Don’t move a muscle

Still life BW103

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How to make your own Votive hurricane lantern

Yes, this is not so much a ‘get organized’ post as a ‘have a daily do-able activity for the children’ post.
You will need:-
A jam jar
A tea light
An old wire hanger
Narrow gauge [easy to bend] wire
Wire cutters
Beads or chopped up drinking straws as a substitute and even more ‘green’ beads.

Thread the beads onto wire and secure each end so they don’t fall off.

Cut a length of wire long enough to go all the way around the rim of the jar and make a handle.

Thread the beads onto the long wire first and then secure around the rim and fashion a handle.

Pop the tealight inside and voila. Make sure you hang it in a safe place as is does get very hot which is why a longer handle is better. Hang far away from anything flammable.

Children need a lot of help with this one but motivation is pivotal. The motivation here has nothing to do with making a craft or creating something pretty and function. It’s all about the motive, namely, although you may not immediately recognize it, you have just made a ‘moth attractor.’ Now you may experience the true joy of sitting in the garden in the semi darkness with your moth attractor and children and a great many flying insects, some of which might be moths but I’m sure the majority of them are mosquitoes.

Parents are advised to sit on their hands as swatting “nature’s friends” is likely to prove counter productive. The lawyer in me would describe this activity as an “attractive nuisance.”

Tackle It Tuesday Meme

Try This Tuesday

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How to make your own Webkinz [posable]

One of the best ways to get organized is to delegate household chores to your children. One of the best ways to motivate your children to co-operate is to provide finely targeted bribes. The current bribe currency around here is Webkinz, but they’re a bit pricey, especially in these financially stricken times. So, if your household is in need of a little extra motivation, why not make a few of your own bribes.

Cast on 30 stitches to a size 10 [US] circular needle. Mark the beginning of the round. Knit two rows knitwise.
Increase one stitch knitwise every second stitch. [60 stitches]

Knit one round
Increase one stitch every third stitch. [80 stitches]
Knit seven rounds without increasing.
Decrease – knit two together, repeat to end of the round [40 stitches]
Knit one round
Decrease – knit two together, repeat to end of the round. [20 stitches]
Knit two together, repeat [ten stitches]
Thread through the tail with the crochet hook and pull through and tie off on the wrong side.


Knit eight I cords with six stitches, one inch shorter than the length of a standard pipe cleaner. Insert pipe cleaner with a crochet hook and pull through the centre. Fashion each end of the pip cleaner into a loop and squeeze the pointy end tightly with wire cutters. Sew the loose end on the yarn at each end to cover and flatten the ends. Atatch home made or shop bought pompoms to one end. Sew the bald end to the body of the spider on the outside [right side] with invisible stitches.

Sew on eyes and pompom mouth. Secure contrasting coloured pipe-cleaner for the mouth and make sure to neaten the inside ends so that they don’t poke through = tie the ends together on the inside, twist off and add a blob of glue so that if they do move they will not be sharp.

Stuff the body and sew contrasting circle of fabric to the underbelly.

Clearly, they motivate lots of children, not just mine.

Now with the easy part over, it’s down to the real business. If your children have an eye for detail, then a Webkinz logo is an absolute must.

First pick a language, an unfamiliar one. Learn two or three lines, together with an authentic accent. Secondly, decide upon which type of disguise best suits you. Ideally this should be a disguise that is credible, no Chuck E Cheese Mouse suits please. Find you finest pair of small sharp sewing scissors and secret them about your person. Then, take yourself off to the local Hallmark shop or any other fine retailer of the much favoured Webkinz.

On arrival, blend discretely amongst the other legitimate shoppers. Do not draw attention to yourself by acting oddly. Wait patiently for the right moment and then discretely hack off the nearest Webkinz label available. Return the bald Webkinz to the back of the shelf and run like hell. Do not worry if you are caught as you have the best defense in the world, a real justification that cannot be thwarted by logic.

As I may have mentioned earlier, this tackle is not for the faint hearted.

If you find that you’re not a ‘Mission Impossible’ type, your second option is to take careful note of the Webkinz that already enjoy household space at home. Wait until all junior persons are absent from the home, preferably for a long period of time, such as during school and then determine which Webkinz is for the chop? Take your sacrificial Webkinz and slice off it’s leg, unpick the Webkinz logo and sew it neatly on the new and perfectly unique Webkinz of your own design.

