Remember the Magic words, Please and Thank You…unless you’re Autistic.

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Alexis and BenBen / Photo by KidZond.

By Js Kendrick

 

I had a little eye opener yesterday at my daughter’s therapy session. We were discussing her habit of not saying ‘Please’ or ‘Thank You’. I found it rather odd that she seems to refuse to say these common niceties. The reason behind her refusal has always eluded me.

I was raised saying Please and Thank You, my Mother had always demanded courtesy from us, and it would even go so far as to not pass a dish at the dinner table because I didn’t say ‘please’. This was how I was raised, and of course, this is how I raise my children. Even my eldest daughter has carried on this courtesy with her children. I wouldn’t say our family is obsessive about it, but good manners usually opens doors in life. People appreciate being treated politely.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise at my consternation when my youngest daughter would refuse to say those words. She has had this habit for as long as I can remember. When she was younger, I didn’t put much thought into it. Four year olds tend to forget, so you remind them. However it was around seven that I noticed she refused to say Thank You. Please would only come out on rare occasions. I worked with her, withholding items till she said the magic words, but she only did it begrudgingly.

It was last year, when she was eight, that the problem became more than learning, more than some sort of joke to her. She wouldn’t say it for the life of her. Alexis seemed more upset that I wanted her to say Please and Thank You, than I was she didn’t.

“Alexis, if you want me to get you a glass of milk, say the magic word.” I would say. Then one day she looked at me and said the magic word.

“Abracadabra.” She said. I laughed, probably shouldn’t have, but it was funny. That became her ‘Please’. She started to use the magic word every time.

I still worked on Please, even discussed with her that while Abracadabra is the ‘magic’ word it wasn’t what I meant by magic word. But to Alexis, Abracadabra is the factual magic word. 

The term “Magic Words” came from my mother. When my sister Karen was going to Kindergarten there was a sign above the classroom door.

“Remember the Magic Words: Please and Thank You!” 

My mother, always into manners, remembered that phrase and quoted it often. My mother was no Miss Manners, but she did believe in being polite. Until she was mad, then it was best to run. politeness took a backseat for a bit.

I’m not sure how my mother would have handled Alexis’ refusal to say Please and Thank You. Probably would have driven my mother mad I’m sure. I know Alexis drives her sister Jenelle mad by refusing to say those magic words. My grandson BenBen says Please and Thank You, as with other niceties, even as he is being a holy terror. Yet as he holds a bag of potato chips, that he had just dumped on her floor, he will say “I’m sorry”. Jenelle and BenBen are still working on those connections with being polite and acting polite.

Yet while in therapy, when Alexis refused to say Thank You when offered a page from a coloring book, I mentioned this peculiar habit to the therapist.

“Well it’s not literal. If you stop and think about it, why do we say Please and Thank You? It’s an emotional response, a social niceties, but it has no practical value.”

The therapist then went on to ask me if she says Please for specific items. Alexis will say Please for wanting specific things. Yet those are more built into our language. She knows to say Please if she wants us to buy her a toy, or to go to restaurant. However Thank You is harder. Because why do we have to say “Thank You”? What value is that phrase?

In reality, Please and Thank You have little value. Unless you look at it in the terms of socialization. We say these phrases, along with a host of others, to be nice to each other. Many of those phrases aren’t even practical. When you ask someone ‘How’s your day going?’ Rarely do you wish to know how their actual day is going. It’s just a common phrase we use as a greeting. You may exchange a few words, but a detail accounting of their day’s events isn’t expected as an answer.

If you have ever dealt with persons to whom English is a second language, even worse, American Slang as second (practically third) language. You have just had a taste of what it is like to talk to someone with autism.

Alexis isn’t being rude, it’s not like she doesn’t “Know Any Better”, it is simply that she finds such phrases and niceties absurd. Why? Why do we say Please? What is the value of Thank You?

For me, it may be a consternation. Raised with a mother who valued manners, who valued the Magic Words, and now with a daughter that finds such words absurd.

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Apples from a friend.

