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Trains Of Autism Thought

2 Feb

Yesterday was a momentous day because George played with a train set.

Most parents would read this and wonder what the big deal is.  George, after all, is a seven-year-old boy, and isn’t playing with trains a fairly typical activity for a seven-year-old boy?  Well yes, except that George, as we all know, is far from typical.  Because his autism makes his mind work in very different ways, he does not play with toys in the same way that other kids do.  He never has: from the time he was a very tiny baby George didn’t do all of the stuff with toys that all of the books said he would.

On a side note: this is one of the reasons I know that George’s autism has absolutely nothing to do with vaccines.  It might be a factor for some other kids, I’m not saying it’s not – but it isn’t for George.

Anyway, back to the toys.  I remember having a slight feeling in the pit of my stomach, when George was a baby, that something was not quite right.  I just knew.  When he was at the age where other babies track toys with their eyes, George would stare off into the distance.  When he was supposed to be batting at dangling toys with his tiny hands, he would ignore them.  Unless they were shiny – then he would just stare at them.  He never took an interest in teddy bears; quote-unquote “age appropriate” toys never appealed to him.

I remember once surrounding George with toys just to see if he would react to anything, to find out if something, anything, would spark an interest. For a long time, he just sat there, not even acknowledging the toys.  Eventually, he reached out for the train so he could push the button to see the lights.

George in a sea of toys

The train! The train!

When George did start taking an interest in toys, it was not to play with them in any conventional sense.  It was to line them up or to examine bits of them.  He showed a definite preference for Lego – the straight, symmetrical lines of the pieces appealed to him.  He could make perfectly straight lines with them.

Another favourite was a play table that we had picked up at a garage sale.  There were all kinds of things on this table: big buttons that you could push, large beads that you pushed back and forth, little sliding window things that you would move from one side to another to reveal little pictures.  At one point in its life, this table had had a toy telephone attached to it (rotary dial – just shows how old this thing must have been). By the time we got the table, the telephone was gone, but the piece of string that had attached it remained.  George showed no interest whatsoever in the buttons and beads and pictures.  However, he would spend hours examining that piece of string.

I think the first toy that George played with in the manner intended by the manufacturers was Mr. Potato Head.  He was introduced to Mr. Potato Head by his speech therapist, and it was love at first sight.  It was a wonderful tool for developing some basic speech, and it certainly didn’t hurt his play skills either.  Soon we had a large collection of Mr. Potato Heads, and to this day this is a firm favourite with George.  He has been using Mr. Potato Head pieces in increasingly creative ways.

Mr. Pineapple Head!

Yesterday, George played with a train set.  By “play” I don’t mean that he lined up the tracks without putting them together, that he made one dead-straight line of trains for each colour, or that he lay on his back minutely examining the lettering on the trains.  I mean that he actually assembled the tracks (making a pretty nifty figure-of-eight to boot!), and then pushed trains back and forth on the tracks.  He was absorbed in his play for some time, and on a couple of occasions he even made choo-choo noises.

For any outsider looking in, he would have looked like any seven-year-old boy playing with his trains.

But he’s not just any seven-year-old boy.  He’s my George and I am so, so lucky to have him.

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From Cold Meds To Running Shoes

1 Feb

For the last week or so I’ve had a cold.  It snuck up on me with no warning, last Tuesday afternoon.  On Tuesday morning I went to the gym and ran on the treadmill.  I had a great run – very fast (for me), averaging 4:57 minutes per kilometre.  I felt fine while I was running, my heart rate was not elevated, and I felt great when I was done.  I went off to work and had a good morning.  While I was on the subway coming home, I suddenly got that feeling of pressure in my face that usually heralds a cold.  By the time I went to bed that night, I had cold sweats and felt absolutely awful.

Since then the cold has ebbed and flowed.  Right now, it is flowing.  My throat hurts, my head is throbbing, my nose is running, and my eyes are oozing.  I look – well, let’s just say that I don’t look my best right now.

As always when I get sick, I have been fretting about my inability to run.  I have been thinking about the races I am registered for and wondering how I will train for them if I’m sitting here with a snotty nose.  The truth, of course, is that this is only a cold, and it will be gone a matter of days from now.  I will no doubt be doing short runs again by the weekend, and by next weekend I will in all likelihood be well enough to go for a longer run with my running club.

Despite the fact that I always turn into a pathetic crybaby when I have a cold, my attitude has made a more positive shift this morning.  Yes, I’m still fed up with the cold, but I’m feeling excited about running again.  It’s a positive kind of excitement.  It’s not the kind of excitement that says, “Go out and run no matter what, even if you feel like crap.” It’s the kind of excitement that says, “Rest and get better, and then you’ll be able to really enjoy yourself when you’re back on the road.”

