Road Trip

From a couple of balmy weeks ago
Glorious Summer Holidays

If I do not go to the shop today we shall all starve.

But that's the real trouble with holidays. If push comes to shove, and it might, I may be able to drag something out of the freezer, kicking and screaming. But if they won't eat the defrosted victim, I shall be no further forwarder. What good are hot dogs without any buns?


A trip to the shops is a must. A trip to the shops with all my lovely children, and Nonna will be a bust.

There are the usual calculations to be made. Interesting shop where I might be able to contain them or boring shop where everyone will run away. A shop with electric doors will ensure that I'll be able to find one escapee. A shop without strip lighting, as the flickers lead to fleeting. A shop with no freezer section because the buzz drives one batty.

Then there's timing. Sufficiently after breakfast so that they're not too hungry. Not too late in the morning, so as to have a better chance at a curb side parking slot, to minimize the chance of death by traffic.

One list for each child. One list with three essential and preferred items each. Ensure that my handwriting will pass muster for the perfectionist. If it's cursive, make sure it is sufficiently curly not zig zaggy. Who in their right mind would hold a piece of paper with those jagged angled zags?

I really need an aide memoire, a little check list pinned to the door for all essentials. Mustn't forget the huge blanket this time. I certainly won't make that mistake again, the fire dance in the car park! 20 minutes shopping with the car parked outside in the heat. A toasty little furnace. A metal box absorbing heat atoms. At the height of summer, in California, in America, airless and still. How could we survive without a thick fleece blanket? Not only do I need to remember to take it, I need to remember to cover the seats.

Forget the dogs:- no-one wants hot buns!

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Time to clean up your act

Around this neck of the woods where fine motor skills are in short supply, the management relies upon the use of liquid soap to keep hygiene at acceptable levels. Cleanliness for one of my boys, is a high priority, falling into the OCD category. My other chap is indifferent. I sometimes consider allowing the dirt to build up to the level where I can simply chip it off like a crust with a chisel, to save time.
Liquid soap of course is one of those new fangled extravagances of modern life, but I hadn't realized quite how insidious such shopping preferences can become, especially for one such as myself, someone “allergic to shopping.”

I decide to indulge my family. I ponder if I really want to squander this gift upon my unappreciative herd, but the thought of those beautiful bars of soap spending another year on the top shelf of my closet, makes me wince. It smacks of the 'best china' or 'parlour,' things that are only used on High days and Holidays, imposing an unnecessary paucity on daily life. I pull off the lid to be enveloped in wafts of lemon scent. It even smells clean, which is just how a cake of soap should be.
I am apprehensive in view of junior violent objection to cleaning solutions that involve fruit. I determine to choose my words carefully.

“What it is?”
“It is soap”
“Soap! Soap? It is not soap!”
“It is really. You use it to wash and get clean.”
“Er, no, I am finking dat you are making an accident, not a deliberately.”
“Because dah soap is er…..I dont know er……dis is not soap because it is being hard.” Oh of course, why didn't I think of that?
“I see. Well this is an old fashioned cake of soap, this is what people used before liquid soap was invented.”
“Cake! Cake? I am never eating it, it is terrible for me!”
“Ah, no, you don't eat it, you wash with it, just like liquid soap.”
“Not cake?”
“No that's just the descriptive noun, like 'pod' of whales.”

I demonstrate usage of the strange item to my kinesthetic learner. He makes no comment upon the lemon fumes, merely wrinkles his nose. “Here, you have a try.” I realize immediately that it's a large item to hold for small hands. I also realize seconds later, that it has a hitherto forgotten flaw as it shoots out of his grasp and skids into the other room, an erratic spinning top. He squeals with glee and chases after it. His delight alerts the others that something is afoot. I observe three children gamboling in my kitchen, as smears of soap begin to adorn every surface.

Junior has his own light bulb moment, stops abruptly and takes a marching step towards me. “You know, I fink dat it is fun to be playing wiv cake. We should be having dah chocolate soap because it is smelling nicer than lemon fruit stuff.”

Those moments of self generated problem serving reward us both – isn't that killing two birds with one stone?

