The Day I Became A Grandfather.

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Bentley found it funny that he stole my hat and I took the one he was wearing. / Photo by KidZond.

Six years ago, this very day, I became a grandfather for the first time. It has happen three more times since, but the one that broke the Father barrier, and tossed that Grand in front of it was Bentley Benjamin.

I wasn’t too sure about becoming a grandfather, actually, I am still not too sure about it all. It’s just weird for me. I was 49 years of age, and kind of always wanted to get that Grand label once I passed the 50 mark. But it doesn’t really work that way now, does it?

I mention this to my siblings, only to find out that, like being the baby of the family, I was the last in age to become a grandparent. They had all beat me long before they reached the 49 year mark. That made me feel a little better. It was still weird for me.

See, being a parent? I can do that. I’ve done it for 27 years now. Not an easy job, especially when I was a single parent raising two daughters. The frustrations, the pressures, the self-doubts were enormous. Those only became worse when I became a single parent.

But my two eldest survived to adulthood, and six years ago my eldest daughter Jenelle, became a parent herself. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best situation, she started off being a single parent. And, the poor kid, had to live at her parents house.

Which brings me to Bentley Benjamin. My grandson whom I was lucky enough to be around the first two years of his life. It was fun, crazy, and having two little children myself now, chaotic. As my daughter worked on establishing herself, she lived with us to help out with costs. Bentley learned to walk at my home, first spoke at my home, and terrorized my home with the help of his Aunt and Uncle.

With three adults, three children, a dog and a cat, life always had something mischievous planned. Yet the real fun started when Bentley moved out, and came to visit for the weekends so his mother could work.

Bentley is a precocious child. Although not the best speaker, he was adept at figuring things out. Like door locks.

While many children who awaken at night, and make their way to their parents bedroom, or in this case, grandparents bedroom. Bentley had other ideas. He wanted to explore the great outdoors. You know, at 3 am. Even in winter.

Probably because I raised his mother, and eldest aunt, I was pretty good at being a light sleeper. His first few attempts failed. With grandpa coming out to the living room to find him dressed in snow boots and a jacket.

“Hey Bentley, what are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m just going to go outside.” Bentley would respond in his four-year old voice.

“Bentley, it’s 3 am, it’s dark outside, and cold. You need to go back to bed.” I would say.

“I got a coat and boots on grandpa.” Bentley would point out. By god, the boy does plan.

 

But no, we went back to bed. Well at least he did. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. My grandson is a Night Walker. One of those children who think that going outside by themselves is perfectly fine. But no worries, he won’t get out on me.

I did say he was a precocious didn’t I? See, if you make too much noise at night? You wake up grandpa. And that will ruin all the fun. Of course the screen door makes a noise if you don’t close it by hand. It bangs. Been meaning to fix that, glad I procrastinate.

I found Bentley outside, wearing a coat and boots mind you, with the dog. The dog was very happy to be let out at 4 am. Grandpa was not happy to walk out in the snow barefoot to retrieve his wayward grandson.

The locks came, he outsmarted them. Obstacles came, he silently removed them. Chain Locks came, well on one door because I couldn’t get it to work on the other door. He used the other door.

An all out war of wits came. It was game on! Magnetic Alarm Buzzers! That we neglected to turn off and scared the living hell out of us when Bentley wasn’t here.

Of course when Bentley discovered this Magnetic Alarm Buzzer, it scared the living hell out of him. And the rest of the household at 2 am. Oh, they work by the way, very loud.

Yet it was the one door, that the Chain Lock wouldn’t work on, and yes, the Magnetic Alarm Buzzer also wouldn’t work, that became his objective. Moving the loveseat in front of it became our only option. Of course that meant I had to wake up at 5 am to move the loveseat for my wife so she could go to work on Saturday morning.

I did catch him trying to move it. When I did, he asked me for help. Touché grandson, touché.

Then it happened, he figured out how to move it enough. Probably because Grandpa became lazy and didn’t move it far enough over. Hey, the loveseat is heavy, and at 5 am? It is annoyingly heavy.

I heard it though, came out to see what was going on. Like a scene from a movie, I caught Bentley putting on a lightweight jacket (it was warm out, so his choice of jackets was appropriate) and standing there looking at me sheepishly. His shoes were on, he was dressed, out of his jammies, and just looked at me.

“Bentley? Where are you going?” I asked him.

“Take the dog out grandpa, Jess needs to go out to go potty.” Bentley replies logically.

Grandpa looks over at the couch on which the lazy lab now prefers over her own bed. The dog, Jess, is snoring. I look at Bentley and shake my head. With calm resignation, he takes the coat off, and follows me back to his bedroom.

That would be the last escape attempt Bentley would make. His mother’s job changed, she didn’t need us to watch him on the weekends. He comes back of course, is a wild child. Likes to figure things out. Mostly to his advantage.

And odd as it may seem, I miss those little games my grandson played on me. I marveled at his ability to problem solve, his little cons. The joy he had in trying to explore that great big world. I hope he never loses that joy. And I hope to have him over this summer.

He’s six now, getting big, full of attitude and defiance. He’s also a big brother of two. With a warm heart full of love and compassion for others. I would love to have him spend the night again. I miss the little monster, especially today of all days. He reminds me so much of his mother when she was his age. And that is the greatest part of being a grandfather. With the title, you see your family moving forward, carrying on, and knowing a new generation of you is here to make their mark on this Earth.

My grandchildren are always welcomed at my house, weird as it is to be a grandfather. And when Bentley comes over to stay the night the next time?

I will have that darn door secured.

 

This is Austin. He’s Autistic, not Broken.

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Who wouldn’t want a Rainbow cookie? / Photo by KidZond.

 

For Spring Break we took a family vacation to the Mall of America. It was nice to get out-of-town and walk around, seeing the sights, riding the roller coasters, and being conned into zip lining by my 8-year-old son.

