Hating Hygiene

As parent we are quiet thrilled when our little ones get their first teeth. If I had it to do over I think I would have hammered my oldest son’s teeth back in his gums. You see I’ve been “helping” him brush his teeth ever since. Once he got his braces off I slacked up on the assistance. I thought surely now he’ll be so excited over his lovely mouth he would actually brush by himself. I kept telling myself when the braces came off he would be so much older that he’d be able to handle this. It was only logical that he would. You see this is a child that cannot drink out of a glass if someone else touches it after he has poured his drink in it – it’s ok before the drink is poured. He must check his glass, silverware and plate prior to each meal to ensure they are clean enough for him. If not he will place the offending tableware in the dishwasher and get another (which is fine unless all the lights in the kitchen have working lights bulbs). If all the lights are working he can see too well and nothing passes inspection and all the dishes land up in the dishwasher. He will not eat a cookie, sandwich, cracker – anything that someone else has touched. His food on his plate can not touch. Carrots must be only with carrots, potatoes only with potatoes. Any violators will be cordoned off and not eaten. It only seems that someone so concerned with the state of his food and what it is being served on would also be concerned with the mouth taking in the food. This logic however does not work.
Somehow, the mouth doesn’t matter. We have an ongoing battle about brushing teeth. The first request to brush his teeth is totally ignored. I ask to see his teeth and he says fine I’ll go brush them. He will then go downstairs. After a moment he returns and I say let me see the teeth. I look at the teeth and know there is no way on earth a toothbrush has seen the inside of the mouth. He is then told he is losing video games for the rest of the day for lying about his teeth and not doing what he is told. I begin to search for the game controllers (some are hidden because he knows this is coming). The third request means he will go downstairs and look at his toothbrush. After locating most of the game controllers I go and check the teeth. They are not clean. The fourth request means he will go downstairs and use mouthwash. There is nothing worse than looking into the mouth of a teenager who hasn’t brushed his teeth in three days but has used green mouthwash. All of the tarter and gunk in his mouth is dyed a hideous shade of green. I have four kids, two dogs, and three cats, I don’t have a weak stomach anymore. I’ve seen more barf than the bathroom attendant at an anorexia convention. But tarter build up dyed green can’t even be described as disgusting, it’s worse than that. So, after four or five attempts to get him to brush independently, I am screaming, “why did we pay for braces if you are going to let your teeth rot out?”
We both go downstairs. I pick up his toothbrush which is completely dry and he starts whining about you don’t really need toothpaste and please don’t push too hard. I touch the first tooth and blood gushes from the gum. It is a good thing the sight of blood doesn’t bother me. I guess it if was squirting out like a fountain I might get squeamish, but bloody teeth, noses, knees and elbows are just not a big deal. I have the teenager sit in the theatre seats so I can brush his teeth. He’s taller than me and I can’t reach very well unless he sits down and he’s not about to sit on the toilet. It works pretty well because the chair leans back like a dentist chair and I can get his mouth really well. We started this after his last dentist trip. I figured I wasn’t getting the back very well, because the dentist chewed me and him out for letting his back tooth rot out – literally.

So how am I supposed to get my son to be accepted socially if he turns people green the minute he opens his mouth. And, why is the clean freak so filthy?
I had a recent experience with my son that really opened my eyes to his lack of self awareness. He is wanting to get his learner’s permit so that he can start learning to drive. Now I have resisted this idea with all the force I could muster. I think it’s a horrible idea to put this child behind the wheel of a car. But, I finally realized, I am more likely to win the war if I concede this battle. My plan is that we get the permit, but I will continually tell him I don’t think he can pass the drivers test. But here’s the thing that struck me while we sat at the DMV, as Michael tried to fill out the form for his permit, one of the questions was eye color. Michael looked at me and said, “What color are my eyes?” Looking back at him, I expected him to give me his goofy grin he gets when he thinks he’s been funny. Instead, he looked at me just blankly waiting for an answer. “You don’t know what color your eyes are?” I asked surprised. “It’s not like I look at myself all the time to know what color they are.” He explained to me, a bit perplexed that I was acting like the question was odd.
I answered. Now that I’ve had time to step back and think about this, it’s really struck me how unaware of himself he is. He lacks the ability to look at himself and see what others are seeing. I realized if you don’t know your own eye color, you probably don’t notice the acne or oily hair. Heck, his eyes have been there forever and he’s still unfamiliar with them. Why would I assume he’s even noticed the acne, it’s only been there about a year. Trying to get Michael more self aware is another one of those strange conflicts of autism. The child is self centered. It has been a long road teaching him to consider how others feel. I am so programmed to say, “now look at his face. How do you think that made him feel?” I’ve even said it to adults! He is fully aware if there happens to be a seam in his sock and he can not tolerate such. He is certainly aware of a speck on his glass. But he isn’t aware of how he is perceived by others. He can not see himself as others see him. To do so, it would be necessary for him to put himself in their shoes. Seeing anything from someone else’s perspective is difficult for a child on the spectrum. I’ve known this for years. It just never struck me that it included his ability to see himself.

