Susan's Blog

Monday, January 30, 2006

What’s Worse? Autistic, Adolescent, or Annoying?

It is interesting and comforting in a bitterly ironic way that Max’s evolution into a teenager should teach me so much about autism and Nat. Way back when, I was closest to Max emotionally than any of my children. He came along two years after Nat, and I felt our connection immediately, unlike the connection I felt with Nat, which was fleeting and uncertain until he/I was older. Max’s wiring and personality have always made it easier for me to understand him. We were always close.

Until now. Thirteen rears its ugly head (although he is an extremely beautiful specimen of thirteen, having none of the gawkiness and little acne; being around 6’2″, blond, and confident, he resembles sixteen or seventeen more in appearance and demeanor — until his broccoli touches his pasta, and then you see the little boy in there). Suddenly I have two, make that three, boys who for one reason or another, don’t talk to me.

Benj is seven, and just luscious, like a rose, but you can’t get too close because of the thorns. He gets angry so easily when you don’t understand what he’s referring to; he goes from laughing to crying in two seconds, and then he blames you for making him cry. He has an odd understanding of words; in some ways, his use of language is very advanced (he said to me yesterday, “Mom, you are such a stickler for words.” And he had used it in the correct context!). In other ways, his use of language is odd/unconventional/incorrect; (for example, he’ll say, “What the gosh…?”). As I’ve said before, perhaps a little affected by the autism spectrum. Time will tell just how the spectrum will expand or detract from Benji.

In Ben I usually imagine the autism spectrum as being like the color spectrum: a prism of beautiful light bending, cascading through him and emanating from him in the form of his breathtaking art and his amusing, strange way of expressing himself verbally. In Nat, however, I have most often imagined the autism spectrum as more of a blackness that comes over him, and steals his ability to articulate and to remember words. “F>>>ing autism,” I think to myself sometimes, like when I look down at my hand with the bloody nailmarks that match his fingers. When I see Ned in despair over the kind of father he is, because he feels worn out by Nat’s aggressions. When I see Max and Ben retreat further from their older brother because 1) they are afraid of him hurting them and 2) they have little they can say to or do with him.

It seems I can do less and less to change this fact. I long to get Max and Ben to relate to Nat, and I think Nat needs that, as well as Max and Ben. I am at a loss as to how to improve their relationships, given how volatile Nat has become lately. I am at a loss as to how to improve my relationship with all three of them. The fact is, all three of my boys are difficult to reach in one way or another. Autism had been the more obvious villain, but now it is increasingly clear that adolescence is a close second, and annoying personality traits/artistic temperament are right up there, too.

When I give my book talks, it is more and more interesting to me to see how easy it is for people to see only the autism as the tragedy in their lives. What my other two non-autistic sons have taught me is that if you just wait long enough, you realize that autism is only the first difficulty you’ve faced as a parent. It is both depressing and comforting, when you think about it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

My Car, Myself

As much as I hate to admit it, I am letting the car I drive define me. I was raised not to be a shallow person, but I have struggled mightily against my own deep inner shallowness for my whole life. And now, as Ned and I are at an impasse over what car to get, I feel that part of myself rising up and taking hold.

Currently I drive a 2003 Volvo V70 wagon, which a very good, and very libertarian friend calls “The quintessential Liberal car.” Yes, I am definitely “Liberal.” or “Progressive;” “Dyed-in-the-Wool-Democrat;” but that has nothing to do with what I drive and everything to do with how I vote, which is another blog entry altogether. The reason I drive that car is because I think it is very pretty. It is black and beautifully shaped. It looks and feels like a luxury car, yet I can (sort of, with just the right leasing package) afford it. It looks as good driving up to a gala as it does driving up to the school for pick-up. Basically, it is like the perfect shoe: goes with most things I wear, very stylish, and comfortable enough. I have named it “The Party Slipper.” She is just like a party shoe, like a perfect black pump with a 2″ heel. She is about that good in snow, too, by the way. She can run, sure, but because she is so impractical, she slips (skids) a little. But she is very good at communicating, and so every time she skids, she is courteous enough to light up with a little “I’m skidding” symbol, a yellow triangle with a zig-zag line that flashes at me as I glide over black ice.