It was on our first day at our hotel that we met Austin and his Mother. We would see them only once, and not for the rest of our trip. How we met during breakfast was simple. Austin, around my son’s age, was wearing the same pajamas as my son. A cute little red-haired boy who came up to our table to smile at my son, delighted they accidentally dressed as ‘twins’.

Austin did not speak to us, just smiled. His mother came up to us, put her hand on her son’s shoulder and spoke these words.

 

This is Austin. He’s Autistic, not broken.

 

I said hello, and then it hit me what she said. It was cute, catchy, and sounded like a mantra she had repeated often. And although I only met Austin and his Mother once on that trip, I have thought about what she said, that mantra. Autistic, not Broken.

I went though a lot emotions thinking about this mantra, from finding it mildly offensive. I never said your kid was broken lady! to inspired. What a great way to introduce autism to others! Yet I couldn’t get over the sadness of it all.

See my youngest daughter is High Functioning Autistic. I never told this to Austin’s mother. I didn’t have a chance. I have never thought my daughter was broken.

 

Then again, maybe I have.

 

As hard as it is to admit. There are many times I wish my daughter was not Autistic. Sometimes this wish is selfishness on my part, most it is for her. I absolutely HATE the fact the world will be a challenge for her. That people will look down at her, ignore her, and ultimately categorize her into a slot that they can ignore.

The endless explanations to family, friends, strangers, about why she behaves this way or that. Or choices we are forced to make on behalf of our daughter that people are confused by. The advice that is more condemnation than support. That you just have to smile through, and nod, while internally you are screaming.

The many private things we do not discuss. The bathroom issues, the sensitivity issues, the Autistic Cycles she gets caught in. All those things that are a challenge to my family, to her, and our choice not to broadcast it.  They don’t understand the why’s. Even when you have explained it a thousand times.

Because Autism is a Wicked Little Tailor that fashions a suit for each individual, those of us who are A-Neural Typical can easily get lost by autistic behavior. Is the kid rude? Is she dumb? Wow she’s smart! Is she top of her class? Why is her hair messy? It’s 3 pm, why is she in pajama’s?

The questions, looks, attitudes abound. You as a parent navigate these perilous conversations and hope the adult will not be an ass to your kid. It doesn’t always turn out that way.

Sometimes the world surprises you. I was surprised at the Mall of America, at the Sea Life exhibit. If you have the chance, this is a wonderful place to visit. You can see an array of marine life, and even touch some.

One part of this exhibit is an acrylic tunnel you walk through. It takes you though 300 feet of the exhibit showcasing the aquatic life native to Minnesota, the Amazon, Rainbow reef and mythical Atlantis. You literally walk under the water and see the wildlife swimming around and over you. My son loved it, was beyond thrilled to go through the tunnel.

My daughter on the other hand, stopped dead at the entrance. I tried to coax her to go in just a little bit, but she was not having it. I did my best to alleviate her fears, but still she would not go. I let her mother and brother walk on as I tried to decide what to do.

Then the wonderful happened. A Sea Life worker noticed my dilemma. She came up to us and asked if we needed help. I told her that my daughter was High Functioning Autistic and seemed to have an issue with the tunnel.

The day before I couldn’t get her off the roller coasters, so I was a bit shock at her balking at the tunnel. Plus she is an animal lover extraordinaire, why this bothered her? She still hasn’t told me why. But it did, and the Sea Life worker noticed, and knew what to do.

Opening a side door, the worker walked us a short distance to another door and we bypassed the tunnel. I got the impression the worker had done this before, and that she had done this before for Autistics.

I was incredibly thankful to the worker. To the whole of Mall of America, which is sensory / anxiety friendly place.

It was a moment like that one, that gave me hope that others do understand. That they do get what Austin’s mother said, and now I do too. That with awareness comes compassion, with awareness comes understanding, and ultimately, with awareness comes knowledge that we are all individuals, we are all human beings deserving of respect.

This is National Autistic Awareness Month. 

And my Daughter is Alexis, she’s Autistic, not Broken. 

 

The Trash Talking Twins.

And my Son’s quick lesson on the Sticks and Stones rule of life.

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Nick with his new hair cut, same as the old cut. / Photo by KidZond.

 

I know my kids. So when my son Nick sat down next to me at the table, I could tell something was wrong. His facial expression was pained, his eyes red rimmed, but no tears. He looked at me and I stopped my conversation with my friend to turn my attention to him.

“What’s up buddy? You okay?” I asked. Of course he wasn’t okay. He was on the verge of tears. Did he get hurt? We were at a local trampoline park. A twisted ankle is fairly common here. But that wasn’t the case.

“Some little kids are being mean, in the dodgeball court.” He said blinking rapidly. I nodded.

“What are they doing?” I asked him.

“Saying mean things, calling us names, calling me names.” He said.

The trampoline park we were at has two dodgeball courts. My son and daughter take lessons at the park, along with a family friends oldest daughter (Their youngest daughter hangs out while the older three are in their lesson). We hang out after the lessons to let the kids play while we adults talk about what is going on in our lives. It’s a nice time for all of us, kids get to play together, we get to catch up.

Rarely is there ever an incident at the trampoline park. Everyone behaves, and the staff are excellent in monitoring kids. They do a great job at keeping teenagers and little kids from mixing so as to avoid possible injuries from kids getting too wild.

But this wasn’t the case, the kids trash talking my son were younger, a set of boys, twins.

Nick was upset, wasn’t sure what to do. He likes playing dodgeball, and has even joined tween games. To the credit of the tweens who usual play with younger kids, they pull their throws, so as not to hurt the younger players. Now he was the older kid, and the younger kids were calling him names. Making fun of his throws, calling him ugly and stupid.

I told him he could do one of two things. Either go play somewhere else, the trampoline park had many activities for him to do, or he could let the boys know he wouldn’t play if they continued to be rude to him. He went with the later.

It didn’t end well.

Ten minutes later my son came back angry, so were our friends two girls. The Trash Talking Twins at first accepted Nick’s peace offer to play, but then went right back to their talk. They became more aggressive and even started to use foul language. This shocked all four of our kids. My friend asked his daughters what happened, I talked to Nick. The story unfolded that the twins cared little about playing nice.