 

Take these apples in the picture above. As I was writing this blog, Alexis came in to show me them. The young neighbor girl brought over apples from their backyard tree. These two are for my son and grandson. As Alexis handed them to me, being very specific as to tell me which apple was for whom, I said…

“Did you tell her Thank You? Because that would be nice.” Alexis smiled at me like I was a half-wit. I could see her thinking ‘Why should I say Thank You? She gave them to me, I give her things too, we’re friends, that’s what we do.’ She just looked at me and walked off. I went outside to tell her friend ‘Thank You’ to which she replied ‘You’re Welcome’. Alexis looked on disinterested in this little exchange.

The Magic Words, as with many of our social niceties, open doors in life. They let people know you care, that you have empathy for them. From, “I’m sorry for your loss” to “Congratulations!” we use these phrases to let other know we care. Alexis cares, but finds our language to be a ‘bit much’.

So, I continue to look for the Rabbit Hole, hoping to find it. If for nothing more than to have her say those Magic Words.

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This may Bug you.

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Just a toad looking for a princess, in vain. / Photos by KidZond.

By Js Kendrick

 

I hope you like nature. As in bugs. This post has bugs, and toads, and a frog for fun. Creepy, icky, things, and children’s love of them, is what this post is about today. If you have children, or are thinking of having children. You might want to take notes.

Case in point, Mr. Toad (No not the one above) was a perennial visitor to our porch when my older daughters were younger. One night I stepped out and saw Mr. Toad just sitting there. I figured, hey! What a great learning experience! So I called out to my daughter Jenelle. She was about 4 at the time.

“Hey Jenelle, come see whose on the porch!” Being cutesy about it all.

Jenelle comes out, I point to Mr. Toad. Eyes grow wide, slight shake of the knees. Points inside the house. 

“I’m going inside now.” She announces in terror. Never to come out for the rest of the night.

She of course learned to love toads, frogs…well there was that poison dart frog she killed, but it was just a case of mistaken identity…and other creepy things when she was younger. Her sister Kayla too.

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Not a poison dart frog. And this lucky fellow lived. Jenelle didn’t stomp on him like she did his predecessor.

 

Kids generally do like the creepiest of things. Depending, certain creatures have to be explained. Like Harvest Mites, which look like a spider but aren’t. They’re pretty harmless unless your believe everything Abraham Lincoln posts on Facebook.

Over the years I’ve had the good luck to find critters and give my children a quick explanation on what they were and how they fit into our ecosystem. The migration of Monarch Butterflies is always an interesting tale for children. Also the story of the Viceroy Butterfly who mimics the Monarch is just as fascination. It’s a good lesson in deception that will help them later in life when they date.

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He was friendly. Toxic little sucker! Yes, Milkweed is very toxic.

 

One thing about my four children I did not expect was the boy. Now while each of his sisters didn’t mind bugs and other critters growing up, at 6 years of age, Nick is obsessed with them. He hunts them out and captures them only to ask me to identify them. I’m not an entomologist, nor am I a zoologist. So I have to give him some rules to follow.

1.) Don’t pick up anything you haven’t picked up before without my approval. Some may bite, sting, or suck your blood.

2.) Never pick up a wild animal. The key word is Wild and it will go bad quickly. Squirrels are not ‘pets’. If you see one hurt, get an adult.

3.) Baby birds are best left in their nests (He asked for me to take one down once) and if you find one on the ground. Leave it be. Especially if it is a BlueJay’s fledgling. Mom and Dad have very sharp beaks. I know this from personal experience.

4.) Definitely leave the black and white kitty with the bushy tail alone when you see them. You will regret it, and I do not stock that much tomato juice in the house.

5.) Sticks that move on their own are a type of insect. Walking Sticks. Branches that move on their own are called Snakes. Back away, don’t touch, tell a grown-up.

6.) Leave little bunnies alone. They aren’t abandoned, their mommies leave them in a safe place while they eat. They’re fine, exactly where they are at.

7.) That is not a loose dog, that is a coyote. He’s fine, keep your distance.

8.) No, you can not pet the wild turkeys.

9.) And finally, if you don’t know what it is, leave it be. Ask an adult.