Before the children return home, nip outside and find a rock. Smash your front window with the rock from the outside to make sure that the broken glass falls on the inside of the floor to prove that you had no defense against the wicked, Webkinz robber who burgled the house whilst they were away.

Either option should be completed early in the morning. On completion, early in the morning, you shall now have the rest of the day to complete your mission. First it is necessarily to acquire a massive brain such that you are able to hack into the Webkinz site on-line. Once hacked, it is then essential to steal a legitimate Webkinz code. Having stolen the Webkinz code, all you have to do is to perfectly forge the Webkinz papers of authenticity, insert into a plastic Webkinz liner. Carefully wipe clean of all incriminating evidence, such as finger prints. Be sure to wear latex gloves. Attach code package to the Webkinz, with a pale blue ribbon that you saved from a previous purchase.

I think this is probably where I went wrong?

Anyone want a green spider perchance? I’ll forward the ribbon later on, if I ever find it.

Try This Tuesday

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Truth or Dare? [Part 1]

Forty plus years ago, I would walk to and from school every day with my sister. Twenty plus years ago, I repeated this routine with my own daughter. Currently with the present crop of children, walking anywhere is not part of our routine. I decide that I need to take stock and figure out why this should be?

The easiest thing to do would be to blame my two autistic boys who have strong objections to walking. What I like about this excuse is that there is a nugget of truth in it, or rather a tiny granule. They are autistic and they don't like walking. Convenient though that is, the real truth is more inconvenient.

The first truth is that I have a genuine dislike of anything that could remotely be described as exercise. Exercise is in the 'boring' category for me. Not only is it boring, it is also generally time consuming, unproductive and expensive. Whilst I was happy to cycle to work for a decade, that actually saved commuting time, money, the planet and it was fun. Exercise bike's and their ilk, are works of the devil guaranteed to numb the brain.

The second truth is that it's really America's fault and has nothing to do with me personally at all. I am quite blame free. America is a car nation. Anywhere that you might just possibly want to visit, is inconveniently located at least one car ride away. Anywhere else that you may not be quite so interested in visiting, but have to visit, will be located at an additional, even further, car ride away. The total dominance of the car mentality means that as often as not they forget to build any sidewalks.

A few years ago, I worried that when we visited England that I would have forgotten how to walk at all. I heard on the radio that a healthy bod should take 10,000 steps a day. A huge and daunting figure. I read about how old people needed to do weight bearing exercise to increase bone density. I bought a pedometer and stuck it on my waist band after I dropped my little daughter at pre-school as I still had the boys at home.

I was too busy to read the LED screen at any angle with splotched bifocals as I staggered around the house with endless hampers of laundry and carried one or other child or sometimes both, until mid morning. I briefly parked my pair of load bearing 'excercisers' in the baby swing and play pen respectively, where they commenced their vocal protest. I took a glimpse at the little screen, gave it a little tap and noticed that it read well over 10,000. I tossed it on the kitchen counter. I didn't need to exercise, I needed a rest!

The third truth, is that I'm as guilty as the next person of taking the easy option. Even more years ago, I bought a double buggy or stroller, so that we could enjoy fresh air. We would not remain prisoners in our own home. I suspect that the fault lay in the buggy design, in that the children faced forwards whilst I pushed from behind. Maybe it was because they couldn't see me but whatever it was, the mayhem and hysteria that ensured poured icy water on my plans, and that was before the rainy season.

Only two years ago I tried. We walked from parked car to school, for an evening function. After less than ten paces they collapsed on the ground screaming like banshees, rolling on the lawn and kicking the concrete. The homeowner peeked out from behind the curtain as surely I had beaten them with a burnt stick?

Now I am faced with the reality of my sloppy ways, a collection of children completely incapable of walking more than 9 yards outside their own home. We are in dire need of remedial action. They still have no traffic sense, which means that every road is a danger. They're never going to acquire any traffic sense if they're never exposed. I decide to pose as a walker and expose my psyche to a new campaign of torture, for all of us for different reasons.

In theory it should be easy. I think of the one thing that they have continuously hated since time immemorial, car journeys. Surely this is the most obvious solution. Hate the car, then avoid it and walk! To be fair I know that it is mainly the 'transition' to the car rather than the car ride itself, but it still have a crumb of logic in there somewhere, doesn't it?