Because of the time, all of us were leaving for the night. Nick kept a look out for the twins, but couldn’t see them. He saw them in their car, but by then it was too late for me to talk to their parents.

Thoughts of Sticks and Stones. 

At home Nick was still talking about the twins. He was still upset at how they talked to him, and as he said “for no reason”, which bothered him most. He was upset, he was angry. I let him know those are normal emotions. I also asked him who else was there playing, he told me no one. And when the four of our kids left, the twins were left alone, no one wanted to play with the rude boys. I told him that is what happens when you are rude to others.

Then he shocked me.

Nick told me he thought about hitting them, about yelling at them, and calling them names. He wanted to hurt them like they had hurt him. But, he felt that was wrong, and it would just get himself into trouble.

I was surprised by this, it was very mature for an 8-year-old to have that restraint. That when twins insulted him, called him an F’er that he kept his cool. He did not lash out in anger, but simply walked away.

The Trash Talking Twins just used words. They didn’t assault him, didn’t hit or push him. Just used words that cut deep. Yet those words stirred an anger in Nick he hadn’t felt before. One that he wanted to solve with violence. Yet he didn’t.

It was a moment for me. My son acted like a Man that night. Not the little boy he is. He could have taken the low road, lashed out, but instead rose above it to walk away. He also confided in me his thoughts and feelings about the incident.

I told him I was proud of him, and that his actions were the correct ones. In this case, walking away was best. If he needed, he could defend himself from a physical assault, yet this wasn’t the case. Talking trash back to the twins would have also gotten him nowhere. It is doubtful they would have cared.

I don’t know the Trash Talking Twins story. I don’t know their upbringing or home life. They were younger, maybe a year younger, maybe a little more. To say that I wasn’t totally shocked by their behavior would be a lie. I’ve known kids like that, even in my day and age.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is walk away from a hostile situation. To turn the other cheek and leave. It is easier to get down in the gutter and slug it out.

Before School today, my son told me he was still upset about the Trash Talking Twins. That he even dreamt about them. This situation, and it’s repercussions, will be with him for a while I think. A life lesson that is a bitter pill to swallow. Like the comeback we all wish we said but didn’t, Nick will be haunted by what he could have done but didn’t. He may not know it now, but in reality he will be a better person for it. A wiser person.

And now the Moral of the Story. 

If you haven’t noticed, the world is full of Trash Talking Twins. Just go on Facebook, or Twitter to find them. Our political leaders do it all the time, as does those in the Media and even in our entertainment world. These days, we revel in Trash Talk.

Yet we ignore the repercussions of such talk. Although Names will never hurt me may seem true, it isn’t. Like my son, that name calling can lead to thoughts of anger, desires to commit violence. They leave just as much of a lasting impression as being hit.

Most of us will never cross that line, never lash out at someone physically just for something that is said to them. However, as we become more like the Trash Talking Twins, we risk escalating the violent reactions of those we offend. Even from those gentle souls like my son. The other day my son took the high road, but in a world that puts Trash Talking Twins on a pedestal will he always stay on that road? I don’t know. I can only hope so.

 

Life without Glasses.

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Photo by KidZond.

 

If you wear glasses, like myself, you have to be a little happy about living in the 21st century. For one, there are so many styles to choose from. You don’t have to have glass lenses either, you can opt for lighter plastic lenses. Heck, you don’t even need to wear glasses, just use contact lenses. Or better yet, surgery to correct your vision. It’s rather nice actually living in these times.

If you have never worn glasses, never had need of them, well…you don’t know do you? Okay so you have tried them on, a friend or relatives pair. Looked around and wondered how in the blue blazes do people see out of them? Wear them long enough, you’ll get a headache. Then, you’ll probably laugh, hand them back, and think to yourself,  “Boy, glad I don’t need glasses!”

You are lucky if you don’t have to wear glasses. I am lucky because I can easily correct my flawed vision by putting my glasses on. When I don’t put them on, the world is weird to me. Blurry, distances are a little skewed. I have to hold things up close to read since I also wear bifocals. Very frustrating when I misplace my glasses.

If, for some odd reason, I lost my glasses and the ability to replace them, I would be in a pickle. I would have to go through the rest of my life struggling to adapt to my world. Having to make judgements about distances, objects, all sorts of things. I would do my best to find a substitute for my glasses, have to learn tricks to help me with my predicament. It would be frustrating, annoying beyond belief, my own personal hell.

Of course people would understand. They would know that I had lost my glasses, and that I could never attain another pair. They would have compassion and empathy to my plight.

What if they didn’t? What if they thought that glasses were a myth? Something some egghead doctor had made up? What if they had never seen or heard of glasses before? That when I explain I can’t see as far as they can, they laugh it off, or call me silly? Tell me I will grow out of it, or just to knock off being silly.

What if they don’t know, or understand, that I fear objects coming toward me because I can’t tell what exactly is approaching me. Is it a dog? or a wolf? maybe it is a bear.

People with chronic conditions know this feeling of disbelief all too well. They know people who are dismissive of conditions that are not physically apparent. As a parent of a High Functioning Autistic child, I know this feeling too.

People believe I baby my daughter too much, or make excuses for her eccentric behavior. They think it is bad parenting, or lack of discipline. They make comments that I coddle my daughter too much, or let her get away with her antics.

As always, I have a flash of anger that I struggle to control. My parental defenses fire up, and I have to watch my tongue, or else I will make the problem worse. All this, while not backing down and accepting their beratement, and doing my best to educate.

Yet, some still believe that glasses are a myth, they always will. For they are lucky, and will never have to deal with a life without glasses.

The Knot.

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Bag of hair supplies that has been my friend for the last week. / Photo by KidZond.

 

Honestly? I have not had a good summer. A perfect storm of events derailed all of my plans. It hasn’t been the end of the world. Just minor incidents that alone, mean nothing, but together added up to a summer of stagnation.