My big sons are outgrowing the buttery soft taupe leather backseat, and the lease is just about up, so we are now shopping around for a bigger (sigh) car. I want to get the Volvo SUV (the XC90). Ned wants to save some money this time around, so he is pushing for the Honda Pilot. They are about the same size, but the price per month for a lease is about $200 different. Look, I love Hondas. I come from a totally Honda-driving family. Hondas are what I was raised to drive.

Maybe that has something to do with it.

I am in midlife crisis mode, and for me that manifests as a bit of a rebellion from how I was raised — only in the most shallow ways, of course; I love my parents and think they are fantastic people, with their heads mostly screwed on right. But I am who I am, and though my head is mostly screwed on right, I have a bit of a screw loose when it comes to spending money. And what could be more ridiculous than insisting on a more expensive car simply because I can’t bear to drive something whose claim to fame is basically that it is “dependable?” When I look at those Pilots, I don’t see reasonable repair bills; I see a big, fat hiking boot. A crepe-soled, heavy-toed LL Bean. I see a shoe I would never wear. I see a car with a big fat ass, dragging itself all over town. Though I thoroughly checked it out, good little wife that I am, no amount of extras or pimping will make that car into a dress boot, like the XC90.

Ah, the XC90. It is like the glamorous big-sister version of my V70. It goes with everything, like my BCBG black suede pointy-toed cowboy boots with 1 1/2″ heel. It has a similar ass to the V70, shapely and pushed up high, and not disproportionately big up front. It comes in all the beautiful colors, like Restoration Hardware green, or creamy white, or the perfect black. It will go with my sage-green house. It will go with my life — or at least the life I wish I had, where I could afford such a car.

Ned thought he was marrying a low-maintenance woman. But, as Humphrey Bogart once said, “He was misinformed.”

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Poignancy of Legos

It took me a long time to appreciate Legos. Growing up, there was just my sister Laura and me, and even though Laura was a non-traditional kind of girl (a bit of a tomboy and a real brainy type), she did not have Legos. I was a real girly-girl; I owned four Barbies (one semi-original with reddish hair, who later got a buzz cut and was the designated man; Malibu Barbie; Walk-Lively Barbie; and my favorite: Quick Curl Barbie). I had a huge case of clothing for them, with a bar to hang tiny pink hangers, pockets for little earrings, shelves of matching stillettos, and which was stuffed with ballgowns of tulle, ruffles, lamé in every color — you name it, I had it. I also had the Carnaby Street Townhouse. I played with the Barbies into adolescence, and things got a little strange, needless to say, but I digress only to give you the picture of where I am coming from, as an inveterate pink-lover, and a hopeless fan of the painfully proportioned perky plastic princess.

So for a long time, I did not see the appeal of Legos, which to me were the quintessential Boy Toy (I don’t mean the type that Madonna favors). Not until Max and then Ben started playing with them. We acquired a couple of bins of Legos from a yard sale when Max was around three, and that’s how it started. (Nat had no interest in them and still views them as something he kind of has to do, rather than wants to do.) Max first drew me in, asking me to help him construct first houses, castles, and space ships, and then as he grew older, scenes like frozen wastelands that were all white and gray, or the ocean with real waves, or the island of Myst, from the computer game he loved at age 5 and at almost 14, is still obsessed with.

Ben has come at Legos in much the same way as Max, but his interest then spun off towards the people of Lego. Last year we bought him a collection of people and accessories: characters, hats, weapons and other accoutrements. He was delighted.

I could truly understand his delight with the characters. There is a kind of poignancy, a naivete, to Legos. It springs, I believe, from their simplicty. The people are simple plastic block figures, with the most basic expressions on their faces: there are either frowning bad guys or dot-eyed simply smiling guys. No matter who they are, no matter how dark a personage, the worst they can have is frowning eyebrows and a spotty beard. Lego Harry Potter is distinguishable from Lego Luke Skywalker mainly by the context of having come in his properly designated box, and by virtue of his round glasses, but almost nothing else. Lego Voldemort has the same evil expression as Lego Darth Vader, give or take a mask or coloring of the face, and probably the same expression as a Lego pirate. The Lego skeletons have the death’s head grin, but there is also something kind of sweet and innocent and antithetical to the skeleton thing, because of their rounded block heads, just like all other Lego heads.

