Archive for July 2012
“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” The Olympic Creed.
So, have you been watching The Olympics? I’m very glad not to be in London at the moment, but I have been watching my fair share of TV. Unusual for me, because I’m so very not sporty that I can’t normally stand to watch any of The Olympics.
This year though, I’ve been paying much more attention. I loved the esoteric opening ceremony. We are proud of ourselves, and we don’t care what anyone else thinks…yes, my children are definitely part British.
Of course we support teams GB and USA, but we also have a soft spot for the other places we’ve lived. When I watched all the athletes from all over the world, I thought of all the friends we have in far-flung places, and which of these bizarrely dressed nations I would one day call home.
In our house we are particularly rooting for Oscar Pistorius- a local South African athlete who challenges conceptions about disability. He has a courage, strength and determination that I can already see germinating in my little ones. Different challenges, same spirit.
We’ve been taking part in our own version of the Olympic Games. Pudding is setting a world record in the naked trampolining event. Then we invented a game with pool noodles, a rug, and two bean bags. Essentially we just bash each other. The adults can’t leave the rug, but the kids score by getting on there. They can also sit in safety on the bean bag chair, but getting hit is too much fun to do that for long. Cubby is a natural.
Sometimes we win just by taking part, our struggles are our triumphs, and we fight well even when we don’t conquer. And sometimes it is just about hitting and being hit with a pool noodle until you all dissolve into giggles. That is the kind of spirit that deserves some kind of medal, and I for one am going for gold.
Far removed from the terrible tragedy in Colorado, and insensitive media speculation that managed to both diagnose an individual without having met him, and demonize those on the autism spectrum, Batman means something else in our home.
Cubby, like his daddy, has taken a shine to Batman. He likes other superheroes too, and knows all the real names and those of the villains. Spectrummy Daddy even made up a superhero story for Cubby, and his alter-ego, The Neme-Sis (get it?).
A few weeks ago Grandma sent him some Batman nightwear (complete with cape) and a Batman action figure. Spectrummy Daddy couldn’t fit in the pajamas, so Cubby was allowed to keep those. I’m perhaps married to the only diplomat with a Batman toy on his desk. Then again, Spectrummy Daddy showed up to the consulate yesterday in his Batman shoes, so I shouldn’t be surprised. Don’t worry, he doesn’t wear them to his meetings- he has his Batman cufflinks for those.
Because I’m nothing if not an enabler, I taught Cubby to say, “I’m Batman” in the trademark growl. It is obscenely cute. It doesn’t matter if he is decked up like the caped crusader- my blond-haired, blue-eyed little bundle of mischief doesn’t make for the most convincing Batman.
Yesterday morning was a hard one for Cubby. He opened up his bottle of whine before 5am. Finally Spectrummy Daddy had had enough, and deemed Cubby not fit to wear the pajamas he so covets.
“Batman doesn’t whine,” he told Cubby.
So our very own Bruce Wayne lifted off his pajama top, and patting his belly growled at his Daddy:
“I’m NOT Batman.”
That was the first time I actually believed he could be The Dark Knight.
Today he told Daddy that he could his Robin. I’m not sure where Pudding and I fit into his scenario, but at least I know that when life in our own version of Gotham City gets a bit too much for us, we can always escape to Wayne Manor with a certain billionaire philanthropist. Hey, my boys aren’t the only ones who can fantasize!
There is nothing like going to a local community event to make you realize that we’re not your average ordinary family. Today was Sports Day at Cubby’s school. The 18th annual sports day for this preschool, and most families have been coming here to cheer on the kids for years now. This was our first time.
Most of the other families have lived around here for a while, and they know each other. A couple of faces were familiar to me from morning drop-offs, but we were definitely the outsiders. One mother, hearing my accent, asked where we were from. Did she mean my country of birth, my husband’s or the kids’? I could have given her three different answers for a fairly simple question. We don’t belong here, but you can’t tell that just by looking at us.
