Navigating the Social world


I have reason to believe that I am the sole arbiter of social norms.

Because I am a superior being in these matters, I have no problem advising my daughter when it comes to her birthday celebration. Our last December birthday, and then I may turn my attention to the other big holiday celebration, if I have an ounce of energy left.

“So how many are comin Mom?”
“Well I don't really know. Definitely 5 maybe 7?” Presumably because I failed to translate R.S.V.P on the invitation? “Perhaps you could ask them to telephone me dear?”
“Very good. So I'll collect the cake after I've made room for it in the freezer.”
“Oh. About that.”
“About what?”
“We need a different cake.”
“A different cake from the special, made to order one, that you specifically choose as being your favourite, you mean?” Rather than the home made, artistically created with love version, from your mother? How many more ‘sacrifices’ do I have to make, deny my own pleasure, just so that she can be happy?
“Joanne don't like ice-cream cake.”
“But YOU like ice-cream cake and it's YOUR birthday.”
“Yeah but I want my friends to be happy too.” This is taking accommodation too far!
“Fair enough. How about I make another cake, a little one, that way every one will be happy?”
“Yeah and get some ice cream too.”
“What for?”
“To go with the cake that you're gonna make.”
“But what about the ice-cream cake, made with ice-cream?”
“That's right! Remember, you have the cake which yah have with ice-cream, unless yah don't like ice-cream, or yah have the ice-cream coz you don’t like the cake, then yah have the ice-cream cake if yah like ice-cream cake.” It's the American way, what can I say. Take a perfectly delightful piece of cake and then make a hideously soggy disgusting mess of it with a dollop of ice-cream. Vile.
“O.k. So,….. I shall buy the pizzas today whilst you are at school.”
“Oh no. Not pizza!”
“I thought you said you wanted pizza? A special treat?”
“No coz Sara doesn't like pizza.”
“But all Amer….um…..children like pizza!” Except my boys of course, although technically, they're not invited to the sleepover.
“Oh. Well how about spaghetti then?”
“No. She dun like that either.”
“But all Ameri……what does she like?”
“She does, really! I like it too. Can we have Calamari? Please?”
“Leave that one with me. Do the rest of your friends like Calamari?”
“No but that's o.k. coz Petra isn't staying the night.”
“It's a sleepover! Why isn't she staying the night?”
“Coz of the boys.”
Let me die now.
I need an emergency pack of patience right this second.
“Um… why dear?”
“You know!” she says knowingly. I take a deep breath as it would be inconvenient to explode at this stage of the conversation. I need an emergency pack of tolerance right this second.
“What about the boys dear?” Pass me the 'peace and love to all mankind' emergency pack. What is wrong with these people! Must a little genetic variation always have such a dire impact?
“Well they're, you know…..boys.”
“An she's a girl and she ain't got no brothers, soooo….”
“So what?”
“Well she ain't gonna stay the night in a house that's got boys sleepin there too, duh!”

It's official, I'm 119 years old and incapable of thinking outside the coffin shaped box of my own making. Just dig a six foot hole and bury me under the weight of my prejudices.

Is she really only about to be 10?

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Flip a coin

During the lull at the IEP meeting, when i's are dotted, t's are crossed and photocopies made, I chat to the other team members. I remark about how well the play dates have been progressing with the child we called Joe, in my older son's class; what a delightful boy he is, so sweet natured, such language facility, how my boys are able to 'share' him, how patient he is with them both, how's he managed to magically lure them outside……I glance up when I realize that I am rambling, to check that we are of one accord regarding Joe's outstanding personality, so that they may contribute to his adulation, that “paragon of virtue,” lucky boy, lucky family, lucky school. I see widened eyes and electricity pass between them.

Initially I put this down to confidentiality, which is as it should be, but a blurt or two corrects my misapprehension. Their experience differs from mine. I note the double check. Are talking about Joe here? Indeed I was. Joe, who like my son, is a filthy little ragamuffin at the end of the day. Where do they find so much dirt? How do they manage to get quite so mucky? I beam with warmth for that exceptional child. A polite puff or three follows. We are not on the same page, or even them same book. I am happy for things to remain confidential but it made me reflect upon the truism, that children behave differently in different circumstances. [translation = as do adults]

For as long as I can remember I have had a healthy respect for this truism. I used to be somewhat fearful and cautious about these differences, but in the light of Joe in my home, with my children, whatever the truth of the matter, in my eyes, Joe showed his true colours, the rainbow that he is and the hidden treasure.

