Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Archive for October 2011

Flat Pack

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A marriage has to deal with many challenges.  Couples who live an expat life away from their support systems have larger difficulties to face.  And special needs parents?  I’m sure you’ve read the scary statistics by now.  These things, however, pale into comparison with the largest threat to my marriage: flat pack furniture.  All the problems converge in one messy Sunday afternoon.  And the worst of it is, it is usually my fault.  Just don’t tell the husband that.

I hate flat pack furniture.  Yet somehow, wherever in the world we live, I’ll suddenly find a need for, say, a desk.  The next thing I know, we’re flat packing.  In an ideal world, of course, we’d be buying expensive hand-crafted well-made furniture.  But here we are, lining the pockets of Swedish stockholders.  Somehow, I forget what a threat this stuff is, and I go ahead and purchase it.  If I thought about it, I’d recognize that the computer/TV/clothes can go on the floor, and that would be a whole lot easier.

So, yes, my fault.  We needed something to put the TV on.  While our house is furnished by the US Government (thank you, Uncle Sam) they didn’t provide something for the TV, and we didn’t bring one.  We found one we could afford, forgetting the fact that we pay the price in other ways.  After getting Cubby to take a nap, and providing a tactile activity to occupy Pudding, Spectrummy Daddy got to work…and there is our first problem.

Rambo with a drill.

You see, in our marriage, we don’t go it alone.  We share our problems or difficulties and find a way to work through them together.  But flat pack furniture comes into the house, and the husband goes all Rambo.  He makes it clear he is working alone.  Sigh.  I busy myself as I hear a fair amount of groaning and cursing.  At some point, he will go to get an electric drill, and this is when I transform into the unhelpful nagging wife.  There shouldn’t be any need for a drill, I think.  I’ll go and pester him to find out what is going on.

What the heck is this? And why is it left over?

I’ll find Rambo at the scene of a massacre.  There are dowels, screws, and those things that I don’t know the name of, but are the bane of my furniture fixing life.  Bits of wood everywhere.  At this point, Rambo has given up on the instructions.  He has given up on the suggested tools, and is looking for something like “wood nails” or “drill bits.”  Eek.  I decide he needs help.

Here is problem #2.  There is a decidedly male/female division as to the notion of helping.  For him, it would be bringing a cool beverage and keeping everyone (including me) far away.  Instead, I like to say things like, “This just doesn’t look right”  and, “You shouldn’t have done that.”  There will be more swearing.  I’ll go to the discarded instruction manual and try to make sense of it.  The problem is, I’m just not  a visual thinker.  In order to flog these things to as many gullible souls as the flat pack empire stretches, they use pictures instead of words.  Worse than that, they are 3D.  I don’t do dimensions.

Eventually, I’ll decide to just do whatever I’m told.  We’ll try to put a piece on, and it will jut out, or just not line up.  Rambo will kick at something, and I’ll be glad we don’t have a pet.  We’ll take the whole thing apart and start again.  One of us will question the decision to go through this again, and wonder whose fault it is this time.  I’ll keep quiet about the fact that it is my fault, even though we both know my silence speaks volumes.

Cubby wakes up from his nap.  Not content to just add his own whines and shrieks to the mix, he has to find the most annoying toy we own, and

caterpillar cacophany

bring it right there next to Rambo’s exploding head.  This time it was a game I call The Very Annoying Caterpillar.  I bought it because it game with tongs for practicing fine motor skills, but both kids just like to press the button to make the stupid thing dance to the most irritating carnival muzak, and place the little balls in every corner of every room in the house.  And outdoors too, for good measure.  If I attempt to turn the thing off, or take it away, he will add screaming to the cacophony.

I’ll go to make dinner, pretending not to notice the sigh of relief as I leave the room.  I must leave him with sound advice, however, because upon my return the construction is going much better.  Eventually the whole thing will be finished, and I’ll stifle the urge to ask about the leftover screws, preferring to let the worry of them fester in my too-full brain.  Rambo will leave, and a mild-mannered diplomat will take his place.  An unsupervised Pudding has made her way into the games cupboard, and emptied it off its contents.  Because it is all too fresh, I’ll think twice before voicing my desire to have a piece of furniture to store that stuff properly.

In the end, we have a new TV stand.  And a marriage still in tact.  Which is just as well, because I wouldn’t want any of this furniture in the divorce settlement.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 18, 2011 at 2:28 pm

D is for Daddy

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On Friday I collected Cubby from preschool, and we went straight to the consulate to have lunch with Daddy.  Cubby loves going there, and without Pudding around, he was the centre of attention for once.  So I wasn’t surprised that he started crying when it came time for us to leave, but I was surprised that he was still yelling “I want Daddy” through his tears some 40 minutes later.  This is new.  It has always been about me around these parts, and Spectrummy Daddy has always had to play the understudy.  Always.

