The Ancient Mariner

 

Where is my compass when I need it?

Or should that rather be a sexton? Or a map?

But I have learned one new thing; anxiety is contagious, or should that be infectious?

My older son's obsession with the passage of time has grown to gargantuan proportions. I am unable to field his constant question, 'how long until electronics?' Nothing distracts him from the passing seconds displayed on the timer. He carries it around with him and glances at the figures with every breath. I'm not sure if I'm anxious or just plain ratty at the harassment, but I do know that it's not healthy for either of us.

We will both be arithmetical athletes if he keeps up at this rate. There are insufficient seconds between the seconds, for me to give any attention to my other children and responsibilities. It is only possible to read a couple of words or part of a line about “Your Anxious Child,” which means that I am no closer to finding an appropriate coping strategy for any of us. “It's taking too long” he wails, interspersed with “how many minutes until electronics? No, no, no, I mean how many seconds?” He will wear out his vocal chords if he keeps twanging them in the manner. They're not used to such exercise.

I am in the midst of circular thought patterns myself, when it dawns on me that another cause of concern is that he has also failed to play with his electronics for the last few days. When the designated time, 5:30 p.m. finally arrives, instead of pounding off to grab one of the coveted toys, he ambles around listlessly. After we've started our bedtime routine after supper, it occurs to him that he has missed 'electronics' time again. I am uncertain how this turn of events has come about?

If we spend another 24 hours like this, I might as well book my spot in a padded cell. There again, that might give me a few minutes to read, learn, strategize and come up with some kind of new campaign, no matter how inadequate it eventually turns out to be. How can he have so many words and yet I have none, or at least not the right ones?

As the timer starts beeping he dashes to my side to wave it around in a storm of ecstasy, “it's 5:30, it's electronics time, at last! I thought it would never come! I'm so glad that's all over with.” He deflates into the sofa with a sigh. “Now I can relax, that's so much better.”

His fingers turn the pages of one of the manuals to one of his games, as he studies the pictures and instructions.

“Um…..aren’t you going to play with your…Gameboy…..or something?” I offer tentatively now that he appears to be at peace.
“Nah!…..whatever,” he adds with all the charm of a teenager. Whatever! Whatever? Don’t you ‘whatever’ me matey! We have endured an entire day, second by second, and now all we have is ‘whatever!’ I am unfamiliar with ‘young people speak,’ but even I know that this roughly translates to ‘it is a trifle of no consequence.’ Where is all this ‘young people speak’ coming from? ‘A trifle of no consequence’ does not match today’s experience. I am completely mystified, a condition which I believe is rapidly becoming my new status.

Much later, when I tuck him into bed at eight, he realizes that another 24 hours has passed, during which time he has failed to play any electronics.

We have turned into a family of rampant, racing radicals, not the free kind.

Pass me the monkey nuts, I need to re-energize before I fall off my wheel.


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Half full and slightly tarnished linings

The lizard, who fails to acknowledge his given name of “'Gecky,'” is poised immobile. My pose should also be supine. I prop myself up on my elbows, nursing a mug of crunchy coffee to contemplate the day ahead. The day ahead has merged into the it's neighbour, because one of my children has turned nocturnal. I wonder how the child that can sleep on his head, in a cupboard or drop to the ground at any time for a nap, has morphed into a waking creature, a very perky one at that?

Bed at 8, 'up' at 10 to tell us a secret, followed by hourly visits to impart vital or confidential information, has left us dazed. The 'warning' note to his teacher, will put her in a better coping position. If I had had a 'warning' note yesterday, I might have been in a better coping position myself. Perhaps I should have consulted the star's alignment for guidance? I was certainly in a position to examine each and every constellation with frequency throughout the night. Gecky is still alive after 3 days in our household. I am uncertain if I will fare as well.

I don't bother to check the calendar as I already know that I have a three hour appointment at the dentist in the morning and a three hour [plus] appointment at the school, for Junior's IEP in the afternoon. It is hard to assess rationally, which will be more painful?

Several zillion jobs [translation = chores] scream at me, from the never ending and constantly expanding list of 'things to do.' I consciously ignore it on the counter behind me. Things to buy, things to fix and mend, to include the sprinkler system, which in turn requires speech from me on the telephone. Is there no end to the misery and torture of my current existence?