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It’s the Thought That Counts

When it comes to in-laws I wouldn’t say I got the short end of the stick. That wouldn’t be true at all. I think I got a long stick; it just came out of a very strange tree. They are sweet people just different from average. My father in law once brought home a total stranger with the nick name finga (he had one finger coming out of his left elbow and no lower arm). The man lived with family for a while. I’ve never really understood why finga was there and what possessed my father in law to bring him into the home. The thing is, they are sweet people who do strange things. I fit with them really well. Once when I was whining about never being able to keep the house straight and wishing I really cared that I didn’t keep the house straight, my mother in law set the bar so wonderfully low for me. She told me they had left town with all their boys and asked some friends to water plants and get mail while they were gone. The house was such a disaster when the friends came to water the plants they thought it had been ransacked in an attempted burglary! The police were called and my in-laws tracked down only for her to admit to the friends that it sounded like the house was in the exact condition it had been left in. You have to love a mother in law that not only has that story but more importantly, is willing to share it!

So a few Christmases back my children were given some “unique” gifts from their grandparents. They gave my oldest son a stick. Granted, it was a nice stick, but still it was a stick. In the days of iPods and PS3’s a teenager isn’t very thrilled with a stick. Granted, the stick had special meaning to my father in law. He had hiked through Switzerland with it several times. I guess he figures his hiking days are over – he’s on his second set of replaced knees and is in his mid 70’s years. Maybe he thought it would inspire my pretty much motionless child to move. I really don’t know why he gave a teenager a stick, but I will say I am quite proud of my son. He could have said, ”what in the hell is this?” because that’s certainly what was running though my mind. Instead, he said thank you and then leaned over to me and said, “Mom they just went around the house and picked stuff up and wrapped it.” Then he looked at me for reassurance that he wasn’t the only one who realized this was extremely unusual. He wasn’t.

My second son was twelve at the time and he received a used book. It was a picture book about New York printed in 1965 or some other year that made it totally obsolete now. We were planning a trip to New York and so somehow they reasoned a twelve year would love to have an old book about New York rather than the Tony Hawk x-box game sk8te. His thanks was a little more stretched out, but again it was better than, “what the “.

Now, my daughter received old costume jewelry and was completely thrilled with the gaudiness of it, but a little surprised she recognized her gift as things she played with at Grandma’s. My third son got an owl bank that was pretty much a block of wood with two eyes. Some nut case had given it to them years ago so it was only logical that they choose it as an appropriate Christmas gift for their ten-year old grandson. Both managed a polite thank you and looked me unsure of what they were to do next. I think they were waiting on the “real” present, but this was it.

Since the in-laws were insistent that we all open our presents one at a time, we had plenty of time to observe one another’s reaction. Now I am usually all for the idea of watching each other open gifts. It stretches things out and we all enjoy seeing how much the gifts we picked are enjoyed. It teaches a good lesson that Christmas isn’t just about getting presents, but also about giving presents. Well, thus far, this experience was definitely driving home the lesson, “it’s the thought that counts.” The fact that both of my older sons had managed a thank you under such strange circumstances made me feel like Mom of the year. So despite being kids that glue each other to the bed or hang the window yelling for the firemen, in the one area that really counts, they shine. They knew their grandparents intended to bring them joy with the gifts they had picked out (from around the house) and showed appreciation for that. It was more important to them that their grandparents have the joy of giving the gift than they had of receiving the gift. Of course, they did know that Santa would arrive the next morning and he had yet to disappoint.

This was posted with my dear in-laws permission and they too realize looking at it from the perspective of the kids that the gifts were a bit odd.  It’s a wonderful laugh for us all now.

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We Are Not Buddhist, But We Chant

Each family living with a child on the spectrum has a unique journey, but in many ways we are all traveling the same path.  We are looking for ways to help our children, our families and ourselves cope.  We have hope and disappointments.  We love our children, but have days we’d like to hide and let someone else navigate them through the world.  For many of us, we left any dreams or aspirations we personally had and took up the battle of Autism Spectrum Disorders.  It is a battle.  It is a battle with insurance companies that don’t want to pay for therapy or refuse to cover specific medications your child needs.  It is a battle with the school principal who thinks your child is just a spoiled brat demanding attention.  It’s a battle to hold you head up as your neighbors whisper about your child.  Everyone is bright and cheery and wants to walk for autism, but please don’t ask them to have their children play with yours.  It is a battle some days to just remember who you are and why you are doing what you do.  But somehow, we glance around and realize we’re just a family.  We may be different, but all in all, we’re still just a family.  We are not perfect and come nowhere near it.  The thing is our strange family makes for a pretty exciting life.  You never know what’s coming.

