Monday, December 4, 2017

Closing time

I am officially closing this blog.

It's been a long time coming, as you may have guessed from the dwindling number of new posts. I still have plenty of stories, but I no longer feel this is the proper place to tell them.

Ryan is in middle school, and middle school can be a cruel place. Now that all his peers have smart phones and are beginning to explore social media, I imagine the next logical step bullies will take is to conduct background research on their victims to maximize the impact of their taunts. And frankly, my kid doesn't need to make bullies' jobs any easier.

Maybe I'll delete the blog (even though I know nothing on the internet is ever really gone forever), and maybe I won't. But I do not intend to post new material.

Thank you to all who have followed our journey these past nine years. I hope that my writing has helped to soften the world ever so slightly for my baby and other individuals on the spectrum. Keep being awesome.

xoxo, Meredith

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

From sticker-free to full ogre in just 8 years

Age 3 3/4: Ryan learned to tolerate briefly wearing a sticker.

Age 5: Ryan freaks out because I made up my face for Halloween.

Age 9: Ryan allows a ladybug to be painted on his hand and resists washing it off for several minutes.

Age 10 3/4: Ryan comes home from school Field Day crying because his face is painted like a tiger.

Age 11 1/2: This happens.

No crying, no complaining about the sound of the airbrush compressor, no flinching at the peculiar feeling of being airbrushed, no touching his green face, no begging to wipe it all off before rehearsing his scene.

This weekend Ryan is playing Young Shrek in his middle school's production of Shrek Jr. Before casting Ryan the director asked if he would be ok with wearing full face paint; we said he would just have to deal with it. We told Ryan back in October that if he accepted this role he would have to wear green face paint - that the makeup would be part of the package.

And he accepted that.

He didn't move a muscle as a teacher applied a prosthetic nose with latex.
He was actually unnaturally silent as the latex dried - normally he's babbling nonstop.
Stu and I have vowed to stock up on liquid latex for daily use.
He was silent - not a giggle, not an "Aaagh, what's that sound?!?!" during the airbrushing process.

There were zero complaints as I applied lipstick and drew freckles on his cheeks.

And he was totally cooperative when we finally scrubbed and scrubbed the green away.

I am so proud of this kid.

Monday, February 20, 2017

My baby lost his very last baby tooth.

Stock image of the Tooth Fairy

The Tooth Fairy just visited for the very last time.

Upon losing his very last baby tooth, my baby declared his intention to stay up all night and wait for the Tooth Fairy so he could see what she looks like, and maybe take a picture of her.

I suggested that just in case he accidentally fell asleep before TF's arrival he might want to write her a note. He agreed, and painstakingly slowly wrote out a letter in his neatest handwriting. In this note, Ryan 1) thanked the Tooth Fairy for taking all his teeth; 2) asked what she does with all those teeth; and 3) asked what she looks like.

And the Tooth Fairy provided answers, in beautiful pink cursive. This surprised me, but it seems she uses the teeth to make the fairy dust which gives fairies the power to fly. We also learned that she is made of pure magic, so to our human eyes she probably looks like a white ball of light. Also, she said she's rather large for a fairy, and that it would take two hands to hold on to her. She took Ryan's tooth and left two coins - one for the tooth, and one for the letter.

It seems magical that at age 11 he still Believes with all his heart; I don't know if the average neurotypical child still Believes at this stage.

The Tooth Fairy seems to have tremendous confidence in Ryan. She wrote,
"Keep being a sweet, loving person. I have loved watching you grow up, and I know you will do amazing things as you get older. Remember to brush!"

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The gunman isn't hiding.

In my dream I was pitching an amazing membership scheme* to my gym. I was talking with a lot of interested, enthusiastic gym employees about this in their office, when suddenly we saw, through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls, a commotion on the gym floor. A man was pointing a gun at a crowd, waving it wildly while walking toward them. The crowd was backing away from the gunman. Several gym-goers were packed into the corner just outside the office. Most of the people in the office with me hid, or maybe disappeared - I was only aware at that point of one man behind a desk. I hit the floor in front of the desk and threw a blanket over myself, because that's obviously the safest place to be when all that separates you from a gunman is a glass wall with a glass door.

The gunman started firing.