When Pudding was born, the midwives commented on the same things: her size, the volume of her cry, her insatiable appetite, and her unwavering devotion to her mama.  Far from being disengaged, Pudding would stare at me, and I would stare right back.  If she was awake, she wanted nobody else to touch her.  It was all me, all the time.  The doctor told me she would grow out of it. Well, the doctors back then were wrong about a few things.

As she grew older, it was still me.  I could right her wrongs, and if she was going to share her joys with anyone, it was me.  We thought that sooner or later she’d switch her affections to her father, but it just never happened.  Even when Cubby was born, she wanted only me.  The problem was, so did Cubby.  So we’ve had a couple of years of children whose sensory issues manifest in different ways, and the only one who could fix things was me.

I know how it hurts my husband to be rejected by the children he loves so much.  He wrote here about his efforts to come up with different ways to establish that bond with Pudding.  Now with Cubby, the two of them share a love of sport, so they enjoy watching games together, and I make sure that he goes to his football practice with Daddy.  But still, I was the one he cried for in the night, I was the one who could kiss it better, I was the one he wanted.

I wonder if this is a developmental phase.  I was also very attached to my mother until around this age, when I did an about-face and became a Daddy’s girl, wanting nothing to do with my poor Mum until my late teens when I discovered shopping.  Maybe, given time, this will happen with Pudding too.  Until then, I’m going to enjoy the fact that she’s my girl.  Now we have one of each, that has to be easier.  Both Spectrummy Daddy and I both know that it could be worse, she may have not bonded with either one of us.  Once again, thanking the autism gods for all that we have.

Still, this morning Cubby would only go to his daddy, and when he put him down again, Cubby immediately started crying for more hugs.  I had a small taste of that helpless feeling that my husband has known for so long.  Spectrummy Daddy asked him what he wanted, even though we both knew the answer.  After waiting so long, it was just good to know he was wanted.


This post is part of my A-Z series.  You can find the rest by clicking here.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 17, 2011 at 10:51 am


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Our family finds it quite easy to see the funny side of life. It helps when Pudding and Cubby are frequently hilarious. My Facebook page features one of their gems almost every day, in fact, unless I manage to write them down, I forget half of the spectacular things they come out with . A little humour keeps us on an even keel, and encourages us to keep going on during tough times. But in our house, it has become even more than that.

The kids adore being silly, though strangely, Cubby hates to be called silly, and feels the need to assert that he is funny instead. They love it when we laugh, and once they find something that makes us giggle, they keep going with it. I’ve spent a lot of time with Pudding trying to get her to engage, so I love this role-reversal.  It develops both her communication and social skills, and all I have to do is enjoy it.

What often happens, is that one of the kids will do something that makes us giggle, then the other will try it, and then they up the ante to get funnier and funnier. It turns into a kind of competition for our amusement. On these days, I’m so grateful that they are siblings. They can spur each other on in a way that we as parents could never do, and all we have to do is sit back and laugh.

I’m not doing a great job of explaining their interactions, so here is an example from this weekend to illustrate my point.  Spectrummy Daddy had made a Tex-Mex feast for lunch.  The kids were eating tortillas, and they thought their bite marks made interesting shapes.

Pudding: That’s a moon!

Cubby: That’s not a moon, it’s a circle.

Pudding: It’s not a circle, it’s a ‘O’.

Cubby: It’s not a ‘O” it’s a ‘J’.

Pudding: It’s Hello Kitty.

Cubby: It’s a kangaroo.

And just when you think the bite-shaped tortilla can’t become any more surreal…

Pudding: It’s a petrol station!

Where do you go from there?  Well, if you’re Cubby, you take a small piece of the tortilla, place it on your knee, and say, “Mummy, I’ve got  a band-aid on my boo-boo.”

Who could help but not laugh?  This is a kind of family therapy, of the very best kind.

This post was written for S-O-S Best of the Best Edition 11.


Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 13, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Wordless Wednesday 12 Oct 11

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Sibling togetherness for outdoor painting time.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 12, 2011 at 10:50 am


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“Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man.”

Imagine, John Lennon 1971,  © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, EMI Music Publishing

Imagine is one of my favourite songs.  If I try hard, I can imagine no religion, and no countries, and yes- the world might just be as one.  But, dreamer that I may be, I still get stuck on no possessions.  Last week the rest of our possessions arrived from the US, and materialistic as it may be, it is good to be surrounded by familiar comforts.  Even though we donated or cleared out a lot of our belongings before we moved, there is still so much stuff.