We live in the Bible belt and most people here like everyone to fit in a certain mold. Obviously we don’t.  So when we started chanting it was just another thing for the neighbors to whisper about. We are not Buddhist, but we probably chant more than Buddhist monks.  Barryman has ADHD, Ben and Blair ADD. When I say Barry has ADHD I really mean he is the poster child for ADHD. I get constant calls and emails from his teachers about his lack of focus.  I get the same calls from Ben’s and Blair’s teachers but just not as often.  It’s nothing for any of the three younger children to be going up the steps and say, “Why am I going upstairs?”  I sometimes think they are really old people with Alzheimer’s who somehow got in children’s bodies.  It’s like living in a nursing home, but the crazy old people are agile.

 If Barry gets up to get something from the refrigerator during a meal he will forget what he’s doing and wander off. His friends even report to their parents if Barry has had a relatively calm school day.    I have a friend that will call me and say, “Barry is getting sick; Anna said he was pretty calm at school.” Therefore, keeping on track is a challenge in this house.  Barry seems to struggle the most, but that isn’t saying the rest don’t struggle. 

Just recently, Barry came into the kitchen (I seem to be there all the time) and asked me if I knew where his lacrosse stick might be.  I tell him that I think it’s in his closet.  He left to go upstairs and get his stick.  Meanwhile, Michael came in and opened three bags of fish sticks for an afternoon snack.  Michael has no sense of reasonable when it comes to these type choices.   Blair began screaming how unfair life is because Michael will eat all the fish sticks and she will never get one her entire life.  She is a bit of a drama queen.

I am in the middle of getting dinner ready and have discovered I don’t have some key ingredient.  I don’t announce this I just start trying to decide if I can replace tomatoes with those little packs of ketchup you get from fast food places (we ALWAYS have those).  I am also explaining to Michael that three bags of frozen fish sticks is overkill and he needs to make a more reasonable choice.  If he eats an entire bag of fish sticks and he is still hungry maybe he could then eat a banana. It would be a healthier choice.  He looks at me as if I just dropped out of the sky unexpectedly.

  Ben then comes in and wants to know the official rules of wall ball to settle a dispute in the driveway between him and his friend.  Thus a discussion ensues between me, Ben and Blair about what we think the rule might be.  Micahel begins telling Ben how idiotic it is to play wall ball in the first place.  Michael tends to have strong opinions about anything that doesn’t specifically interest him.

Now, Barry yells down the stairs, “Mom why did you send me upstairs?” 

At this point, I don’t have a clue why he’s upstairs, but I use the opportunity to my advantage.  I tell him he needs to get his dirty clothes in the hamper – chances are really good they are just thrown around the room.

 About half an hour goes by and I am busily squirting the ketchup out of the little plastic bags.  Barry returns again wondering about his lacrosse stick.  Michael is preparing his second bags of fish sticks and so he tells Barry how stupid it is to play lacrosse.  This hurts Barry’s feelings so he calls Michael a zit head.  Michael lunges at Barry and knocks them both over and lands on top.  He then tries to press Barry against the ground as hard as he possibly can.  I throw the ketchup bags in the air and dive between the two boys.  I push Michael off and tell the boys to,”cut it out! Any further incidents and I will take all game controllers” (the ultimate threat). 

Eventually, we all make it to dinner. Barry then remembers again he was looking for his lacrosse stick all day.  It is now too late to go out and practice and he is distraught.  This is when I decide we should chant.  

It’s been a dream come.  Yes, friends of the children look at us all strangely.  The FedEx guy might think there’s been an invasion of the body snatchers, but it works wonders.  Now when any of the children are told to go and get something they are required to chant until they have it in their hand.  If Ben is looking for a library book he must walk around the house chanting, “library book, library book, library book”.  Just saying book wouldn’t work because he’ll forget what book he’s looking for.  When I need Blair to brush her hair she chants, “brush hair, brush hair, brush hair” until she is actually doing it.  When they are looking for their shoes in the morning they chant, “shoes, shoes, shoes”. And when Barry is looking for his lacrosse stick he chants, “lacrosse stick, lacrosse stick, lacrosse stick”.

 I really dread the day when Barry says, “Mom why am I chanting lacrosse stick?”

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Speaking in Tongues, Mail Order Brides and Paula Abdul

I must be having an out of life experience. I’ve heard people talk about out-of-body experiences, but mine seems to be out of life. The last seven days have just been, well, not my life.