The initial campaign will be to walk home from school every day. I make a dry run. Two point two miles as a leisurely pace. 22 minutes of stroll, on my own, including traffic light pauses. As I walk I realize that we won't be able to walk on Wednesday because of double therapy. We won't be able to walk on Fridays when the triple play dates take place. 3 walks a week seems both pathetic and Herculean at the same time.

My brain flips back and forth between the two options, with little spikes of terror as I see the uneven path, the sprinklers, the trash, an infinite number of road signs to read and the occasional dog and owner. The more I walk, the more hic-cups I see both on the horizon and beneath my tatty shoes. The temperature is in the 70's in March. In a short while, it will be too hot to walk around outside during the day. I'll need to take sunglasses, baseball caps, water bottles and sunscreen. Sunscreen! Just the thought of sunscreen is enough to give me an attack of the vapours.

Which two additional adults could I bribe to accompany us? Someone to guard each little body, especially the 'easily collapsible' one and the 'likely to spin off and bolt like a fire-cracker' one. Maybe I should just tie us altogether with little bits of string, a chain gang of incomprehensible safety?

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Breakfast at…….mid day maybe?

What can I say? It seemed like a good idea at the time. Why not combine our weekly trip to a restaurant with a gentle stroll? I’m on my own at the moment as their Dad had to “leave” for “England” unexpectedly.

I think my first mistake was the belief that 'breakfast in restaurant,' equated with 'motivation or reward,' surely proof positive of a serious brain malfunction on my part.

I knew that my brain was in a worm hole because after less than 50 yards I could calculate that at the current rate of progress, we might just arrive by next week, if we were very lucky. During these scientific multiplications it also dawned on me that next week, after we had eaten breakfast, I lacked any suitable motivation for the return trip home.

I was haunted by the upcoming newspaper headlines:-

'Foreigner takes up residence in Flames restaurant.

When interviewed, the woman Mrs. Madeline McMad, 47, explained that although she had permanent residence status in the United States, she and her children we unable to leave Flames, a family run franchise. McMad's home is approximately 1000 yards from the restaurant. Although walking impaired, she otherwise appears to be in good health. McMad owns a vehicle and a valid California Driver's license.

The owner of the restaurant, Mrs. Lalima Bhata is at a loss to explain her sudden popularity.

“At first I thought they were seeking Political Asylum but they're already citizens.”

The case is now being handled by the FBI, due to possible International terrorist connections. Agent “Mu Meng” was not at liberty to provide further information but explained 'clearly this woman has some serious, unresolved, psychological issues. She has a perfectly good car and yet choose to walk to the establishment. Now she claims that she has lost the ability to walk. You can be sure that there is more to this than meets the eye. She has an ulterior motive and it's our duty to find that motivation and protect the American people from this idle threat.'

Anyone willing to put up bail?

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Wordy Wednesday – hand strength

Ms. Wordy Wednesday pops in for a chat.

“Hi Maddy! Are you getting set up for a condiments party or something?”
“Oh dear me no. These are just examples of the kind of muck that is banned in my house.”
“Well excuse me! I'll come back another time when you're less grumpy.”
“Ooo sorry about that, it didn't come out quite right.”
“Are you telling me that you deprive your children of ketchup and American mustard? That's gotta be in the Un-American Activities ban!”
“Hmm you're probably right, but they're not banned any more.”
“Oh. So what made you change your mind?”
“Hand strength, or rather the lack of it.”
“Is something wrong with their hands?”
“No, it's just that they're a bit……“feeble.”
“Feeble? What’s the magic ingredient in ketchup that strengthens hands!”
“Well it’s not Riboflavin dearie.”
“Why are their hands weak?”
“Well if you never use your hands for anything, then they don't develop any muscles.”
“Surely not. Hands are just………well, I'm not sure what they are?”
“Do you remember when you were little and your hand would cramp up when you were writing, ache a bit?”
“Yes now you come to mention it, I do remember that. Still get it now as it happens, probably well on the way to carpel tunnel, but that's because of the repetitive nature rather than lack of muscle strength.”
“But you remember the pain? So if your hands hurt doing little tasks, it's simpler not to use them at all, which makes it worse.”
“What do you mean? How can you not use your hands?”
“Actually is much easier than you might imagine.”
“I can't imagine it at all!”
“Well say your plate is sticking off the edge of the table, instead of pushing it back with your hand, you can push it back with your tummy.”
“Oh. Well I suppose your tummy is probably nearer.”
“Or you want to move something else on the table so you just nudge it with your elbow.”
“Hmm that's a bit more awkward. Why wouldn't you use your hand in that situation?”
“Part of it might be that the thing has an unpleasant texture.”
“The tactile defensiveness thingummy!”
“You know that sounds like a pretty lethal combination, don't want to touch things in the first place and weak hands.”
“Hang on a minute. That's why you have the squeezy ketchup! A dual goal of making their hands stronger and helping independence.”
“Yes indeedy.”
“What if they didn't like ketchup! Then you'd be in a pickle.”
“Actually you can get squeezy pickle too!”
“Really! Now that does sound disgusting.”
“It is.”

