Greater than the sum – Bird Brain


It’s the usual rigmarole, or rather it isn’t – a variation on a theme. I’ve not visited the Bird shop for a couple of years, so I am quite delighted on Christmas Day. The boys went there, with their Dad. It was as much an exercise in perspective taking as gift buying, more or less one and the same, although Dad footed the bill – the value of money is still a work in progress.

It’s a whole 24 hours later and there they all are, the most extraordinary collection of peculiar shaped items – gift wrapped. I’d understand if each one was the same as it’s fellows, uniform in shape, or size, but they’re not. If I had chosen something three foot long, the shape of a lollipop, I’d remember what was inside. Nor could I forget something heavy, like an upside down umbrella. There aren’t many things that are shaped like a triangle, metallic – but that’s just me. Me? I’m an expert at recognizing objects, just by the feel, renowned for my x-ray vision. It’s a big event, a huge step forward, so I make the most of it. The genuine surprise and delight is easy – the joy of giving and receiving – but the first niggles of distress are present. My ‘what could it possibly be?’ as I squeeze the package, provokes anguish. I’ve not had the practice. A rhetorical question translates to the third degree – the stress of forgetfulness. I back off but it’s already too late – set the ball in motion. Body squirms and hair wrenching are only the beginning.

I was taught the social norms until they became effortless, the gracious words of thanks, the smile that didn’t travel to the eyes. The drill – easy. Since then I’ve learned compassion – the crow’s feet don’t lie.

Its like a blip that doesn’t fit. If you show me the toe nail of Pachyderm, I can visualize the whole elephant. If I show my boys a minute fraction of an obscure Pokemon, a barely visible fragment of the Lego logo, their response is immediate and 100% accurate – visual acuity at it’s finest, but other things are quite baffling. If its excruciating for the outsider, how much worse for the insider? But I remember how much I’ve always hated game shows and quiz nights – finger on the buzzer – hide under the table. It’s the pressure, the need to perform, but within a given time frame.

It’s a complex tangle, as with many children, where different issues compete but it’s difficult to determine which one[s] dominate. I could mention specifics but they’d be different for every child. Here, there’s the fingers that don’t function as he would wish, an irritation that escalates frustration, difficult to ignore. He knows that he should remember, but it’s just out of reach. Everyone is looking, waiting, expectant. The position of power should help – he’s above me – but that only helps with conventional people.

He’s also acquired some notions, nebulous little hazy things, on the periphery, slightly out of focus. Social conventions that have been off radar until recently, things that most of us take for granted as – so ingrained. Deconstruction and translation of the conventions – explain and demonstrate in a meaningful manner – impossible in these few minutes.

It’s what my chum calls the ‘disproportionality’ of the incident. Her ledger would illustrate the imbalance – on one side there would be ‘the subject gives a gift to his mother for the first time, voluntarily’ – on the other side of the ledger would be a very long list of ‘issues’ that might interfere or affect the experiment. She would weight or rank each issue, but no matter their number or severity, none, singularly or collectively should result in an outburst. An outburst would be deemed disproportional. It makes me a little sad that she can sum it up so dispassionately, so dismissive.

So we compromise – a little paper rip so that he can peek inside while my eyes are averted, so he can capture recall, but it’s not enough; only when he can see the whole thing does the penny drop – failure stares him in the face.

We are both exhausted by the emotional explosion. Only a few minutes, but super charged. If we were ‘out,’ the situation would be exacerbated – socially inappropriate always requires public comment – but what do they know? But we’re not ‘out,’ we’re ‘in,’ and what do I know? Probably even less. All I do know is that this simple common place event should bring pleasure. Instead he’s robbed of the moment, the joy stolen, replaced with a slew of stress. Hobbled by the miniscule hic-cups of the every day.

We should expect them, we should be able to deal with them but so often we fall short – always expect the unexpected – which is why we’re off guard on down time. It’s home, it’s safe, or it should be.

I take him and the bird feeder out into the garden – change of scene, change of pace, chance to breathe – on a chilly bright day with a clear blue sky. Barely have I shut the door when he’s off, “look mom!” He bounds across the asphalt, over 50 yards away on a quest as he hurls himself down on the concrete, bare chested. I gallop after him, “what is it dear?”
“S’on it’s back. See dah legs? Its a lady bug.”

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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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