It was odd enough that Michael was invited to go to youth group with a friend. Michael has been invited to do things maybe a total of ten times in his life. I was excited and anxious to hear how things went but I wasn’t expecting this. Michael burst through the door, “MOM!!!” the only time Michael yells is if someone tries to take his Xbox controller, otherwise, there could be a three-ring circus performing in our front yard and he would just matter of factly tell me, “Mom there is a circus in the front yard. Is that supposed to be there?” I should have sat down. I should have taken a shot of vodka. I should have done something to prepare myself for what he said next.

“Mom I’ve been speaking in tongues”.

Brain collapse. Literally everything went white in my mind for a second. Did I hear him correctly? Did he just tell me he can speak in tongues? Isn’t that something that happened back when Noah was looking for a deal on a boat? Why was my child telling me he could speak in tongues? Who on earth convinced the boy who because of Asperger’s sometimes can’t respond to questions that he now had the ability to speak in a unintrepretable holy language? Maybe for some of you this type over night religious conversion is normal. But for me this was out of the ordinary. I’m all for religious conversions and spiritual epiphanies but they need to occur between 9 and 11 on Sunday mornings and not be so boisterous as to disturb the parishioner sitting next to you. We don’t speak in tongues in my house. It might sound like it sometimes, when everyone is talking at once, but we’ve never had some kind of holy lightning bolt strike. I know it must be something that happens in reverse for my kids because I say things like ‘clean your room’ or ‘take out the garbage’ and they don’t respond. I know I am speaking in English, but maybe they are hearing in tongues. But actually speaking in tongues; I was dumbfounded. I know how Michael feels when he needs more time than most to process his thoughts and be able to respond. I just stood there. We all just stood there. The other children were amazingly still and their mouths were hanging open. Barry broke the silence.

“Is this going to be like one of those cult things you see on TV and we’ll have to send Michael to cult detox or something?”

Ben loved this idea, “Oh cool! I wanna be on TV if they tape him getting drug out to the car”

“You’ll have to act like you’re all upset he’s going or they won’t show you” Blair added.

My first thought was ‘what on earth have they been watching on television?”. Obviously Mom’s television rules are not being adhered to when I’m not in the room. My second thought, ‘someone has taken advantage of my vulnerable child’. It’s not that I don’t believe religious conversions can happen. Nor is it that I totally discredit the idea of a hugely unique occurrence that could only be explained by divine intervention. But I do think something is amiss when a child who has proclaimed himself agnostic for over a year; and a child that is emotionally and socially behind his peers by six years is the first on the list for this type occurrence. I do think a child that is desperate for friends and would do anything to fit in just might be convinced to act in a way that is against his nature to gain friends.

Now here’s the tricky part, Michael might have asperger’s but he’s still a teenager. The stronger the stand I take against this the tighter his grip will become on it. So my response,

“That’s nice Michael. Did they have food at youth group or do you want to make a sandwich?”

 Yep, that’s profound. One of my better parenting moments. Just ignore it and it will go away. Actually, I was just trying to buy time until I could think of an appropriate response. We did discuss it later and let’s just say I subtly offered guidance without discrediting his experience.

So my unusual week continued. I hopped a plane the next day. That alone is unusual for me. It’s not like I fly off and leave my family behind every week. I don’t. But I’ve been attending a series of conferences and this was the next one.

Sitting on the plane the guy next to me is literally shaking. I’m thinking, ‘great. This guy has a bomb in his shoe.’ Before we take off he looks over and nervously says to me,

“Have you ever flown?”

Well, this is 2010, so ah yeah, most people over the age of thirty have flown, not saying I look a day over 15, but odds are someone who looks like me has flown on a plane. Nervous Ned hadn’t. My guess is he was somewhere between thirty-five and forty (or he’s aged really badly). But the odd thing about nervous Ned wasn’t that this was his first flight; it was that he was going to pick up his mail order bride. Turns out Neddy boy has been writing some young woman in Indonesia for the past several months and he’s going to there to marry her. They were hooked up through a “dating service”. Sitting on the plane it dawns on Ned that this could be a set up; maybe he’s just going to marry this young woman and she’ll take off after he gets her to the states. So I spend an hour and half trying to calm Ned down over his flight jitters and his, “I might have made a huge mistake; I don’t generally even talk to women, what if she likes me, what if she doesn’t”mania. What the heck!! Am I all of sudden the help guru for exceptionally weird problems? I’m thinking I did better with Michael but Ned says thanks as we disembark and I wish him luck.

As my odd week continues I think things are sliding toward normal again. I am meeting tons of nice and interesting people at the conference. Normal is a relative term. In my life the fact that I was having dinner with someone who believes they have a magic wand that will cure all illness wasn’t average, but not necessarily something that would make me think twice. I mean seriously, this same scenario has taken place at home, granted Blair was 4 at the time and this woman is somewhere over 50, but at some point most of us believe in magic wands. She’s just a little late to the game. Ok, the woman selling negative ion clothes to cure asthma was a little out there, but we only chatted for a moment, so that didn’t really count. And, the guy who told me he could take on any personality he wanted depending on the situation was a little different, but really, we all do that to some degree. The sex guru who wanted to openly discuss sex toys with a group of strangers certainly began heading things back out to the odd range.