“There are lots of “developmental toys” these days to help with hand strength though. Why don't you get them some of those?”
“I did.”
“No luck?”
“Oh yes I was forgetting the motivation thingummy for a moment there.”
“Never forget the motivation thingummy.”
“Is that an order?”
“No, no, no, more of a gentle request.”
“Horse and water to you missy!”
“Pass me the nose bag, but don’t fill it with ketchup.”

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Wordy Wednesday


“Ah game night!”
“That was easy, are we done?”
“Not quite.”
“A pictures of the kiddos would have been more interesting.”
“Ooo no you wouldn't want a picture of that!”
“How come?”
Mayhem, absolute mayhem. There again, pictures don't have sound attached so you would probably have survived the exposure.”
“I suspect we're not talking about whoops of laughter somehow.”
“How true, how true.”
“Maybe you should have chosen another game?”
“Doesn't make any difference. All games are torture.”
“Except electronics?”
“Got it in one.”
“So……why is that then?”
“Well there's 'preferred' and then there's everything else.”
“I take it preferred is the 'electronics' so anything other than electronics is torture?”
“A perfect summary.”
“Well why don't you just let them play what they want to play?”
“Ooo I only wish we could, but a full day of electronics from sun up to sun down probably isn't the best way to spend our time.”
“They'd do it all day?”
“Geez, I don't think I can think of anything I like that much that I'd want to do it all day, every day?”
“Likewise. Anyway, all children need to learn a few basic skills like taking turns.”
“Right. Especially if you've got three of them already.”
“So what's the object of the exercise?”
“Good point. I wonder that myself sometimes. Maybe just indulge mother for half an hour?”
“The general idea is that they remain in the general vicinity of the table, pay some attention to what's going on some of the time, learn a few basic rules and attempt play.”
“Sounds awfully……..clinical.”
“It is a bit. The idea is that if they're exposed to it again and again and again, then eventually they might find a crumb or two of pleasure.”
“A bit dry.”
“Indeed. But if they can get the hang of one game, then they might be able to generalize those skills and perhaps play with other children.”
“How long have you been doing this for then?”
“Four and a half years.”
“It does take quite a while.”
“You're not kidding!”
“Would you say that they….enjoy it now?”
“Well yes they do, after the initial protest.”
“Initial protest?”
“It's a transition, you know, stop what you're doing now and start doing something else.”
“Hmm. I get that bit. You know, I'm having a hard time getting my head around this one.”
“You and me both dearie.”
“You see both my parents worked when I was a kid, they didn't have much free time. Sometimes they'd play a board game with me and my brother. It was great, I loved it. I didn't really care what we were playing just that we were all together having fun with mum and dad.”
“I'm afraid that's the bit that's missing.”
“Not so much missing as overshadowed. It's very difficult to explain. A huge chunk of it is the need for them to suppress their loathing of the chosen activity. That's the real hurdle.”
“I'm still struggling here.”
“To be brutally honest, I'm of the pretty narrow minded opinion that autistic kids love and loathe their families just as much as other kids, whether they can express it verbally or not. The love of six foot parent is powerful, but the fear of a 60 foot phobia standing right next to the parent, is much more overwhelming. Proportionately, you're lucky if the child even notices your existence by comparison.”
“For some things. It's the same for all of us in some ways. Which do you notice more, the beautiful bouquet of roses or the spider dangling from a petal? If you prick yourself on a thorn, are you going to deal with the blood or run away from the spider? Did you take the time to smell the perfume or did you forget?”
“But how can a game be so loathed, all games?”
“Well lets say we're in an adventure playground.”
“There's one of those pully ropes suspended from two trees.”
“Just for the moment, say you've never been exposed to the experience before. You've never seen one. You're not copying anyone. Somehow you instinctively know that this is going to be thrilling, some innate attraction.”
“Sounds fun to me.”
“The trouble is that you have a great fear of heights. You want to do it but you can't. Two emotions are fighting each other.”
“Hmm maybe.”
“That's the best I can do I'm afraid without burying you in a load of psychobabble and extraneous detail. Your parents can be there to help, guide, supervise and encourage, but it's something that you basically have to overcome yourself. You can't really do it to please your parents, as the emotions are too huge.”
“Just for a game?”
“O.k. Sooo…….just give me a teaspoonful of the extraneous psychobabble.”
“You're sure?”
“Well I need to check that there are no pictures of Teddy Bears that might jump out and terrify one of them into a meltdown.”
“Oh yes, I remember he's afraid of bears.”
“Lots of kids games have teddy bears.”
“Anything else?”
“The pieces might be difficult to hold, get a grip on, especially if they're very small. The board could be too busy and confusing, something simple like black and white with lots of contrast is easier. The board might have an unusual font that puts it completely off limits. It might hide all kinds of trigger words like 'dead.' With something like checkers where the pieces are uniform, one might be imperfect, some minute irregularity that they just can't tolerate that captures all their attention so that they lose all focus. All of those things are guaranteed to provoke meltdowns. Game over.”
“O.k., o.k., o.k., that's enough. I get it, just enough.”
“The ultimate goal is enjoyment, but there are so many traps and obstacles for them to overcome that it negates the pleasure quotient. It has to be made worth their while. There has to be something in the game that's so wonderful that it cancels out all the grief that they have to endure, to make it a positive experience.”
“Well when you put it like that, it's gonna be one hellava good game!”