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Green Grass

“Now if I were, rich and famous, then really my troubles would be over!”
“You think?”
“Yup, I'd never have to make a bed again!”
“Excuse me! I seem to remember sayin that yah don make beds. Anyways you have those duvet things, that's more of a shake and a shimmy, no hospital corners there.”
“Minor details.”
“Anyways, how a yer kids gonna learn to make a bed if there's someone else there to do it? You're still gonna have to teach em?”
“True. But at least there would be someone to clean up al the spills and mess!”
“I thought you wuz tryin to teach them how to do that too.”
“I am, but they're not very good at it yet.”
“Don you think it's gonna undermine their efforts if someone comes along and cleans up after they've tried their best?”
“Maybe. But it would still be nice to have someone pick up the children from school, a chauffeur! Someone else to man-handle them into the vehicle and get danger money!”
“How would you find out how their school day had been if you couldn't talk to the teachers
face to face, see the other kids, their friends, the other parents, how would you keep your finger on the pulse?”
“Do you have something against being rich and famous or something? Still it would be nice to have someone do the garden, that would save a lot of time.”
“I thought that was your therapy time! You'll be as mad as a brush without your down time.”
“Very well, just someone to do the shopping then!” A good one, for someone “allergic to shopping.”
“There are other ways of learnin the value of money but it sure is good exposure for them and they're gettin better at it all the time with all that practice.”
“Someone to wash up?”
“Ain't that dishwasher workin? The cleaners already come to give the whole place the once over weekly, how much more do you want?”
“So basically you're saying that I can't be rich and famous because there will be too many learning opportunities wiped out by having all these helpful people around?”
“Your choice hon. I'm sure you'd get someone to do it all, but if you did, think what you'd be missin!”

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A word from the Wise

The baby sitter [translation = Respite Care] arrives promptly at 6:00 p.m. [translation = always] I resist the temptation to kiss her feet and greet her cordially. She attends to the herd whilst I attend to other outstanding matters. [translation = laundry of course] 95 minutes later she seeks me out. [translation = extracts me from seven hampers of laundry]
“Aren't you goin yet?”
“Er nearly. I've only got this last lot to fold.”
“I thought you said you were going Christmas shopping?” [translation = holiday shopping] I pull a face. [translation = “allergic to shopping” of any kind]
“I am. I just don't know where to go and I don't know what to buy?”
“Well yur not gonna find anything much if you stay here!” I concede the wisdom of her words, bid farewell to small people and skuttle out of the house on an aimless mission. [translation = doomed to failure]
I return home 90 minutes later with long trousers for the boys and one gift for senior daughter which she probably doesn't need or want. [translation = a person who has taken minimalism to an extreme, even for a Brit] The sitter glances at my carriers. [translation = bags]

“Spose ya didn't have that long after all that time ya wasted.” She gives me a look that tells me that I am a failure in the shopping department. She updates me of occurrences during my absence. [translation = none, they all fell fast asleep as soon as the garage door closed.] We sign forms and I bid her farewell.

I plop onto the sofa and examine the list of some 600 programmes of entertainment waiting for me on the TIVO since my last visit. [translation = oh lucky woman] I determine which murder I wish to be party to, and how much dismemberment I can cope with? [translation = whodunits] I crack open another tub of peanuts. [translation = 1lb {sub translation = short 4 ounces as a pound is only 16 ounces out here. I blame the illiterate Pilgrim fathers] I can't believe I've managed to munch my way through all 'four packs for the price of one' purchase, already. [translation = rats to the braces]
I am in mid munch when I hear foot falls on high. [translation = rats, I thought it was too good to be true] It's not the skippy one or the bumpy one. I leap from my seat to turn the power off the telly. [translation = just in time to avoid vision of fatal stabbing with a pen]
“Hi mom,” she sidles.
“Hello dear, I thought you were asleep?”
“I was, but then I heard you come home.” [translation = her bedroom is above the garage door = no chance of a secret life style] She smiles at me, sweetly before asking
“Is the sofa stinky?” [translation = she's seen the towels that I'm sitting on, post senior son's stomach eruption.]
“It's a bit steamy, but otherwise quite fresh.” She steps onto it gingerly and snuggles in to my body, arranging my arms just so.
“So,” she adds casually, “did yah get any presents for me?” [translation = rats, I forgot she has her birthday before Christmas{sub translation = failed motherhood 101 again]

“Er not exactly,” I haver. She bounced off the couch and pounces on the bags. [translation = the 'typical sibs' are always short changed {sub translation = the normal brothers and sisters are neglected}]
“What! Clothes! Trousers for the boys! What about my presents?”
“Tomorrow, definitely tomorrow, if he's well enough to go to school that is.” She slumps back beside me and we listen to the tumble drier tumbling and the washing machine washing as I try and find an excuse.
“Y'know you shouldn't be eating peanuts,” she scowls helping herself to a couple with dextrous finger tips.
“You're getting me muddled with Daddy, he's the one on the diet.”
“You're the one with the wonky teeth.” [translation = no flies on her {sub translation = rumbled by the perceptive child}]
“Isnit quiet,” she half whispers.
“You're right, that's what it's like when you're all asleep.”
“I like it!”
“Me too. Would you like me to read you a story?” I reach over to the teetering stack of books on the trunk, but she doesn't answer immediately. I wait, my thumbnail riffling the corners. I stroke her matted hair as she nestles.
“Nope. I'm o.k. jus like this.”

