Tag Archives: George

Three Generations Of Cheese Lovers

12 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 12 – Stream of consciousness day: Start with the sentence “_______”just write, don’t stop, don’t edit. To select an opening sentence, I asked my Facebook friends to post suggestions. I put them all into a hat and drew one out!

How much do you really think about cheese?

Since I’m the second generation in what’s turning out to be a line of cheese-lovers, this is actually a valid pondering for me. Many of my musings about cheese are related to thoughts about my dad, with whom I shared many interests, like reading, running and yes, cheese. Going grocery shopping with him was a real treat, because the pair of us would spend ages at the fancy cheese display picking out our next great delicacy. Meanwhile, my mom would be sitting at home wondering what we were going to buy that would make the rest of the fridge contents smell funny.

One Christmas, when I was a young adult still living in the parental home, Dad received a cellophane-wrapped basket containing boxes of crackers and a variety of different cheeses. When I wandered into the kitchen a couple of evenings later, I saw Dad working away at the packaging of one of the cheeses.

“Would you like to try some Gorgonzola?” he asked me.

“Is the Pope Catholic?” I responded. Meaning, Yes please, I would love some Gorgonzola.

“Let me show you the best way to eat Gorgonzola,” said Dad, reaching for a cake tin on the counter.

Ten minutes later, Mom came back from wherever she’d been. She walked onto the front porch and saw Dad and I sipping glasses of red wine and happily munching on slices of Christmas fruit cake topped with thin slices of Gorgonzola. She was utterly horrified to see the Christmas cake she had worked so hard to make being defaced in such a manner, but it was absolutely delicious.

Now that Dad is no longer with us, I have no-one to share my love of stinky cheese with. Not yet, anyway. My older son George is a trainee cheese lover, but his autistic sensibilities limit him to plain old Cheddar. The smell, the taste, and frankly, the look of the fancy smelly stuff is more than a little off-putting to him. That’s not to say I haven’t tried.

“Do you want some cheese, George?” I asked him one day, holding my triangle of Danish Blue aloft as if it was an Academy Award.

He came closer to take a look, and then said, “That’s not cheese!”

Carefully hiding my excitement at this unprompted-yet-contextually-appropriate verbal utterance, I said, “It is! It’s blue cheese! Do you want some?”

George curled his little face up in an expression of distaste and issued his verdict.

“Yuck!”

And that was that.

Still, even though he only likes Cheddar, he likes it with admirable dedication. I have hope that, with a bit of time, we will make a cheese connoisseur out of him yet.

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Autism Through A Child’s Eyes

8 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 8 – Best conversation I had this week: Try writing script-style (or with dialogue) today to recap an awesome conversation you had this week.

I’m not much of a person for conversations. I suffer from social anxiety, so talking is difficult. I tend to be more comfortable finding my voice in the form of the written word.

Obviously, this is less of a problem when I am among friends and family. I am married to a man who, in addition to having a totally off-the-wall sense of humour, has no “inside voice”. The conversations I have with him range from the baffling to the downright hilarious.

I also have some great conversations with my younger son, James. For a six-year-old, his vocabulary is astounding, and his imagination knows no bounds. He weaves in and out of topics at will, and you can never tell where the conversation will go next. One moment he seems to be wise beyond his years; the next, we are reminded that he is still a kid finding his way in this world.

A few days ago, we had this conversation while I was cooking dinner:

James: Mommy, can you buy me a water gun?
Me: Why do you want a water gun?
James: So I can spray Granny on the nose.
Me (after snarfing on my coffee): Why do you want to do that?
James: Because her nose is dry and that means she’s sick. Roger (a classmate) said so.
Me: Roger said that Granny is sick if her nose is dry?
James (looking at me as if I’m nuts): No. He was talking about his dog.
Me: Ummmm, James? Dogs and people aren’t the same. Granny’s nose is fine.
James: I think Roger’s dog has autism.
Me: What makes you think that?
James: He doesn’t talk and he knocks down Roger’s Lego towers. It’s not his fault, though. He doesn’t know what he’s doing because he has autism.
Me: James, that’s just the way dogs are. Dogs don’t have autism.
James: How do you know?
Me: Ermmmmm (thinking: the kid has a point)
James: Mommy?
Me (wondering about James’ sudden sombreness): Yes, buddy?
James: Will George always have autism?
Me: Yes, baby, he will. Autism is not something he can grow out of.

I want to pause this account briefly to say that where autism discussions with James are concerned, I find that honesty is the best policy. I don’t try to sugar-coat anything, and I answer questions without elaboration. This approach seems to be the one that works best with James.