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Parental Expectations

Given the gene pool around here, I anticipated that my children would also be allergic to exercise. We don't watch sport nor to we engage in anything that hazardous to health and mental well being.

That aside it would appear that my children, like most children have excessive amount of energy, the trampolene only gets us so far. Sometimes I just have to work with what I have and exploit it to the full.

“Ooo I am love!” he coos.
“What do you love dear?”
“Dem golden balls!” He clutches a yellow tennis ball in each hand, enraptured.
“Those are tennis balls actually.”
“Tennis balls? What is it be 'tennis'?”
“It's a game that two or four people play with rackets.”
“What is it be dah 'racket'?”
“Hang on a minute, I'll show you.” I dash off into the garage and present him with a rather dusty tennis racket.
“Ooo dis is dah good stick fing. I am liking it very much. I can be keeped it?”
“Be my guest.” I had temporarily forgotten his current liking for long handled things. Dragging a tennis racket around with us everywhere would be a considerable improvement on the toilet plunger, so much easier to explain, or rather not explain at all.

A general group interest develops between the children, the balls and the tennis racket. My daughter fetches two more from the garage. After a few minutes of wild instruction I decide that we will decamp to the park, if I hope to retain my windows in tact.

I decide that the best approach is to ambush them. Since 'outside' and 'not in the house' is a recipe for disaster, I decide to be sneaky.
“Let's all get in the car then, as we need to nip out and buy some milk.” I gather tennis rackets and sundry bribes whilst the salmon weep, wail and slap around on the floor in protest. This is only to be expected, firstly because it is a transition, and they hate those, and secondly because they hate the car.

Before too long, about 25 minutes, we zip along to the milk shop. I warn them of the detour, now that they are all safely strapped in, “we'll just drop in at the park for a while to enjoy the sunshine and a breath of fresh air.” It's a statement, not a question, but verbal protests make my ears bleed.

I park in a safe spot, lock the road side door and release them into the safety of the park the other side. The boys roll on the grass. A casual passer by might think they were having run rolling in the leaves, although the screams might give another message, “I am die in dah sun!”
“I am be melting!”
I drag the sack of play things from the back of the car, together with a cartoon of Goldfish Crackers to bribe them into movement.

The tennis court is some distance from the rest of the park. This is good because it means that no-one is particularly bothered by the screamers. I delight in the surrounding wire mesh fence. Escape is impossible as the latch on the door is too complicated and cold for them to consider touching.

I play with my daughter so that the boys can observe as that is how they learn best. I am confident that when they see how much fun we are having they are bound to want to join in too. My youngest son decides that he will join in. He hold the red plastic baseball bat in a fierce grip as he charges around trying to hit the tennis ball. I am so glad that no-one is watching. I am so glad that there are no American's around to bear witness to this travesty. I watch my son race around like a hare at the Greyhound track.

