Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

One of my pre-recession pleasures in life used to be curling up on the sofa with a glossy magazine and a small vat of tea.

I made happy sighing noises at the sheer gorgeousness of the perfect life that was just within my grasp...all I needed was a credit card and a shopping list of this season's must-haves (be it phones, clothes, cars...take your pick).  These lovely, shiny pages promised me I could be young/thin/rich/healthy/calm/clever while effortlessly being a gourmet chef/chic home-maker/wise parent.
Easy.

It was also nice to have an accommodating bank manager who flung loans at us like confetti.
("a new computer?? Of COURSE you must have the latest fuel-injected, leather-upholstered, platinum-plated laptop that a  family of fourteen could happily live in...or is that a car?  I get confused...have some money anyway!!") .


Then the recession happened.
In the space of a few months all our dreams of owning cars with silly names evaporated into the ether along with the collective conscience of the money lenders.
Hell, I even stopped buying my glossies to make sure we could pay the phone bill.
(I still had lots of tea, though...it would be MADNESS to give that up.)

Yesterday I had a precious few hours to myself, and I decided to have a browse in the newsagent.

It's amazing how much perspective a little distance can give you.
I was horrified and a little disgusted at the magazines I used to hold up as my bar for things to aspire to.
Without exception, they all imply that there is something wrong with our lives.
The covers scream that unless we are having raunchy al fresco (*cough*) relations  with a flamenco dancer while tapping business deals into our blackberries that we are a poor excuse for a modern woman.  They accuse us of (*gasp*) looking less than perfect in public. They insinuate that our child-rearing/ cooking/house-keeping (*OK...anyone who has ever lived with me has permission to laugh freely here*) skills   would put Rosemary West to shame.

A perception of happiness is heavily marketed  by the glossies.
They  peddle aching self-doubt that we try to soothe by galloping out to buy, buy, buy.




Now most of us can't buy these things any more, and I don't know about you, but it doesn't make me feel any different.
I still like to look nice and try hard to care for my family.
But I can nip over to the petrol station for milk at 7.30am without a hair-do and full make-up.  If I frighten the guy behind the counter that's his business.
I can still enjoy the gym without believing it's all utterly pointless unless I achieve a bum like Kylie's and a waist like Cheryl's.



Hmmm.  I'm getting an idea for a brand new glossy.
It's called "Buying Junk Doesn't Make You Happy.  Have a Cup Of Tea Instead".
Catchy, no?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Southern Exposure

Bob and his big sister were invited to a birthday party yesterday at a really nice play-centre-type-place.
I was a little anxious as I wasn't familiar with the place and didn't have much time to prepare for the party.
And I'm not the one with autism.

So Big Sister catapulted herself into a small tornado of 10 year olds, and wasn't spotted in civilised society for three happy hours.

Meanwhile my understanding friends weren't offended at my poor conversation skills, lack of eye contact and intense focus on the whereabouts of Bob, as I busily frustrated his plans for escape.
(again, I'm not the one with autism, etc, etc)

He navigated  three dizzy tiers of the soft play area like a pro, and shot down the slides like a joyful little cannon.
All the while he was watching for an opportunistic open gate, a chink in the netting, or a strategically placed chair against a railing, so he could make a mad dash for freedom.

But he knew this wasn't gonna happen with B#*chMother on patrol.
So what's an autie kid to do???

He climbed to the top tier, accessible only to those under 3 feet tall, with the litheness of a mountain goat.
And stripped off.
He dangled his crown jewels and aired his peachy little bottom to the world at large, safe in the knowledge that  B#*chMother could not thwart his happy exposure.

I had to wait, head in hands, until he descended the slide in all his splendour.

So he was re-dressed, re-educated in the niceties of social decorum and finally re-released (that's a word, OK?) into his natural habitat of a soft play area full of juvenile delinquents.

And then he stripped off again.
In the top tier.

This time there was less discussion and more delivery of information, along the vein of "Three strikes and you're out!".




Bob remained suited and booted for the remainder of the party, and sat peacefully while he ate his chips and juice.



There were no further incidents of anti-social behaviour, but he had about him an air of quiet satisfaction that his work here was done.

(p.s thanks to Lavinia for including Bob in the guest list...next time lets go to a nudist beach tho)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Growing Up





Today I had a quick glance over my shoulder at the strides Bob has taken over the last 12 months.
As a rule I try not to look too far forwards, or too far back, as it only tends to result in fear and sorrow

But this was a happy exception to my rule.

This occasion was prompted by Bob's recent, ridiculously gorgeous, school photo (I won't even pretend to be modest here), which I put beside a family picture taken at his big sister's communion last year.

The chubby faced baby being strong-armed into sitting still for half a second 12 short months ago, is now a proper slugs and snails and puppy dogs' tails little boy.
His face is narrower, he is a good deal taller and no-one had to manacle him in a headlock to snap his portrait.




Now that Bob has acquired the sage wisdom of a 6 year old, he can boast several new strings to his uniquely autie bow;


He is toilet trained.
Those four small words belie the two years of sheer torture it took us to get there. 
And now that we're finally here, I really, really don't want to look back.
So lets move on.

He is having make-believe conversations on the phone.
It's mostly 'Bob The Builder' related echolalia, but he's very happy to include us in his games.
This is huge for an autie kid.