Since I will be seeing real people today, this means that I must dress accordingly and attempt 'rational parent' appearance. Do I possess any matching garments in my closet? Will I recognize anything that matches? Will I be able to gain entry to my theoretically 'walk in' closet? Would attendance wearing a dressing gown be to obvious? I wonder if the shower I had at 3:10 a.m. can 'count' for 'today'? I fail to see how a shower at any time of the day or night will make me sound like a rational parent, when my speech is slurred by braces and my brain is slurried by sleep deprivation.

Since I am now an American, this means that if I am to present myself in public, I must be hairless. Do I have one of those things still? What is it called? Oh yes, a razor. Surely I must have one of those rusty old things hanging about somewhere?
Maybe I should just dip myself in a vat of “Immac” and be done with it?

Forget eugenics, I'm all for cloning: 'Clone! Get thee hence forthwith to the IEP meeting, and don't forget to take careful notes. Report back with 'done deal.''
I pull over the dish of 'homework' coins. I fumble. I pull out the pennies, discard the foreign rogues. I slip the former into a bag for the school charity drive. I recall that once upon a time, this was an easy exercise, swift and efficient. Did I ever “work in a Bank” or was that someone else? I cross off number 623 of the list as 'done.'

Out of the window, I see the first rain drops plop onto the patio. [translation = deck] Typical! That's all I need, a 'fight' with the tactile sensitive and the tactile immune, one with a 'rain dance' and another rolling in the puddles! Struggles with umbrellas, the armour of protection but a Rubic's cube to open. I pout, or would do if my lips were not numb.

I attempt a crooked grin. I won't have to water the garden tonight! Maybe I won't hide in the closet under a pile of rags. So there's no pot of gold, but I can still manufacture my own rainbows.


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Handy hint [possibly] number 2

It may be that you have the kind of autistic child that objects strongly to 'outside.' If you don't, just skip this and go and find something more relevant.

If you are truly unfortunate 'outside' also includes the garden. [translation = yard] If you find that attempting to take your child outside results in a serious case of the heebie jeebies, then you may also find that you and your child [ren] are trapped within the four walls of your home.

It is probably a good idea to try and find out what exactly is the true nature of their objection to 'outside.' This can be tricky if your child is also non-verbal. Some of it may be sensory in the realms of weather, temperature, the degree of light intensity and so on. This list is more or less endless, but again, difficult to pin down if language is not forthcoming. If you're happy for your house to remain your prison, all well and good, but even the more reclusive parent will find that on occasion, it is necessary to leave the house, if only for a few basic essentials such as food.

With that in mind, it is probably best to tackle the issue before it festers and becomes ingrained, the only other alternative being, that you will eventually leave your house in a six foot wooden coffin.

Now it may be that you are out numbered, one parent versus two children determined to remain troglodytes. You may be able to fool a friend into assisting you with this task, but failing that option, it may only be possible to deal with one child at a time. This is especially difficult, as it probably means that one child will be inside unsupervised, whilst you 'deal' with the other one outside. If this is the case place the inside child near a glass window or door with whatever the current obsession is. Whilst it is painful to admit that you are allowing one child to perseverate [push the ladder up on the fire engine, push the ladder down on the fire engine] for 20 minutes, this has to be balanced against the benefit of acclimatizing the other child to the 'outside.' Try and ignore the fact that the inside child is oblivious to the screaming agony of the outside child, as this is just a distracter to the parent. But I digress.

What can you do outside that might make being outside less agonizing or possibly more attractive? This depends entirely upon what you have to work with, as each child's unique make up will determine the outcome. For one of my children this meant lugging out Thomas the tank engine and his numerous cohorts into the garden and seleotaping them to the fence at sight level for a four and a half year old. Whilst I'd like to describe this as a treasure hunt with those pleasant connotations, the reality was more of a screaming rescue mission on his part. Clearly, this kind of 'game' requires setting up in advance and it's essential that the trains should be easily removable for those with poor fine motor skills. Ear plugs may be beneficial for the parent also.

For the other one, I found that the alphabet, shapes and numbers painted on the fence, paths, plant pots and other bits and bobs was a much better fit.
If you can make this a daily 'exercise' eventually you may be rewarded by the ability to have both children rescuing their respective preferences at the same time, therefore reducing the parental stress of leaving a child unsupervised in the house.
With luck, much, much later, they may begin to enjoy the experience. Perhaps, much, much later, it might become 'fun.'

