Monday, October 25, 2010

Well, how did you THINK it was going to go?

School exhausts Ryan.  It takes a lot of effort for him to pay attention, keep himself under control while being asked to do things he doesn't want to do, deal with being forced to interact with his classmates.  By Friday afternoon, he's fried.  Saturday mornings we lay low, and usually by Saturday afternoon, Ryan's reasonably cheerful and cooperative again; sometimes it takes him the whole weekend to recover.

This Friday he came home from school, threw himself on the floor crying, and then crawled into bed for a long nap.  It took quite a bit of effort on my part to wake him up and keep him awake long enough to eat dinner and put on pajamas before he passed out again.

Saturday morning, I skipped practice and hung out with Ryan.  He alternated between watching tv, playing on the computer, eating pancakes, and throwing himself on the floor in raging meltdowns.  When I cut him off from the tv and games, the meltdowns got more desperate and vocal.  At some point there were beads and Candy Land men flying across the living room.  You know, Saturday morning.

Stu and I debated what to do about the parade.  "Let's try it," I suggested.  "The worst that could happen is he freaks out and you take him home early."

"You THINK that's the worst that could happen," Stu challenged.

I didn't see that as much of a challenge.

We went to the house where several of my teammates had already gathered to put on their Dia de los Muertos makeup.  Ryan stared in wonder at the girls' sugar-skull faces.  He seemed ok with the scene.  There was a large dog for him to play with, and a backpack full of snacks.

I painted my face white.  Ryan looked at me critically.

"Wash his face?" he demanded.  (We're still working on the gender pronouns.)

"I'll wash my face later," I promised.

"Off the face?  Clean it?"

I painted my eye sockets black.

"Clean his face?  Off the black, Mommy?"

I drew lines around my mouth and eyes.  Someone drew a spider web on my forehead.
It may be time for contact lenses.  This is just awkward.

"Clean it?  Wash it off?"  He didn't totally lose control, but he obviously disapproved of my makeup.

We drove to the parade's starting point, a large park with no fence.  For some reason we were expected to be present and in skates and gear nearly two hours before the parade was scheduled to step off.  For the first ten minutes or so, Ryan was happy to run across the grass and play in the park's playground.  I pointed out various costumes; he didn't care.

After half an hour, it was obvious Ryan was becoming overwhelmed with the strangely-dressed crowd and the loud marching band that was practicing in the park.  He stared intently at my face; he rarely looks at my face at all.  "Clean the face please?  Go home?"

Stu managed to keep Ryan distracted for another half hour, until we could no longer ignore how Ryan was throwing himself down onto the grass.  They left a full hour before the parade started.  Stu had wisely insisted on parking off the parade route, to facilitate escape under any circumstances.

Frankly, I was impressed that Ryan lasted as long as he did.  He could have been much more frightened of the makeup, he could have been more disturbed by strange mix of sounds and sights at the parade set-up.  It could have gone worse.

I would feel disingenuous saying it could have gone better.  Yes, the typical kids all did great - they were playing together, showing off their costumes, gathering candy and balloons and glow bracelets, marching in the parade.  But I had zero expectation that Ryan would experience the Halloween parade like that.

And as for the parade, we won first place for Group costume:
I'm in the back, under the letter I.

And I got to show off my greatest talent:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Let us Ride... to Camelot

On second thought, let's not go to Camelot.  It is a silly place.

Bedtime in our house is often preceded by intense sensory seeking.  Jumping on the bed, headstands on the couch, being buried under a dozen stuffed animals, throwing said stuffed animals in the air - Ryan works all the craziness out of his system, then collapses into the sleep of the righteous.

Tonight's theatrics were extra special.

"Cover me?!" he demanded, as usual.  I pulled the blanket over his head, put a pillow on his back, and lay down on top of him.  He giggled.  "Tickle me?  Stop it!  Tickle me?"  On and on.  He launched into some maniacal script, over and over, giggling.

Things were getting stupid.  So I whacked him with a pillow.

This, apparently, was the greatest thing ever.

"Again?"  Oh, ok.

"More splatting?  Please?" (He spontaneously named this game "Splatting."  All on his own.)

Ryan insisted on being beaten with a pillow, continuously, for several minutes.  I thwacked him with my full strength, and he laughed.  When my arms got tired I passed the pillow off to Stu, who somehow couldn't muster as much enthusiasm for beating our son.

"Can I have more splatting?!?"

When I could no longer bring myself to hitting the kid with a pillow, I tried to calm the mood by rubbing his back and reading some stories.  Ryan's favorite moose decided to perform an interpretive dance to Frog and Toad.  The moose was hopping all over the pillow, on my head, on my face.  I tried to maintain composure as the moose bounced madly off my glasses.