James: That’s OK. I love him.
Me: I know you do. And he loves you too.
James: Yeah! Mommy?
Me: Yes?
James: Will George die from autism?
Me: No, people cannot die from autism. We just have to make sure we keep him safe.
James: It’s OK, Mommy. I’ll take care of him.

Yes, I cried.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

Home Is Where The Hat Is

31 Mar

I cannot say for sure when my firstborn son decided that he had to wear a hat at all times. Looking back at old pictures, it seems apparent that he spent most of his toddlerhood in a hatless state. I don’t remember him ever being resistant to wearing a hat, although from the get-go he was picky about the style of hat that he would allow onto his head.

All I know is that at some point – I’m pretty sure it was during one summer or another, the hat became a permanent fixture. It wasn’t even a gradual progression, like his preference for insistence on striped shirts was. It was an overnight thing. One day, he could take his hat or leave it. The next day, it had to go everywhere with him, even into the bathtub. Even to bed. The absence of the hat became an instant source of extreme distress for him. Taking it away from him would make him scream as if the world was ending. One day, when we forcibly removed the hat to throw it into the washing machine, a complete stranger called us from New Zealand and said that the noise had woken him from his slumber, and had we just removed our child’s kidney?

OK, I made that last bit up, but you get the picture. George will defend to the very last his right to have his hat with him no matter what.

On the surface of it, this may not seem like a big problem, but it is amazing how the full-time presence of a hat can encroach on real life. And so we had to work with George’s teachers and therapists to wean him from the hat, or at least get him to the point where he could do without it for brief periods of time.

Several years later, George is still into the hat. Whenever he outgrows a hat, my mother sends a bigger one from South Africa. We do have hats in Canada, of course, but the ones provided by my mom are so cool, so she is in charge of upgrading the hats.

We are able to persuade him to remove the hat at certain times. At bathtime it comes off his head, and remains out of his reach but always in a place where he can see it. When he is at school, he takes it off and hangs it on the hook in his cubby, only putting it on for lunch and recess. And at bedtime, the hat sleeps on the pillow beside him. To our eternal relief, he now consents (with just a little bit of protest) to having his hat taken  away for the purpose of being washed.

Although he takes it off when he absolutely has to, George still loves his hat and he always has to know where it is.

So if you’re ever in my neighbourhood and come across a shy, sweet boy who doesn’t say much and wears a striped shirt and a hat from Africa, chances are that you’re looking at my beautiful son.

No More Teachers, No More Books!

25 Mar

George doesn’t want to go to school.

Big deal, I hear you say. He is, after all, an eight-year-old kid, and if I got a dollar for every eight-year-old kid who didn’t want to go to school, I’d be signing up to be the next space tourist.

His reluctance to go to school has escalated, though. It started mildly enough about five weeks ago. I was getting him ready for bed one evening when he said, “School is closed.”

“No,” I said. “School is open.”

He went to school without resistance the following day, but this became a nightly ritual. Each evening, the frequency of “School is closed” statements would increase, but as far as I could tell, there was no anxiety associated with it.

Then March break happened and everything changed. Over the course of the week-long break from school, both of the kids were sick. James recovered fairly quickly, but George had a bad cough that lingered, so I got him some natural-remedy cough syrup.

And what has cough syrup got to do with this story? Well, George hates taking cough syrup. In order to give it to him, I have to wrap him up in a blanket and give it to him with a syringe, a tiny bit at a time so he doesn’t spit the whole lot out at me. So when he reached for the cough syrup on Monday morning, indicating that he wanted that rather than school, we knew that this school aversion was serious business.

The following morning it got worse. George woke up very early and for over two hours, he constantly said, “School is closed. No school. School uh-uh.” All the time, his anxiety level was steadily rising. The pinnacle of all of this was George going into the bathroom and trying to force himself to throw up.

Despite all of this, when the school bus arrived, he got onto it without resistance, albeit looking absolutely miserable.

I sent an email to the school describing George’s behaviour and asking if anything was going on at school that I needed to know about. I didn’t think so: this is George’s third year with the same teacher, and she’s been absolutely fantastic for him. But there is, in all likelihood, something behind this and I needed to either rule out or confirm problems at the school.

Because she is so awesome, George’s teacher called me back within an hour of me sending the email. She reassured me that everything was fine, and that she would not have known that George was having a problem if I had not gotten in touch with the school.

Then she said something that was so obvious that I felt stupid for not having thought of it immediately. She said, “Did this start after you returned from your trip?”

Of course! I had been to South Africa for two weeks by myself, leaving husband and kids to hold the fort at home. The last time I had been to South Africa, when my dad died, George was 15 months old and James wasn’t even a gleam in my eye. My absence was a highly unusual state of being for both of the kids, and George, with his autism, must have had a very difficult time processing it.