This was going to be the summer of getting things done. I was going to write and edit a book I had been working on for four years, get some needed repairs in the house, spend the summer doing things with the kids and just, well, just enjoying the summer.

I had started a new job in February that gave me four days off a week. Just so you know, I pay for it on those three days I do work. So much so, that my first day off my shift, I am basically useless. I should also stay off Facebook after my work cycle, but that is another story.

Nothing I had planned happened this summer. I wrote my book, only to find out because of the subject matter, it might not be well received. So, I shelved it and wrote another. Editing was definitely out. To edit a book, you need time, space, and above all…peace and quiet. I didn’t have peace and quiet this summer.

Instead, I had children. Ah! Wait for it! 

I have two children at home, and we watch our 5-year-old niece. This is all well and good. No real issues there. But, we have a really cool playhouse in our back yard. A beacon for all of the neighborhood kids. I would spend many days this summer watching out back as groups of kids played in my backyard. It was fun, entertaining, and gave my two, and my niece, friends to play with. So, while not a bad thing in itself, you really can’t do much when you have a backyard full of kids. Usually around 7 kids in total. All little psycho’s.

But, it killed projects. Hard to redo things in the house that requires my undivided attention and just let monsters roam your backyard. Plus, I was on band-aid duty all summer.

Books, work, and depression.

Writing is very cathartic for me. I love to write, and will get lost in it. The entertainment for me is the creative part. I wrote one book, some 120K words, only to find out that the subject matter may run afoul of the MeToo movement. It shouldn’t, but it could. Not something you want to put out for the world to take wrong. So, I shelved it and wrote another story I had floating around. But, I can’t edit right now, so both books sit collecting dust waiting for me to edit them.

Work has been a paradigm shift for me. For the last 11 years I had worked with only one partner. Now, I work with a group. The dynamics are different, and so are the multiply personalities. I am not exactly fitting in, and have questioned if this job is worth it.

Which unfortunately, has led to feeling depressed. Now luckily? I have dealt with depression before. Years ago when I was going through a horrible divorce. So, I know the signs, they symptoms, and when to seek help. Not there yet. How do I know this? Because of a knot.

The Knot.

The knot first appeared shortly after school got out. It was an annoyance that turned into a festering little animal that would not come out.

My daughter Alexis, who is 10 years old, is a High Functioning Autistic. With autism comes little complications. One of them is tactic issues. Essentially, Alexis doesn’t like her hair brushed, nor brushing it herself. It hurts. Not like it would hurt you or me (you know, if I still had my hair). But it hurts in a dramatic fashion. True physical pain.

For the knot, we sought out professional help, and the knot was gone. Only to come back with a vengeance. What was a little knot, now was a big as my fist. It was a snarled mess of tangled hair that had a life of its own. Attempts to remove it were disastrous. Seeking professional help was out, since although the hairstylist who help us before was wonderful, the pain and trauma meant utter refusal. So, we tried at various times to remove the knot, to no avail.

Unfortunately, we had to wait the knot out. Even though I came to the unfortunate conclusion, we would have to treat it like the famed Gordian Knot, and just have it cut out. Needless to say, that option was a nuclear option. Not well received at all.

Then, everything changed in the last three weeks. The knot, which Alexis had ignored, did not want touched, was suddenly asked to vacate its home. She wanted it out. We began the task of removing the knot.

With help from a good friend, and oils from a good hairstylist, we begun the task. Using a hair pick, patience, and oil. The knot that was the size of my fist is now down to about three fingers. It’s coming out, slowly, but it will be gone before school starts this Monday.

And you know what? The knot has taught me a great deal about this summer. I work on the knot for a good hour at a time, days in a row. Trust me, getting a 10-year-old to sit still for an hour is a task in its own right. The knot is not coming out in one felled swoop, but little picks, little pulls that unravel the complicated entanglement of hair. It requires breaks, different approaches, and above all, the knot requires determination.

I realized I have a tendency to micromanage my life. I like order, I want things to go my way. Most of us do, but I know I tend to go overboard. This was not this summer. Nothing went my way.

Yet, if I work at it, pick at it slowly to untangle the issues that are stymie my current situation in life, then much like the knot, it will slowly become manageable. The problems may even go away. As long as I keep picking away at them.

 

 

Take this stick and swallow your feelings.

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A diagram showing the difference in Male/Female arguments. / Illustration by KidZond – don’t laugh.

 

It was one of those conversations that stick with you. I was in my late twenties, over at a friends, who was in a rocky relationship with his spouse. We were discussing relationships and he drew a diagram like the one above. A very simply diagram.

The purpose of the diagram was to explain how men and women argue, or discuss issues that affect their relationship. Men tend to argue linear. They build on point A to point B, to point C and so on. Women do the same, yet point E may be vitally related to point B, and even point B may involve point Q. Women’s arguments tend to be interconnected.

I was amazed by this revelation, it made so much sense to me at the time. Of course, this diagram is a very broad generalization. Not all men argue in a linear fashion, nor do all women build their arguments like a spiderweb. I’ve often wondered what the marriage therapist was trying to tell my friend and his spouse.

I will say, that over the years, the idea that men and woman look at things differently has stuck with me. I have had discussions with women in my life that I saw the spiderweb, knew I was going to lose the argument and eventually be rolled up in a silken web only to be devoured later. I have also had these conversations with men, usually managers, who find ways to make sure it is your fault.

For the most part, I don’t take credence in the diagram anymore, it’s cute, a generalization, but not accurate.

 

Inside Out

 

Yet the other day the diagram popped back into my head. I had a different perspective on it. One I am still pondering about.

We were at home watching the movie Inside Out again. If you never have seen this 2015 Disney/Pixar movie it is a much watch film. The story revolves around a tween girl named Riley that is uprooted by her fathers new job. They move from Minnesota to San Francisco California. What makes this simple premise work is the little people inside Riley’s head. Her emotions that live inside her head and operate the control room.  For adults, there are a myriad of little gems in the story that will elicit guffaws. From the Train of Thought, to memory of a jingle that just won’t go away. An earworm from Hades.

