Thursday, October 23, 2008

Can You Say "Stubborn?"

I'm sure you'll all be happy to know that no table slapping was required last night. The next four pages of Foods homework have been completed, and with minimal belly-achin', and we only have three left to do tonight. Woo HOO!

And because there was minimal bellyachin', Cyd earned some free time on the computer last night. Normally, she visits Pokemon websites, Cartoon Network, or You Tube to watch Sailor Moon; Pokemon; The Grimm Adventures of Billy & Mandy; or Trick My Truck episodes. Every once in awhile, though, she'll play a game - usually Pokemon related somehow.

So, though she plays her Nintendo DS every once in a while, games aren't really her "thing." Imagine my surprise, then, when last Saturday at Target, she brought me a computer game called "Cake Mania" and told me she really, really, really wanted it. It was only $10, but I was thinking that's kind of a lot of money for just a treat for no reason. But then, the twins saw it and chimed in, too. "Ooooh, Mommy, yes, yes, yes!! We love this game!! It is soooo fun!!!" they said. "Please let's buy it, OK, Mommy? OK?!?"

I figured $10 divided by 3 kids was less than $3.50 per kid, which is a more reasonable amount for a "treat." So I looked at Cyd and said, "Well, OK, but if I buy it, you have to share it with your sisters, OK?"

She looked back at me, and said in all seriousness, "Why would you want me to do that?"

We have been working on this "sharing" concept since she was 3, so I am used to explaining "why I would want her to do that." So I explained it to her once more: the game was $10, and it was kind of a lot of money, so if I was going to buy it, then it had to be for all the girls, not just her. That way all the kids could play with it and enjoy it, and not just her.

"But I don't want to share it!" she whined. Really? I hadn't guessed!! But sarcasm is lost on her.

So instead I said, "Well, you can pay for it with your own money, then."

I get the big, heavy sigh. "But Mom, you know I'm saving my money so I can buy a vehicle!" (see my post of September 9, 2008)

I repeated my earlier explanation of $10 being an expensive treat for just one girl, and if I bought her a $10 treat, I'd have to buy a $10 treat for Bretten and a $10 treat for Mychael, too, so that it would be fair. Then that would be $30 in treats. But if all the girls shared the game, then I only had to buy one $10 treat, and so on.

She gave me a look full of disappointment and disgust. "Fine!" she said, and stomped off to put the game back.

I called her back over, and tried to explain that sharing the game might not be as fun as owning it all to herself, but even if she had to share it, at least that meant she still had the game, and that would be better than not having the game at all, wouldn't it? But she was having none of that.

"Mom, I told you, I just don't share."

Well, the twins had observed this exchange, of course, and were jumping around and yapping at me, afraid their slice of the $10 was going down the drain. "Mommy, Mommy!" they cried. "Don't let her put it back, Mommy. You said we could get it. Can we still get it, Mom, huh, can we? We like it, too!! Please, Mommy, please, can we get it, huh?!?!"

"Fine!" I said, and they ran happily off after Cydanie to get the game, anyway. I figured that once we had the game home, the temptation of playing it would help Cyd get over her aversion to sharing and she would end up enjoying the game, anyway.

Flash forward to Cyd's free time last night. I noticed that one of the twins had left the Cake Mania game out right next to the computer as Cyd came in and sat down in front of it. I stealthily tried to observe her as she logged on, while trying to look like I wasn't observing anything (if she knows I'm watching her, she gets irritated with me). I was fully anticipating that as soon as she got started, she'd go ahead and put the CD in and play the game and act like she'd gone along with this "sharing" business from the start.

Imagine my surprise when, instead of putting the "Cake Mania" CD in the computer, Cyd Googled "Cake Mania," instead - and then began playing the free version via the internet!

The internet version has fewer levels, fewer rewards, and runs a lot slower. But apparently, in Cyd's world, it is better to play an inferior game on the internet, than it is to capitulate and actually share a better version of said game with your sisters!