So that’s what I’m doing.  I’m resting, drinking orange juice, taking vitamins and supplements.

My anticipation to get the running shoes back on is a great incentive for me to get better.

The Parent Who Disappointed

31 Jan

This weekend I had the dubious distinction of being The Parent Who Disappoints.  It’s not a nice feeling, I tell ya.  In fact, it’s downright awful.  I feel like someone’s reached down into my throat and twisted my heart around when I see my five-year-old son standing in front of me with fat tears rolling down his cheeks because of something I’ve done.  Or in this case, failed to do.

James was supposed to go to a birthday party on Saturday afternoon.  The party was being held for a little girl who goes to school and daycare with him.  She is a really, really lovely child with equally lovely parents.  James was excited about going to the party, but the catch was that I would have had to stay at the party with him. He’s not ready to be left without either of his parents at an unfamiliar house (and frankly, I’m not ready for it either).

It’s not that I mind staying at these parties.  In fact, I kind of enjoy sitting there chatting with the other parents while our kids run around and play.

On Saturday, though, I was sick. I was streaming with a cold, using up Kleenexes at the speed of sound, inhaling cough drops like they were Smarties, and feeling as if my head was about to explode.  And by Saturday afternoon I had started developing pink-eye, and my eyes were oozing in a very unsavoury manner.

Would you have wanted me hanging out in a house full of moms and kids in that condition? Would you have even wanted me driving in that condition, with my eyes pretty much sealed shut with gunk?

Gerard was not able to go, because he had an appointment with a client at work.

Gerard’s mom, the only other possible candidate, was at a funeral.

It fell to me, in my sick, dreary state, to break the news to James that I would not be able to take him to the party. James was not angry, and he did not throw a tantrum.  He just started weeping in a very, very sad way.

Now, in addition to being as sick as a dog, I felt like a piece of crap parent. I felt so sad for my little guy that I started to weep myself.

Just in case you were wondering: crying when you have pink-eye is not a good idea.

I apologized over and over to James.  I explained to him the dual problems of putting everyone at risk of illness and not actually being fit to drive.  Later, he assured me that he understood and that he didn’t hate me.  But still.  I felt horrible for disappointing my baby.

I asked him what I could do to make it up to him, and he said he’d like a birthday party of his own.  This works for me – I have plans to throw him a party anyway – but his answer has prompted me to step it up a notch, to make a supreme effort to provide him with a special day. He wants to have his party at an indoor playground, and he wants a Lightning McQueen cake.  I’ll provide him with a Lightning McQueen cake if I have to go all the way to Radiator Springs to get it.

James misses out on a lot. It must be tough for him, being the brother of a child with autism, and the son of a Mom who gets sick at just the wrong time.

The least I can do is give him a day that he can call his own, where he will be the centre of attention.

Chances Of Hope

30 Jan

It is incredible – and sometimes so desperately sad – how everything can change in the blink of an eye.  Just a week ago, I was tweeting and posting messages on my Facebook wall asking people to think healing thoughts for the survival of a little baby known affectionately as Capt. Snuggles.

Today I am asking everyone to send out thoughts of strength and love to his grieving mother, Amy, three days after the tiny body of Capt. Snuggles was laid to rest.

It’s one of those situations where words are not enough.  What do you say to a Mom who has just buried her child?  “I’m sorry your baby died”?  That seems so trite, so inadequate, not nearly enough to express the depth of the sorrow I feel, which is nothing compared to what Amy must be feeling.

It’s not to say that I haven’t tried.  I have left Amy messages letting her know that I am here for her, that I am grieving with her, that I want to do what I can to shoulder some of the heaviness that is filling her world right now.  When she is ready, if and when she needs to, she will reach out to me.  She knows (I hope!) that I am here.  For now, that is what matters.

There is a message that I want to put out there, though, to everyone who reads this.  Capt. Snuggles, during his five month stay in the hospital, underwent a massive array of medical treatments.  That he had hope at all was due to the fact that a family allowed the liver of their loved one to be given to the Captain.  Without that liver, there wouldn’t have been hope.

If you are healthy, if there is no medical reason for you not to, please sign your donor cards.  Please talk to your families, let them know that if they ever have to say goodbye to you, that you would like for your organs to be used to save someone’s life, or at the very least, to give someone hope, to give a family hope.

Capt. Snuggles also received blood.  Many, many units of blood.  Again, that blood would not have been there if there were not people out there willing to give away blood of their own.  These events have inspired me to become a blood donor myself.  I donated for the first time on Thursday, January 20th, and I will donating again in March.  Every 56 days, I will roll up my sleeve, and whisper a prayer for the unknown person who will receive the blood flowing out of me.

