Susan's Blog

Monday, August 14, 2006

Life Force

When I was a kid, I spent a few weeks some summers with my sister Laura, my grandma (Esther), and her sisters (Pearl, Henrietta, and Ethel). We stayed at a bungalow colony in the Catskills, in New York State. There was a game hall with pinball, a snack bar with frozen Milky Ways and ice cream, and a cold pool that was so mossy it was almost more of a pond. There were other kids but mostly they were snotty Long Islanders. Laura and I kept to ourselves, and had plenty to do. Dad left us with a handful of change on Grandma’s dresser and everyday I took fifteen cents for a frozen Milky Way and we always had at least one ice cream. Sometimes we picked blueberries (“huckleberries” with Uncle Herman, Aunt Pearl’s husband) and later ate them with sour cream. Laura remembers not showering for a whole week! I remember a deep tub and a pink shower curtain, however.

We also went on the swings and jumped off, even though Grandma said not to, and once my shorts fringe caught on the swing and I was just hanging from it! I tore a piece off in time to avoid the yelling. It was always a bit odd visiting Grandma. Nothing seemed quite right. The food was weird (“minute steaks?”) and the adults were all from the Old Country (Poland/Russia, depending on the era) and back then they all seemed out of it culturally, like they didn’t know anything about our music or t.v. or Barbies. But I do remember Aunt Pearl polishing her toenails with bright orangy-pink, a color I now like to use. I remember how much fun it was playing “Fishies” with Uncle Herman in the pool. And Grandma was a force of nature, with a huge temper, a passionate heart, and a great love of anything pink.

One icky, questionable thing: when Mom and Dad left, they gave me instructions to play “at least one” game of Monopoly a day with Laura. They gave her no such instructions about playing pretend games with me. I seethed about the Monopoly ukaze, but obeyed nevertheless.

To this day, I still hate playing board games. (Right now Ben, Ned, Max, and Dad are playing Chinese Checkers and nobody expects me to play. YAY!) But the thing is, I do wonder about what my parents were thinking when they did this. I asked them about it today. It seems to have to do with what they perceived our needs to be. It is hard to talk about it, because there is the whole conflict I feel about not having had my gaming needs met — although I’m pretty much over it by now! What I believe is that — right or wrong — they viewed me as being the stronger one in this case, and that I therefore needed to help Laura.

I think it is good to view each child individually and address his needs accordingly. But this particular games thing did not feel good to me. I find I am wondering about this philosophy of parenting, however, because lately it is really upsetting to me to see Nat left out so much around his puppy brothers. Max and Ben enjoy each other’s company so much, and Nat is so difficult to engage, that they mostly just play with each other and not with him. But I have been feeling lately like this is wrong, and I would like to change it. But, this runs counter to my usual parenting instinct, which is not to force things socially (because I was forced to play Monopoly with Laura).

But what about the other things Mom and Dad insisted on? I feel differently, for instance, about forcing chores and helping. Everyone has to help. They all have to learn how to perform tasks in this world, and in their family. Mom and Dad made Laura and me do many jobs: mowing, raking, weeding, trash, dusting, vacuuming, laundry, cooking. I learned how to run a household this way. And now, I really know how to take care of a lawn and garden, and I love to. I am proud of what a balabusta I am, too. And that’s because Mom had me cook and clean.

Then, there’s the fitness thing. Dad and Mom also forced us to exercise. Freshman year of high school, I had to run track, and to learn how to become a runner (not one and the same thing). I did not like it at first, but I learned. I then learned to play field hockey, too. With reference to it, I began to see myself as a fit person. And now — I would never question the need for exercise. It is always with me, like the need to eat or sleep. That’s because of my parents. But I hated running back then.

So, knowing how, with most things I was forced to do as a kid, I learned later to like them, I am thinking that it is okay to force Max and Ben to do a little with Nat socially, in the hope that one day it will not feel like a chore, but more like a natural part of life.

I told them the other day that I was going to be asking them to include Nat a little each day. I was met with dead silence. I told them that I know it was hard and not really fun, but that I felt that Nat really needed their help and was possibly lonely. I think they need to know this and to learn a little about helping him, just as they need to learn how to do math or how to read. Even more important than that, Nat is a part of their lives and they can find a connecting piece to him if they interact a little more with him. But at first, it may just feel resentful and like a chore, the way yardwork used to feel to me. The way visiting my Grandma sometimes felt: weird and out of the norm. But now, when I think of the sunny days in that slightly ramshackle cottage in the meadows, and Grandma making me the darkest chocolate milk ever, I am really thankful that my parents threw us all together. Although I could have done without the Monopoly so much.


Good that you’re working on your kids do stuff togethor now. They’ll appreciate that when they get older.

A snotty Lawnguylander?!? Perish the thought! As a former one of those I agree there are pockets of snoot!

— added by Someone Said on Monday, August 14, 2006 at 7:09 pm

you really have touched on an important part of “living with Autism”: 1.) inclusion of that person on the spectrum. 2.)Suggesting that Nat is capable (and he is) of having an awareness of exclusion and lonlyness…Excellent observations..all that you speak of is the true core of behavioral therapy…Sounds like your parents and you and ned set limits, boundries, goals and expectations of your children and as I result lessons are learned and memories are made…Good luck with this, not easy but it is the right thing!

I Believe that the fact that your particular needs may have not been met specifically as a child or even as an adult (at times) make you more empathetic to the needs of your children in a time in their lives when they need you most…

— added by Kristen on Monday, August 14, 2006 at 9:25 pm

As a mother of 6 year old triplets, our darling Benjamin on the spectrum, when we can, insist that Sam and Isabel include Benjamin in their play. When they are frustrated with him, we redirect them, with empathy- acknowledging their frustration, but telling them they have to put it aside, because this is how life is, helping those who need it, accepting and embracing Benjamin for who he is, no less a human being than any of us, an equal. We will not allow Benjamint to feel that he is alone- he isn’t, he has a family.


ps- I also hated board games, wish my parents had insisted I play!

— added by Anonymous on Tuesday, August 15, 2006 at 6:15 pm

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