thatcher arcs through the air like a quicksilver boomerang, sprung from the three foot lead, ricochets off a tree at seven foot to land on the ground, supine. My son launches himself on his body. They lie on the damp cold ground like spoons in a foetal position. The house owner ambles towards us with unnecessary apologies to coax his good natured, elderly hound away. As Thatcher’s whimpers subside I hear, “iz o.k.” from my son, who lies on top of the dog, arms encircling his neck. He leans up on one elbow to check that all is clear. His floppy fingers attempt tentative patting of Thatcher’s rough hair. The boys’ eyes are out on stalks as they check in and compare notes. “OH EM GEE!” he repeats.
“OH EM GEE………….our dog……..he is not being a Labradoodle…..….he iz dah flyin dog!”

What can I say?

Thatcher is a wimp of the first order.

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Daily Constitutional[s]

We walk as a family, together with our dog, Thatcher. We meet and greet neighbours, old ones and new unfamiliar ones. People are friendly and make complimentary remarks about our puppy.

My children offer pertinent pieces of information in return:- that he has fur, even between his toes, that the end of his tail looks like a teasel, that his poop is bigger than cat poop because he is much bigger than most cats, that the tough pads on his feet mean that he doesn’t need to wear shoes, that he smells really bad, but not as bad as the first day he arrived.

Each little nugget of information is of equal worth.

People seem both amused and bemused in return.

By the time we dawdle back home, these cumulative exchanges appear to have percolated their psyche.

“Yes dear?”
“I like Fatcher.”
“Oh good. I’m glad you told me that dear.”
“Yes…………now we have a dog…….….people think we are more entertainment value.”

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Now that’s not normal but what is these days?

We all begin to adjust to our “new arrival” in our own individual ways. In the aftermath of the festive season there is a more than usual amount of messiness around. I warn everyone that things left about are likely to be chewed, or if they’re very unlucky, eaten. As usual, no-one pays any heed. I list a lengthy record of similar occurrences that they have each directly experienced with other people’s dogs in the recent and not so recent past. My list and the repeats of my list, sound like my own silent solo. A scratched record.

I prepare mentally for the first casualty. Which child victim? Which precious toy? I don’t need to wait long.

I gallop at the first scream of agony.

In the family room I find my son knelt on the floor before the dog with his hands under his muzzle, “dwop it “Fatcher!”
“Use a firm voice dear,” I encourage.
Dwop it Fatcher!
“Maybe he doesn’t recognise his name? You could try the ‘th‘ sound?”
“Dwop it f f th thatcher!”

Thatcher reluctantly drops the package of sharp plastic corners, part of a prized Christmas present. He slips the packet into the back of his pyjama bottoms, out of sight, so that both hands are free to pet and praise the dog for his amazing feat of obedience. Perfectly sequenced steps. Seamless ideation. We chorus good dog. My son chortles deliciously as Thatcher licks his ears and neck. He expresses no concern or anger at the ruined toy.

Lesson learned.

“He dun bin choke on dat bad fing!”

His sole concern is the welfare of the dog.

Several lessons learned.

Below is a picture of yet more advanced social skills. My son and Thatcher curl up for a cat nap, which may not be of any great significance. Only the real baby sleeps. However, if I also consider the fact that this is 15 minutes into the sacred ‘electronics’ time, half way through his precious half an hour, then this would seem infinitely preferable and maybe a teeny tiny bit admirable, but there, I’m letting my bias show.

As his little brother said:-

“Finally! Someone who likes fire hydrants as much as me.”

It’s probably a Garfield quote.

Don’t forget to nip along and say ‘hi de ho’ to “Michelle’s” family over at “Full Soul Ahead,” and see if you might be able to “help out” with her post called “A Service Dog For Riley.”

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Sweetmaking for Transvestites

I have a small confession to make about autism. When it comes to birthdays and holidays my children do not exchange gifts.

My daughters often make cards and fashion presents at such times, unprompted and generally unappreciated, but even persuading the boys write their own names on a shop bought card, has proved a challenge. This fact dawns upon me one morning. I realize that we have spent our time concentrating on receiving a gift graciously, because this is a social issue with dire consequences. Whilst there can be many humiliating experiences in life, when a gift is firstly ignored, later rejected and later still, destroyed, we are aware of the hurt this causes to the giver. It effectively doubles the pain. The receiver fails to behave appropriately, the giver is mystified.