But what really caught my eye were the Islands. Called the Islands of Personality in the film, these little places were meaningful things in Riley’s life that became so special they have their own place (island) in Riley’s mind. Each island is connected to Headquarters (control room) and the ‘little voices’ inside Riley’s head can look out on the Islands of Personalities. I noticed that the islands were connected by a straight line, like a conduit or synapse to headquarters.

Looking at those connections, and watching my autistic daughter giggle at the movie, made me think about something she has recently started to say. And I wondered, are those connections really a straight line of thought with her?

 

Swallow your feelings

 

About a week ago, my daughter handed me a small stick and told me to “take this stick and swallow your feelings”. She giggled, and so did my son. (I did not swallow the stick, just so you know.) I did asked where this phrase came from. Did it come from a cartoon? A video game? A friend. My son told me that Alexis just said it. She made it up he said. Honestly I am not sure that is true, but wherever it came from, she had taken a liking to the phrase.

She used this phrase most of the week, then on Friday we all sat down in the evening to watch a movie, Inside Out.

That is when the old diagram and the conduits to the Islands of Personalities started to merge in my mind.

What you will find often enough with young autistics, is that when you ask them a question, there is a delay in response. In school, this can sometimes be seen as not knowing the answer to a particular question, but in reality, it is processing time. Autistics seem to have a delayed response. This, I should note, is the appearance to us Neural Typical people. Not necessarily what is going on inside their heads.

With High Functioning Autism, I have found more and more there is scant research and information as to how they think. Most of the research is devoted to making them behave like us, conformity. While that isn’t wholly a bad concept, I personally think it’s a little off. Personally, I would rather they would work with Translation than Conformity.

Translation works like this. My daughter has emotions. She isn’t dead inside. In fact she is vibrant with emotions. She just can’t get them out for you to see. Or when she does, she selects the wrong one. Her islands of personality do not have straight paths, in fact, they are a spiderweb of paths. She has to sort through the tangle web to find the correct response. Sometimes, the paths get crossed, or intertwined. Yet while the character Riley from the movie had Emotions that controlled her from Headquarters via a console, in Alexis’ case, the console is a little glitchy. She may select one emotion, yet another comes up. Much to her chagrin.

These are the things I work on with her. Helping her learn what is the ‘normal’ response to a situation. How to deal with emotionally charged moments, and to seek out the proper response. I don’t force her, I guide her. I ask questions, and if the response is incorrect to what society expects, I do my best to explain. It is not a perfect method, it is time-consuming and well, frustrating at times for both of us.

The common method now is conformity. Basically taking away and giving, to make an autistic conform to societal rules. This method may work better for some, I’m not knocking it, have used it to a degree, yet I don’t feel the carrot and stick method works that well with HFA. They will outsmart you, and use it against you.

 

Spiderwebs

 

It was the combination of the movie, and my old friends diagram, and her new catchphrase that gave me a new insight into my daughters mind. What exactly the stick represents, I really am not sure. Yet swallowing one’s feelings? I have a hunch that is how she sees our world. That maybe, more often than not, she has to swallow her feelings rather than express them. Because expressing her feelings is hard, yet swallowing them? That is easy for her. Better to leave them inside rather than select the wrong emotion.

Yet, it comes with a price. Like the stick in the metaphor, to swallow a stick would be a hard thing to do, getting stuck in one’s throat, tasting nasty and dry. Leaving you with a bad taste, and a sore throat. Emotions, and our ability to express them correctly, is hard enough for those of us that do not fall into the Autistic Spectrum. For autistics, the wrong selection could be catastrophic. So, swallowing the stick is sometimes better than selecting the wrong emotion.

 

 

Moms.

 

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Michelle with Alexis. (I think, might be Nick.) / Photo By Kidzond.

 

I use this line often.

“Women have periods, Give Birth, and menopause. Men live 10 years less than Women. And I am okay with that.”

Moms are a special lot. Kind of unique to our species. It doesn’t detract from those women who are not mothers, but even they would have to concede, their own mother is rather unique.

For one, the simple fact that we spend the first 9 months of our existence sharing a body with this woman, who will at the end of this journey be our mother, is a monumental task. If you think about it, it’s a small miracle in its own right.

They will endure heartburn, swelling feet, cravings that may or may not be satisfied, and overall, go through a purgatory to bring you into this world. Others, may breeze through their pregnancy and birth without the slightest complication. And if they are smart, keep that bit to themselves, and not tell their friends who had 32 hours of labor with an epidural.

Of course any parent will tell you, it’s what comes after that the real tests begin. Taking this new human and shaping them into a person. Guiding them, admonishing them, nurturing them, and scolding them.

And as my own mother said, you never quit being a mother.

Some mothers do the most challenging of tasks, take on children that are not biologically their own. For a variety of reasons, these women will adopt a child and take on the honorific of being called Mom. It is not an easy task, a complicated road of lawyers and judges, fears and tears, all to give their undivided love to a child. What magical, wonderful women they are.

Not everyone is cut out to be a mom. Many women I have known over the years elected by choice not to become a mother. I think I shock them when I tell them ‘Good for you!’ Because it is not the reaction they expect. But good for them, they know themselves well enough that children are not what they want. They are selfless enough to know that becoming a mom just to fit into some mythical role, is not what they want in their life. Sadly, too many believe the myth, and give it a try. (See the paragraph above for the lucky children.)

Now of course I am not a Mom. I’m a Dad. And I was told by my 10-year-old daughter the other day that I was “The best Daddy in the world, and Mommy is the best Mommy.” And that is why I am blogging about Mothers today. Because nothing makes a parent feel loved than to be the Best in their child’s eyes.

But I did tell her that others think they have the best parents in the world. She didn’t quite agree with me.