Nobody really noticed that Cubby wasn’t trying to win. He was more focused on what the other kids were doing than what he was supposed to do. And probably nobody noticed that his muscles tired a little sooner than the other kids his age. He wasn’t first, he wasn’t last, he did what he needed to do. He passed.
But those sitting close to us probably soon noticed the five-year-old who is the size of a nine-year-old who was constantly squirming and repeating the same phrases over and over, and twirling hair. Indeed, when twirling her own hair and mine wasn’t enough, Pudding moved on to the long braids of the lady sitting next to us. But she doesn’t want to twirl a stranger’s hair, so she asked her name. “It’s an African name,” replied the lady with a smile. “Hello African,” responded Pudding. You can’t make this stuff up!
Pudding doesn’t really pass any more. Her differences are too apparent, too inappropriate for her perceived age. Even her actual age. But if she has realized that, she hasn’t expressed it yet to me. There is solace in that- I’d rather have my girl unaware than hurting.
This sports day required actual participation from the families too. There was a mum’s race (I came fourth!), dad’s, grandparents, teachers, brothers, and-yes- sisters. The groups were divided up into big sisters and little sisters. Even if Pudding was up against kids her own age or younger, racing isn’t something she really understands. She has no competitive streak that makes her want to be first to the finish line. She only “runs” while holding my hand, and even a few years of OT and PT haven’t changed that gallop into a running gait. There were many reasons for Pudding sitting this one out, but none of them mattered; because I asked if she wanted to run with the other sisters, and she said yes.
She was on her marks, she got ready, but she didn’t go at the same time as the other girls. I encouraged her and she set off, then twirled around, then galloped on a pace or two. The race was already won, but for us it wasn’t over. I could hear the cheering and applause, and I heard it die down. Pudding wasn’t even half way through. But she kept going, and I kept cheering. By the time her gallops took her across the finish line, the next racers were already lined up.
But it didn’t matter. Pudding was pleased with herself. I spun her around in victory, and we returned to Cubby and Daddy and we all cheered her on as if she’d just competed in the Olympics, and won. And right at that moment, I thought about how all of you would be cheering too. There is a place where we celebrate triumphs that most people don’t even recognize. Where we don’t stop cheering until every child makes it to the finish line, in their own way, in their own time. And that is where we belong.
I went to work today, for the first time in seven years. I’m now a working mother, or a mother working outside of the home for the first time. I ate lunch today with my colleagues, and only when somebody asked for a napkin did I realize that I’d taken a pile of them, to deal with the inevitable spills that I invariably deal with. But not any more, during the weekdays at least.
And when I went to the bathroom, I did so much enjoy going alone, yet I still forgot I could use the hand dryer with no Pudding and Cubby around.
But those were the only times I noticed a big change. I’ve arranged my hours so that I collect the children at 3. Aside from the fact that I’m wearing make-up and nicer clothes,the kids haven’t noticed a change in routine. As transitions go, this has been effortless. I told you I was prepared.
In fact, working as a mother feels so far like, well, working. It helps that I’m only working 32 hours a week, and it helps that my supervisor is family-friendly. It helps that I’ve already put trust in other people to take care of my kids. But I don’t feel at war, with other mothers or with myself. In fact, my views on the “Having It All” debate are largely unchanged.
I didn’t work for the early years of child-raising because I had the privilege of staying at home. Yes, we made sacrifices. We couldn’t afford to visit my family for three years, and things were tight, but having a parent stay at home was an option for us, at least in the short-term. We were fortunate to have that privilege, I have never felt like I made a sacrifice.
And now, we’re fortunate enough to be in a position when I can return to work, and it can be my choice. That choice is a privilege many women will never know. I don’t feel like I’m making a sacrifice. Maybe because I’ve seen both points of view, I didn’t feel like making a choice between family and work was the right focus…but having the ability to choose really is.