The thing that topped my week off and made me realize I was having an out of life experience was Paula Abdul. I know some of you, are reverting to worn out jokes in your head. “She’d throw anyone off”. Not really, I’ve gotten to see a different Paula over the last several months and she is nothing like the Paula we’ve been exposed to on television.  She is thoughtful, intelligent, and much more humble than I ever would have assumed. But the thing is, she’s a huge celebrity. I don’t’ hang out with huge celebrities. Sometimes Alan Jackson eats at our favorite Mexican restaurant the same time as us, but that’s about as close I come to rubbing elbows with celebrities. I’ve never even asked him for his autograph (mainly because I don’t know what you are supposed to do with some piece paper someone has signed).

 But here I sat with Paula. She had her “handler” come and find me in the seminar crowd at the end of the event. I was led behind the black curtain. I’m thinking she’s going to say, “You wiggled in your chair so much during the seminar that it was distracting!”.

But instead, this uber celebrity says to me, “I am so sorry I haven’t responded to your email. I’ve been really busy and my account got hacked and I had to let someone else handle my email for a while, but I don’t want you think I was ignoring you.”

Second, time in a week, Brain collapse. WHAT?? She’s apologizing to me because she didn’t respond to an email I sent her. The school principal doesn’t apologize for not responding to me and that’s even when there is a pressing issue. My brother doesn’t apologize for not responding to my email. Now I’m listening to this ultra busy celebrity, with three ‘handlers’ standing around wanting her to do a myriad of task and she’s being so gracious as to say, “I’m sorry I’ve not gotten back with you”. Paula has been extremely kind to me and she owes me absolutely nothing. Yet, here she sits, holding my hand and giving me an explanation for not emailing me back. We chatted for a while on various topics and then hugged goodbye. Yeah, not my world, chatting up a celebrity about her next big thing.

Now, I’m headed home. The woman next me told me about coming to visit her grand kids. The guy two seats ahead complained to the flight attendant about his bag not fitting in the over head compartment. I’m sure my house looks as if someone broke in and ransacked it. I’ll be expected to get dinner on the table as soon as I walk in the door. If Michael is still speaking in tongues I’m going to ask him to call the dinner delivery angel. When Barry cracks wise about the pizza delivery man having wings I’ll know I’m back in my life.

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Firetrucks and friendship!!