Ben has since created a kingdom of mermaids and Trident; our family as Legos; and recently, Lego Bible characters. I think this last was inspired by The Brick Testament which, when I found it, blew my mind. Bible stories illustrated with Legos! I wanted to laugh and sigh at the same time. There we could finally look upon the face of God, made by using a Lego head with a white beard, and as Ben pointed out, a broken white helmet as the hair. We could see the tragedy of Noah and the Ark, which used flat blue Lego pieces for the ocean, and detached heads bobbing, to illustrate how so many drowned in that great flood. We could witness the terrible death of Abel, whose red plastic neon blood trickled out on the ground. And yet, through it all, every face of every famous Biblical character bears the same innocent expression.

The ability to create worlds from something so basic and pure has converted me from Barbie fan to Lego fan. With Barbie, sure, it’s beautiful in a very easy, overt way. It’s too easy, though: everything is already right there. All you can really do is change the clothing or the hair or shoes. Fun, but after a while, it’s just dressing and undressing. We do it all the time. But with Legos, you can switch a head, pull the middle out, and you have a dwarf! Add a beard and a midsection, and you may have created God! With enough hair pieces, you can create your whole family. In a small, adorable way, Legos give us the first lesson about how we are all intricately related and important to each other; how we all have interchangable parts that add and detract from who we are; and how we all have good and bad in ourselves — it all depends on how we use it. What could be better than that?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Smush and Run


One of my oldest friends is NancyBea Miller, whom I went to Penn with. She is a wonderful artist and photographer, and the mother of three boys, like me. We also have autism in common. This post beautifully sums up living with boys and autism!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Narnia, Then and Now

For the last two weeks, my evenings have included a reentry into C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, courtesy of my two younger sons, Max and Ben. Ever since taking them to see the newest movie version of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Max (13) has been reading the books to Benj (7). They are using the paperback series that belonged to me when I was 13 and I first discovered the Narnia books.

I suppose the movie has been both panned and critically acclaimed, but I will add my two cents here, as a former communication major. The problem with the mode of film is that except in two very outstanding circumstances (Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz) it will always be a hopelessly distant second, in my mind, to a good book. When I read, I am free to visualize the faces, imagine the voices, the smells, the feel of the characters and places. But a movie is more often than not imprisoned rather than set free by the director’s vision. Narnia, for example, was one of my all-time favorites. It was an entire universe created for me, I felt. I knew exactly what Lewis meant when he said that Aslan was too terrible to look upon. (By the way, I did not think, “Oh, yeah, like the face of God.” I took this for what Lewis wrote: Aslan was good and great beyond imagining, and I loved and looked forward to any mention of Aslan in the books. Did this make me a God-fearing Christian? No. I never knew this was a Christian allegory until I was an adult, and I still prefer my own interpretation to that one.) So how does the movie version portray Aslan? A huge lion with the voice of Liam Neeson. ‘Fraid not! And you could look right at him — no problem! Well, what did I expect, that they would use some blinding special effect? That would have been worse! But that is my point: a movie always has to choose between some lame special effect stunt or some overt recreation, the latter of which is what they did here. It is more the fault of the medium rather than the directors.

To the directors’ credit, the movie was a fairly literal adaptation of the book. Maybe that’s why I can’t say that I loved it. It had none of the book’s magic, and again, that is not the movie’s fault, but the medium’s constraint. For Disney, they showed admirable restraint in use of special effects, except for the overly-cutified talking Beaver couple; I practically expected Mr. Beaver to turn and wink at the audience at one point! Using Tilda Swinton for the White Witch was brilliant, however, because she had a very quietly seductive evil about her which was perhaps even better than Lewis’ own White Witch. I wanted to see far more of the White Witch, and was disappointed with how quickly she lost her hold on the world — literally the whole place dissolved into mush fairly rapidly once the four Pevensie kids showed up (and what was with that earth-toned Santa? My poor overly-literal Benji reasoned, “Maybe he is just the Narnia Santa, not the real one.”)

Max, who is a moviemaker already, has been fairly silent on the matter of the new film. Two years ago, he worked out and then described an entire trailer, shot-by-shot, of what his Narnia movie would be. Something with just flashes of a snowy world, a wardrobe opening, and the very last shot was a hint of Aslan. Just a hint. It took my breath away. I wanted to see Max’s Narnia movie so badly. To me, his version carried with it exactly the mystery, thrill, and magic that a Narnia film should have. His intelligence and sensitivity are just right for transferring this complicated imagery and plot onto film and I just could not wait for him to be old enough to make that movie. When he found out that Disney now owned the rights, both our hearts sank. But who knows? By the time he is grown up, perhaps he will have a shot at a remake.