 

Betty Kendrick 19 years old

Betty Anne McDonald (19 yrs of age – sans Freckles)

 

Of course to me, Betty Anne McDonald, who would become Betty Kendrick, was the best Mom in the world. Well, to me. She was a little lady of Scots-Irish decent and pushed the stereotype of a Redhead to the limit. A woman of immeasurable love and compassion that would turn on a dime if you pissed her off. My favorite story of my Mother was once saying to her “Hey Mom” and she slapped me. Holding my cheek I asked her what was that for? Her reply? “Oh, sorry, thought you were going to say something smart.”

In all the stories I could tell you about my mother, the one thing that holds them together like glue is the simple fact she was a Mom. Being a mother was very important to her. She raised us, punished us, made sure we had respect for others, and did her best with what limited experience she had. My Grandmother had died when my mother was 4 years old.

The common joke among men is to marry a woman like their mother. I believe I have succeeded in that.

Now many women take this wrong. That men want a woman who will take care of them, do their clothing, keep the house, raise the kids, etc. Pick a 1950’s T.V. mom.

But what we really want, is someone who will raise our kids like we were raised. Someone that we know, will be there to kiss the boo-boos. Yell at the kids for a messy room, proudly display a bunch of scribbles called ‘Art’ on the fridge and threaten their very existence when all else fails. We want that nurturing aspect for our children.

I am lucky, I found that woman. She is the Mother of my two youngest children. She’s a great mom. And an overall wonderful person. And I have to agree with daughter on this point. She is the best Mommy.

Of course tomorrow I will not be calling my Mother. I lost her 12 years ago. Not a day goes by without a thought or memory passing through my mind. It was 17 years ago this past March that I last seen her, hugged and kissed her goodbye. We would talk on the phone, but we lived 2000 miles apart, and try as I might, I never got out to see her again. People very close to me will not be talking to their Mothers today, for the first year. It doesn’t get easier, and yes, some years are harder than others.

As sad as it is, Mother’s Day is a wonderful day for me. It reminds me of the sacrifices women all over the world make to carry on our species. That they keep humanity going. That every human on this planet, came from a Mom, and for all they do, we should be truly grateful.

Happy Mother’s Day.

 

When I first saw an Autistic Cycle and took a couple of steps back.

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Ponies in a row. / Photo by KidZond.

 

The conversation went like this:

Me: She’s doing really good about getting off to school. We’ve been making it to school on time for the past week and a half. I think we’ve turned a corner.

My Daughter’s Consular: Don’t be shocked if she cycles, have you heard of that? They sometimes regress.

Me: No, never heard of it. As of now, she seems fine with going to school.

My Daughter’s Consular: Hopefully that continues, yet autistics do cycle, they seem fine, but then a trigger happens and they regress back. Sometimes it feels like one step forward, two steps back.

 

Wow. Was she ever right. I had never heard of “Cycles”. I wasn’t prepared for what that entailed. One reason I had never heard of cycles is that many call it by another name. Meltdown. Some autistics have bad ones, sensory overloads that tax their brains so hard that the only recourse is to ‘throw a fit’ and shut down for a ‘reboot’. It can be terrifying for all involved. The parents, friends, other family member, and especially for the autistic person themselves.

Yet, autism, being that wicked little tailor it is, never does the same thing to each person it afflicts. Some may meltdown, others may shutdown. Still others, like Alexis, require a restart. She has to go to a start point, then work her way out of it. She rarely cries, or screams, never have I seen her throw herself on the floor or hurt herself. We’re lucky in that respect. Yet when she restarts, we are usually confused. What caused this behavior? She was doing just fine, but why now?

Give me a moment to talk about myself.

I got a new phone. A Samsung Galaxy Note8. Pretty sweet huh? Yeah, it’s not an S9, but hey, new phone.

It sucks. Damn thing has been nothing but problems since I got it 12 days ago. Tried to take it back today to be told it was just me. It’s not me. I may not be the most savvy person when it comes to ‘Smart Phones’ but still. The thing is annoying as hell. Totally froze on me today. So I went back to the store to trade it.

But…

I waited a bit. I was pissed, angry, using words that with ‘uck’ a lot. So angry I entertained the thought of using my 3 lbs sledge to solve the problem. However, that wouldn’t solve the problem. I went outside, smoked a cigarette (yes I know) and did my best to calm down. Worked the problem out in my head. Knew what I was going to say, and then, once composed, I went to the phone store.

Came back with my phone. Told politely it was me, not the phone. It’s the phone, but hey, I can calmly work it out. I have been considering the beer in the fridge. But instead, have a diet soda, and my laptop to ‘ignore’ the problem. Because if I do ignore it? A solution will come. Usually does. It’s how I restart.

Back to the kid.

So okay, stressful day. I got upset, very upset, but I resolved the problem. Took me a good hour. The darn phone has been bugging me for a week and a half. Yet it took today to get my goat. And that lasted about an hour. Phone is still in one piece. Alexis, however, has taken all day to get over yesterday.

She had a school conference.

Now, in modern American Schools, they have come up with this fantastic idea called “Student Lead Conferences”. Which means, you can do four conferences at once. Which means, Alexis had to speak to her parents about her school work…which she is struggling with… as three other kids talked to their parents. A noisy, distracting, environment.

The conference went okay, she mimed what she did. Didn’t speak to us. Her very sweet and helpful teacher was shocked by all this. In class, Alexis’ practiced this, she did well. But now? Nope, silence, the Cycle had geared up.

Now by geared up, I mean geared up. Not begun, because the cycle had started before this. A good five days before when the reality of the conference was looming in the future. I should have caught on, but I didn’t. Hindsight of course, helps. It was that flipping idiom that should have been the key.

Idioms! Ahhhh!

Idioms can be tricky with many autistics. So can sarcasm. I use both constantly, which is hit and miss with Alexis. She actually likes idioms. Yet the other day, when she wanted to change clothes to eat breakfast, then change again for school. I suggested she change into her school clothes and eat. That way she’ll be ready, and just be careful eating. I put it like this. “That way, you can kill two birds with one stone”.