I think most things have the potential to become 'fun' when they are no longer 'new.'


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Pass the buck

[translation = blame somebody else]

I hide the teapot in the cooker [translation = stove] as the cleaners are on their way on a Monday morning. Their scrupulousness is appreciated in all quarters of my household, with the exception of the teapot. The teapot is off limits, my personal dark little secret. I do not want it sparklingly clean and pristine. It makes better tea if it is stained the colour of mahogany, but this is not a message that is easy to translate in this country. [translation = my Spanish is limited to Dora’s exploits and my French is rusty] Therefore, taking the line of least resistance I have resorted to deception. Of course autistic children, we are told, generally are incapable of deception, they are too literal.

On return from school with the offspring, I release the teapot from it’s hidey hole and pop the kettle on the hob. [translation = tea kettle on the flames] A shadow addresses me,
“What you do?”
“Me? Oh nothing.”
“No. You do sompfink. What you do?” Is this the same child that would not utter a syllable for four, sometime five hours?
“Just getting the teapot ready for a cup of tea.”
“What that fing is called again?”
“This thing? Or that thing?”
“Bowf fings?” I have early intervention mechanism to thank for this tirade.
“This is the oven and this is the teapot.”
“Oh right, yes.” It’s not that his vocabulary is limited, it is merely that the words are mis-filed, so he’s unable to retrieve them at will. It’s like having a dictionary, which is no use to you if you can’t spell a little bit in the first place.
“Why you cook da teapot?”
“I didn’t,” I answer truthfully. He puts a tentative finger on the oven door in confirmation. [translation = no-one believes me]
“It is cold. You not cook it den?”
“That’s right.”
“Why oven den?” Why this sudden interest in teapots and cookers? Who am I to be cross examined by a seven year old about my relationship with a teapot? What business is it of his anyway? [translation = patience on low ebb]
“No reason,” I add nonchalantly.
“”No reason.’? What reason? I mean, er, why you put da teapot in the oven if you not cook it?” Really! What is wrong with the child, can’t he just let it be?
“Well, if you must know, I put it in the oven to hide it. The oven is a very good place for hiding things.”
“Good for hiding. Good for cooking. Good for two things. Dat’s good.” At last he seems satisfied although I suspect the whole exercise was merely a ruse to delay starting jobs. [translation = chores and homework]

We go through our school routine of snacks, making packed lunches and getting clothes ready for the following day. It’s so difficult to decide in which precise order to do these things in, as if you don’t have sufficient motivation in front of you, then there is no human way of dragging them forward to the goal of task completion. [translation = getting things done.]

As I settle them down to homework at the table, with the promise of stories and supper to follow, a general protest ensues. There appear to be far too many arguments against completing homework in this next 30 minute section of the day; additional nutrition required for optimal brain function, a little light television in advance, to relax the mind and let the body wind down, social interaction needed with the felines of the household to ensure bonding and minimizing dysfunctional behaviour.

I look at them all and their feeble excuses in exasperation, when senior son adds his two pennarth [transation = 2 cents] “I cant do mine cos I lef it at school today.” It’s late, we’re behind schedule [translation = our timetable] and my energy reserves are low. I decide that we can play catch up tomorrow instead, where the therapy commitments are lighter, where there are a greater number of minutes available to prompt them through it all. I make my decree and they all scamper or lumber, off to pursue other, infinitely more preferable activities.
I return to the kitchen to start preparing supper for the masses. I jiggle the steeping tea pot. Should be ready by now? I switch on the cooker and yell to warn the children of the impending noisy explosion that indicates that the pilot light is functioning. I hope that the cleaners won’t comment on the absence of the teapot after 5 years, as I wouldn’t like to hurt their feelings. Hopefully they’ll just assume that I’ve switched to coffee, converted to the American mode. Perhaps they’ll think that I’ve adopted the filthy American habit with tea instead, where you only use a tea-bag in a cup, poke it with a teaspoon and fish it out with a special pair of tweezers?

The boom of the oven that follows as it ignites, still startles me, but this is nothing to the shriek of agony that comes seconds later. Senior son erupts into the kitchen and stares in horror at the oven, eyes on stalks, palms covering his mouth, “Oh no! What you do? You are in such big trouble. I tell Mrs. Loper it was you! You are da naughty one! You cooked my homework.”

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