I had a new neighbor move in just down the street. She was super friendly and brought flower seeds and flower pots to all her close by neighbors saying she wanted to “grow new friends”. Alright, that was a bit corny, but I appreciated her effort. The truth was I was thrilled. It’s often difficult making and or keeping friends when they realize the ordeal of dealing with a special needs child. I was going to put a strong effort into making a good first impression. I called and invited her to have coffee with me.
Things were great. The house was actually clean enough that I wasn’t embarrassed. Blair and her daughter could play together. My three boys were content playing video games and not arguing over whose turn it was. They were trying to level up and they all knew Michael would be the only one who could do it. I had the brio train down for her toddler. It was always a hit with preschool boys. So things start great, Karen and her children show up at the door and the girls hit it off immediately. Blair and her daughter disappear to Blair’s room and play nicely for a while. Her son is perfect. He sits in the kitchen floor playing with the train. Never interrupting, leaving his cookie on the table and coming back for bites. Mine would have played with the cookie hanging out of their mouths or crunched in their hands with a train engine.
Then things started getting a little hectic. First, there was a disagreement between the boys. Barry and Ben came tumbling and yelling down the steps.
“Michael got to the next level so now we should get a turn”
“He got to play forever so I should be next” they screamed in unison.
“Take the timer up and set it on ten minutes and tell Michael his turn is up when it buzzes and then you two can each play 15 minutes before it’s his turn again.” Oh yeah, I was on my game. I looked like the mother with all the answers.
Of course, if you ignored the fact that Barry and Ben wrestled and argued over carrying the timer, who got to set the timer and who got to go first when the timer went off. But, whatever, I still think I looked pretty good with the whole timer thing. And, to be doubly impressive it actually worked. I was expecting Michael to continue to play on as if he never heard the buzzer. Then I would play it off as something unusual. Luck was with me today. Michael stopped playing when the buzzer went off. He didn’t argue about how it was useless for the other boys to play because they sucked at video games compared to him. He didn’t reason that the other boys were so active they should be outside or how video games increased his spatial awareness and therefore he should be allowed to play longer. Nope, he just quit playing.
That should have been a red flag for me. I should have known something was amiss. I have lived with this child long enough I should know when something goes this smoothly it’s only because he is segueing into bigger and better things. Silly me. I thought fate was with me. I just naïvely allowed myself to believe he just was having one of those moments where he inexplicably did what he was asked.
Then the screeching blaring fire alarm went off – literally. The girls came screaming, the boys came running, and Karen grabbed her son and was walking towards the door. Then we both heard what Barry was saying.
“Michael did it! Michael did it” he yelled and laughed, “Michael held a lighter up to the fire alarm.”
The blaring continued. Michael came down the steps laughing.
“I just wanted to see if that would make it go off”
Ignoring the alarm, “Give me the lighter right now! Where did you get that?”
“You keep them in the top of the cabinet to light the grill with. I got it out of there last night”
Great. Not even knowing what to say I go to the control panel for the alarm to shut it off. I’m nervous and upset because I know I likely can’t salvage a friendship with Karen and the stupid alarm is blaring in my ears. Her daughter is crying. My boys are laughing at her crying. She is looking at me like my family is unbalanced. I just hit the off button. I can’t think of the code.
“Karen I am so sorry” I explain, I motion for she and her daughter to sit so we can make the little girl feel better.
The phone starts ringing. Michael knowing he should redeem himself, or so I assume, gets the phone. We spend a few minutes trying to calm her daughter. The boys have wandered back up the steps and Michael has disappeared with the phone. My daughter looks at the other little girl confused. She is wondering why this is such a big deal. These things happen all the time. She’s frustrated with the other little girl for overreacting.
Then we hear the sirens, screeching down the street. The alarm automatically calls the fire department if you don’t answer your phone or put in the appropriate code. I had let Michael deal with the phone. It had rung several times in a row while we were trying to settle Karen’s daughter. I had thought he answered it. He had it in his hand. Who knows. But the engines are headed right at us.
I hear the boys upstairs. They are putting the window up and screaming for the firemen to come and take them down the ladder. It sounds fun to them. I quickly go to the front door and open it, before they drive the truck through the yard.
Now we have the fireman in full regalia running towards us. My “friend” looks horrified. The fireman scares her son. He starts crying. My boys are screaming from the window. Michael is asking if he can look at the fire truck or have a plastic fire hat. I am explaining that there really isn’t a fire. We’re all ok.
The fireman looks at me wearily. He ask to check the house just to be sure things are ok. I agree. I figure he can tell the boys to get out of the window while he’s up there. He apparently does because they are trailing behind him when he comes back down. My kids follow the fireman out to the truck chatting away with questions. Her kids cling to her for life with tears streaking down their faces. As the fire engines pull off she dashes for her car. Yelling behind her thanks for the coffee and she’ll call me if she ever has time.

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We are not the Brady’s

This would be funny if it weren’t true. Well, I guess it’s funny anyway. But we live in chaos.  I try like crazy to create organization and structure, but with four kids I just haven’t mastered it.  I know God has a sense of humor because otherwise my family wouldn’t exist.  I am the poster child for adult ADD. My oldest son has Asperger’s, second child ADHD, and third and fourth children ADD.  We are a mess; a beautiful wonderful mess, but still a mess. 

We generally start our morning with five alarms going off.  All four of the children’s alarm’s going off at full blast and of course mine.  I am sure the neighbor’s children and dogs are up looking for the fire in their home.  Meanwhile, my little angels continue to sleep as if there is no blaring gong, bell or screeching rooster (my daughter’s alarm is a rooster).  My children somehow will manage to stay sound asleep until I come to their rooms and turn on lights, shake them around and sometimes literally pull them into the floor.

I’m not what you’d call a morning person.  If the world were perfect no one would speak during those first two hours of my day.  However, just as my feet hit the floor is generally when my husband begins his daily color commentary of our morning.  My husband is a morning person just not the happy kind.  He is anything but lighthearted.  He just gets up and is wide awake.  Me, I’m walking to the bathroom with one eye still shut.  I generally begin my morning listening to him grumble about how perfectly he jumped out of bed as a child and how it wasn’t necessary for his mother to tell him to get up.  I guess I am supposed to glean from this that his mother was a much better mother than I am.  Most mornings however I’m thinking his mother must have been hell on wheels if she had a six year old getting up to an alarm.

When I go to wake my ten year old son without fail he tells me each morning he is quitting school and that if I force him to go he will kick his teacher. He’s been threatening this since kindergarten.  Thus far, it is only the mailboxes on the way to the bus stop that have been brutalized.  After I pull him by his ankles on the floor, I awaken my nine year old daughter. She is sick every morning.  Amazingly she acquires a variety of symptoms overnight.  Her head is killing her, her eyes are burning, her throat is sore, her stomach hurts, and one morning she was sure she was paralyzed from the waist down.  While my ten year old kicks his furniture and my nine year old whines about paraplegics being required to attend third grade, I go wake up the twelve year old.  This one is unpredictable.  There are mornings when this child actually just gets out of bed and begins getting dressed.  I generally check to see if he has a fever on those days.  Other days he is overwhelmed by the middle school drama.  He is unable to go to school because he doesn’t have the right shirt or someone failed to speak to him at lunch the day before.  I usually just tell him to get his shower and we’ll discuss it at breakfast. He’s ADHD so he will have forgotten it by then. 