In some American homes, the present opening section of a party is almost a formal ritual. Even quite young children patiently open each gift, express pleasure and delight and then verbally thank the giver. It is quite a feat to witness.

Last year as children gathered for my own daughter’s birthday party, I was there to see her joy and grace in this ritual. She had learned this from a peers, a lesson she should have learned at home.

Even now, we are careful to ensure that opening presents is a private affair with the boys, direct family only, so that no-one can witness the fall out. I recall previous attempts to overcome this deficit by any manner of means, but all with equal measure of failure. I know that they are now older, we need to pick up the gauntlet again.

I appreciate that I have failed to address this matter. I find it hard to fathom why this should be? I suspect that in part, it is because it is quite an advanced social skill, although I would not have said that a decade ago. A decade ago I would have said it was simply ‘good manners,’ a pre-requisite for every body on the planet. These days, I understand that some bodies have more fundamental hurdles to overcome, like dressing, eating with or without cutlery, toileting and speaking.

I need to think of something ‘doable.’

In an ideal situation, they would spend their pocket money or allowance on presents, but money is a poor motivator for the boys. Homemade would always be my first choice for any gift, as it demonstrates the love and effort which make a gift a true gift, but my children’s hands are not gifted.

I pull out an old book, one that I’m very fond of, a gift from my Granny, the one that my daughter refers to as ‘the man in drag cookbook.’ I have never seen it that way: the child looks like I did once. The woman next to her is the epitome of everyone’s granny, kindly, friendly and familiar, although I wish she’d put that sieve over the bowl.

Now all I need to do is engineer or carve out an hour with each child, one on one, so that they can create candy to give to the other 6 members of our direct family, when the day finally comes.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Ignorance is bliss – the Good Samaritan


My children grow older and bigger in the cosmopolitan, open minded bliss of Silicon Valley in California. We are so used to our children that on the whole we bimble along our trajectory with only the occasional blip. Public blips usually cause me more concern that private blips. In public there is always a dilemma, should I explain and excuse, or be evasive? I feel uncomfortable announcing to perfect strangers that my boys are autistic, especially if the children are there to overhear. I wondered sometimes if this was because I was ashamed or embarrassed or both? Even now, as I think back, I believe the underlying truth was far different from such social trifles.

The difficulty was the need to protect the person that you told. When you tell someone something that they are not expecting to hear, you put them at an unnecessary disadvantage. It always sounds like an accusation, like they're the type to drown kittens in a sack.  Pardon!  The implication is that the audience is incapable of understanding an unfamiliar ‘invisible’ disability. So often it seems unfair to dump this information on people  without prior warning.  My initial attempts were blunders, inept and clumsy.   No wonder people reacted so unpredictably, deer in the spotlight.  So often I misread a situation but that's over protective mothers for you.

A few years ago, my eldest son had very few words at his disposal. On the whole, he had little interest in people.

I had taken him to the park for his daily constitutional although he still considered it to be some kind of punishment by an over bearing parent. We were alone on a Spring day in an empty park. We practiced vestibular stimulation, or rather the torture of swinging in a swing. He might not have been capable of speech but in the meantime he would learn to pump a swing, or at least that was the long term plan.

I was pre-occupied, searching for a different word, something other than 'pump' that would convey 'pumping,' when we saw a couple walking up the hill towards us in the distance. My son scrambled off the swing and blundered towards them. I watched, stunned that he appeared to want to engage with anyone at all. I couldn't hear his words at first, but he was definitely talking to them with wild enthusiasm.

They came closer and closer up the path as my son walked backwards in front of them, barely able to remain upright. He quick stepped faster and faster as their pace increased. I watched mesmerized. As they passed me, I stepped forward, not to listen but to stop him from disappearing in the opposite direction. I beamed at the man who wore a puzzled expression. I beamed at his partner with the mannerism of someone in a cloud of flies. I quickened my step to catch my son's arm and guide him away with an idiot grin plastered to my face, incapable of speech as I was so delighted. Six steps further on, the man paused and turned, “you should teach him not to talk to strangers!” he admonished in a tone that I found difficult to fathom.

Civic duty? Surely nothing is as important as child safety? Strangely, a couple of decades ago, I might just have plucked up the courage to say the very same thing.

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