And within a few days of my return, he started his nightly “School is closed” routine.  The idea that he is working through some separation anxiety makes perfect sense. The break in routine resulting from March break would have exacerbated the problem.

On the one hand, I am relieved to know that everything at school is fine. But on the other hand, I feel guilty about having been away, even though my presence in South Africa was so badly needed at that time.

I can only hope that with a bit more time and many more hugs, George will feel reassured. And if I ever have to go away unexpectedly again, I hope he will know that I am coming back.

Autism Brothers

8 Nov

Sometimes, when you’re five years old and your big brother has autism, life just isn’t fair.

This weekend I spent a lot of time worrying about my son James. The worrying was prompted by reports from his before- and after-school program that he’s been acting up and is “always in trouble.” Initially, my husband and I put this down to James’ independent nature. He is a strong-willed child who is currently going through a phase of pressing other peoples’ buttons and seeing how far he can go.

But my gut instinct is telling me that I shouldn’t be giving James a hard time about his behaviour in the program – at least, not yet. Not until I have had a meeting with the program administrators to get a clearer picture. I have this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that there is something else going on here, something that might be making my baby unhappy.

About six weeks ago, we went through a decluttering blitz at my house. We got rid of toys and clothing that the boys had outgrown, and we threw out stuff of our own that has been lurking in boxes in our basement since Noah built the ark. One of the items we found was a calendar from a Chinese restaurant. It has the entire year on one long piece of fabricky-type stuff that rolls up like a mini-blind. James was fascinated with this thing and asked if he could have it. I said yes, and passed it over.

Last week while James was playing with the calendar, George kept grabbing at it and saying, “Mine!” James was getting upset because George was bugging him, and George was getting upset because he wasn’t getting the calendar. The situation escalated to the point of George having a meltdown and trying to headbutt James. And in order to stop George from going off the deep end, my husband took the calendar from James and gave it to George.

James was devastated. He sobbed his little heart out. It was bedtime anyway, so I carried him to his bed, lay down beside him, and held him tight. My own heart felt like it was breaking.

James didn’t see that my husband had been trying to stop a bad situation from going completely out of control. He just saw that we had taken away something that belonged to him, and given it to George.

There have been other times when George has gotten what James must perceive to be preferential treatment. We have to make allowances for George’s tolerances and levels of understanding. When James gets a timeout, he understands that he is being punished for something. This is completely lost on George: consequently, George never gets timeouts. We have different expectations of the two boys where it comes to sharing their toys with each other. Sometimes, family outings have to be cut short because George is not coping.

I cannot help asking myself: is it any wonder that James is trying too hard to assert himself in an environment other than home? Could it be that his perceived lack of control within his family is leading him to try and establish it elsewhere?

I try hard to make it up to James in other ways, but I wonder if I am doing enough. My mind keeps coming back to the idea that this poor kid probably doesn’t even have faith that his toys will remain his own. I worry about whether we are expecting James to have more coping ability than he is developmentally capable of.

It is clear to me and my husband that James loves his brother. He is always – with increasing success- trying to get George to play with him. When George is being reprimanded for something, James is standing up for him. And sometimes, when James wakes up from a bad dream in the middle of the night, he crawls into bed with his big brother and the two boys snuggle up to each other.

As much as they love each other, though, it seems to me that at times, the happiness of one has to be sacrificed for the needs of the other.

And that just isn’t fair.

(Photo credit to the author)

How To Get Rid Of Telemarketers

7 Nov

My son George has a new party-trick. He opens the living room door just so he can have the pleasure of slamming it. As he slams it, he yells out some random thing. Some days, that’s all I hear. Open. Yell. SLAM! Open. Yell. SLAM! Open. Yell. SLAM!

It does my head in.

Reprimanding George for it is a useless endeavour. It’s one of those autism things that he cannot really help. He’s getting some sensory satisfaction from it, and while we are going through the process of using rewards and reinforcements to stop the behaviour, we just have to grit our teeth and put up with it. I’ve been through this before with Cupboard Door War of 2010 and the Dishwasher War, which is ongoing, but on which I am finally starting to make progress.

It’s just my bad luck that my home office space is right beside the door that is the current object of George’s attention.

On Saturday, the phone rang right around the time George started another door-opening-yelling-slamming spree. With a shhhhhh! in George’s direction that I knew would be futile, I punched the speakerphone button and answered. It was a telemarketer, trying to sell windows and blinds. These people call us incessantly. They must think I have twenty-two gazillion windows and blinds on my house, all of which need replacing.

