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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Hide and seek

I enjoy another pointless conversation with my children now that we have conversations, pointless and otherwise. “Come on you two, let’s play hide and seek with Fred.” My older son looks pleased at the prospect, his younger brother thinks I am a fool, “why we play hide and go seek wiv a tortoise? Are you nuts mom?”
“Not at all. Come on it’ll be fun.”
“Not fun.”
“Yes it is. Anyway it’s not fair as Fred’s already hidden himself and unless you go and find him he’ll be hiding for ever.”
“Dat’s not good…..if no-one comes lookin for ya.”
“Right! So come into the garden and see if you can find him.”
“He is losted?”
“No he’s hiding.”
“Oh…dats o.k. I already seened him when I came home from school.”
“Yes but now he’s in the pen outside but you won’t be able to find him as he’s hiding.” They’re less enthusiastic than I would wish but still compliant. I wax lyrical, “it’s quite amazing how he’s camouflaged himself, in the grass, he’s invisible. We peer into the pen to see four square feet of grass and no tortoise, or at least, I can’t see him. “May be he sneaked up the down pipe like the incy wincy spider?”

“He ain’t no spider mom. Anyways up down……he’s dere. We found him. Wot now?”
“You can see him, already? Point to him. Show me where?”
“Can you see him too?” I check with his brother.
“Sure! He right dere.”
“Point to him dear.” He steps over the fence, reaches in and pulls out Fred, just like that! “Iz o.k. mom wiv your old and mold eyes.”

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Lost Leader

Tackle It Tuesday Meme
Try This Tuesday

It’s summer time and the living is tricky, so I only have a whizzy quicky fix this week.

The problem?

How to rid my household of the less than perfect. We have quite a lot of “less than perfect” around here, a thoroughly disgraceful ratio of good to bad. But what to do with all the “rejects?”


Photograph the perfect next to the imperfect. Mark with a tick and a cross to help some people see the fault that is all to obvious to my family. Figure out the right price for the “perfect” deduct 25cents and then offer one perfect and one imperfect at 25 cents to the clientele with one rule:-

if you buy the “perfect” then please also buy the imperfect, buy both.

It’s a gimmick but ever so gradually we are whittling down the reserves of imperfect stacked in the garage.

And yes you’re right. Whilst we were away in England my daughter whisked away the tables and replaced them with a market stall! Home made! All from recycled materials. What a little star she is!

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Sun Valley Rutile over Woo Blue

5 Minutes for Special Needs

I examine them closely, just like my homegrown judges did. Save me from visual acuity!

They are all small, deliberately, as there is only so much clay and time that I can afford to throw away.

This is the only one I like.

All were thrown at the same time with the same clay. Fired in the kiln at the same time. Glazed in the same manner on the same day, yet each one of them is different from the other.

9 are useable the rest are “poo pots.”

One has a sharp shard from someone else’s explosion. One has two mysterious white spots from goodness knows where.

Three are on the pink side. Two are still pooish, brown and fatally dull. That leaves 4, only four and of that four, I only like one. How many bowls will I need to throw before I can make a set of four? It’s the kind of maths question that drove me quite dotty when I was small. Now I am big and I still have no answers.

On the other hand, some people’s names just slot together like magic. A marriage made in heaven, or rather Ireland but lets not be picky. Happy Anniversary Anne and Ned!

If you enjoy caption competitions and photographs, you may wish to nip along to“DJ Kirkby” over at “Chez Aspie” and test your brain power.

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‘De Blob’ de best ever product review

‘De Blob’ for Wii, is indeed a thrill for all of our family. The birthday gift has been thoroughly conquered in less than a month. Some of the taglines such as ‘dodge ink cannons, flatten INKT tanks and outsmart Inky soldiers’ may sound a little violent, but in reality they are as harmless as some common cartoons. Another tagline gives a broader flavour of the product:- ‘Paint the city and smash your way past Inky enemies to save the citizens.’ More than anything else, I am grateful for the wide range of musical accompaniments, many of which are much easier on the parental ear than some other electronic games.

reviewers and “critics”
offer platforms where you can try it out for yourselves and get a feel for the product. However, the “repetitive” nature of game appears off-putting to the typical but not for the atypical, far from it:- au contraire, mon frère! The repetitions are a positive plus point, as this is the perfect way to practice without increasing levels of frustration, where mastery enhances self esteem.

Fortunately, none of the characters have any words, merely noises that mimic speech of some obscure or bygone language. Please note that it is not French to the best of my knowledge. The written sub-titles are an added bonus for those of us who are hyperlexic. For my boys at least, it has proved magnificently motivating. Additionally, the advancement of their hand–eye coordination and response time has improved immeasurably.