People screamed. Some people ducked, others just stood there in shock, but I don't think anyone was actually hit.

Then the gunman turned toward the office. I didn't move.

The gunman opened the glass door. I half-tried to scoot under the desk, but I was tangled up in the blanket. I wondered why it hadn't occurred to me to hide under the desk earlier.

Then I woke up kicking my husband.

The gunman isn't hiding. He's right there, bringing fear to a place I love.

When a man shows you his gun in Act 1, be prepared for him to fire it in Act 2.

Glass walls will not protect you.

Chatting with people who agree that your idea is awesome won't protect you.

Curling up in your blanket will not protect you.

The only weapon at your disposal is the phone on the desk.

Call for help.

Get under the desk.

And pray that help arrives in time.

*Free idea, because I'm not going to pursue this: Get 12 gyms to offer a collective membership, which lets you go to Gym A the first month, Gym B the second month, etc. When the gunman appeared I was arguing in favor of averaging the membership prices so a customer wouldn't end up paying $10 for their month at Crunch and $150 for their month at Edge, and the manager was bemoaning the accounting headache that would cause.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Andy Warhol was a Hoarder

I recently read Claudia Kalb's new book, Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History's Great Personalities. It's one of those books in which the author rounds up a bunch of famous people and diagnoses their mental illnesses post mortem. Kalb uses each historical figure as starting point from which to explore each of several disorders, including autism, borderline personality disorder, narcissism, and addiction.
Artwork from the book's cover

These profiles can be divided into two basic groups (though this was not the author's organizing principle): individuals who achieved greatness in spite of their mental illnesses, and those who achieved greatness because of them. Charles Darwin pushed through his own crippling anxiety to conduct the research and thinking which led to The Origin of Species. Albert Einstein, on the other hand, made his discoveries because his mind was better optimized for math than for social interaction.

The chapter about George Gershwin goes so far as to explicitly question whether he would have composed Rhapsody in Blue if not for his ADHD. This got me thinking about the creative gifts that come with the condition, which then led me to realize that my own writing has suffered since going on Adderall.

Adderall has helped me in numerous ways - this year for the first time I was able to plan activities in advance, and I can unload a dishwasher without being distracted by whatever shiny notion pops into my head - but my creative ideas have atrophied. I can sit down to focus on writing, but if no good ideas come out, there's little point to the exercise. I've also grown adept at focusing on unimportant things, like computer games, instead of on getting up and doing things.

So I'm experimenting with taking a break from the drugs. Today was my third day in a row Adderall-free, and I feel flighty but energized, inspired yet fidgety. Remarkably I've gotten through more of my to-do list than I have in weeks, including a bit of creative writing and very grown-up things like making doctor appointments.

I feel good knowing I still have access to the meds as a tool, but I'm enjoying exploring what it feels like to be an adult with ADHD, conscious of both my inborn deficits and the unique insights that may come along with the package.

I'll still never be George Gershwin, but then again, how many people can be?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The I Hate This Book Club: The Rainbow Fish

I'm either a terrible person or too analytical for preschool literature: I strongly object to Marcus Pfister's classic picture book The Rainbow Fish. Until going to the book's Amazon page to grab this link, I hadn't been aware that I'm far from alone in feeling uncomfortable with this story.

I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that Rainbow Fish perpetuates rape culture.

For those who have not read the story recently, go have Ernest Borgnine read it to you in the most endearing way possible, or settle for this summary: 

Rainbow Fish was the most outwardly-beautiful fish in the sea, covered in shimmering scales. Everyone thought he was pretty, but he was too stuck up to talk to them. One day a little fish asked Rainbow Fish if he could please have one of his beautiful shiny scales; Rainbow Fish says "Who do you think you are? Get away from me!" The little fish tells all the other fish that Rainbow Fish is a jerk and they all shun Rainbow Fish. Rainbow Fish feels lonely: "What good were the dazzling, shimmering scales with no one to admire them?" A wise octopus tells him to share his beautiful scales with the other fish. He does, and the other fish love him, and he lives happily ever after.

Let's break this down:

First, Rainbow Fish is a snob. The other fish call out "Come and play with us," but Rainbow Fish won't even talk to them - he just glides past looking pretty, too cool to bother with non-shiny fish. This is no way to make friends.