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What is normal anyway?

'He didn't have any shorts on today [underpants]' says the note inside his backpack. I look at my son, blissfully unaware. Although I am not male, I can imagine that clothes without underwear would be,……….uncomfortable, or would be for someone who had the usual number of nerve endings, or failing that, the correct brain wiring to be able to detect that it should be uncomfortable. I muss his hair and concentrate. More occupational therapy? Something to help him connect the dots. He's always better after “'brushing' and 'joint compression,'” less discombobulated.

When we're in the car on the return journey home, his legs grind into the back of my seat, extend, relax, extend relax, not rhythmical, but regular. He'll wear his knee caps out doing that. What am I going to do with him? In the rear view mirror, I catch a glimpse of my daughter, a snapshot, one that mirrors her big sister, the blue eyed one.

Those blue eyes remind me of school pick up two decades ago and a visit to the Headmistress's office for 'a quiet word.' I was advised that underwear was compulsory not optional at school, for all pupils, no exceptions. It transpired that this was not a one off incident. She often arrived in class “without her knickers,” with all the underlying implications of such an offense. A left the office mystified.

It wasn't until the following day, en route to school, that I watched her in the rear view mirror. She removed her knickers with stealth and stuffed them down the seam in the seat. On arrival, I checked the back of the seat, maybe twenty pairs, all colours. I nabbed the culprit for a shake down. Why?
“Why? I only like the pink ones mummy!”

Of course! It doesn't always have to be autism, it can just be youth and colour prejudice.

Not senile yet! Thank goodness I am old.

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Traditional Irish Fayre

I e-mail my dear Irish pal in Ireland, to tell her about our day here in America. I am duty bound to assist her spouse, since he is an American. The poor man will have had to suffer the watered down version of Irish celebrations in Ireland and will have entirely missed out on the traditional version here, no Leprechaun traps for him. I don’t tell her what such a trap entails. I leave that joyful task to her husband, to see if he has any luck translating that one. I hope to transport him back to his happy childhood and St. Patrick’s Day school work sheets.

I explain how I have spent the morning toiling in the garden like an Irish navvy, spreading home made “compost” to the consternation of my children. Whilst I stood on the solid clay flower bed in a dust cloud with my fork, we seemed a long way from the rolling green hills. The nearest lawns are those belonging to the local MacDonalds, where verdant, manicured mounds tempt and confuse foreigners.

I send a picture of the children in their sparkly green bowler hats [smooth on the inside]. I don’t mention how junior used his; rammed down over his face to squash his nostrils so that he was no attacked by odourous mulch. I tell her of his great triumph in placing an item on his head. I don’t mention that the elastic chin strap had to be cut off.

I send her a link to a different site “GNM Parents” as a demonstration of my advancing techy skills, and proof that in the wee small hours, I attempt productivity. My attempts to reach out to the ‘normal’ population, those parents and children who will grow up and develop in the same generational time span as all of ‘our’ children. I need to win over that population, make autism less scary, not quite so weird, ‘merely’ a variation on a theme that they can tolerate, learn to live with, accept? My plan to conquer via humor is slow.

I hear back from her almost immediately via her Blackberry, stuck in some aeroplane en route to Japan. She and her family stopped off for Pizza [Ref 1] after a day out with the horses. But what else can you expect from a CEO of a high tech company, Irish or otherwise.

Three pairs of not particularly Irish eyes look in the same place at the same time on ‘command!’ [translation = shameless pleading and other psychologically damaging tricks]

[Ref 1] “Real Irish Italian pizza!”

“What I like about the people of Cork,” John tells me as we devour the last crumbs, “is how punky they are. Look at what you’re eating! It’s not national cuisine, but it’s not just fashionably international either. They’ve got the courage to sunder the rules here.”

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