Spectrummy Daddy is allotted a day (or two) to be at home to meet the packers and check that all our belongings our returned (no mean feat when dodging pirates and hijackers), which is awfully nice.  What you don’t realize though, is that it takes way more than a day to unpack, sort, and put away for an entire household.  So I’ve been going through the remainder of the boxes.  While I’m not finished yet, we’re getting there.

My husband is sentimental, and a collector, which is an awful combination for a nomadic lifestyle.  I’ve gone through box after box just incredulous at the kind of things he still keeps.  There is this whole other life- which makes no sense, because everybody knows his life only began when he met me!

But when you look at our possessions, it appears that the reverse is true.  There is hardly anything that belonged to me before we got married.  No photos, no correspondence, only one book compared to dozen after dozen of his- not even including the ones we put in storage.  If you were trying so see who I was before I was a diplowife, you’d struggle to find anything.

When I left England, I only took with me what I could carry, which amounted to one large, and one small suitcase.  Mostly filled with clothes, which no longer fit.  There is a whole lot of my present surrounding me, but nothing of my past.  My mother did bring me some photographs one time when she visited, but they were mostly of my brothers. and in her words, “it doesn’t matter because you all looked the same as babies.”  Thanks Mum!  But really, it doesn’t matter, because the things that are most important to me can’t be put inside a cardboard box and shipped around the world.  John Lennon had it right.

Perhaps because I don’t have too much to be sentimental about, I’m kind of ruthless with purging our house of unnecessary items.  I need to maintain a balance.  You see, if I get homesick, or nostalgic, I can turn to Facebook or Skype and reminisce.  But I’m not sure how this process works for Pudding, who struggles with making connections with others.  For her, those possessions might really be her world in a way that I can’t imagine.

When we first moved, including the time we were in temporary accommodation, Pudding held on tight to her two favourite toys: Abby Cadabby and Kelly doll.  If they went out of her sight, even for a moment, she would panic.  As she became more settled, she felt less of a need to carry them around- to our great relief, as there is no American Girl store here to replace Kelly doll.  Now that the rest of her toys are here, she has felt the need to play with every.single.one.  Perhaps play isn’t the right word…her belongings have been touched, worn, tasted, observed, sniffed, rubbed, sat on, rolled on or placed on top of her.  For a multi-sensory girl like ours, she needs to possess the things that are important to her.  It isn’t enough to see them, or remember them.  She has to experience everything about them, and that way they exist for her.

So now that everything is all around her, Pudding’s world is back in a way that makes sense to her.  I wonder if her playthings might be the very things that help her to connect with the world, and give her some grounding.  Unlike as is suggested in the song, I imagine that her possessions are the very things that give her peace.  In this house, we’re always open to giving peace a chance.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 11, 2011 at 1:30 pm

C is for Culture

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Hmm, I’ll bet you didn’t think I was going to go for Culture for today’s post, did you?  There is a much more obvious “C-word” for autism, and that is “cure.”  But I’m not going there, my friends, for many reasons.  Not least of all because long before ASD, ADHD, SPD and all the other lovely acronyms came into our lives, our kids were already TCKs: Third Culture Kids.  Their upbringing is a cocktail of my English and their father’s US heritage, and a blend of all the countries they have and will live in throughout their childhood.  Much as autism or sensory issues colour our lives, so does this multicultural mix.

One thing that has always fascinated me about Pudding, is that relative to her diagnoses, she is a fairly flexible child.  She handles transitions well, and follows directions and accepts authority at least as well as most of her contemporaries.  Which isn’t to say she doesn’t have meltdowns and behavioural problems, but they seem to come from a different place.  Perhaps she doesn’t understand the situation, or she lacks control over it.  Maybe she isn’t familiar with an expected custom, or she is expecting others to behave according to a custom and they don’t.  Clearly she is a child on the autism spectrum, but these are also difficulties generally found in young children who have lived in a variety of cultures.

Pudding and Cubby have adjusted flawlessly to life here.  Things that are jarring to me because they are so different, are simply accepted as the status quo.  Take Cubby, for instance.  He is currently fascinated by kombi buses.  For those not in the know, a kombi is a kind of minibus that should hold about 10 passengers, but usually has double that.  They are generally old, beat-up vehicles with lights and indicators that don’t work.  Not that it matters, because the drivers never use them anyway.  They prefer to hoot their horns if they want to let you know they’re going through a red light, or crossing your lane, or just coming to an abrupt stop in the middle of the road.  Not that they always choose to let you know.  To my knowledge, white people don’t tend to ride on these vehicles, and they certainly don’t drive them.  I’ve only lived in countries with very strict safety laws about seat belts and maximum occupancy, so I experience a little culture shock regarding the death-trap transportation here.  Cubby, however, will grab a cardboard box and pretend he is driving his kombi bus.  He thinks they are just as awesome as trucks or fire engines were in the US.

