Archive for July, 2008
I used to say, in my pre-child wisdom, that boys and girls are exactly alike at birth and parents are responsible for the gender stereotypes that kids follow. I love to look back at myself B.C. (before C) and laugh at how smart I thought I was then, how naive, how ignorant.
Yet I do find myself wondering often about nature vs. nurture and the roles that each plays. I admit to looking at the genetic soup that is Husband’s family and my own and thinking, had we known more, we could probably have predicted this particular child from the mixing of our genes. And conversely, looking at both our personalities, we probably could have predicted raising a relatively happy, pleasant child as well.
Still, I’m baffled at what it is that makes a kid nice, and more specifically, what it is that makes a kid nice to C in particular. There are lots of nice kids who don’t respond well to C, so there’s something more than simple niceness going on. We’ve had play dates before which have varied among disastrous to not-so-bad to pretty good. I haven’t pinpointed exactly the qualities a good playmate for C must have, but there’s something about an easy-going child that seems to counterbalance his particular brand of personality. C has only child-controlling nature-too big for his britches-likes things the way he likes them disorder, which can be problematic for play dates. He also tends to be interested in things most kids don’t care about, like the fact that his crayons have the colors written in French, Spanish and English; or what coins are in his coin collection.
Sometimes, however, it turns out just right, and I’m left to wonder what it is in a playmate that makes for a happy friendship. He had twin girls over yesterday, and while they both have that easy-going, nice personality that helps so much, there’s something else they seem to possess that made the play date such a lovely one for everyone. Perhaps it’s tolerance; they just did their thing, let C do his, and somehow it all worked out beautifully.
Whatever it is, I wish I could bottle it.
I vaguely remember reading parenting books while I was pregnant that had brief discussions about how kids will go through a phase of pushing the boundaries. I’m also pretty sure I remember the books saying the phase would be relatively short-lived, although I now wonder if they were talking about real time or geologic time. I wonder this because ever since C could talk, he has been testing us. Not daily, not hourly, but (on some days) nearly every single moment of the day.
At one point I thought I had found the answer, and rushed to the bookstore to buy a book I’d heard about called Raising the Spirited Child. I actually laughed when I read the book, thinking these people had no concept of what a spirited child actually is. The examples in the book are like child’s play compared to C’s spiritedness.
C doesn’t test at school, for which I am thankful. I tell myself there’s a huge difference between the structure of school, where one is not always allowed to say exactly what’s on one’s mind whenever one so desires. It’s different at home, I think to myself. With this, I manage to keep the thoughts of questionable parenting at bay, despite knowing we are the most consistent parents I know. Truth be told, C isn’t misbehaving; he’s simply constantly testing every single boundary that’s been set, and many more that haven’t even been considered yet. Disturbingly, my memory is taken back to the movie Jurassic Park, in which the dinosaur wrangler says, about the velociraptors, “…They were attacking the fences…never the same place twice…they were testing the fences for weaknesses, systematically. They remember.”
It’s no wonder Husband and I often wander around like we’ve been slapped silly and don’t know what hit us. We have that glazed over, “deer caught in headlights” look that is so common in parents whose children challenge them in one way or another. We breathe a sigh of relief when sleep finally quiets C’s constantly working mind, and for us, sleep isn’t long after. We’re done, tired, zapped, fried.
Adults love C. He manages to charm just about everyone he meets, so when a grown-up comes along that doesn’t seem to be captivated by him, I admit I’m perplexed. It leaves me wondering if I’m just biased in thinking he is, in fact, the coolest kid in the world.
I remember when C was a baby, I thought he was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. “He is such a gorgeous baby, don’t you think?” I asked Husband, my Mom, random strangers in the park. Now, I look back at those newborn pics, and although it pains me to admit it, he was just as much a Winston Churchill lookalike as every other baby in the world.