Then one of those fish who only wanted to play with Rainbow Fish because he was beautiful asks Rainbow Fish to give him a scale - to rip out part of his body, to cause himself physical harm, to give up some of what makes him unique

Rainbow Fish says No.

The little fish respects Rainbow Fish's bodily autonomy enough not to assault him then and there and take a scale, but he tells all the other fish that Rainbow Fish won't put out. The little fish is basically a bro at a party who gets slapped in the face by a girl for getting fresh and then tells the guys at his frat house that she's a cock tease/whore/fat/ugly/bitch.

For saying No, Rainbow Fish is ostracized, an outcast. He seeks advice. "I really am beautiful," he says, "Why doesn't anybody like me?" Unpacking that further: The only value he sees in himself is his appearance; he feels that being pretty should be enough to merit having friends, regardless of how he has treated people (ie being too proud to talk to the fish who invited him to play).

Rainbow Fish goes on a spiritual journey. The local sage advises him to buy the friendship of the frat bros who call him a whore behind his back. He is advised to rip out chunks of his own flesh, to scar himself, to violate his body, to allow the whole frat to rape him. He is told that stripping himself of what makes him most special - the aspect of himself which he most values - is the only way to make friends. Don't save yourself for someone you love, if you really want to be popular just get drunk and lose your virginity in a gang-bang.

And he does.

Rainbow Fish is again propositioned by the original fresh little fish, and he rips out a beautiful scale and gives it to him; this makes the little fish treat Rainbow Fish kindly. So Rainbow Fish rips out more scales and gives them to more and more fish, buying their love by diminishing his own beauty. The other fish have successfully bullied Rainbow Fish into submission. Rainbow Fish now looks just like everyone else and is therefore socially acceptable.

To summarize:

  • Bullying works.
  • It is morally imperative to cave to peer pressure.
  • Friendship can be bought.
  • Sacrifice what is most special about yourself to be just like everyone else.
  • Only outward beauty matters.
  • Fuck your way to the top.
It is telling that while writing this post I had to keep reminding myself that Rainbow Fish is male, because everything about this story reads to me as a parable for how women in our society are treated and are expected to behave: nothing is more important than your appearance; take care of the needs of others before your own; popularity is more important than being true to yourself; if you think you're special society will find a way to knock you down a notch.

But hey, the illustrations are pretty and shiny, so let's just tell the kids it's about sharing and not think too hard about all this.

God, I hate this book.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pro: Amazing Memory. Con: Amazing Memory.

Ryan, like many on the spectrum, has a fantastic memory. To clarify: he has a fantastic memory for certain types of details, like the length of each track on a CD, or the order in which we picked up groceries, or all the words to every movie he's ever seen.  Ask him where he left his toys or to identify his own grandmother by name, though, and you're on your own.

This kind of memory is known as Declarative Memory, and a strong declarative memory can help compensate for some deficits that go hand in hand with autism, like learning a script of what one should say in a specific social situation.

I think the brain wiring behind the awesome memory has something to do with keeping the memories readily accessible for longer than usual, rather than overwriting and pruning the neural connections. Don't quote me, this is just my hypothesis: I'm not a brain scientist, and I'm totally making this up.

My anecdotal supporting evidence is rooted in my observations of how Ryan seems to experience time. For Ryan, something that happened months ago is just as current as something that happened five minutes ago.

Today for example, we were having a perfectly relaxed evening, playing checkers and looking up cookie recipes, when Ryan suddenly flew into a panic, bordering on a meltdown. His heart was racing, his face crumpled with anguish. He shrieked, "We will not see Hard Red any day this year!?!"

Several minutes of interrogation and calming strategies later, we figured out that he meant that he had lost a tiny plastic Angry Birds toy (the red bird) somewhere in the basement... at some point in 2015. This was the first Stu or I remembered hearing that it was missing.

In Ryan's head, last year might as well be yesterday. When this memory surfaced for Ryan, he experienced it with all the urgency we would expect to see if he had lost that toy today. (Side note: I found Hard Red within 5 minutes of learning that it had gone missing. I am just that good.) Today, last month, that one afternoon when he was seven, it's all the same to him, and it's all fresh.

His memory is a blessing and a curse.