The kids are too young to pick up on the poverty and inequality that is prevalent here in the Rainbow Nation.  They are sheltered, of course, in their ethnically diverse, but still expensive and private preschools.  In her own way though, Pudding has made observations about life here.  For instance, when we are in the cleaning aisle while shopping for groceries, Pudding will say, “that’s for Leia*” (our housekeeper).  I still clean at the weekends, and certainly that was my responsibility before we moved here, but she never described cleaning products as “Mummy’s”.

The outcome of all this exposure to different cultures during a child’s development is very interesting.  Third Culture Kids generally excel at communication, and are frequently adept at learning languages.  With a receptive-expressive language delay and auditory processing dysfunction, this isn’t exactly Pudding’s strong suit.  And yet…yet I feel one day it will be.  She picks up on the subtle differences in pronounciation that many can’t detect.  Asking for a drink, for instance, will be a rather English waw-ter from me, and an American wah-derr from Daddy.  She has taken to saying ho-tay-ull (for hotel) as though she is Scarlett O’Hara.

Older TCKs often describe how they don’t feel that they belong anywhere, and both belong to and are apart from their parents’ home culture.  Without the shared experiences of growing up in the same place, they feel very different from their peers, and may adapt better in a foreign land than they do in their “homeland”, which may be neither the place they were born, nor have ever lived.  I’ve read accounts by TCKs where they describe the strange blend of feeling like an alien amongst their peers, but able to assimilate to any culture.  Strikingly familiar for me as a mother of child who looks like any other on the outside, but is so very different underneath.  I’m pretty sure that one day I’ll be steering Pudding towards the exchange students or other global nomads, who might be a little more understanding and accepting of behaviour outside of the cultural norms.

I’ve been thinking about culture a lot, because one thing that strikes me is how family friendly South Africa is.  Children are very much welcomed here, and they are expected to behave…well, like children, really.  Because young children do run around and bounce up and down.  They are loud and exuberant, and why should they be expected to be otherwise?  The western world could learn a thing or two from the attitudes here towards the young.  I’m considerably less tense when I’m out with the children, knowing that they are accepted here.

So, why then, did I get the look from those ladies when we first arrived?  Perhaps they weren’t from here, or they were just plain mean.  Or maybe I was carrying a lot of baggage from living where hyperactive children aren’t so well tolerated.  Where expected behaviour is being still and quiet, two things that are impossible for Pudding.  But one thing is clear to me now, I focused on the one table where Pudding was viewed with negativity, not at the people all around who didn’t notice, or didn’t concern themselves with a child having a meltdown.

The more relaxed I become, the more I see the genuine pleasure people here get from seeing my girl quite literally dance to her own rhythm.  We feel like we belong.  And that is most definitely my kind of culture.

This post is part of my A-Z series that you can find by clicking here.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 10, 2011 at 8:05 am

The Goat’s Cheese Store

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On Tuesday morning I was in a hurry to get the kids to school and return home for the delivery of our household effects. The usual route to Cubby’s preschool was heavy with traffic, so I opted to go a different way.

Cubby: I want to go to the goat’s cheese store!

Me: What?! [I am the only member of our family who eats cheese, and even I don’t remember the last time I bought goat’s cheese.]

Pudding: Goat’s-cheese-store, goat’s-cheese-store.  The goat’s cheese store, Mumm-eh! [Pudding is now pronouncing Mummy in a weird way.  Not sure why.]

Me: Thank you, Pudding.

Cubby: The goat’s cheese store!  I want to go to the goat’s cheese store.

Me: What do you want to do at the goat’s cheese store?

Cubby: Buy goat’s cheese.

Me: [Of course.]  I don’t know where there is a goat’s cheese store.

Cubby: I fink it’s around here some place.

Me: Oh, okay.  But, anyway, we’re going to school now.

We come to an intersection where the Pick n’ Pay hypermarket is located.

Cubby: There it is, Mummy.  The goat’s cheese store!

Me: Aah, I see!  You mean the grocery store.  Say “gro-cer-y store.”

Pudding: Grocery store.

Cubby: Gross-er-cheese store.

Me: Hmm. Or you could call it a supermarket.

Pudding: Supermarket.

Cubby: Su-per-mark-et.

Me: Yes, that’s right.

Cubby: Mummy?

Me: Yes?

Cubby: I don’t want to go to the supermarket.  I don’t like soup, Mummy.

Funny that, he usually likes soup.  Maybe, just maybe, he likes goat’s cheese now instead.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

October 7, 2011 at 4:35 am