There is of course one drawback. This improvement in hand-eye coordination has resulted in each of the chair backs of the sofa being decorated with this emblem.

Sadly, my response time lags way behind those who are quick on the draw with those not so magic markers. I’d share a picture of my soggy sofa but I expect it’s all too easy to visualize.

Hosted by “Tracy” at “Mother May I,” but the photo-picture below will whizz you right there with one click.

Just call me snap happy.

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Best shot Monday / Manic Monday Pride

Please scroll down for Magic Marker Monday

Hosted by “Tracy” at “Mother May I,” but the photo-picture below will whizz you right there with one click.

Just call me snap happy.

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Darts! Experience success!

Although I take a great many snaps, I can use very few of them, because my children are rarely dressed appropriately.

The skill of dressing, is an art form.

When a toddler first manages to dress themselve's independently, parents rejoice in their success. Pride in achievement doesn't seem a sin but something to celebrate. It is a huge step to master snap fasteners, zips and laces. All of those tasks are too difficult, textures are aversive, fine motor skills are poor, weak and unpracticed, and anyway you'd prefer to avoid the whole clothing issue entirely. Despite all this, there comes a time of realization to that child:- the things that other children, littler children achieve without effort, are way beyond their own reach. When this notion takes hold of a youthful mind, many begin to lose their sense of self worth. A child as young as 5 or even 3, may suffer depression. Unlikely as it may seem, sadly, it is true.

This is where tiny huge incidents of success may help address the imbalance. Small experiences of positive feedback can help re-build their fractured self esteem. A sense of pride in a task completed, becomes a tantalizing goal. It can't be faked. It must be real to be of worth.

A dart board is fun for many a child, and adults! But the needle end would be dangerous for many and truly scary for others. Hence these magnetic darts fit the bill. Despite shortcomings in some realms of fine motor, co-ordination and eye tracking, other skills may be unusually enhanced. They may help compensate.

It is important for me to note that at the time of that photograph my son was in the ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ developmental stage. He has already passed through the ‘dinosaur’ stage. Many people describe autistics as having obsessional interests and sometimes compulsive too. This may be a fair shorthand. It is often true that the interest pervades their lives to the exclusion of everything else. They do not stop to eat or to meet any other of their basic needs. I can see why it’s described as obsessional.

However, I sometimes think that an alternative view would be ‘single interest.’ They have a current single interest but it can change to something else without warning. In our case it was on Christmas day. No more Thomas, so no motivation to open any presents at all, even if we ignore the tactile issue.

If you take a child with an obsessional interest to a toy shop, they will seek out their preferred toys. If you take a child with a single interest to a toy shop, when the single interest has gone, there is nothing at all to entertain them. I know that this is very difficult for people to understand. It is the very opposite of the ‘kid in the candy store.’ Name any ‘thing’ or ‘toy’ you can think of, but to entice a child to engage, is often an insurmountable hurdle. It’s like a secret club where no-one will share the password.

This is not to say that you couldn’t have more than one ‘single’ interest:- dinosaurs, Thomas and insects simultaneously. I could be interested in reading, knitting and gardening or motor cycle maintenance, art and stamp collecting, but anything else? Well it’s just off the radar, perhaps?

However, it may well be possible, with a dollop of luck on your side, to find just the right password, and hit the bulls eye. It isn’t really a secret, it’s just patient, persistence or obstinacy in my case. And yes, that glint is a twinkle of pride in his eye.

What a lucky combination!
Get the code:-
Cut and paste
from this little
boxy thing below

p.s. I amended ‘Peanut Butter Bumpkins to include the recipe.

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I watch him watch as we sit outside for dinner on a balmy evening. His spoon is poised in a limp hand, mouth slightly ajar, concentrating.

“What are you looking at dear?”

I count to fifteen with 'ands' as he processes.

“Um …….my new friend.”

I double check, it's just us, Dad, Nonna, little brother and me, no friend, imaginary or otherwise.

I hope?

Would an imaginary friend be a good thing?

“What's he called dear?”

I pause and wait.

“Um…….I dunno?”
“What does he look like?”
“Um……..jus ordinary.”
“Can you describe him to me with your 'good describing words'?”
“Um………………..but yah can look for yurself,” he adds as the wobbly spoon points at his Dad's back.

We all look.

His Dad shoots from his chair flailing.

“Good grief! That “Praying Mantis” must be three inches long!”

So much to share, so little time.