This previous display of bias calls into question my label of “coolest kid in the world” as potentially not being true. I only start thinking about it when an adult in his life doesn’t fall in love with him like everybody else seems to do. It’s probably good for him to experience people who don’t like him, but he gets enough of that from the kids at the park, so I have to wonder if the adult in question is legally sane. Yet there is a moment of wonder. Is it possible he’s not the coolest kid in the world?
Nah, not a chance.
No, just trains, really. I don’t like to resort to the stereotypical, but C is obsessed with them. This seems to be a common link for many little boys with autism, to the point that one of the specialists we see joked that a love for Thomas the Tank Engine should be part of the diagnostic criteria.
C’s first train set was a GeoTrax, which has been a wonderful toy for child and parents as well. Fun to build, we have spent countless hours creating enormous train track set-ups with this great toy. His collection of pieces and track is massive, mostly due to the fact that we used GeoTrax pieces as incentive for trying new foods. I would hold up the piece and talk about it while I unlocked it from its packaging. It was the perfect distraction in the attempt to keep C from throwing up the new food he was trying. GeoTrax turned out to be far cheaper and far more motivating than feeding therapy in the long run.
But really, it’s all about Thomas, as any of you in the know, know. Thomas engines, Thomas track, Thomas “destinations,” Thomas underwear, swimsuits, alarm clocks, room decorations, birthday themes, video games, pajamas, videos, dishes, blankets, etc. It’s never ending, and it’s a marketer’s dream. I’d say Thomas’ branding rivals McDonald’s in its power over the preschool (um, and sometimes older) set. C can spot the Thomas logo from afar in the most crowded store aisle, and makes a beeline for anything he sees.
Someone, somewhere, is getting quite rich off C’s love for Thomas. Now why didn’t I think of it?
If I only knew the answers to these questions….
1.) Why he puts his hands over his ears when he’s eating something that freaks him out.
2.) Why he sleeps with his blankie wrapped around his head and/or neck. Even when it’s hot.
3.) Why ketchup is okay but tomato sauce is not.
4.) Why he hit his habilitation worker yesterday.
5.) Why he wants ants and spiders to crawl up his arm but he won’t touch a plastic cockroach.
6.) Why he sleeps upside down, sideways, and everywhere but where he’s supposed to, and what that means if he ever gets married.
7.) Why he asks for cardboard flavored rice crackers but I have to beg him to eat a cookie.
8.) Why he can sit still and watch hours of Thomas movies but can’t keep his bottom on the chair for 2 minutes of anything else.
9.) Why he can remember what food he tried to get each and every piece of his GeoTrax train set and in which order he received them, but can’t remember to put his shoes away. Ever.
10.) How he got to be so dang cute I don’t really care much about any of the above.
Is it bad to say our dog and C remind me of each other? I say it with undying love for both dog and kid. Dog was our firstborn; we used to joke when I was pregnant that if the baby was allergic to the dog, the baby would have to go. Dog wasn’t sure about C for awhile, and usually gave C a wide birth as a baby. He did, however, sleep under C’s crib, and usually parked himself next to his carseat on the floor, which is where C spent much of his baby time. C needed lots of calm, quiet, non-interactive time as a baby as he was easily overwhelmed, so I put him in his carseat, sat him on the floor and did things around him. Dog kept watch.
Yet as C grew, I began to note some similarities between Dog and C. Dog definitely has sensory issues. Despite being bred for sheepherding in the moors of Great Britain, he doesn’t like to get his feet wet. When we walk after rains, he takes care to walk around puddles and will go to great lengths to avoid wet paws. I picture Dog with his paws up, fingers splayed, much like C when his hands are dirty.
Along with sensory issues, there are social ones. When C was a toddler, he would go up to other kids in the park and just scream with glee. He had no words yet, and the general response from the other kids was to run screaming in the other direction. C had no idea about personal space or social rules. Dog is the same. He dances in circles around other dogs, jumping and barking happily and probably wondering why the other dog has his tail between his legs. I call it “happy aggressive,” and I have described C in the same terms.