10.) Oh! I’m not sure why there aren’t any cicadas in our yard this year, they go in cycles.

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Think Cicadas are bad? You should see the 3 inch long wasps that prey on them.

 

Explaining nature to kids is a fun thing to do. Yes, bugs can be creepy, slimy, icky, and yeah…nasty. But they open up a child’s mind to a bigger world. They learn that this planet is pretty big and we humans share it with a host of other critters. Some are nice, like our pet cats and dog. Others like bees and wasps have to be given their distance. Respect them and they will respect you. Except Honey Badgers, they don’t respect anything. Please note, Honey Badgers are not indigenous to the Americas, Europe or Australia. Be thankful for that. My sincerest best wishes never to meet one for the rest of the world.

The trick of course is cute does not equal safe. Black Bears are very cute looking. But they are still a bear. Many people get tricked by that every year. YouTube is full of videos that show what happens when you assume cute is safe.

Look but don’t touch has been my motto over the years with my kids. Some critters are okay, as in having a butterfly or moth land on you. Yet others, such as Tussock moth caterpillar, are not to be touched. Kids are of course curious, so their hands work faster than their little brains sometimes. Yet as I help them explore nature ( often with the help of google) I hope they learn to appreciate it more. And eventually, pass this knowledge onto their children in time.

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As cool as this Tussock Moth Caterpillar looks, it gives you a nasty sting if you touch one. Think of him as a fuzzy bee.

 

Everything…

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My Brother Jay fishing on the Rock river. / Photos by KidZond.

 

 

The conversation started quite unexpectedly. We had been talking most of the night yet others were present. My brother’s wife, my wife and two young children and my sister. But at around 11 p.m. we, my brother Jay and I, were alone.

We had dinner earlier, teriyaki chicken on the grill. We had also been drinking craft beers since afternoon. Then of course, being on vacationing all week at a rental house on the river, we had been drinking a lot. I think I drank more that week than I have in the last five years. Possibly ten.

Yet one thing my brother and I wanted to do on this vacation of ours, was to relax on the deck, beer in hand, and just talk. This hadn’t happen yet, we had family time, we went on a day trip to historical town, my brother and his wife toured a brewery in Wisconsin. So our conversation had been put off. I truly think we had forgotten about it.

“I want something other than beer, want to have some Johnnie Walker?” My brother asked me. I agreed. So we brought the bottle out and sat out to drink it gone. This was actually a family joke, a sort of ‘point of honor’ as our father and our great-uncle had accomplished this feat many times. So we needed to ‘be like dad’.

So we talked.

“Do you remember when…” and

“What was that guys name who always…” and even

“Really? I never knew that!” and many more phrases of the same vein. We talked and laughed. Talking about funny things and silly things. Catching up for years of conversations we should have had, but never got the chance to.

However as we continued on with the point of honor, tossing in a 25 ounce bottle of beer that we split between us, and some craft beers for fun. Thus increasing our blood alcohol level to a point where it narrowed our visual acuity. Our conversation turned more to the serious side.

We discussed our parents, both of whom had passed away years ago, our father in 1998 and our mother in 2006. We talked of our love of our parents, how we, among so many we know, were very lucky to have parents that stayed together their whole lives. Both of our spouses come from families that had went through divorce.

Neither our Father nor our Mother had a happy childhood. Both were children of the Depression. Our mother was taken to an orphanage when she was just 5. Our grandmother had died of tuberculosis when she was 5, her father, my grandfather took her and our uncle Tommy to an orphanage because he couldn’t be bothered to raise children. An irony here is that I am the spitting image of our grandfather.

Our father grew up with an alcoholic father who beat him. His parents divorced when he was young and our grandmother remarried when our father was 13. He ended up leaving home at 15 and living with our great-uncle since my grandmothers new husband and our father didn’t get along. The would become the best of friends over the years, but back then they couldn’t stand each other. So both our parents loathed their childhoods. However, they talked of the good times more than the bad.

Our parent would have four children, they would have their ups and downs yet still remained together for 53 years till our fathers death. They were, by no means, perfect people. Yet they truly loved one another and their children.