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Long leap [England is Evil 8]

I was going to say that our day trip to Longleat Safari Park was a bit of a flop, but that’s just the grumpiness poking out. A few years ago such an adventure would have been inconceivable or at least impossible once the double buggy went out of service. How I mourned the loss of the double buggy and it’s impossible to open safety straps, but heaving a five year old and a three year old around in the contraption became untenable. Freedom was the only way forward.

Freedom was a mixed blessing. I suspect that I stunted their ability to walk and navigate, but as one took flight and the other dropped in a heap I was at the bottom of another steep learning curve.

Thus we trundle around the park using our reluctant feet. It’s a classic scene from Dali as my children drape themselves over various fences and garbage cans. “Why dere are no fire hydrants for lying? England is evil,” he sighs. I yank the shoulder of my bra strap in the humidity. I wonder if I’ll find the time to buy additional garments in England as AAA is not available in the States. Mail order is silly when we’re already here, not so much battery powered and certainly not supercharged. British ones are so much more comfortable, free of wires and pads and other foul means of torture. I prefer a more natural line in any case, something that moves and breathes with you.

My youngest son is absorbed with pimples and pays no heed to the wide variety of exotic wildlife available for his entertainment. My older son is far more interested in the curiously abundant spiders’ webs. As such, our progress is slow.

Our slow progress is matched by an older couple, perhaps a husband and wife? Our paths cross frequently as we wind our way through the site. On each occasion I hear the same mutter, “acne uneven, acne uneven, acne uneven,” which is not a Dalek script that I’m familiar with.

My own elderly eyesight is poor, but apart from the male pattern baling they appear to be otherwise free from any blemish. Uneven? I have no clue. Why must everything match anyway? Indeed her crisp, Broderie Anglaise blouse makes me envious in the sticky heat. I pull at the pokey hook in the middle of my back. Who on earth designed this garment? A trip to Marks and Spencer’s lingerie department seems indispensable. Why do people wear luminous white bras under white fabrics? Why did I allow the volume control campaign to slide?

The park has one saving grace in the form of copious signs with interesting facts, figures and curiosities to read. We read each and every one of them. The boys repeat some detail that catches their fancy until we move to the next sign. As such, our progress slows still further until we are practically static. I’m discreet as I adjust an elastic strap that digs into my collar bone, maybe we’ll go to town tomorrow? Interspersed with these details, they insert their own interesting gems, extracted from the ether, “the lizard and the hobo, the lizard and the hobo, the lizard and the hobo.” I look around for visual cues. Where is it all coming from?

I notice that every other woman in the park is at peace with her lingerie choices. I also notice that there is a significant percentage of the population are without a foundation garment, and not only the men. I realize that I have never seen a braless woman in the States, not even in Santa Cruz. There again, until recently I’ve probably been too distracted to notice.

The strong American accent and growling, rumbling tone doesn’t help. I field a barrage of questions:-

“What is a ‘wanker’?”
“Why is this rock so gorgeous?”
“How you are spell ‘blue’?”
“Beep! Can I self censorship?”
“’Bleedin el,’ what is that meaning?”
“Can birds fly in the rain?”
“Is the night garden for babies?”
“Can you play cards wiv a cheetah? Never, never, never cheater.”
“An Afgan is a hound species?”
“Are seagulls have barbequed tail feathers?”
“Are there chips in English jacket potatoes?”
“Am I an endangered species?”

Non-verbal, my eye!

The lions yawn lazily in the long grass and so do the children in the car. Tigers drift through the shadows of trees and the children sink into their seats. The Rhinos nose in their feed bags and everyone decides that malnutrition is imminent.

We wander into the restaurant for sustenance and park ourselves next to the same elderly couple, now sporting a very fine wicker picnic hamper. “Acne uneven, acne uneven, acne uneven,” he glowers at them with his arms folded tightly over his chest.

“What’s the matter dear, you look ever so cross?”
“What deez fings are called?” he bellows at fifty decibels.
“Ow, don’t do that dear, people are looking!”
“Stop it! Don’t touch your mother’s……er…..don’t touch her……there.”
“Dey are not acne?”

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May the force be with you too

In the salon I hand over the gift voucher with glee. An hour of frivolous indulgence should never be squandered. I leave with two parts of my scraggy anatomy spruced up to meet American standards of womanliness. I anticipate that the manicure should remain immaculate for the next twenty minutes during the drive home.

As I drive I calculate which mode to adopt on arrival? Guilty of the crime of 'absent without leave,' I shall be soundly punished one way or another. Maybe the sulky, silent treatment? Maybe mountainous meltdowns? It's the price to be paid for such selfish skullduggery at the weekend. Whilst many a parent returns home to be welcomed with open arms, other parents need to be a bit more savvy.