I want my daughter to have these same choices that most of us take for granted. I don’t know how Pudding will progress. Autism is a lifelong disability, or difference, or disorder. Call it what you will, it makes it hard to predict the future. I can’t say if Pudding will be able to work, or if she will have a family. Maybe she’ll want both, or neither, or just one. I only know that we will do everything we can to make sure she has those options, just like the choice was always there for me. And making that choice available? That is the real privilege for this working mother.
And you thought I’d struggle with a ‘Q’ post! Quiet is not a word I often associate with my children. They both seem to make more noise than your average little one. I tend to think of quietness or loudness being a personality trait. In many ways it seems fixed, but as with all things to do with personality- nothing is set in stone.
I was a very quiet and shy child. I’m still very much an introvert who likes being at home, and can find busy social events somewhat tiring. But I’m far less shy and quiet than I once was. Perhaps some people meeting me now wouldn’t consider me that way at all. Maybe the social demands on me have required a stronger presence. Maybe character is really something that shifts depending on the situation.
Spectrummy Daddy and our children don’t tend to be quiet very often. Cubby talks incessantly around his family and friends, but becomes quieter when he is nervous. When he first started school, his teacher wasn’t sure he was verbal. His current teacher wonders if he can ever stop talking.
While peace and quiet is a state I relish, when it comes to Pudding, it can mean something is very wrong. If she is very upset or overwhelmed, she retreats into herself. It is agony for a mother to see her child hurting without knowing the cause. Believe me when I say I prefer her meltdowns to be of the explosive kind. That way we are at least immediately aware of how she feels, and we can do our best to get her needs met.
So, partly because it seems unnatural for my family to be quiet, and partly because withdrawal is far worse, we don’t make many demands on the children to be quiet. Little children are seen and heard, expressing themselves and engaging with us.
But there are times when quiet is necessary, and I’ve realized lately that at those times, Pudding appears to be incapable of being quiet. Recently at a gathering at the Consulate, Pudding was fine until speeches were being made and I asked her to be quiet. From that point on, she became disruptive and demanding. Our community is very supportive, but as they were the only children there, I couldn’t help but feel the focus of unwanted attention.
I tried distracting her with snacks. She would loudly refuse them, or demand others. I tired distracting her with books, “I’M READING…PUDDING’S READING…I’M READING A BOOK!” and drawing, “PUDDING’S DRAWING A PICTURE, I’M DRAWING A PICTURE, MUMMY DRAW A PICTURE!.” The more embarrassed I became, the more she acted up. Eventually I removed her from the situation, and she immediately calmed down.
I knew I was doing something wrong, but I was too close to the problem to figure out a solution. Yesterday I raised the issue in a meeting with Pudding’s therapeutic team, who immediately saw where I’d gone wrong, and offered alternative approaches.
They suggested looking at the ability to keep quiet, a real struggle for a child with autism and ADHD, as a skill that she needs to learn. The best time to learn a skill is not in socially demanding situations, but when everyone is calm and comfortable (including me). Oh I know, so obvious once somebody else points it out!
Pudding is not in an ABA program, but because the intended result (being quiet) is so inherently unrewarding for her, this was a good occasion to use a positive reinforcement approach. So yesterday we made a game of it with Pudding and Cubby. We played “Quiet Time” using a one minute countdown on my phone. If they managed to keep quiet for the whole minute, they earned a pink smartie (imagine a european M&M, American readers). Pudding managed it twice, but Cubby was the real winner at this game. I probably need to reduce the length of time to 30 seconds next time we play, and then increase it from there.
It is too early yet to tell if this approach will work, or if Pudding will be able to generalize it to more demanding situations. But I like to think that this is a skill she can learn, rather than a fixed character trait. After all, if I can learn to become more forward and resolute in advocating for my children, that surely means that we can nurture the traits in ourselves that are most useful to us at any given time.
So Q is for Quiet. A handy skill at times, but not always the most essential tool. The art of knowing when to keep quiet and when to speak out is a skill most of us keep developing throughout our lives. I’m certain my children will be no exception.
This post is part of my A-Z series. You can read the rest by clicking >here<.