I wouldn’t call it a chiding of our parents as more of a review. All of us children are hard workers, a trait we inherited from our father. Even our eldest brother (who wasn’t present) owns his own business. Yet unlike our father, we have stayed at jobs for years.

“So, what? 2 years? maybe 3 tops?” My brother said. I nodded.

“I’ve been at my present job for 11 years, before that 13 years.” I said. He nodding, he too had worked at his present job for years.

Our father rarely stayed at one job. He would always find a reason to move on. We figured the longest job he ever held was 5 years. Yet he provided, always came through in the end. The in-between sucked, but he was good at pulling the proverbial rabbit out of the hat.

We talked about Politics, our father loved to talk politics. We talked sports, and all the events our father dragged us to. How our mother would smack us in the face for the littlest infraction yet our father never, ever, laid a hand on us. Although they loved each other immensely, my brother Jay and our mother’s relationship (especially in his teenage years) wasn’t the best. When he became an adult, their relationship mellowed. This is a common thread isn’t it? I had the same relationship with my eldest daughter. Yet I never hit her with a cast iron frying pan like our mother did to Jay. Yes, there is a story there.

Our conversation metered on to our lives, our screw ups, our triumphs. We talk families, and children. We divulged secrets of our lives. Things we would never repeat and I won’t repeat here. As we talked the conversation went to a place few get to go to. One of deep admiration and love for each other, of total honesty without hurt. Two brothers, intoxicated yes, but still able to follow each other’s words. Reaching down deep to find our moment in time where we bonded like we never have before.

I’m the baby of the family at 53. Jay is 60, so you can imagine what a total pain in the ass I was as a younger brother. As kids, our bonding was only when we needed something from each other. Yet that night, that Saturday night that I will never forget, the conversation transcended all normal conversations we had ever had. We even went so far as to chide each other, but in a loving caring way, that if not for that moment in time, it would have been taken wrong, taken as a rebuke, yet it wasn’t that night.

As my brother question my dreams, my desire to become a writer and to fulfil that dream, that I have been pursuing for over 20 years, he asked my why I had never published. Why I had never put my work out there for others to see.

“What? are you afraid? You scared that you will be rejected? That no one will like your work?” he asked me. After a long awkward pause, I answered him.

“Yeah…” I said quietly. “I’m afraid.” I admitted.

“Okay, so what’s worse. Never publishing and not having to worry about rejection, or not knowing? Never knowing if anyone will like it because you didn’t put it out there?” and that was the crux of the matter.

“So what if no one likes it, you’ll know, then just…I don’t know, do something else you love. But come on, you need to know.” He said to me.

And he was right. I knew he was. That night, that Saturday night when we stayed up till the early morning air was thick with dew, he pushed me to face my biggest fear. This blog was created in response to that conversation. Putting myself out there for the world to read. I would have never had started it if not for his loving goading of me.

We had conversations on every topic imaginable. I can’t think of a subject we didn’t touch upon. From the world and it’s messed up ways, to what bug is that? We talked. We finished our point of honor and then some. And as the sun threaten to show the first rays of dawn, we stumbled off to bed. Our tongues were literally tired. Our eyes bleary, our bodies achy and knowing the pain they will be in tomorrow. Yet our souls were refreshed.

Not a Saturday night has passed since that one, that I don’t think about that conversation. Something about it was almost magical. No showmanship, no condemnations, no boasting except for humours effects. No one but us, that deck, and the river that flowed by. I will never forget that night. Even though, in time, the conversation itself will fade in memory, exact details will be lost, as some were to Mr. Johnnie Walker, yet the feeling and emotions of that night…I’ll never forget it. Nor will my brother Jay.

The next day, as we were made fun of for our hangovers. Teased and picked on, we would just smile at each other. It was Sunday, their last day here before flying home early Monday morning, and my family and I had to go home, so we parted around mid-afternoon. My sister-in-law asked my brother Jay how long we stayed up. He said around 5 a.m. he thought. She looked at him and asked him what did we talk about for 6 hours? He thought for a moment, looked at her and said.

“Everything…”