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You Choose [translation = decisions, decisions, the whole time decisions]

One of the many oddities of sharing your life with a couple of autistic children is that they force you re-evaluate. One of my boys has always experienced an inability to make a decision or a choice. It doesn't matter what he's supposed to be choosing between, that is of no importance, it's just the choosing bit. A good example would be two things that are identical and two things that he likes, such as a commercially produced cookie. [translation = shop bought biscuit] What is the dilemma, what is the problem in choosing one over another? I have no idea. You would think the problem would be easier if one choice was less preferred, say a cookie and a broccoli floret, but it isn't any easier, he is still paralysed by indecision.
These days I am shameless. I quiz experts, harangue my pals, [translation = friends] strike up conversations with complete strangers. [translation = American] I trawl for answers. Everyone is helpful, but none of them, the answers, that is to say quite fit the niche. [translation = seem right]

Which would you prefer, go to the toy shop [translation = store] or a trip to the theme park? Especially difficult for me, since I am “allergic to shopping.” No, still impossible to choose. This shirt that you like, or this shirt that you refuse to wear? No, still can't choose. I can see that you doubt my veracity and even if you believe me, what difference does it make, why does it matter? [translation = why am I getting my knickers in a twist about it] Well, it wouldn't be so bad if there weren't so many choices quite so often, but if, every time you are faced with a choice your response is to collapse to the floor in a screaming meltdown, then perhaps you might be a little more sympathetic? Or maybe not. Ignore sympathy, consider the passage of seconds and minutes, contemplate efficiency or time management? Oh please! Stop whinging woman! [translation = moaning] But they are interfering with my proficiency statistics as I have to factor in anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour, for every question, to permit many meltdowns. It's just not good enough. I'm too busy for all this autism stuff, my organized life is transformed into chaos due to a dilemma over socks. I can't be doing with it! [translation = intolerant, anal parent] I wouldn’t mind quite so much if it were not for the fact that, apart from anything else, “shopping is my number one bug bear.”

He has been making progress though, in tiny, miniscule, almost imperceptible steps. The speech delay only complicates the issue. It is because of this that I watch him in the process of choosing, watching quietly and unobtrusively, because I don't want to jinx his chances;
“I need to sort dis out! [recognizes there is a problem] What I do? [seeks solution to problem] O.k. Right! I know. Eenie, Meanie, Minie moe, catch a tigger by it's toe, if he hollers let him go, eenie, meanie, minie moe. My muvver says…..wait a second!” As he says the words, his finger doesn't keep in time with the syllable count, but it doesn't matter because he doesn't like the outcome in any case. I have always found this peculiarly fascinating. I could intervene, help him hand over hand, because that definitely helps, the kinesthetic practice, [translation = body doing it means that's the body is learning it by going through the motions] but I don't. He counts but the finger doesn't keep up, although it keeps moving. One blink later the finger is ahead of the count, it randomly speeds up, then lags behind. No-one can count accurately like this, it is not helpful. [translation = a vindictive metranome] His speech is fluid. If his speech was incoherent his finger would be in time and he would have an accurate count. This is why he can't catch a ball, or more accurately, can't catch a ball and speak at the same time. It is such a bizarre thing to observe, so tiny yet completely disabling at the same time.

It occurs to me that the majority of the population, especially young people in the general population, clearly have as many difficulties choosing between competing options, just as he does. I watch him re-examine the choice board, as his index finger floats from the juice icon to the cookie icon, which are both in the category of 'treats' and therefore he can only have one of them. I think of the other childhood counting game that I used to utilize such as 'one potato, two potato,' there is the equivalent in every country. [translation = universal.] I try and remember the feeling whilst I was playing them? Depending upon whether I was one of the group being chosen from, or whether I was trying to make a choice myself, what were the thought processes? It was basically surrendering yourself to fate, giving responsibility to something else. It was only when you neared the close, and the light dawned about the outcome, that you could choose to accept the inevitable or cheat. If you choose to cheat this means you know that you do in fact, have a preference after all, it suddenly becomes clear, even if, just until that moment you weren't aware of it. Whilst his difficulties in choosing have always been catastrophic in the past, this might just have been an extreme form of what everyone else is experiencing too.

I watch him cheat. Horray!

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