I saunter over to my other son. Kinesthetic learning is the way forward. He is already willing to have a go after his virtual experience with the Wii. I need him to be successful. We stand together like spoons as I guide his body through the motions. I remember that I have always been a lousy tennis player but I have the basics. Together we are poised. We teeter on the edge of positive reinforcement as the racket head makes contact with the ball and it flies over the net. He whips around to face me, wordless but beaming.

Of course it was a one hit wonder!

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Harsh Reality

Many of the difficulties that parents experience with their autistic children is the vast disparity between different skills in different situations. This, in some situations, is referred to as an inability to generalize skills, which means that if they learn a particular skill in a particular place, often they are unable to use that skill at different times and places. The skill is encapsulated within a discrete area which can be difficult to expand. I whip him of his cat and explain that his head is as heavy as a medicine ball, which will surely crush the middle of the cat into a pancake. His understanding is immediate. He is flustered, uncertain whether to make amends with his pet cat or with me, for his inadvertent error. I scoop them both up and collapse on the sofa together for a group cuddle. I stroke the cat and my son in exactly the same manner. He mimics his cat, they both purr with contentment. Whilst we sit I recall a couple of years ago when his first original cat went missing. Jasper the cat, was lost and I suspected that he had come to untimely end. I decided to prepare my son for the loss by actively addressing the matter. We made posters and pinned them up in the neighbourhood. When the weekend came Spouse took care of the other two whilst we went round house to house to make enquiries. We had the script and had been practicing. He held a photo of his cat. We would approach each house, ring the bell, wait for the owner, ask 'have you seen my cat,' hold out photo for viewing, wait for a response and then depart having given thanks. It is a variation on our 'trick or treating' skills which we also needed to break down into steps and practice.

We started with the real locals, the people who know us, the people with patience, kindness and understanding. We went further afield, but still no more than 50 yards away from our own front doorstep. He was motivated because he understood the logic of this method of cat finding and he really wanted to find his 'lost' cat. He had been pump primed for years with 'try, try, try again,' and 'use your eyes, keep looking.'

We would amble up each driveway with his usual gait. At that time, is was his gait that immediately gave the game away that something was different. The simplest description I can come up with, is that of a badly strung marionette with an apprentice puppetier holding the controls. He moved in slow motion to the front door by a circuitous route. I would prompt him to find the bell and remind him to press it. When someone arrived I would squeeze his shoulder to induce speech. Technically he was standing, but his body moved as if his skin were infested with ants but he could only respond in slow and perpetual motion. His body was not orientated towards the homeowner, nor was his face. Eye contact was out of the question. Eventually the 'exchange' would be over and we would leave to go to the next house. I walked close to him as he stumbled in the general direction of the road, oblivious to traffic and the next step in the sequence of the task that we were trying to accomplish. It was a time consuming exercise. In all I think we managed a dozen houses.

During that time, every so often we would come across a dog or a cat. He's not keen on dogs. Each 'pet' we bumped into evoked the same response. He would skip up to the creature with alacrity, almost agile, squat down and start chatting face to face, “Hi, you live around here? I'm looking for Jasper he's my cat, here's a photograph of him, here, take a look, ain't he cute, have you seen him at all?” He would whitter away having an animated one way conversation, body orientated, face and eyes locked on to his target.

It was so extraordinary to witness that even now I don't think I can do it justice, he behaved like two different and completely unrelated children, the contrast could not have been more stark. It was watching the switch between the two; the discombobulated, inarticulate, disinterested child talking to the homeowner and then the gregarious, talkative, energetic whiz to the pets that was mesmerizing, back and forth, off and on, over and over again.

I think is why all parents need to continue to try different experiences, as you never know what may be lurking just around the next bend.

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The Owl and the Pussycat

At a quarter to seven on a Sunday morning I am woken by a yeowling cat. I am forced to acknowledge that a day of rest is not applicable to this household. Cats! Why don’t people chain up their spoilt felines at the weekend? I realize that they are my spoilt felines howling outside my door. I go to investigate and am immediately deafened by purrs. Have they no consideration for the nearly awake? I stomp downstairs tripping over eight other legs and a couple of tails thrown in for good measure. In the family room they are all awake and play with the Gamecube, oblivious to me and to starving cats. I call loudly “anyone want to earn some money for an extra chore, feeding the cats?” All three of them continue to pogo in front of the screen. I am fairly confident that I wasn't even heard, which is important because it means I can do the deed myself without later being accused of cheating, or denying them the opportunity to earn extra cash. I have discovered that bigger children create ever more complicated negotiations for the parent to navigate when it comes to finances.