"More splatting?"

"No.  Are you listening?"

"Yes."  Bounce, bounce, bounce.  He actually was listening.  Even while bouncing the moose all over the place, Ryan was still able to fill in the blanks I left in the story.  Boyfriend takes his multitasking seriously.

By the third story, he was calm, quiet, struggling to keep his eyes open.  He was almost asleep when I kissed him goodnight.

If your child is bouncing off the walls and making you crazy, I highly recommend beating him with a pillow.  It's good for everyone concerned.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Seeking advice: Halloween Parade

Ryan does not believe in cosmetics.  If I paint my nails, he squirms and begs, "Off da purple" (or whatever the color happens to me).  If I put lotion on his skin, he demands, "Wipe it off, wipe it off" (mostly playfully now, but it used to be desperate). And we all know how he reacts if he catches me wearing a sticker.

This weekend, my derby league is "marching" in a Halloween parade.  A big parade - like, 15,000 people, with celebrity judges and loud marching bands and stuff.  And we are all supposed to skate around wearing Dia de los Muertos face paint.

Between the makeup and the noise and the crowd and the sensory overload and the being outside for 2-3 hours in late-afternoon / early-evening, I don't see this going well.

I see a couple of options:

- I could stay home and not participate.  But that's no fun.
- I could have Ryan watch the girls put on their makeup so it's a bit less scary.

- I can stay off skates and Ryan could march with me.

- Ryan could hang out with Stu on the sidelines, and if it all becomes too much Stu can whisk him away.

- Ryan could stay home with Stu all afternoon.  

Leaving Ryan at home would be the easiest, except that Ryan has been really anti-Daddy lately.  Like, more so than usual.  He finds new and increasingly cruel ways to try to get Stu to leave the room whenever Stu attempts to play with him, and then when Stu insists on sticking around, Ryan has a meltdown.  And Stu's ego can only handle so much abuse.

Giving Ryan the option to leave early seems like a fair compromise, but the parade is like an hour from our house, so it could end up being a lot of traveling for not much payoff.

Or Ryan could surprise us all and love the parade.

So, with two days til the parade, I'm asking for your advice: what would you do with Ryan?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Zoo: Nothing To See Here

Ryan is teaching me to appreciate the world in ways I never would have thought of myself.

Ryan was off from school for Columbus Day, so I thought it would be fun to make use of our zoo membership. And he was excited to go: while I was doing laundry, he was trying to make a break for the garage, saying, "Go to the animals, please?"

The sea lions were putting on quite a show - a large male was barking, a baby sea lion was barking back, one sea lion climbed to the top of a big rock and dove into the water. Kids were cheering and pointing excitedly.

Ryan stuck out a finger and announced, "Shark."

I looked. There was a sign in front of the exhibit with a drawing of a shark chasing some sea lions to demonstrate that sea lions are an important food source for sharks. Yes, I told him, sharks eat sea lions.

"What animals should we look for next?" I asked him.

"Find the giraffe!"

Yay, a real answer! We went off in search of giraffes. Ryan was excited about running on all the paths - the various animals he was streaking past were immaterial.

Soon I could see a herd of giraffes in the distance. I told Ryan which way to run. He stood in front of the giraffes, but he didn't seem to be looking at them. I tried to engage him: how many giraffes do you see? Look at the baby giraffe! Ooh, there are ostriches in there, too! Why do you think that giraffe is licking a tree?

No response.

Then seemingly out of nowhere, he announced, "Zebras have stripes." This is true. But there were no zebras in the giraffe habitat.

Then I noticed the sign: there was an illustration of giraffes and zebras mingling on the savannah. Ah. I asked Ryan if he wanted to find the real live zebras; he started walking aimlessly.

Nearby we found an impressive gorilla exhibit I had never been to before.  I pointed out the huge gorilla hanging out right next to the glass!  The gorilla sleeping!  The gorillas in the trees!  The gorilla uprooting small plants and eating one leaf at a time!  The gorilla peeing! 

But all Ryan cared about was the toy tiger he had been playing with.

Let me tell you about Ryan's favorite part of the  Congo Gorilla Forrest.  There's a little movie theater that shows the same educational film over and over.  Above the door is a scrolling LED sign that announces how many minutes til the next show starts.  Ryan loved that LED sign.  He told me to pick him up so he could touch the moving letters.  He squinted at the red lights out of the corner of his eye.  It was way more exciting than gorillas.