Why? For heaven’s sake, would she want to kill a bird? Birds are nice.

She was serious. She couldn’t understand why I wanted her to go pick up a rock and throw it at the birds outside our house. I was puzzled, because I had used other idioms, similar to this one, that she had no problem with, yet that day? Well it was taken literally.

It was the beginning of the cycle. She was nervous about the conference and the idiom was lost to her. She can get idioms, metaphors, jocular tales and most jokes. Yet when she starts to cycle up, things get fuzzy quick. Taking things literally is her fall back, her safe mode.

It was today, the day after the conference, that Alexis didn’t go to school. It was just too much for her to process. We tried to work on Math, a subject she has a bizarre relationship with. She is either very good at it, or very bad. I can’t tell, neither can anyone else. Math has become part of her ‘Fuse Box’. Or maybe it’s better to call it her ‘Tool Kit’. She will purposely get answers wrong, will whine about doing problems as we sit and do homework. Yet in play, she will answer questions without hesitation. Solve problems like they are a hot knife through butter.

Today? Adding 6+6 was too difficult. She couldn’t do it. Let alone multiply two digit numbers by another set of two digit numbers. Even with the aid of a calculator, she couldn’t do it.

This is the damnation of an Autistic Cycle. Things you know become lost to you. Simple task become beyond complex. The world comes crashing down and even 1+3 is impossible to answer. It’s not a game, not a joke, it’s real. Then her brain just shut down today. Trying its best to do a restart, after a day of high anxiety, and make sense of it all.

While my emotions ran high over my phone problems, I was able to find a way to calm down. To solve the problem in my mind and move forward. What an utter hell it would have been if I had been unable to do so. I can’t even fathom how that would be.

Try being a prisoner to your emotions, locked inside you, all there, all working but unable to translate them. It would be like waking up tomorrow and suddenly speaking a foreign tongue, without knowing it. How would you tell anyone the simplest of things? How would you even begin to ask for help?

The autistic cycles are a living hell for the sufferers, and just as frustrating to those who are around them. Peace and quiet, a relaxing hobby, no pressure and the cycle completes itself. Yet honestly? I’m not sure it is over. I have no idea if I will be able to get her off to school tomorrow. If she will go, or if she will refuse.

I have come to the point where I don’t take it personally, that I am not a bad parent, that I  don’t just let her ‘get away with it’ As some seem to think. Yet I have to be careful she doesn’t use this as a manipulate tool to skip out on her education. Deciphering the difference isn’t easy. Her need to avoid over stimulation does sometimes manifest itself in manipulative behavior. But, can you blame her? I don’t. I wouldn’t want to do something that would cause me anxiety at the level she feels.

So I ride a fine line, every in search of the Rabbit Hole she is hiding in. Doing my best to be on guard for the next cycle, the next trigger, and react properly so I can lessen the impact. It’s not easy, and I am not alone in this. And I am certain no expert. I hadn’t even heard of cycles till last week.

My hope is one day she will realize the trigger, learn to minimize them, control them instead of having them control her. Find solutions, a bag of tricks, to make her life easier. One day, I hope she can deal with a stressful situation that won’t push her into a cycle. That she find an out. Till then, I have a lot to learn, and teach to her, when she is ready.

A little on the quirky side.

Unicorn Alexis

Alexis behind a Unicorn Mask. / Photo by KidZond.

 

Like any parent, I have a lot of hopes for my children. You bring these little persons into the world and try to teach and guide them so they can stand on their own. You wish nothing but the best for them, and wish with all your heart, that they will succeed in their life better than you. You’re fearful of the world, and what the world may do to them, but you know if you give them the right tools, they will be just fine.

Yet when you have a child with High Functioning Autism, the fear is magnified a hundred fold. The deck is stacked against her from the start.

We’ve only been on this rollercoaster of learning about our Autistic daughter for a little less than a year now. Dozens of meetings with doctors, counselors, school staff and reading. A lot of reading and research. At times for me, the challenges of giving my daughter the tools to have a happy healthy life are daunting. It can make you feel very small, very ignorant, and very angry.

Anger is my biggest problem. Most people don’t see my anger. I’m usually considered a jovial guy, even when subjects come up in the course of conversations that normally piss everyone off, I’m the guy who takes it all in stride.

Except when it comes to my kids. I’m very defensive.

Yes of course you should be defensive of your children. I’m not a helicopter parent, more of a military drone style. I’ll let it go on for a bit, then come in low with missiles ready to fire and blow you up verbally. It’s not a good trait, I don’t like being like this. But, it’s my kids. Still, until my wife pointed out that this drone style of attack wasn’t helping the situation, I had been lashing out.

She was right of course, I was wrong. I ran afoul of my own passion to defend my daughter, just to exacerbate the situation. I need to find a way to redirect, to work on getting those who can understand Alexis, to understand. Those who are incapable…well to just let it go.

Fairy Brides are Quirky.

For years I have been an avid Folklore buff. Mostly British folklore. In those stories that I have read and re-read, I have run across the Fairy Bride. A quirky set of tales that have not made it to Disney yet. Yet these tales help put things in perspective, and makes me wonder if Autism was a foundation for the tale.

Fairy Brides are a big part of British Folklore. A man meets a beautiful woman and marries her on the spot, so to speak. Yet his bride is quirky, she has trouble adjusting to the mortal worlds social norms. Fairy Brides tend to cry at Weddings, and laugh at Funerals. Much to the consternation of the mortal husband. They do socially inept things that often cause the husband to have to admonish his wife, to try to change her, mold her into being a ‘Good Wife’. Often the story ends with the Fairy Bride leaving the husband, his life now in ruins.

While the moral of the story is one about the fallacy of Love of Beauty alone, (for Fairy Brides are the loveliest of creatures) it also makes me think of Autism. A woman, from another plane of existence, has to adjust to a world that just doesn’t make sense to her. A world that demands she conform, behave as they expect her to, not as she is. Yet she never does, and in the end, goes back to a world that makes sense to her.