He learned to google his favourite cartoons on YouTube, often in French and Spanish (which we find wryly comical, given that he still hasn't mastered English), and can navigate his way around a laptop with professional ease.
Just like his mother...
(who thinks there's nothing wrong with parchment and carrier pigeons).





He is copying dances from cBeebies , and is learning to say "hello" and shake peoples' hands when he meets them.

He is definite in his likes and dislikes, and has no trouble saying a loud and clear "NO" when the item on offer fails to meet his precise specifications, kinda  like a mini Man From Delmonte.

He can usually go to sleep without an adult lying beside him.

He understands that sometimes he has to complete something he perceives as unpleasant (like homework, or hand-washing) to earn a reward.








When he's playing with his toy Iggle Piggle and Upsey Daisy (from 'In The Night Garden' for those of you under 30 or over 50), he makes them give each other "star hugs".

He can read simple sentences and add numbers up to five.

He wasn't doing any of these things one year ago.

Living in anything but the present can be a dangerous occupation for an autie parent but, now and again, it is surprisingly sweet to indulge in a little retrospection.


I'm not trying to give the impression that Bob is anything other than a fabulously nutty, clever little dynamo who considers clothes little more than a nuisance, and sitting still as an utter waste of time.
He was, is and always will be a sailor on the good ship Autism, but how he is learning to adapt to survive in a world he is overwhelmed by, is as close we can get to the miraculous.












Friday, July 2, 2010

Food...The Final Frontier

Anyone who has a child on the autistic spectrum will know what it's like to have issues (or as I prefer to call them screaming bouts of frothing hysteria) with food.
Actually, scratch that...anyone with children will know what it's like.

I have a 13 year old neuro-typical son (if it's not  against the law to apply that term to a teenager) who has retreated, permanently it would seem, to his bedroom/cave to communicate solely with other pubescent lifeforms dwelling in the netherworld of the Xbox.
He emerges occasionally to grunt  in the direction of food before shambling back into his darkened lair.
Many years ahead I expect to see a 6ft bearded stranger, wearing a suit and polished shoes, to materialize from that room, blinking in the sunlight, with a career, a briefcase and quite possibly a wife.
He will speak in full sentences and occasionally trim his nails.
Until that day, I can with confidence reveal that the smell of teen spirit is a heady concoction of armpits, hair gel and mouldy socks.
In the meantime I appear to be fueling this painfully slow metamorphosis with small mountains of tasteless carbs and monosodium glutamate.


I have a 10 year old neuro-typical daughter who I like to describe as a Hannah Montana/Vivienne Westwood wardrobe explosion.  She has a cool eccentricity I hope she always manages to hold onto.
She is also painfully skinny.
The belts we buy to hold up her jeans have to be punctured 1/2  the way up to secure them around her teeny tiny tummy.
She eats ridiculously healthy food (fruit, veg, meat) not because she thinks she should, but because she really likes it...but she doesn't do carbs.
Bread, pasta and rice are artfully moved around her plate and she has perfected the art of whisking her plate to the sink and throwing a "thanks I'm finished" over her shoulder as she vanishes out the door.
That girl can move fast.

My 6 year old autie son will eat anything, just so long as it's mashed potatoes with beans.
Sometimes he'll push the boat out and risk some weetabix, or a few chips but that's the breadth of his culinary adventures.
He is a dedicated  apostle of all things puréed, and in his opinion, fruit and veg are just silly.

So, every so often I indulge in a nice little worry about their nutrition and health and try to figure out where their food issues (*cough* neuroses) arise from.

I don't have to go far to find the answer.

I have a bad relationship with food, and really only cook when starvation is imminent.
It is definitely more Gordon Ramsay than Jamie Oliver in my kitchen.
If I could cook with the same passion as I  swear at the shrink wrapping on frozen pizza, then gastronomic bliss would reign in our house.




So I asked myself, what exactly do I not like about food.
I like how it looks and smells, and I love to eat it....but I realised that I don't like to touch it.
Slicing chicken fillets make my toes curl, rubbing butter into flour fills me with sticky horror, and mixing anything doughy, meaty or gelatinous with my bare hands makes my heart race (and not in a good way).

(those pesky scientists who hypothesise that there is a genetic element to autism couldn't possibly be right, could they???)


Myself, Himself, Bob's teachers, sna's, occupational therapist, speech therapist, stylist (OK, he doesn't have a stylist...I was just checking that you were paying attention), friends, Romans and countrymen are all working towards Bob overcoming his sensory issues.
He has come a long way in three years, and can now tolerate walking on grass and sand, and not only will he touch play dough but he can finger paint and play with shaving foam (sometimes on the bathroom wall with his Daddy's best Nivea stuff, but that's another story).

So it's a bit rich for me to avoid cooking because food makes me squirm, when a young autistic child can successfully do battle, David and Goliath style, with a whole host of sensory issues.

So this evening I took a deep breath and baked a loaf of bread.
I haven't eaten it yet, but I don't really care if it could be used as a breeze block to build a pier in the North Atlantic.
The fact is I got dough under my fingernails and toughed out the screaming urge to scrub them with surgical spirits.



All thanks to my autie kid's stubbornness tenacity igniting a spark of domestic inspiration in me, myself and my family might be eating better in the future.
Unless the demand for breeze blocks increases.