A year or more ago, I would have considered this a ridiculous outing to the zoo.   I would have become frustrated that Ryan had showed little to no interest in the animals.  I would have muttered, "We could have looked at pictures at home."  But now I can appreciate that in his own odd way, Ryan was happy.  He got to run around outside while looking at things he liked.  They weren't the sights I had in mind, but there's more than one way to enjoy a morning at the zoo.

Roller Derby Update

One of my pet peeves is people who talk a lot about something to give the impression they're great at it when in reality they're mediocre at best. But a lot of you keep asking how I'm doing with roller derby, so I suppose I owe y'all a post on it.

I'm not great - there are some aspects at which I'm not even good - but I'm getting better.  And I'm having a lot of fun.
Photo by Manish Gosalia
I've reached a sort of plateau. I am painfully aware of what skills I need to develop (speed, acceleration, staying in bounds, keeping my elbows to myself), and I feel like many of the other fresh meat are picking these skills up faster than I am. It's quite frustrating.

But I'm trying. I've been to almost every practice. And I take pleasure in my own personal victories. Like last night when I fell during a scrimmage, I remembered to "fall small," which was a major help when another skater tripped over me and rolled over my head.

I'm pleased with my increased endurance. The other day I went skating along a paved woodland trail along a river. The first time I skated this route on my quad skates, back in June, I had to stop and rest on my way to a particular mile marker and a couple more times on my way back. This week, I breezed past that mile marker, went another mile or so, then turned around and made it back to my car without having rested at all, and feeling like I could have gone further.

I'm not fast, but I'm faster than I was. I'm still learning how to play the game, but I'm starting to feel like I maybe sort of know what's going on around me sometimes.

One thing I'm worried about is that the league is taking an off-season break this winter, so I will not have practice for nearly two months. That's a lot of opportunity to lose skills. And it's another two months before I'm eligible to be a rostered player. I feel so far from ready for that, anyway.

But I've got my name picked out...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Book: Update

Remember that children's book I was writing?  Well, "I Have Autism, I Am Awesome" has found a publisher, I have a contract, and illustrations are in the works!  Completion is still a long way off, but I'll keep you posted.

It's a small publishing house - more like a publishing kitchen table - so I will be responsible for much of the promotional work.  In preparation for this, I have started compiling a list of autism-related organizations and publications I will want to contact down the line.  There are a lot of them - local, national, international.  This could easily become a never-ending research project.

The autism community tends to split into two broad factions: the neurodiversity camp, and the cure autism contingent.  As you know by now, I believe that autism is a distinctive way of being  - not a disease - and that individuals on the spectrum should be proud of their special abilities; my book kind of reads like a neurodiversity primer. 

But if I want to sell my book and my agenda, I'm going to have to talk to the families on the other side of the aisle as well.  Entertaining the thought of chatting up the cure community is only a little less frightening to me than the thought of being trapped in a room with Christine O'Donnell.  I want them to read my book to their children.  Perhaps it will help their kids feel proud of who they are, and not ashamed of being "diseased."

Any suggestions of organizations I should talk to when it comes time to promote this thing?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bullies Aren't Going Anywhere. Deal With It.

There's been a lot of talk in the news this week about the evils of bullying, and the tragedy of teenagers killing themselves because they were bullied. I've heard people (rightly) decrying the actions of two Rutgers students who secretly videotaped a student having sex and posted the footage online. I've heard discussions of how to stop intolerant people from bullying.

This is an important conversation to have, but not nearly as important as the less-discussed issue: how can we teach our children to handle being bullied?

I was taunted pretty regularly as a kid. I was mocked for being "too smart," for wearing the wrong clothes, for being odd. Boys would draw on the back of my shirt with dandelions, or call to pretend to ask me out and then hang up amid the background laughter of their friends. Girls wouldn't even talk to me. A teacher in high school literally refused to give me the time of day. In college, my "friend" slept with my boyfriend to hurt me, then let it be known that she had a large knife in her room and wasn't afraid to use it (and we all lived on the same hall. Good times...).

But I didn't kill myself. Even though I suffer from clinical depression, I didn't kill myself.

I was raised to believe in myself. I had goals and passions to focus on. I had parents who I knew would listen to me, even if I didn't want to talk to them. I had a handful of friends who appreciated me. I developed a thick skin.

Bullies will always exist, throughout our lives, because some people are just jerks. We can try to educate them, and we may get through to some of them, but we'll never convert them all. Fox News will never lack for job applicants...

Therefore, it is critical that we turn our attention to coping mechanisms. This is especially important for parents of special needs kids, who are easy targets for bullying.  We must teach our children from day one that the loudest person in the room isn't always the one who is right.  Our kids must grow up knowing they are important and that their lives have value.  That the world needs them.  That they are loved unconditionally.