Despite the social difficulties, both Dog and C are social butterflies. Being a herding breed, Dog can’t stand it when we’re all in separate rooms. Just like Dog, C likes to be in the middle of everything and wants everyone together. Truly ones of a kind, both Dog and C wear their hearts on their sleeves and fill the world around them with joy at the same time.
I have no doubt they are related.
“What did you want to be when you growed up, Mommy?” C asked me tonight. Like many little girls of my generation, I wanted to be a nurse, a cowgirl, Miss America and a ballerina. In my answer, I changed the nurse to a doctor, dropped Miss America and did my best to be mostly truthful while trying to stave off the inevitable decline into predetermined gender roles.
“Did your dream come true, Mommy?” he asked a few moments later. We were in the midst of puzzle building and I didn’t really think we were having the same conversation we were having a few moments before. I asked him what he was talking about, and sure enough he was still in the same vein. ”Did you become all those things you wanted to be?”
I was sort of dumbfounded for a moment. How does one answer that question to a literal child? My dreams simply changed from childhood to adulthood, as most dreams do, so I didn’t want to make him feel as though my dreams didn’t come true. Yet there’s likely a real possibility C will become one of his current career aspirations, so I also didn’t want to dash his dreams by saying dreams change.
Sure, the sight of blood and needles makes me swoon, so becoming a nurse/doctor really fell off my radar screen at about age 10. And yes, I did actually do the pageant thing for awhile, and also did the urban cowgirl thing for awhile. I even taught ballroom, country and Latin dance at Fred Astaire Studios, so I guess in a way, I did do some of those things, but I didn’t think that was the answer he was waiting to hear. As I sat there, pondering the meaning of life and trying to answer this child’s question without ruining his day, he reminded me that sometimes I overthink him. He simply continued on in his one-sided conversation and said, “Because I want to be a puzzle maker, and I can be anything I want to be.”
You’re right, C, you’re right.
Today we participated in an ill-fated adventure. One that lasted too long and was too loud. We left, C in tears and me being frustrated that the world is so difficult on him. What were we doing, you ask? A Rolling Stones concert? A rocket blast-off? Times Square on New Year’s Eve? Nope. Nothing quite so dramatic. We just went to see a movie.
C isn’t into movies, although I thought we had found one that might change all that. The only movie he sits through is a feature-length Thomas the Train movie. Mom and I took him to Curious George several years ago, and even though we managed to get him to stay for the whole thing, he was far more interested in reading the credits at the end than watching the movie. Mom and I were completely exhausted from the constant re-directing and re-focusing we did. Silly us, that was back in the days where we thought if we just did typical things with C, he’d be interested in typical things. It wasn’t an effort to make C typical, but rather to show him that some things he might not expect to be interesting actually are. How mistaken we were, how naive; I look back at myself then and laugh much as I do at my high school hair-do pictures.
Yet Aunt J and Uncle T went to see Wall-E, and since C wants to do most anything they do, he wanted to go see this movie. So off we went. I had high hopes, as he has grown up so much since we saw Curious George, and I thought perhaps he was ready for a movie in a theater. Apparently, however, there is a weight requirement, given his inability to hold the seat bottom down with his weight alone. I settled in for a long 2 hours of holding the seat down for him, so ready was I for him to see a real movie.
Mistake number one was going early. By the time the previews started, he was pretty much done with the whole experience. When the lights went down and the previews began, he was completely done. I watched him watch, and it was like being in a 3-D movie – his head snapped back every time something blasted onto the screen, and while this probably had something to do with his vision issues, it probably had as much to do with the pure shock of such live, larger than life action.
He lasted about 10 minutes into Wall-E (which looks like a delightful little movie), before he decided it was time to go. An understanding manager refunded our money, and home we went to some in-house Thomas viewing, where we can control the volume and the light.
The highlight, however, much to my thrill and excitement (sarcasm intended), was the preview for Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Through covered ears, curled up into a ball so only his nose and eyes were sticking out, C laughed out loud at the preview for it. I see movie number three in our future, and I only hope Uncle T and Aunt J are in town to take him to that one.