This is a problem I face with Alexis. Not so much her, and her autism, but to how others react to it.

Some people just believe that we are bad parents. That we need to correct her more. Others feel she is conning us, twisting things around so she can get her way. They get confused by her actions and react badly because they just don’t understand that she does not think like they do. That social norms they take for granted, are not to be found with her.

Now while some will learn, other will refuse to. No matter how I explain it. Even if I say those infamous words “Don’t take my word for it, read this…” , they still are locked into their opinion that this is some sort of great game to Alexis. That she is a puppet master and we are merely puppets.

Of course the part that really gets my proverbial goat is the “Fix it” or “Grow out of it” mentality I run across. Those who believe they can fix Alexis’ autism by doing this or that. Or that she’ll one day just grow out of it. She won’t. This is her, it is how she will be for the rest of her life.

And that is when I call for a drone strike, lashing out verbally against those who think this is all some sort of game.

And, I have to stop that.

Because my wife was right, lashing out isn’t helping me, her, or our daughter. You can educate people, help them understand that Alexis isn’t being a brat, it’s just that she thinks in a way that you can not fathom. I need to just learn that not everyone will get it, not everyone will accept her, and that my job as a father, and our job as parents, are to work with her to help her understand that not everyone will understand.

Our hopes are to give our HFA daughter the tools she needs to lead a good life. To enjoy family and friends. To have the career she wants. To teach her that although like a Fairy Bride in the mortal world, she can learn to adjust to our theoretical “Neural Typical” world, and still be herself.

Because like a Fairy Bride, with all her quirkiness, she is the Most Beautiful of Creatures to us.

The Inexplicable.

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Statue of a child reading to a dog. / Photo by KidZond.

 

So now what? It happened again, as it has happened before. A person with a grudge, or madness, or maybe just disconnected with humanity, took innocent lives.

Pundits abound, and yes, even me. Yet don’t expect answers from me. I don’t have any, only questions, many questions.

The first question I have is Gun Control. Logically, and let’s be real here, logically we should have stricter gun control. National Registry, more in-depth background checks, maybe even restricting who can have guns. You can’t possess alcohol in the United States until you are 21. Smoke until you are 18. Defend your Nation until you are 18. Why should children touch weapons until then? Logical question.

But we know the answer. Whether you are “Pro-Gun” or “Anti-Gun” the ability to control some 300 Million firearms is daunting, if not impossible. From lawsuits to skirting the law by schematics, to definitions as to what exactly is a dangerous firearm. Gun Control, as noble and lofty as is sounds, is impractical for prevention of gun violence.

The 2nd Amendment needs to be repealed argument comes up. Considering that we only have 27 Amendments in our “241 years” as a nation, should tell you something about how hard that would be. Yes some Amendments have been repealed, but the 2nd Amendment? That is not going to happen.

Of course Mental Illness has entered the discussion. With many using Mental Illness as a foil to this scourge just like others, who use an inanimate object as the foil. Obviously the teen in Texas had to be mad, because sane people do not just kill people. So goes the argument. Yet many suffer from mental illness and live out productive, well-adjusted lives, never once posing a threat to others, much less themselves.

And whether those who perpetrate these crimes are mentally ill or not, labeling a whole group, or suggesting this group alone is responsible, is damning to our society. Especially to sufferers who want nothing more than to be accepted. Try telling your boss you take medicine for depression and not have them start to ‘watch you’. Bantering about mental illness as the sole cause is absurd.

Then there are those who say it is societies fault. That if we just had fathers in those children’s home, or if we didn’t have video games full of violence, they would grow up just fine. However many people grow up in broken homes. Homes filled with violence, drugs, and alcohol. Yet they do not go out and murder people.

You could say this is all due to a lack of Faith. That God has been stricken from the classroom and demeaned to the point of being called a fairytale, and this is the root cause. However it was religious zealots who took down the Twin Towers in New York City. Jim Jones, David Koresh, and dozens of examples exist to say that Religion doesn’t prevent mass killings. Of course Stalin wasn’t a very religious guy and he murdered millions. Individual shooters in recent events have not professed great faith or lack there of.

 

Daniele_Crespi_-_Cain_Killing_Abel_-_WGA5743

Daniele Crespi – Cain Killing Abel/Wiki Commons.

 

One possibility to this issue can be found in an old archetype story from the Bible. The story of Cain and Able. The ‘First Murder’.

In the story Cain’s offerings to God are rejected. His brother Able’s are accepted. This implied jealousy finally drives Cain to murder his brother Able.

So the story goes.

However the story has other meanings that are missed. At one point, God warns Cain that Evil is ‘knocking at the door’ (paraphrasing the passage). God tells Cain to be wary of his feelings and attitude. Cain, ignores this and slays his brother.

And while there are many other metaphors that can be taken from this story, this warning from God stands out to me.

See, when it comes down to it, it is the individuals decision that casts the die. They are the ones that plan out their heinous acts. They are the only one who readies themselves. Who, if so inclined, has to confront what evil they plan to do. And if they have self-doubt, or find their humanity, and sanity to turn away from their deed, change their own mind and stop themselves.

No matter what we do as a society, what laws we pass, amendments we repeal, court ordered mental evaluations, those who wish to do harm to others, they, and only they, can stop themselves.

This doesn’t negate our responsibility as members of society. We should be vigilant to stop those who wander the path of Cain. We should exam all avenues that can prevent these terrible crimes, to protect the innocent, and make us safer.

No one political or ideological solution will solve this. Blaming others to make sense of these tragic events does not one damn bit of good. Finding solutions to stop future tragedies is not based on Gun Control, 2nd Amendment Rights, School Security, Mental Health, or Legal solutions. It is based on all of these combined, working in concert, to solve a greater issue. Stopping the inexplicable, less we find ourselves wandering in the land of Nod forever.

 

[Opinions expressed in this Blog are the Authors and the Authors alone.]
https://www.npr.org/2016/01/05/462017461/guns-in-america-by-the-numbers
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cain_and_Abel