The best thing about the Narnia movie is that it got my two boys to read the real books, together. And I get to listen, be my young self, and fall in love with one of the greatest stories ever, all over again.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

God Bless Disney

Yes, that is what I said. It is so easy to dislike Disney and all the homogenous, saccharine, low-level stuff that they churn out year after year. The heavy-handed bad guys, the doe-eyed nubile females, the stereotypical housewives, henpecked husbands, hapless monarchs, evil queens. But when your kid loves that stuff, in the pure and honest way that they do, it is hard to continue to be so sophisticated and stick to your story.

Nat and I have been plowing through a Disney bedtime storybook, and tonight we were on The Little Mermaid. Nat was in fine form. I think he’s a bit hot for Ms. Ariel, frankly: who can blame him, with that little purple bikini top and the way she does those backflips all over the place? And what about the fact that she’s naked when she is finally given legs? Nice the way Disney skims right past that and she ends up wrapped in a man’s shirt. But I digress. He made no mistakes at all and read with a loud, clear voice — so unusual to hear his voice pronouncing words that I can understand. He even corrected himself sometimes in a way that told me he really understood what he was reading. I was so excited that I started singing The Little Mermaid song, “Part of that world.” Just as when he was little, I sang a few lines and left the last line blank on purpose, to seduce him into singing with me. And he did! I said, “Nat, let’s sing it together.” And so we both sang it, at the top of our lungs! He was very excited, clapping his hands, flapping. He almost didn’t like it, he was so twitchy, but I think I stretched it to the point where he still could bear it. At the end I hugged him. It was truly wonderful. Tonight, I was “part of his world,” and he was part of mine.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Chosen

Contrary to the popular bits of wisdom floating around the special needs world, I have come to believe that my son’s autism is not some Blessed Journey I have been chosen for or Sent on — not that there’s anything wrong with it, as Jerry Seinfeld would say. I am writing this with a big sigh and a full heart, because I certainly have thought all those things, and glommed onto them at one time or another in my hour of need.

But coming to terms with Nat’s differences (the most obvious one of which is his fairly severe degree of autism) is a moving target. When he was little, the coming to terms was about finding out what the heck was making my child unable to enter new places, or play with toys in a conventional way. When he was seven, we grappled with his waking up every other night laughing hysterically, unable to get back to sleep. When he was ten, the coming to terms was about figuring out why he was aggressive seemingly out of the blue at times. When he hit puberty, I found myself dealing with teaching a teenage boy the rules of privacy.

But here’s a bit of perspective that has recently occurred to me: it has taken me much longer coming to terms with my own quirks and issues. I have been struggling for twenty years with certain discouraging tendencies in my personality, and have had to learn the hard way what my life’s lessons might be. That’s a lot longer than anything I’ve had to deal with regarding Nat. So given the logic that maybe I was “chosen” to be Nat’s parent so that I could give him an allegedly good life or so that I could learn things that perhaps my soul needed to learn — wouldn’t it then also be true that I was chosen to occupy this particularly challenging mind of mine? Yet no one thinks to say that to me.

Last night Nat and I were reading together, and it was very enjoyable. It is not always this way for me, because of the way Nat struggles over words that I thought he knew already and he spaces out and it takes a really long time to get through a Level 2 story. But last night I had a lot of time, nothing pressing to do, and I relaxed, which was easy because Nat was smiling as we began Peter Pan. He was pretty animated (for him) as he read, and nice and loud (sometimes he will only whisper the words). As I looked at him, my mind traveled back to a vision of Toddler Nat, and how delightfully cute he was, and how often we read together back then. Suddenly my mind melded the two images of Nat, and just connecting them together, I felt supremely happy. I realized that at that moment, it did not matter at all that Nat and I have a lot of challenges to get through, together and alone. All that mattered was that he was still Nat, the same boy that I loved so easily when he was patently adorable, before I knew about autism. He is the same boy, and that is all the Life Lessons I really needed last night.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Kind of Joke I Love

Many of us know the joke about the Communist named Rudolph who was very good at determining the weather, where the punchline is “Rudolph, the Red, Knows Rain, Dear.” I made this one up as I sweated over this past week’s Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle:
What did Venus say to her musical instrument when she realized that the god of revelry was, at last, in love himself?
Lyre, lyre
Pan’s on fire!
Anyone got any others they’ve made up?