On previous occasions I made the mistake of bringing home treats, due to a combination of gratitude for the time off and a hefty dose of guilt for being so grateful in the first place. For some reason, I had temporarily forgotten that most treats are in fact torture, but I learned from my error. Whilst it's tempting to try for a hug, that too is subject to negotiation. There's nothing like unexpected physical contact to really ruin someone's day. I decide to play it by ear.

As I step through the door my ears are assaulted by a loud combination of someone playing the recorder, another one making rooster noises in protest, a third is buried head down in cushions and an aerated father has an air of exasperation.

“Oh good! You're home! How did you get on?” We ignore our children, exchange glances. I permit him to note my sparkly finger nails.
“Ooo very………clean.”
Whilst it wasn't the adjective I was looking for, it was a good try under the noisy circumstances. The rooster ceases to crow and gasps instead, open mouthed, a picture of awe struck, “you are be touch?”
“Pardon dear?”
“You are be touch me wiv your magic fingers!” I swear he’s as sharp eyed as an eagle.

Now there's an offer I can't refuse.

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The Leith Police Dismisseth us*

I fold laundry and consider the pros and cons of the school's policy towards treats. I am already a card carrying member of the food police. Healthy eating could be my second name. However, approved treats such as carrots, grapes, watermelon and their ilk, do not fit into my own son's current repetoire. Until this year I have always ensured that my contribution was a plate of tiny bite sized chocolate buns, each topped off with a flourish of ganache. They are far too rich, decadent and sophisticated for the average 6 year old. He will be fobbed off with nothing less than Belgium, or if really pushed, Swiss chocolate.

Each class has what is known as a 'room mom,' a person who co-ordinates the volunteers and their offerings. The current room mom has ignored the food policy, rebel that she is. My contribution, as specified, is a tray of muffins, shop bought, sugary and vile. I shall have no choice but to smuggle in contraband in the form of baggyful of Goldfish crackers.


I move swiftly past him, weighed down with several tones of clean linen, because I am a woman on a mission and I will not be deflected from task completion by minor irrelevancies. I pause and look back at him, the trivial irrelevance. He is still. He is more than still! He is static and has no electronic device in his hands. His hands are limp. All of him is limp and listless, a pillow with half it's stuffing adrift, chin dropped to chest, eyes hidden under of mop of mousy hair. His bottom is on the chair seat. He sits! Good grief! That is the finest 'sit' I have ever seen. He is also quiet. Nay! Silent.

I drop the laundry and jump over to him. My palm glues itself to his brow. I forget to warn him that I am about to touch him, touch him in the 'off limits' area, that is everything above his shoulders. It is the invisible bubble of the more extreme tactile defensiveness. He doesn't even flinch. Not a squalk nor a squeak. My expert medical knowledge alerts me to the fact that death must be imminent. I scoop him up as I am excused from the 'no carrying' campaign due to exigent circumstances. With his head back I can see orange mucus all over his face. A clear case of Rabies if ever I saw one. What does one do for Rabies? My only knowledge of Rabies is limited to dogs, usually from a very safe distance, and mainly in my vivid imagination at 3 in the morning whilst I pretend to be asleep. He is enveloped in a sweet and sickly odour as his body erupts with an earthquake of a burp. This proves to be the relief that he needed and releases the words, “ooo I am dah bad.”
“No, no, no, you'll soon be better now. Perhaps you just have a tummy ache?” which would be a great improvement on internment.
“No, it not be dah ache.”
“Not ache?”
“No? What then? Can you help me understand? Can you use your good describing words for me?”
“Er…..” he flicks his eyeballs at me briefly before continuing, “I fink dat maybe…….I am allergic to sugar.”
“What?” All those perfect words and I have absolutely no clue.
“Or maybe I am allergic to dah orange?”
“Orange? You don't eat oranges or orange juice or….orange anything come to think of it? ” Are Goldfish crackers orange? My dear little neophobe currently eats the sum total of 17 foods, as we have had no success in moving him on to number 18.
“I be eat dah Halloween.”
“You do?” I glance across at the shop bought tray of Halloween neon frosted cup cakes for the school party. Somebody's tactile defensive fingertips have fought with the seleotape that seals the tray. Somebody's uncoordinated, sequenced challenged arms have removed the lid. At nearly seven, after four years of intensive therapy, it has finally paid off. We have a return on our investment. Now we have a thief. Hallelujah.

* a rhyme and a tongue twister

The Leith police dismisseth us,
They thought we sought to stay;
The Leith police dismisseth us,
They thought we’d stay all day.
The Leith police dismisseth us,
We both sighed sighs apiece;
And the sighs that we sighed as we said goodbye
Were the size of the Leith police.

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