Tuesday, February 24, 2015

It’s the Little Things

So by now my readers know I’m heavily into bribing my kid with toys to get him into the habit of chores and life skills. Positive reinforcement, people! And why not? We all expect to get paid for our hard work. I’m setting up a diehard capitalist here. His next step will be hiring others to pick up his underwear for him. That will be a proud day.


Today his chores, tomorrow the world!

When it comes to Kiddo’s take on the way things work, he doesn’t do what doesn’t benefit him in some way. If there is no concrete reason for it, then there is no reason for it at all. Thanks to autism, he doesn’t see intangibles as really existing. Things like, it makes Mommy happy or the house looks nice for company or brushing one’s own teeth shows you are becoming a big boy – no, these are not important in a mostly black and white world. I get the attitude. It’s like my own when it comes to making my bed...no one but me and Hubs goes into our bedroom and we’re just going to get back into it that night. What’s the point?


I’d like to say I’m doing something productive with the two minutes I don’t use to make the bed, but I’m probably just picking my toenails somewhere.

Imagine my shock and delight then, when Kiddo did a chore for something that didn’t cost me money. Oh, he still expected payment all right, but not in the form of toys or anything physically tangible. He did it to spend time with me. 

It happened on Laundry Day, the one housecleaning item I cannot avoid. Among the many activities Kiddo’s school is always trying to guilt-trip us into participating in, Fun Naked Day is not among them. So dirty clothes must be washed and dried and folded and put away. 

Kiddo wanted me to play remote-controlled cars with him. Quite frankly, I wanted to play too. Sending cars racing through the house to crash into walls and furniture and Hubs’ delicate ankles is a delight for me and child. However, there are days I impersonate a responsible adult. So I told my son, “I have to get this laundry put away. After I'm done, we'll play.” 

He watched me for a few seconds as I worked on eradicating piles of neatly folded laundry. He considered the stacks of his socks, underwear, shirts, and pants. Then without any prompting whatsoever, he gathered his socks and went to his room. 

As I shuttled back and forth putting away towels, sheets, and my clothing, Kiddo put his belongings where they needed to be. Shirts were even hung neatly rather than being flung in the closet, which would be what I imagine he would do. I gaped in astonishment as he diligently worked with pants hangers and stacked underwear in his drawer.  

We both finished putting away at the same time. As he handed me the remote control to one of his cars and said, “Mommy plays now,” my heart nearly burst wide open. His reward for performing a chore/life skill was time with me. It was the only thing he wanted then and there. I rarely see myself as any prize, but I was one to my son. Who’d have thunk?
Kids really do want their parents' time and attention. Sometimes we're better than toys. It's nice to be reminded that once in a while, the only investment expected is the cheapest and yet most valuable one of all.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Rewards: They’re Habit-Forming

I do not claim to be a great parent. Some days, I barely qualify to be sentient, and quality parenting goes right out of the window. I think we all have those days.


However, I do try. Bringing up Kiddo means preparing him for the future. In the case of a special needs child, we have a few more challenges than others face. I’ve written on the difficulties of instilling manners. Having my Wild One express anger and frustration in ways that don’t compromise his safety and our big screen television has been a struggle. Potty training happened late in the game.

Hubs and I have gone the usual route. Behavior that Kiddo knows is not tolerated and yet he insists on doing anyway is punished. Video games and much-loved toys are denied. That usually helps him snap back into darling mode. He’ll do just about anything to get his X-box back. Even behave.


If I’m really desperate, I turn to manipulation. I tell Kiddo his behavior makes me angry. Even worse is when I tell him it makes me sad. Because people with autism are profoundly empathetic in most cases, there couldn’t be anything worse than him imagining feeling sad. Please note, I only go this route when things have escalated into ‘I’ve got nowhere else to go to get this child to behave’ mode. I hate manipulating my kid.


Even though certain moments really do bring the tears.

When it comes to teaching new good-habit forming behaviors, a reward system has turned out to be my best ally. It’s a wallet-emptying practice with my kid, but the investment has been more than worth it. For example, it was extremely difficult to break Kiddo of overnight wetting. We were pretty sure he had the means, but not the will. Like many children, on the spectrum and off, you have to make it worth their while to switch a behavior they’re not bothered by. Autism had J-man extremely set in his ways. We had to make it REALLY worth his while to stop wearing overnight diapers. 