As I walk back down the hallway I check to see that my ten year old has gotten back in bed as expected.  Now I tell him to kick his teacher if he wants but to just get dressed and get his little butt downstairs for breakfast.  The daughter is at this point changing clothes for the fourth time even though we picked out the perfect outfit with matching accessories the night before.  Now she is choosing to go for the street walker/hobo look with a skirt she’s outgrown and mismatched glitter top leftover from Halloween and a pair of high heels that are from a princess dress up set.  To avoid a total meltdown I must use my best negotiation skills. I talk her into pink high tops that she’s bedazzled and hope after she eats she’ll decide the skirt is uncomfortable. 

Now I head down to wake the teenager.  It is on my way to his room that I pass the kitchen and am able to catch a few of my husbands’ lovely comments.  While he continues to talk and take twenty minutes to make one cup of coffee I go downstairs to wake the star of the morning.  The teenager.  My oldest son has Asperger’s Syndrome so life with him is always interesting.  He has now been lying in bed for twenty minutes with a light on (set on a timer) and his alarm at full blast.  If he is actually in his room and in his bed in the morning I have one small victory in this battle.  He tends to wander the house at night and sometimes sleeps on a chair or couch instead of in his bed.  If he is in his bed and there aren’t cheetos or cookies stuck to his face I feel someone should give me a ribbon or acknowledge in some way that I am mother of the year.  However, on the days he has food stuck to his face or body he is easier to get out bed.  No one is thrilled when they wake up and realize nutter butter peanut butter cookies are smeared across their face and back.  He gets up on those days and goes straight to the shower, which makes it tempting to leave a package of cookies on his night stand each evening.  

The two or three days that he’s not covered in food I have to pull and tug and shake  and scream before he eventually sits up.  Sans food on his face he then must go through a long stretching routine.  I impatiently wait thinking of all the things I need to do. Once that is complete he will go and lie down in the shower and go back sleep. 

With the water running on the teenager, I head down the hall saying a small prayer that he will not drown in the tub and I begin to get breakfast.  Of course, no one has made it down yet so I slightly raise my voice so the children upstairs can hear me.  I let them know they need to be at the table in five minutes so they won’t have to rush through breakfast.  I usually hear some strange mumble in the background about, “how is anybody supposed to be able to make coffee with all the yelling going on.”  Of course I call again in two minutes to let them know they need to come on.

  Meanwhile, hubby has almost accomplished the grueling task of making a cup of coffee.  This arduous task nearly done he picks up the pace with the color commentary.  Just in case I or any of the children who have made it to the kitchen have forgotten from the previous morning, he reminds us how perfect his family was when he was a child.  His mother never had to ask him twice to get out of bed (wait I thought she didn’t even have to ask once).  His bed was made military style and he was dressed with his shirt tucked in and books at his feet when his precious mother laid a freshly prepared hot breakfast in front of him. Meanwhile, I am telling my kids we are out of milk so they can have dry cereal or Oreos with kool-aid.  The twelve year old is writing “nerd” with cereal and pointing at his Dad so I’m deleting the dry cereal option.

As the younger three eat their breakfast it is time for me to tell the teenager to wake up before he drowns.  It is then necessary to have him stick his hand out of shower so I can put shampoo in it.  We went through a horrible phase of not actually washing the hair and then for a while he just put the shampoo in his hair and touched his palm to his head and got out of the shower.  When at breakfast each morning I discovered a glob of shampoo on the side of his head I realized he need to be told/reminded to actually move the shampoo around on his head and then rinse it out.  As he washes and rinses his hair I head back to complete the breakfast routine. 

My husband is now lecturing the children on the need for daily vitamins and fiber – the ten and twelve year old have poured the vitamins on the table and are trying to make ugly pictures with them.  As I take the vitamins away from the boys my husband begins the “you need a haircut” sermon.  He usually can work in two sermons while the younger kids choke down breakfast.

 Inevitably, there is an issue at the table.  Someone has looked at my daughter wrong; someone has bumped another’s chair, kicked under the table or called another a baby.  Thus, the arguing begins. The ten year old generally jumps up and refuses to eat if “he” or “she” is going to be in this family.  As I settle the argument and begin instructing kids to get back packs and shoes, we are then told about how my husband never argued with his siblings.  As I yell down the hall for the teenager to hurry up before he misses the bus, it is time for Dad’s “I always knew where my shoes, coat, backpack, etc” sermon.  Generally, one or two of younger kids has misplaced something and we must begin looking for it.