Friday, January 6, 2006

Just the Facts, Ma’am(ogram)

I received notice of my upcoming annual mammogram and it sent me into my usual state of dread associated with anything medical/unpleasantly scary/slightly painful. I wrote this a few years ago after a particularly unusual waiting room experience.

Granted, sitting in the waiting room during a mammogram appointment is no time to be making observations of human behavior. Then again, what could be a better circumstance for studying oneself and others under stress? So there I was, clad in the ill-fitting hospital johnny, a fittingly uncomfortable attire for a thoroughly discomfiting experience. (And why is it called “johnny” anyway, as if it were some kind of friendly buddy you hang out with — oh, now I get it!) Awaiting the mammogram is always unpleasant, however, and I would not expect this year’s experience to be any different than last. You read; you wait; you get squeezed; you wait; you maybe get squeezed more; you wait. It’s a lonely, boring, anxiety-producing event that must be endured for the sake of one’s health.

I sat down the requisite several seats away from anyone else. The two other woman-islands each held a magazine and seemed dutifully engrossed. I chose a magazine too, checked my watch and waited. I swallowed down my nervousness and began flipping aimlessly through the pages. It was so quiet in there all I could hear were the crackling noises I made with my magazine, an outdated one I would never have otherwise read under any other circumstances.

The door to the examining rooms opened and I paid careful attention to whom was chosen, because this would tell me our order. Okay, Tall Thin Woman will go before Short Young Woman, and then me. I covertly looked at the two of them, struck as always by how odd it was that we were all waiting for the exact same unpleasant thing and praying for the same outcome: Let it be fast, and let it be normal. Yet never in a million years would we all talk to each other about how we were feeling. I think the indignity of the johnny maybe keeps you from talking together the way you might in an ob/gyn’s office. Some of your humanity is taken away by the fact that you’re all wearing the same top. And a mammogram appointment is so serious. It’s embarrassing, too: the nudity, the handling of one’s body parts like slabs of meat.
So all you want is simplicity, speed, and accuracy. Just the facts, nothing complicated.

In came a woman in her mid-sixties. As usual, I began to block out the nurse’s repeated speech about the fact that you must take your pocketbook with you, but leave your clothing from above the waist in the lockers. Very obvious stuff. But then something different happened: the woman questioned the nurse. She made a joke.
“Did you say, take the locker with me?”
The nurse seemed baffled. “No, take your pocketbook with you. Keep your clothes in the locker.”
“Oh! Ha! I thought you said, ‘Take the locker.’ I knew it didn’t make sense.” She said this laughing as she came in and threw herself into a chair, which was perilously close to Tall Thin Woman, who looked up, alarmed by the disruption in the proximity rule. And then the woman kept talking. “Let’s share this chair here, nobody’s gonna want to sit here, anyway!” She plopped her handbag down next to the other woman’s, on the empty chair between them. The rest of us looked up, flustered by all the conversation, and momentarily thrown off our routine of suffering silently.

We all resumed reading. Then, an elderly woman, in her late 70’s, came in. She took a seat and accidentally knocked a magazine onto the floor. “Oh, my! I have the dropsies today!” she exclaimed, to no one in particular. However, she happened to be one chair away from Talkative Woman, who perked up right away.

“Oh, that’s okay,” answered Talkative. “You just have short legs, that’s all,” gesturing to the woman’s lap.
“You know, you’re so right!” And so they began a weird but friendly conversation, showing each other their magazines, commenting on the men in the pages. It was so out of the ordinary, all I could do at first was feel distracted. The old woman’s johnny had flapped open a little bit, revealing her tiny bird-like neck bones, and causing a small wave of pity mixed with irritation to wash over me. I didn’t want to see her! I didn’t want to hear her. I didn’t want to know about her or anyone else. I just wanted to get through this. But she was making me aware of her as a person with her talk and her fragile neck. They both were! Who talked in a mammogram waiting room? I wanted to enjoy my nervous time in quiet peace! As they talked, I tried to concentrate on my important article about this spring’s “in” colors, but I found I could not. Their silly conversation kept breaking in.