Can you say "stubborn?" Grrrr!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If All Else Fails, Slap the Table

My oldest daughter (the one who has autism) goes to school in what our local school district calls a “self-contained learning center.” That’s a fancy name for what is, essentially, a class room that is set apart from the main school. It has its own lockers and a restroom so that the kids in that class never have to leave it during the school day. All the core subjects are taught there, and my daughter and her classmates only leave to attend whatever “mainstream” classes they might have, or to go to lunch. They wouldn’t even have to leave for lunch necessarily, if they bring their lunch from home.

Anyway, these types of classrooms generally have two teachers and only 10 to 12 students, all of whom have some kind of learning disability and/or sensory or behavioral problems. The small pupil-to-teacher ratio ensures that the kids get the extra academic help and support they need. The fact that this also limits the amount of time they are swimming with the all the neurotypical (i.e., “regular”) kids in the main hallways helps them, too, by minimizing what could be overwhelming sensory input/stimulation, thereby reducing the chances of conflict with any less-than-tolerant neurotypical students.

One of Cyd’s mainstream classes this semester is Foods. Back in the day, we used to call this class “Home Ec.” The name may have changed, but the gist is the same: a couple of days of classwork learning about nutrition and measurements and so on, and then a day cooking in the lab. Cyd loves to cook, so this is, naturally, one of her favorite classes. At the beginning of the school year, I emphasized to Cyd that if she didn’t cooperate on the classwork part, she wouldn’t earn the privilege of being able to cook in the lab part. I assumed she understood, and the school year was just floating along smoothly.

Silly me.

Yesterday, I get a call from Mrs. K, the Foods teacher. She just doesn’t know what to do, because Cyd is missing 11 assignments and is getting a D-, and the term ends Friday. Mrs. K doesn’t want to fail Cyd, but she can’t, in good conscience, give her a B based on labs alone. I panic. I know it’s “just” Foods. It's not like its Calculus or Chemistry or something really hard or even part of the “core” curriculum (like reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic)! But, seeing as this and gym are the only two mainstream classes she has this semester, it's important that she at least do all the assignments and maximize her participation points to help offset any difficulties she might have in other areas. I tell Mrs. K I understand her dilemma, of course I don’t expect her to pass Cyd if Cyd is not doing the work. I ask if there is some way Cyd can make up these assignments and bail her grade out of the toilet.

Mrs. K says sure - all the “assignments” are, are end-of-unit summaries/quizzes that Cyd has just plain refused to do. None of them have more than 20 questions, and the questions are not difficult. But, I explain that Cyd has always had a test-taking "thing" (from the age of 3 and her first autism “diagnostic inventory”), so I am not surprised that when they tried to get her to do these in class, she would just cry. So then Mrs. K said she told Cyd she could just copy them out, giving her the answers and everything, but all Cyd would do was put her head down and pretend to sleep. Why Mrs. K waited to tell me about the problem until the last week of the term, I'm not quite sure, but that’s a different story.

This story is about doing homework with Cyd, and I had to give you all that background so that you could fully appreciate the following:

Knowing that any homework is enough to set Cyd off on a melt-down, I try to be very cheery when I get home and ask Cyd for her papers from Mrs. K. I get Cyd some freshly sharpened pencils and some notebook paper, and set Cyd up at the dining room table. She is ready for business! I give her one paper that has 18 questions on it. They are mostly just pretty basic things, like, “The US Food and Drug Administration recommends six servings of grains per day for optimum nutritional health,” and “Unsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature, and consist of monounsaturated (found in olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds), and polyunsaturated (found in walnuts, soybeans, and oily fish such as sardines and tuna).” All Cyd has to do is copy these sentences, as the words that were left blank in the “real” quiz have already been filled in for her on this copy.

I explain this to Cyd. “Just write these sentences,” I say. “Copy them onto your paper, just like they are written here. I’ll be in the kitchen, so just holler if you need any help.”

I go into the kitchen to read the newspaper, do the dishes, and just putter. It is dead silent in the dining room. About a half hour goes by, and I go in to check on Cyd. The paper in front of her is blank. She has not done a thing but sit there and stare at it for 30 minutes.

“Cyd! What are you doing? C’mon – get started!” I say. She looks up at me from underneath her too-long bangs, and tears well up in her eyes.

“It’s hard!” she wines.

“Oh, Cyd, you don’t need to cry! C’mon! Just write your name at the top of your paper. You can do that, can’t you? That’s not hard!”