I am hoping that by writing this, at least one person who reads it will consider becoming a blood donor.  I know that there are people who are not able to donate for medical reasons.  There are people who really do need to keep their blood for themselves.  But for the majority of us, giving away blood is a piece of cake.  I had absolutely no ill effects after my encounter with Canadian Blood Services.  I felt great, and I didn’t even have a bruise.

If you are medically able to, please look into what it will take to donate blood in your area.  Please think about saving a life, bringing hope and joy to a family.

What’s On My Bucket List?

29 Jan

One of my friends recently showed me a list of the things he would like to do before he dies.  “See the Eiffel Tower” was one of them.  OK, that sounds reasonable.  I’m more into the Pyramids myself, but the Eiffel Tower is nice enough.

“Learn to Scuba dive”.  “Go skydiving”.  Those are pretty good ones, actually.

“Go for a Bungee jump”.  I did that once, and when people ask me how it was, I always tell them it is something I’m glad I did once, but that I will never do again.  It is a worthy addition to a bucket list.

“Go to the moon”.

OK, my friend lost me there.  The moon?  I can appreciate that the view must be spectacular from up there, but it’s cold and dark and there are no good places for trail runs.  Besides, don’t you make lists in order to be able to cross completed items off?  Isn’t that the whole point of a list?  Not to put a damper on things, but the chances of my friend going to moon are about the same as my chances of fitting into a size 32B bra.

My own bucket list is not as comprehensive as some other people’s.  There are not, say, 100 things that I absolutely have to do before I die.  And my list does not include things that I am never likely to achieve.  I’d like, for instance, to be a contestant on Hell’s Kitchen, just for the pleasure of telling Gordon Ramsay to piss off, but that’s not on my bucket list because what are the odds of it ever happening?

No, my list contains a few things that I really, really want to do, that are achievable, and that I actually intend to do.  Here is a sample of a few of them, in no particular order.

  • Run a marathon.  Someday I will do this.  When my kids are a little older, and I am able to devote more time to training, I will get myself into really good shape and run a full marathon.  I’m not sure which one, but possibly New York.
  • Get into full-time writing.  This is a long-term plan that will require much planning, but it what I want to do.  I have finally realized, at the age of 41, what I actually want to do for a living.
  • Meet in person the friends I only know online, who are real friends nonetheless.  To name a few: Margie, Amy, Kerry, Ray, and quite a number of others.
  • Travel to the very Northern part of Canada to see Aurora Borealis (a.k.a. Northern Lights). This is a beautiful phenomenon that has always intrigued me, and now I live in a country where it can actually be seen.
  • Go on a cruise.  I’ve never, ever done this, and I’ve always wanted to. Someday I will do it.
  • Travel to Colorado to meet the parents of my friend Jason who was in North Tower on 9/11.  I want to tell them what a wonderful son they had, what a good and true friend he was.
  • Finish the fictional novel I started writing, AND get it published.  It’s a good storyline, really.
  • Run the Disney Princess Half-Marathon.  Happens every year, in Disneyland, at the end of February.  And it’s apparently TONS of fun.
  • Weigh the same as I did when I was 30.  OK, so I’m eleven years older now, I’ve had two kids since then, and I had a long period of inactivity that only ended a couple of years ago, but YES, it’s achievable!
  • Stand on top of Table Mountain with my two boys. Someday I will take my kids to South Africa and show them where I came from.  We will go up Table Mountain in the cable car, and we will stand there together feeling like we’re on top of the world.

 

 

How Organization Creates Chaos

28 Jan

This morning I took my Christmas decorations down.  Yes, I know that it is January 28th, and that the 12th day after Christmas passed some time ago.  I have a history of being very last-minute where this kind of thing is concerned, and this laziness is, in fact, the reason we have an artificial Christmas tree.

When you have a real Christmas tree dropping dead pine needles and crap all over your carpet until February, things can get very messy.

The thing is, it’s always a bit of a hassle, not only to take the decorations down, but to put them up in the first place.  You have to dig out boxes that are buried under eleven months’ worth of crap in the storage room, then you have to clear a space for the Christmas tree and figure out how to make your home look festive without being tacky.  Let’s face it, I ain’t Martha Stewart.  I always envy those people who can casually throw a rug over a sofa and make it look like a designer item.  I can spend an hour arranging the rug on the sofa and it will still look like the results of the room throwing up.

Taking the decorations down is worse.  I mean, when do you get the time?  You’re so busy trying to recover – and get your kids to recover – from the remnants of the Christmas season.  You’re trying to catch up on work that’s fallen behind because no-one was at work.  You’re trying to figure out how the kids’ new toys work so you can show them, and you’re trying to figure out where the hell to put all of this new stuff.  With all of this going on, it’s no wonder my Christmas decorations stay up for so long.