  We know to begin looking for misplaced things because we can hear the bus when it pulls onto the street behind us.  It is then that the children realize they are actually going to school and should therefore try and have the things their teachers expect.  As we scramble and run through the house looking for folders and remembering we have no lunch money the teenager will emerge.  He then needs to be told to eat breakfast with the free meal kids at school because he has no time to eat at home.  Then he has to be told to turn his shirt around because it’s on backwards or inside out.  He will then sit in a chair and stare.  The nine year old needs assistance with her shoes because she can never get the laces balanced and tight like Mom can.  Now we hear how my husband knew how to tie his own shoes while still an embryo. 

After the nine year olds shoes are handled I can generally get one or two of the children out the door with everything they need.  They know to walk towards the bus very slowly in order to give the others more time.  The third child has usually found the missing book or shoes at this point and is headed out door while his father explains how he never lost anything in his entire life and proper organizations would lead to success, but loss of a library book has doomed the child to a life of selling illegal drugs or perhaps running a pawn shop as a front for a drug smuggler. 

The teenager has usually managed to find his shoes and has begun putting them on.  Of course, he wears no socks, so he gets the “your feet will smell and you will be a pariah of society” sermon.  The teenager has forgotten how to tie his shoes again, but with the bus waiting there is no time for a lesson so I just do it.   As the husband completes the sermon, we manage to get out the door and the teenager runs to the waiting bus.  Next year when the teenager goes to high school he will need to leave earlier than the others.  Will that make it easier?

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Alzheimer’s, Aunt Rachel, & Strength of Self

If I try and describe Aunt Rachel none of the adjectives that one would consider strong come to mind.  She wasn’t outspoken. She never raised her voice.  She did not demand her way.   Actually, she was more the opposite.  She tried to please everyone.  She would cry over the slightest thing.  She seemed content but looking back I don’t think we would have ever known if she wasn’t.  She wouldn’t have said a thing.  Meek might be too strong of a word to describe her because she had an engaging personality, but I think her deep inner layer was meek. My dear Aunt Rachel was always someone I admired. Somehow in my eyes she was glamorous, but through the eyes of an adult I realize many might not have seen that. 

She was always warm and welcoming.  She often picked me up from Kindergarten and I can remember the red seats in the car she drove.  I thought she and I looked like movie stars driving out of the parking lot.  She was there when my parents divorced, but just as a steady presence. She never commented on it to me directly.  She took care of my brother when he was recovering from a car wreck. She was there when I got married.  She even said to me as I was dressing for my bridal picture, “If you have any questions you want to ask me I can tell you anything and I won’t leave a thing out”.  It was one of the most direct things I’d ever heard her say.  I was twenty five and had lived in a different city than my family for six years – I didn’t have any questions.  When each of my children was born she was there at the hospital. We always celebrated holidays with her though the tradition changed as the family changed, but she was always there. All through my life she has been a steady quiet presence.

  My dearest aunt has now been ravaged by Alzheimer’s.  There is so little of her left.  She doesn’t look like herself.  She can no longer speak coherently.  She is a tiny shell locked in a chair and incapable of expressing her needs, thoughts or desires.  But, through it all, she is there.  It is only a glimmer of her.  Just a passing wisp of air where you capture her, but, somehow she is there.  It is in her eyes that I can still see her.  I don’t visit often, but when I do there is that fleeting moment where she knows me.  The tears come to her eyes.  She speaks rapidly in words no one understands, but you know what she is saying. 

“I know you.  I remember that you love me and I love you”.  She reaches for you.  As you hug she has a desperation to her voice that’s near a cry but isn’t.  Then she holds her face back from yours and looks you directly in the eye … and smiles.

It is the smile that could blow my soul away.  It is the smile that has met me my entire life.  Her wonderful full mouth smile; It is her.  She is there for two maybe three seconds.  She is herself.  She knows me.  She knows I am there and that she is loved. 

Then she is gone.  But, in that moment, I am amazed by the strength of self we must all possess.  Here is my aunt who is ravaged by a disease we don’t understand and nearing the end of her life.  Alzheimer’s has stripped nearly everything from her.  She can spend days and weeks without knowing who she is or where she is, but still the self is able to rise sometimes, to fight through all the barriers and present her again for a brief moment. 

Her soul screams “I am here!”  It is as if she remembers herself for that moment.  She desperately tries to claw her way back to us, but the tangled web of Alzheimer’s always wins out.  She fizzles away like an effervescent firework in the dark sky.  So bright for just that moment and then gone.  It is the story of our lives told in a brief second.  We are here.  We spin and dance and shout for our brief lives and then we are gone.

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