“I just don’t want to do it,” she moans.

At this point, I’m still full of patience and sunny optimism. “I know you don’t want to do it, honey, but, if you don’t do it in school when Mrs. K asks you to, then you have to do it at home. All you need to do is just copy the words – you don’t even have to look anything up or guess. The faster you start, the faster you’ll finish. C’mon!”

All I get is more tears.

Mind you, an hour has now gone by, and she still has not so much as even touched the pencil in front of her, not even to write her name. Tears are dripping off her chin and leaving dimples on the paper. And mind you, she has eleven of these pages to copy!

The minutes tick by. I pull out all my tricks. I bargain: "If you finish one, then you can have a break and get a snack!"

“Mom, I told you, I just don’t want to. I don’t do homework!”

“Well, if you don’t do it in school, you certainly DO do homework, alright! That’s the rule – do it in school, or do it at home. Either way, you’ve got to do your work.”

No response except the occasional sob.

So then I plead: "Please, Cydanie, Mommy doesn't like to fight with you – just please do it! C’mon!"

All I get in reply are more sobs.

Now I am losing my cheeriness (!) and am starting to get mad. I threaten: "If you don't do what Mrs. K says and write down these sentences, she won't let you be in her class anymore. Then you'll have to spend all your time with Mr. B! And even worse, you’ll be in trouble with Mom!"

Cyd continues to stare morosely at her pencil.

I am ashamed to say that this is the point at which my last button was pushed. I smack the flat of my hand down on the table, the loud bang making Cyd jump and look up at me. I yell, "That's IT!! You are acting like a baby! Grown-up kids…” Here, Cyd interrupts me.

“I’m not a grown-up!”

I roll right over the top of her words. “…Grown-up kids who want to get driver's licenses do their work when they’re told. But if you want to act like a baby…”

Cyd interrupts again. “I’m not a baby!”

“Well,” I growl, “you’re sure acting like one! If you want to act like a baby, then I'll treat you like a baby - a big, almost 16-year-old baby!”

Cyd interrupts again. "But Mom, I'm not 16. I'm only 15!"

I am all worked up now. I shout, "I don't care! 15 OR 16 - it's too old to act like this! I'm going to count to 10 and if you are not writing by the time I get to 10, I'm going to spank your butt!" I grab her hand and put the pencil in it, and set the point on the top of the blank sheet of paper.


I flop back in the chair across from her, red-faced and breathing heavy, and stare her down. Finally, she starts to write her name. I hold my breath as she starts to copy down sentence number one. She stops midway, and looks up at me. I narrow my eyes and point back to her paper. She goes back to writing.

We continue this way for the next 90 minutes or so. I keep getting the stink eye every now and again. She writes a line, glares at me and complains for a couple of minutes, then writes another line, then glares and complains some more, then writes a line, then glares/complains....

At the end of the evening, we had finished four of the eleven papers that are due Friday. That means four tonight, and three Thursday night, and then she’ll be all caught up. I certainly hope we don’t have to repeat this entire process tonight to get her started on the next batch. I think I'll go straight to the slapping the table part, if so.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A One-of-A-Kind Souvenier

I just got back from a quick trip to San Francisco. We stayed in a hotel about two blocks away from Fisherman's Wharf. We visited Chinatown and the North End ("little Italy"), as well as took a cruise around the bay and a ride on a cable car. I had some of the best meals I've had in a l - o - n - g time: roasted mussels with garlic, gnocchi with spinach and walnuts, a burger from In-and-Out, and so on. San Francisco is one of my favorite towns - it has a sensibility and an eclecticness that just seem to "match" me. "Weird" is normal there, and that appeals to me.

I truly love the wharf area, though. I love the smell of the ocean and the faint, lingering, fishiness of the day's catch. I love the smell of sourdough baking. I love the sound of sealions barking and gulls squawking. I love all the "only in San Francisco" sights, from the beautiful orange bridge rising out of the bay, to the glass cases full of pink shrimp and red crab lined up like soldiers in formation, to the numerous oddities you find populating the piers: the homeless lady who drops down to the sidewalk like she's going to do push-ups, only to lick the cement; the "Bush Man" hiding behind his fake shrubbery to jump out at unsuspecting tourists; what seem like dozens of "robot man" guys who paint themselves silver (one was gold!) and pretend to be statues as they stand on top of a milk crate, and so on. I love the feel of the sea breeze in my hair and the salt mist on my skin, and the kaleidescope of brilliant colors in all the cheap tourist-trap shops along the Embacadero. If I were ever going to live in a "big" city, San Francisco would definitely be on the top of my list.