This year, I have had an extra excuse, and its name is Autism.  You see, George’s autism hasn’t really affected the comings and goings of the Christmas decorations before, because George has always been pretty cool about things changing.  I always used to think that for a kid with autism, he was pretty adaptable.

That has all changed.

About six months ago, a fear of routine changes reared its ugly head. Now, understand that I’m not just talking about a dislike for or a resistance to change.  I’m talking about actual anxiety fear near-panic that sometimes gets intense enough to make George throw up. We had such an incident recently involving a mirror, and in that case, Gerard and I felt that the best thing would be to restore the mirror to its rightful place to ease George’s anxiety.

So today I took the day off work, with the intention of making a few changes while George wasn’t around.  They were necessary changes that included taking down the Christmas decorations and getting my scary mess of a desk organized (cluttered physical space translates to cluttered mental space and all that).  The kids went off to school, I took a brief moment to relax, and then I started working.  I got the Christmas decorations down and put away, and then I had a major decluttering session.  All of the boxes that were under my desk are now stored more appropriately, meaning there’s room to put my feet.  My filing cabinet has been rearranged, so my files are actually in the cabinet instead of in a broken plastic container on the corner of my desk, which now boasts two stacking trays instead – one for incoming mail, and one for the kids’ homework and school forms and stuff.

When George came home from school, World War III broke out.

First it was the Christmas tree.  Kiddo was insistent on the restoration of the Christmas decorations, and went so far as to start dragging boxes of decorations out of the storage room.  I firmly took said boxes from him and put them back.  He kept mentioning the Christmas tree, but I don’t think it took him long to realize that he wasn’t getting his way with this one.

My desk proved to be the bigger issue.  The broken plastic box that I had discarded?  George wanted it back.  George wanted it back so badly that he was almost panicking.  The poor boy was looking directly into my eyes – something that he only does when he’s feeling emotionally distressed and is desperate to impart a message to me.  Those eyes, those eyes… They had such pain and fear in them.  They were brimming with tears as George begged me to put the box back onto my desk.

I had to say no.  I’m always one to pick my battles with George.  If it doesn’t matter, I don’t make an issue of it.  I let George get his way from time to time.  But sometimes the battle does matter, and this is one of them.  I need for my home office to be organized.  I always have so much to do, so much admin to keep on top of.  The way I was going, I was paying bills late for no reason other than the fact that the papers were getting buried.  I had to arrange things so that I could keep up with everything.  This is definitely a battle I needed to win.

I felt so conflicted, though.  My friend Amy went through the heartbreak of burying her child yesterday, and here I was, with my child alive and well, and I was allowing him to be sad and fearful and distressed.  What kind of mother was I being?

Even with this conflict going on, though, I knew that I was right.  I knew that this was a storm I would just have to weather.  I needed to rearrange things on my desk, and George needed to see that things could change and he would still be safe.

The storm appears to be over – at least for now.  George was upset for a long time, but gradually calmed down.  He started walking around without looking suspiciously at my desk out of the corner of his eye, and he started jumping on the trampoline, making the kinds of sounds he makes when he’s happy and settled.  When he said, “Charlie is a girl” (with reference to Charlie the Unicorn), I knew that he was OK.

Sighs of relief all round.

At least for now.

Put A Banana In Your Ear

27 Jan

My son George has discovered, on YouTube, Charlie the Unicorn.  I do not allow him to watch most of the videos because although they’re animated, not all of them are suitable for kids.  For instance, there’s the one where the two girl unicorns (I assume they’re girls because of the high-pitched voices) tell Charlie that the forest is burning down.  Charlie says, “What about the animals?” and one of the girl unicorns replies, “well, clearly they’re going to burn ali-i-ive.”  At that point, the two girl unicorns inexplicably start arguing with one another, telling each other to “Shut the helllll up”.  Charlie gets fed up and says, “You can both go and shut the hell up.”

These Charlie the Unicorn stories are not only inappropriate for kids, they’re bloody odd.

There is one Charlie the Unicorn video that appeals to me a lot, and that because it’s a song with really strange lyrics.  The context is that Charlie is feeling sad.  Charlie feels sad a lot, and really, who can blame the poor bastard?  Bad stuff happens to him a lot. I mean, he get lured into a dark cave, and then the entrance to the cave gets sealed off.  That would make anyone feel a bit rejected and depressed.

Anyway, in this particular video, Charlie is feeling sad, and some other unicorns try to cheer him up with this uplifting song.  Seriously, who (apart from the perpetually grumpy Charlie) wouldn’t feel their spirits rise with a song telling them to put a banana in their ear?

Have a listen to the song.  Go on, I dare you!

Now try telling me you don’t feel better! I know you’re just dying to be able to print off the lyrics to put on your refrigerator.

P.S. Check out my post today on World Mom’s Blog. Have your kids ever dropped the F-bomb?