As I was preparing to politely tell the caller that I was not interested, George opened the door. I asked the caller to hold on for a moment, so that I could get the yelling and slamming out of the way before I spoke.

The words George chose to yell at that moment were so appropriate to the situation that I couldn’t help laughing.

“Not now,” yelled my son at the top of his lungs, “NEVER!!!!

Surely the windows-and-blinds people would have gotten a clear message from that.

2011 Run For Autism

17 Oct

It is 8:55 on a cool Sunday morning. I am standing on a street in downtown Toronto, with about 15,999 other people. The atmosphere is buzzing with the collective energy of the crowd. As the national anthem, performed live, comes to an end, the crowd breaks into cheers and applause. And then, at 9:00 sharp, a siren sounds and the crowd surges forward as the race begins. This is it. My 2011 Run For Autism, the event that I have been training for all season. As I cross the start line, I am choked up with emotion as I think of the reason I am doing this run. My son George, my boy with autism and tons of love, my inspiration.

When I started training for this race in the Spring, I had a goal to finish in less than two hours. I knew that this would be ambitious: last year, I clocked a time of 2:22:38. Knocking 23 minutes off would be a tall order indeed. But if I formulated a good training plan and then stuck to it, I might just have a shot.

It has been said that life is what happens while we’re making other plans, and that was definitely the case with this season’s training. In the Spring I had a bout of bronchitis that put me out of action for a few weeks. I also had to deal with events like the brief hospitalization of one of my kids and a shoulder injury that sidelined me right in the middle of the season. Not to mention the fact that I got married in April.

Still, I somehow managed to salvage something resembling a training plan about six weeks before the race. I ran a couple of interim races and did OK, and then, right when my training was supposed to be peaking, I caught a nasty cold. I considered running through the cold: conventional wisdom is that it is safe to run as long as all symptoms are above the neck. But I knew from prior experience that running with a cold would slow my recovery and could jeopardize my race. So for once I exercised common sense and rested. Following the advice of my friend Phaedra, who is the kind of runner who wins in her category, I adjusted my training plan and made it to race day more or less in one piece.

It was obvious to me that two hours would not be doable. I considered following the 2:15 pace bunny but when I worked out the average pace that this would require, I realized that I would likely drop further and further back and just waste energy on being stressed. In the end I came up with a goal of 2:20. This struck the perfect balance between being achievable and being challenging.

I started out with the strategy of running the first 5km at an easy pace, without worrying about what my average pace looked like. If I fell behind my target pace, I would have 16km to make up the lost ground. I needn’t have worried: I was running at my goal pace by the 4th kilometre. I was running tens and ones – meaning that I would run for ten minutes and then take a one-minute walk break. During my ten-minute running stretches, I was getting ahead of my goal pace, and this provided me with enough of a buffer to stay on target during the one-minute walks.

Throughout the run, I was following my Dad’s strategy of “fishing for runners.” It’s a simple but effective strategy: you pick a runner about 200m ahead of you, reel them in by gradually catching up to them, and then run in their slipstream for about 500m before passing them and finding another runner to fish for.

For a while, I worried that I was matching my goal pace too easily. Either my energy would run out long before the distance did, or I had seriously underestimated myself during training. I tried to rein myself in but my body wouldn’t let me. I felt good, and I just had to go at the pace that my legs were dictating. It was only in the 18th kilometre that I started to feel the exhaustion. By then, I had less than 3km to go. I was faced with a choice: I could let my mind trick me into slowing down and missing my target time, or I could dig deep and just find the energy to keep going.

I chose to dig deep. I thought of my son George. He has to live his entire life with the challenges of autism, I told myself. The least you can do is run for another fifteen minutes.

All of a sudden, I was turning onto Bay Street for the final stretch and I had just 500m to go. Both sides of the street were lined with hundreds – maybe thousands – of spectators. My personalized bib was allowing people to cheer me on by name.

300m to go… I am exhausted and my legs feel like jelly, but I can see the finish line right up ahead of me. The closer I get, the louder the cheering is.

200m to go… a little bit of vanity takes over. I want a good finish line photo, so I start positioning myself in such a way that I will cross the line without being obscured by other runners.

100m to go… someone yells out, “Congratulations, Kirsten!” I raise my hand in acknowledgement and sprint for the finish, just metres away now. As I’m crossing the finish line, I somehow find a smidgeon of energy to raise both arms in the air in a gesture of triumph.

I have done it. I cannot believe that I have done it. I have run this race, beaten my goal time, and set a new personal best time for myself.

2 hours. 19 minutes. And 46 seconds. Every single moment of it dedicated to George.