My brother, Bert, asked me to bring him "something cool" from my trip. I was only too happy to oblige, since he was taking care of my dog while I was gone. However, since I was not exactly sure what qualified as "something cool," I asked him to be more specific. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe something hippy?"

So with nothing more specific in mind, I wandered up and down the Embacadero. Finally, I saw something that would be perfect for him. I walked past a man, sitting in one of the flower planters that line the sidewalk, wearing what were clearly last week's clothes (if not last month's) and eating something unidentifiable out of a styrofoam container. He had a sign made out of cardboard propped against his chest, and on it was scribbled in marker, "Why lie? Need money for beer. Out of luck - spare me a buck!"

I approached him and said, "Hey, I'll buy your sign from you!"

He had a hard time making both eyes focus on me at the same time. His right eye seemed to be looking at me, but his left eye was squinting and looking off to the left somewhere. "You aren't going to go panhandle with it, are you?" he asked me.

"No," I said. "I just want to buy your sign."

"If I sell you my sign, what will I use?"

"I don't know," I said. "You can make yourself a new one."

He hesitated. "Welllll..."

"I'll give you twenty bucks for it."


I handed him a twenty, and he gave me his sign, and we were both happy with the deal.

As I walked away, I heard him mumbling under his breath, "Geez, I should just make signs...." I laughed, and congratulated myself on scoring a truly one-of-a-kind souvenier that pretty much epitomizes San Francisco.

The next day, we were out on the wharf again. I saw my former business partner sitting in the same flower bed. Guess what? He had a new sign that read, "Why lie? Need money for beer...."

Guess it's not so "one-of-a-kind," after all.

Monday, October 6, 2008

How do YOU determine the worth of a soul?

As promised, here is my blog post on determing the worth of a human being.

As I wrote in an earlier post, my counselor gave me a task: determine how to ascribe worth to a soul. Ostensibly, this is so that I can try to see myself as valuable not because of how much I make, how many degrees I have, how hard I work or how much I accomplish, but valuable just because I am. We got on this topic because I mentioned to her that I come from a family who, to a person, is probably "better" than average in terms of kindness, intelligence, generosity, goodness of heart, etc., and yet probably a good 75% of them feel "unworthy" somehow. No matter what they know about themselves empirically, they struggle to believe it emotionally.

And, if you go back and read some of the writings of my great-grandmother's mother, you realize that it has been this way for us generation after generation. Why is that? Especially when there are those out there who are less of all those characteristics that I think "should" lead to lots of esteem, and yet somehow they are convinced that the planets revolve around them (and everything else should, too!). How does that work?

So anyway, the counselor told me to try to determine what makes a soul worth something, and how would I determine that one soul, for whatever reason, might be more or less worthy than another one. Here is where I am at so far:

At first I was thinking that all people had worth simply because they were alive. But then I thought, well, cows and chickens are alive, too, but I don't think they are worth as much as a human being. So the mere fact of being a living, sentient being is not the determining factor - at least, not for me.

So then I thought, well, anyone who makes the world a better place has worth. But, I think everyone makes the world a better place. It's just that some do it by coming into it, and others do it by leaving! So anyway, that's not going to work, either.

So, to all three or four of you who actually read this, I am conducting a poll: How do YOU determine the worth of a human soul? And using whatever you use, how do you determine what makes one person better than another? I'm looking forward to your input...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Returning To Your Roots and Karma

Some things have happened lately that make me realize that who you are as an adult, has a lot to do with how you were raised. You can fool yourself for a little while, trying out different lifestyles, etc., but you generally return to your roots, I think. For instance, if as you were growing up, your parents emphasized honesty, responsibility, charity, kindness, etc., chances are that you will emphasize those same values in raising your own children. Or, if you were raised to believe that you've always got to be looking out for Number One and you are perfectly justified to plan and scheme every weasel-ish way to work a situation to your advantage (like someone who shall remain nameless - but I bet you can guess who it is!) then you will eventually go back to that, no matter how many years you tried to live your life a bit more honestly/generously.