And just like that, it all shifted for me, like ice melting inside. The cold grip of worrying loosened as I was forced to listen to their light-hearted conversation about nothing at all, their determined refusal to be reduced by fear and convention. I smiled then, realizing how ridiculous I was. Good for them, I thought. They would not squander their time, keeping it all inside, worrying in solitude, like the rest of us. These two women had somehow bridged the waiting room divide, and in doing so, had created a pleasant bubble around them, a soft spot in between hard moments. I kept stealing glances at the two comrades-in-johnnies, realizing that I, too, wanted to relax and chat with someone like they were, the bosom buddies, and maybe forget for a moment why I was here. And their distracting chatter had done that for me, just a little bit.

Then it was my turn to hear my results. I forgot everything else, and dropped my magazine on the table, walking towards the door in dread. The doctor gave me a quick summary: Everything is okay, come back in a year. I stood there breathing deeply, feeling the sweet air of summer even though it was February. I felt as if I had been given at least one more year to live; I suppose in a way, I had. One out of ten, after all. Or is it worse by now?

I left the waiting room in a happy blur. As I swept up my things, I never once looked back at the two women. My stint was done, after all. I had gotten what I had come for, and in the end, that was all I cared about. But after I had settled back into my life’s routines, the euphoria of my normal mammogram having worn off, I thought about the two women, and how they had broken through my nervous haze and brought me a modicum of comfort just by getting me to listen to them for a few minutes. I thought about how many waiting room hours of my life I have already given up to the worthless pinch of anxiety, when maybe they could have been eased by a little banter with strangers going through the exact same thing. A little shared comfort. What would it have been like for me if I had connected with those two women, the way they had with each other? If more of us could just talk in there, acknowledge our common plight, and let off some of the steam before hearing the news from the doctor. Maybe then the whole waiting ordeal would become a little less of a black hole in our days.

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Bruno Bettelheim Pans Me

I found the following review of my book on Amazon today:

Senator’s approach to autism has been obsolete for 4 years. It may be well-intentioned but totally misses what needs to be learned by parents to help their kids. Any parent who is not chelating their autistic child is dooming that child to a horrible existence that might be avoided. No parent should ever accept autism since it is really mercury poisoning and the proper treatment is to remove the mercury as soon as possible.

It was signed “Bruno Bettelheim.”
I can’t think of a more stupidly ironic way to critique my book. Cowardly, also: why not sign your real name, if this is what you believe? Confusing, too: why obsolete for four years? Anyway, Bruno Bettelheim, originator of the Refrigerator Mother theory of the autism is probably the most obsolete of autism theorists, and responsible for more suffering on the part of autism families because of its hurtful blaming of mothers. PBS recently did a well-received movie that documented this pain.

Is there a way that we can learn to have multiple opinions about autism parenting co-exist without reviling those who believe differently from us? My thing is about acceptance and living with difference, in finding happiness in the unexpected. In finding a way to connect with people who behave and express themselves differently from me, and finding the good in them. If I don’t happen to believe that a vaccine, a virus, or poor parenting caused my son’s autism, if instead, I focus on how to strengthen our connection and his skills, how can that possibly be construed as wrong?

The energy taken to hate and rant against my viewpoint is much better spent helping your own child, or better yet, yourself in learning how to be happy in this difficult and beautiful life.

As Voltaire’s Candide said, “Tend your own garden.” And be judicious with your use of manure.

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Caller ID, Ego, and Superego

Can I confess something strange? I am in love with Caller ID. But it may not be a relationship that’s good for me.

A phone service monogamist, I had no idea what I was missing with only a Basic Plan. I signed up for Caller ID, agreeing eagerly to the extra $7.50 a month because I, like most other people I know, needed to screen my calls. And then – why not, with the zeal of the new convert I sprung for “Call Waiting,” for the further convenience of being able to get out of calls I didn’t want to be in. And of course, in case my kids needed me.

I was thrilled the first time my phone rang and I saw the name and number of the caller spelled out. Aha! I didn’t want to talk to her! And I didn’t; I pretended I wasn’t home. I let Voice Mail get it. I was immediately struck by this new dishonesty in my life. Voice Male is like the guy in your life you maybe can take for granted, always there, waiting for you to come back to him, to listen to, delete, or repeat as often as you like. I waited until it started in with its tumescent red flashing and then I listened to the message. And so it began. Caller Id was causing me to cheat and lie. But it was a small price to pay for this heady freedom from unwanted conversations.