Only one of them has taken readily to the motivational force of pocket money. [translation = an allowance] It's probably just an age thing. she's the right age and they're too young. The boys have to be prompted through every reluctant step but their sister has become the allowance Queen, or should that be plague? She pounces on me at inconvenient moment demanding money with menaces, “what can I do? Can I get 50 cents for picking up that piece of paper?” She has acquired previously undetected haggling skills by osmosis. She has an endless list of ‘things to buy.’ Her brother already has every Pokemon that exists on the planet, and I have yet to find a suitable source of eggs for junior. I need fake eggs, but plastic ones. We don’t want to expand his horizons too far in case he gets hooked on the Faberge variety.

“O.k. 40 cents for picking it up? 25? Alright, say 5 cents?” I agree, because it's still early enough to be dark, but does she give up claiming victory? Of course not. She's relentless, energetic and young.
“O.k. how about another 50 cents for putting it in the bin?”
“What? You want 25 cents for picking it up and another 50 cents for putting in the bin?”
“Forget it.”
“o.k. just 25 cents for picking it up then?”
“What are you going to do with it when you've picked it up? Just carry it around all day?”
“What's it to you? You only said 'pick it up.' That's what I'll do if that's what it takes.” Let me die now, it's the other two that are supposed to be literal.
Once she's in the groove she's all over me like a rash as I bumble around in slippers and a dressing gown trying to restore order.
“Can I fix the table for breakfast for 50 cents?” I look at the table piled with papers, books, food scraps, left over homework and a wide assortment of writing materials. I dither momentarily, weighing up the benefit of her being able to earn the extra money she needs for a preferred toy, versus the benefit of consistency of routine for her brothers in being able to sequence laying their own place setting at the table?
“What! What! What's taking you so long?”
“Er, O.k.” I continue to splosh around at the sink in the kitchen. She's by my side within 30 seconds, “50 cents please.”
“You've finished already?”
“Yup, I'm done. 50 cents please?” I look over. The table is empty. Piles of debris line the edge of the wall.
“I thought you were going to lay the table for breakfast?”
“Nope, you didn't say that, you said 'clear if for breakfast.' It's clear, I need my 50 cents.” I determine to use my words more carefully, to be less cavalier. Her feet tap in the puddle on the floor as I count out five dimes for her, “don't make that mess any worse dear,” I plead.
“Hey I can clear that up for you for 50 cents?” I press the coins into her palm and pass her her piggy bank, slip in a high five.
“No thank you.”
“Hey why not? You just want me to stay poor! You won't let me earn what I need.” I look at the emotional blackmailer with awe. How does she know how to do that already? This is one aspect of her upbringing that has been missing, due entirely to the existence of her brothers. I would never appeal to anyone's conscience, the 'do it for me,' 'do it to make me proud / please me,' as that has always been a waste of breath. So where has she found this talent? Is it innate?

A recall a million failed attempts of appealling to her brothers when we first started RDI [translation = Relationship Development Intervention] which I wasn't very good at;
“Please, just for me, just once?”
“”Once', what it is?”
“One time.”
“Oh, I not do it one time, I do it zero times.”
“Please, just to make me happy?”
“No, your face is happy now, that is stupid.”

Or, changing face to demonstrate unhappiness:
“Please, just to make me happy?”
“No, your face is a liar.” It's enough to turn a mother prematurely grey. No, all such appeals were set aside together with the RDI book.

I look at my daughter, the expert at personal relationships aged 8.
“You should put it towards your college fund.”
“I have a college fund?” she asks with eyes like saucers. I don’t like to mention that any potential college fund has already been squanders threefold on her brothers’ therapy. I grab a cloth and slip to the floor “because I know that you'll want to charge me more for obtaining a cloth first, another ten cents for disposing of the dirty cloth and object very strongly to wiping the splashes that are outside a three foot radius without additional payment.”

I stand and lob the cloth into the wash, “and besides I can do it myself is far less time than it takes to negotiate with you.” But I suspect that says more about my own shortcomings than hers.

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