I know that I was not nearly as nice of a person 20 years ago as I am now. Not saying I'm nice now, mind you, but I'm nice-er. Case in point: when Grandma Jean was still alive, we were at the park celebrating a birthday. I think it was my brother, Elj's, but I'm not sure how old he was at the time - maybe 10 or 12? Anyway, my grandma was diabetic and diabetics tend to have a lot of circulatory problems in their extremeties, so she had been having trouble with her feet. So here we are at my brother's birthday - a big day in the life of a little kid, for sure! My mom (Pegge) is rushing around, organizing the big "Happy Birthday" song and trying to light candles and everything, but my grandma was like, "Pegge? Come look at my toe. What do you think, Pegge? Do you think it's OK, Pegge? How does it look? Pegge? Pegge?"

My mom dropped everything to go look at my grandma's toe, and for some reason, it irritated the crap out of me. I was like, "Geez, Grandma - this is Elj's birthday! Can't you wait a minute? Gosh - why does everything have to be about you! Can't you see my mom is busy? Don't you realize a kid's birthday ought to center around him, and not his grandma's toe? Can't we at least sing to him first? Fer cryin' out loud!" I didn't say anything like this, of course, but I was having a lot of uncharitable thoughts about Grandma and my mom, too, for getting sucked in to Grandma's "poor me" quest for attention. I thought to myself, "Man, I'm never going to be like that with my mom, or anyone else! How would anyone know that that is inappropriate behavior, if I reward them with attention? Grrr!"

Skip 18-some odd years into the future, to a day earlier this week. I was telling my mom about a recent visit to my counselor, and how she had talked about how easy it is to assign value/give worth to others, but how hard it was for me to find charity in my soul for myself. The counselor gave me an assignment: how do you determine the worth of human being? What is their intrinsic value, not because of who they are or what they have or what they've done, but just because they merely exist, and just are? This is a topic worthy of it's own separate blog post, to be sure, and I'll get around to it, eventually, but I was telling my mom how difficult of a question I thought this was to answer.

My mom proceeded to tell me, for at least an hour if not longer, how she would answer the question. Oh. My. God. I thought I would die from boredom. I kept blanking out, as unfortunately, her voice was like the hum of an air conditioner, or the sound of far-away lawn mowers on a sunny summer day: just a distant, steady, droning of "Bzzz, bzzz, bzzz, bzzz. Buh-bzz, bzz, bzzzz. Bzzzzzzzz!" If I was still the same person I was during Grandma's toe incident, I would have been all, "Uh, yeah, OK. Thanks, Mom! Gotta go! Buh-bye!" about 10 minutes into the monologue - afterall, this was a question about me, from my counselor, that I was supposed to answer for myself - NOT my mother's views on life!

But, I forced myself to practice charity and listen generously, even though I didn't particularly want to, because I knew she was enjoying having the chance to have an intellectual discussion and a willing ear. I was surprised at my mom's depth of insight. She's actually quite a philosopher, in her own way, and rather wise for someone who never got a college degree or ever, according to her, even felt particularly intelligent.

And I realized, also, that not only will who I am now listen to an hour's worth of "speechifying" from her mother and try to find value in it, even when it's difficult - who I am now would've stopped the party to pay attention to my grandma's toe, too, if I had the chance.

I guess my mother raised me right, after all, even if it took me a while to figure it out. I must have learned, unintentionally, from my mom's example, how to be a kinder, gentler person. I did come back to my roots - or at least, I'm in the process of it. Perhaps the Karmic pay-off to my mom for listening to Grandma's toe complaints all those years ago and making her feel valued, was me learning to listen to my mom now and making her feel valued. And one day, my surly pre-teens will (hopefully!) learn to do the same for me, and that will be my Karmic pay-off.

So, yeah, I was raised to be nice, and I think I'm nicer now than I was. But - I am not nice enough, to not sincerely hope that the Karmic pay-off for individuals who return to their weasel-y roots, will come back to bite them in their weasel-y little (bleep!)!!