And just when I thought things couldn’t get better for me, Caller Id revealed the tantalizing feature,“Private Caller.” Oooooh, how exciting. But then I later learned that many others whom I do not want to talk to have unlisted numbers, too. I realized that I would have to answer the call of the Private Caller, and not know whom or what I was getting. So I learned the hard way that Caller Id could be a tease.

Then I saw more of its flaws when in the middle of an engrossing phone call I was punched in the ear by a dissonant beep and momentarily lost all connection with my caller. It was Call Waiting, interrupting like your mom, checking up on you. For this I had shelled out $4.00 a month?

And then came that noncommittal little item called “Out of Area.” ????? The first few were telemarketers, so I would not answer Out of Area. But the next Out of Area turned out to be a colleague calling with something urgent and she had to leave a message. Oh, evasive little calling package! And so now I would have to shell out an additional $5.00 monthly for “Call Intercept” if I really wanted this relationship to work.

Should I break up and scrap the whole Caller Id thing? No. Because when it works, Caller Id gives me a sense of control over an otherwise highly chaotic, demanding world. And without it, I would be forced to talk on the phone more. And that would mean less time to spend on the really important things in life, like checking email.

I won’t even begin to get into my sick, masochistic relationship with E Male…

Monday, January 2, 2006

Bloodsucker Pinch

Who knows?
I thought I was homefree. I thought vacation was almost over, and that we’d done okay, considering all the down time for Nat and my abysmal lack of planning. I suppose that is part of it; could there be any parent more ill-matched for a structure-and-consistency-loving autistic son than I, an impulsive, in-the-moment, mood-swinging’ gal?

I was patting myself on the back for having gotten Nat five days of activities with people he enjoys. S took him running one day, to McDonald’s another day, and shooting hoops another day, all with ice cream at the end. And M took Nat to the Aquarium yesterday, and then to see one of those 3-D movie shows where the seats actually move, Disney-style. Each day I was told that Nat “did great, really enjoyed himself.”

Not only that: we also baked a gingerbread house and decorated it, and I’ve been letting him eat it over a period of days.

So we decided, spur-of-the-moment, to spend our last dinner of vacation at Bertucci’s, so that I wouldn’t have to cook, because I hate cooking for my children, who hate everything I make except for noodles and chicken nuggets. I make other meals, but I get so sick of having them grimace. Restaurants are one of the few activities we can do as a family successfully. I have always been proud of how my boys behave well in a restaurant. As toddlers, I never let them run around the way so many people do. They played with the toys they had brought and sat nicely in their chairs. And now, they are still well-behaved in restaurants. Nat, in particular does extremely well, even orders for himself sometimes.

Maybe it was because I made Nat tie his own shoes. He likes the way I do it, nice and tight. Maybe it was because Ned cautioned him not to open his door too quickly so as to avoid dinging the car parked next to us. Whatever it was, Nat went into Bertucci’s pinching. Ned kept taking him outside, or sitting him down. Ned was really in control, more than I would have been.

But we thought Nat was okay, which he was not, when we got to the table (a different one than usual, oh no). Nat pinched Max really hard and made a welt on his arm, and some blood. Max was trying not to cry. Ned took Nat outside. Everyone was watching us, or so I felt. I had to keep leaving Max and Ben to check on Ned and Nat. Thank God Max is old enough for that, but still, how terrible to have to be strong and in charge when you want to just scream and cry about your awful older brother.

What could I say, to make it better? I told Nat to apologize, which he did. He even bent to kiss Ned’s hand, for some reason, God bless him. I stroked Max’s hand, but he is a huge thirteen-year-old; does he want his mother to do that? I talked about how awful this was, and how sorry I was. But do my apologies just make him feel sick, or guilty? Where does it all go? He sat there with the ice on his arm while we ordered drinks.

I told them a story of how when I was a kid, my sister and I stayed at my aunt and uncle’s house for a weekend and we discovered that we had no toothpaste in our bathroom. We started to fight about who would have to ask them for the toothpaste, since for some reason we both felt too shy to do it. We ended up in a huge fight, with Laura pinching my arm so hard that I had a welt, similar to Max’s. I told him we called these “bloodsucker pinches,” and he smiled a little bit. I said it is the kind of pinch brothers and sisters specialize in.

I also said that I think I was a little luckier because my sister felt awful a few moments later about what she had done. But then I looked at Nat, who was looking down at his placemat. I said, “Well, who knows? He may be feeling pretty bad, too.”

But does that help? What helps? Why did it happen in the first place? Who knows?