Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘culture

Pudding Was A Girl

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On Friday afternoon, I was trying to hold it together.  I was exhausted, and wanted to crawl into bed, but that wasn’t an option.  I’d kept Pudding home from school with a cold, but she was just getting more and more hyperactive.

I went to the bathroom, and when I returned to the kitchen, I found some hair that had been snipped.  Close by were some kitchen scissors, that had been placed out of reach, but nothing is out of reach to Pudding.  It was only a matter of time before she cut her hair again, and that was the time she chose.

At first I was relieved that such a small amount had been cut, but when I picked it up to out it into the rubbish bin, I found lots more.  I did not handle it well.

She’d cut the hair above her ear, and It looked like a one-sided mullet.  Together with the bits of hair that she’d cut close to the scalp the last time, it looked really bad.

The next day I’d calmed down considerably, but I still hated the hair.  The last time she’d cut it, we’d taken her to the hairdresser.  Spectrummy Daddy thought that if we established that hair could only be cut in a salon, she’d stop attempting it at home.  I’d demanded a pixie cut, but she refused and did her best to fix it up.  I didn’t like the “style” with Pudding’s contribution to the procedure still clearly visible.

So on Saturday, I resolved to take matters into my own hands.  My friend came over to help (make sure I didn’t go too far), and Pudding got a pixie cut.  It really looks adorable.  Her eyes seem even larger than before.  The bits that she cut blend in much better.  It has more texture, but is easier to manage.  I love it.

She hates it.

She felt how short I was cutting it at the back, and ran from the chair.  I had to finish trimming as she bounced all over the place.

But worse was to come when she looked in the mirror.

Pudding was a girl.” Over and over.  Followed by screaming and crying.

We went out into the garden to calm down, which I hoped would happen quicker without any mirrors around.  My friend took this photo, which at once shows how cute her new style is, and how unhappy she is about it.

While Pudding has always been attracted to long hair, I never realized she had made such an association between hair-length and femininity.  I thought she just enjoyed the tactile sensation as a sensory seeker.  Pudding’s hair came in slowly as a baby, and doesn’t grow quickly now.  I didn’t realize that she had this impression that girls must have long hair, and boys’ must be short.

She was still upset later when we went to an event with the consulate community.  I mentioned to another friend how upset she was, who told me she’d read recently that girls in kindergarten will already exclude other girls if they don’t have long hair!  Like Pudding needs another reason to be excluded- we can’t even get her onto kindergarten.

A couple of days later, and she seems to have settled into her hair.  At least, she can look into a mirror without tearing up.  We went to the shops to let her pick out new hair accessories, and everybody agrees how gorgeous she looks.  It is long enough for her to twirl still, but dries much more quickly (the noise of the hair -dryer is a problem for our girl).

So we thought our problem was a 5 year-old who is a little scissor-happy, but now I wonder at how her self-esteem may be affected.  There is a bigger problem that our culture so effectively constructs femininity that hair-length is such a serious matter at such a young age.  Then again, should I be pleased that a child on the autism spectrum is sensitive to such matters?

I don’t really have the answers to such questions.  I’m just trying to raise two children to be as happy and balanced as possible in a world that isn’t always very accommodating to those who are different.  If Pudding feels she needs long hair, then I’m not going to get in the way of that.  I just hope she doesn’t self-sabotage when she next feels the urge to cut.

And given how long it is going to take to grow her hair out, maybe she’ll learn there is much more to who she is than her hair, a lesson I once learned myself.  Long hair or short, she’ll always be somebody.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

March 27, 2012 at 11:47 am

Snakes, Chutes, and Ladders

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English: Snakes and ladders, board game. ‪Nors...

Image via Wikipedia - which is actually firemen hoses and ladders, making even more sense! Is this the Canadian version...hosers and ladders?

In our Anglo-American household which is a heady mix of spectrummy preschoolers and grown-ups stuck in their nerdy teenage ways, we often dispute what things should be called.  If the kids are involved, they win.  If it is between Spectrummy Daddy and I, the battle can last and last, we’re both as stubborn and argumentative as each other.  Actually, he would argue that he isn’t, but I refuse to budge from my assertions.  You see how it is here?

Sometimes one of us is forced to concede.  I don’t like the word “diaper” and he dislikes the connotations of the word “nappy”- an offensive term in the US, but not at all in England.  Though nappies or diapers can be pretty offensive- just ask Cubby, who has taken to blaming his sister when he has a dirty one.  Pudding initially called them nappies, but switched to diapers, and that decided that.

Then again, he argued that “pacifier” was a much better term than “dummy”, but Pudding called it a dum-dum, then Cubby did, and that is The End.

I allowed that “Mimosa” is a better term than “Buck’s Fizz”, the latter just a little too tacky sounding for a drink containing champagne, though it does get full marks for inspiring our Eurovision winners.

Had we not married, I would never have known that the popular board game we call Snakes and Ladders where I’m from, is actually Chutes and Ladders in the US.  Spectrummy Daddy might think he has won this round, because chutes are a far more logical companion to ladders than snakes, what with them both being a common feature of construction sites.  Still, I never let a little thing like logic get in my way (just don’t tell my Aspie that).

I was reflecting about this particular board game yesterday morning as my kids returned to school following their summer break.  Cubby went from crying about returning to school to a full screaming meltdown as he struggled to cope with a new teacher and classroom.  Pudding initially tried to bargain with me that she would go to school tomorrow, not today.  When this didn’t work, she worked her way up to refusing to get out of the car, and after a struggle to get her inside came the worst of all- withdrawing into herself.

As both kids were hit with anxiety which manifested in different ways, I was dismayed to find us all back at square one, after all the effort it took to settle initially.  So did we fall down a chute, or slide down a serpent?

I’d say that even as we were climbing ladders, I could hear the portentous hiss close at hand.  At times, trying to navigate this terrain makes me feel lost and scared, never knowing what is lurking in the surrounding jungle. A bite from one of these adders can leave us paralyzed for some time.

He might respond that there is no venom as we slide back down.  We simply land in a pile of rubble, dust ourselves off, and start back up the ladder to get back to work.  And he might be right, because though there were tears this morning, they were fewer.  They’re getting better at working their way up the rungs again.

What we can agree on, is that the ladder is the most important thing.  Because this game- whatever you may call it- is stupid, requiring huge amounts of patience.  There is no skill involved, just random luck with the throw of a dice.  I don’t want to play any more.  I need to find a way to cheat, moving onwards and upwards, never slipping back down.  I’m determined to win.  There is a good chance I will, just ask Spectrummy Daddy.  He’ll agree with me for the sake of peace an quiet, which I suppose would make him the real winner after all.  He might be a pacifier, but I wouldn’t call him a dummy.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

January 12, 2012 at 10:39 am

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