At the time, my son was enamored with Angry Birds. He played the games as much as we would let him. Those games made no bones about offering upgrades for a price...a sometimes hefty price. He wanted those upgrades. He begged and pleaded for them. He just had to have them. 

We saw an opportunity. We waved goodbye to our savings account and took it. Each night Kiddo didn’t have an accident, he earned an Angry Bird upgrade. It was an instant hit. Within two weeks, his underwear was dry every morning and I hear the Angry Birds bought a new vacation home in the Bahamas.


They got a few of the real thing from us. I wish I was kidding.

 We figured the money we spent balanced out with the money we saved not buying overnight diapers. Even when Upgrade-a-Palooza was over, the habit had been formed. Kiddo has not had an accident in over a year. 

I’ve begun applying the reward system in other areas of his life. His new passion is the line of toys called Switch-N-Go Dinos. He has a chart on the fridge that allows him to earn points towards these toys. Saying ‘please’ consistently has already gotten him his first reward...and we’re having to remind him to say it a lot less now. Life skill habit instilled. He now makes sure his toys and underwear are picked up at the end of each day, working hard to get that next dino. Not shouting and throwing things in anger is proving a little more difficult to accomplish, but he’s working on it. 

Okay, so we can call this what it is: bribery. However, I have no problem rewarding, perhaps overly much, in my crusade to teach Kiddo how he can best get along in a world that looks at behavioral differences with not so generous eyes. Society is slow to change when it comes to accommodating unseen disabilities, so we have to prompt our son to adjust to society. With empty bank account and dinosaurs that turn into vehicles in hand, I do what I must. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Mr. Manners

A new war has broken out in my household. It’s one I think all parents have faced at one time or another. Or maybe you’ve faced it two times ... or twenty. I think I’m up to Fracas Number Forty-Two.  

Teaching a child to consistently apply manners in his everyday interactions is a daunting task. I think I’d rather face smelly Tamara-eating trolls. Or Lord Voldemort teamed with Sauron and Megatron. Or my housework ... and honey, you know I don’t do housework. 

We go through brief snatches of time when Kiddo remembers he should be polite and grateful for gifts, clothing, food, and the fact that Mommy isn’t on top of the roof pouring cauldrons of boiling pitch on those strange people who drive a truck around the neighborhood selling meat. Yes, that is a thing here in Brunswick, Georgia. I don’t know when door-to-door meat salesmen became the next great wave in entrepreneurship, but it needs to stop. I do not buy steaks out of the back of a Chevy Silverado or even a Ford F-150. I do not buy it from people who look like they might have gathered said meat from the sides and surfaces of the roads. I sincerely pray no one does. If you’re that desperate for a meal, give me a call and I’ll bring you a casserole. 

But back to good manners. Kiddo has them once in a great while. Right now it appears that he has lost them to whatever gremlin runs about stealing a child’s natural angelic sensibilities and my sanity. Each time he descends into a new round of rudeness, he does so with increasingly brow-raising results.
Heard in my house in the last week: 


“Give me cookies.” 

“Go away.” 

“I won’t do it!” 


“Chocolate. NOW.” 

Okay, that last one was me. I never claimed to be Miss Manners myself. Plus I really do want chocolate right now and forever. 

Once more, polite utterances of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ have made their exit from my child’s store of speech. He knows better. He even occasionally remembers better when I give him my now-patented stare of ‘Sh!t’s About To Get Real All Over You’ (soon to be available through Amazon and other fine retailers for only $14.99). 

Yes, it’s irksome. Yes, it makes me wonder if I’m raising a feral savage or future pro wrestler, two stomach-churning possibilities. But I also remember a time when I would have given anything to hear my son respond to a question with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. That he does so now – often at the top of his lungs with his own kid’s patented stare of ‘Sh!t’s About To Get Real All Over You’ (soon to be available through Toys ‘R Us and other fine retailers for only fifty cents and a sticky handful of gummi worms) – is something of a blessing.  

Autism can steal a child’s voice. For a long time, it hoarded Kiddo’s. He spoke early, but it was only to mimic phrases and sentences he’d heard. Interactive speech and actual conversations were impossible for some time. That he can tell me some of what is on his mind now – even if it’s a grouchy snarl of “Move!” as he shoves past me to get at something he wants – is a blessing. As is knowing that he is capable of those precious manners. Someday he will appreciate them as they help him fit into and survive a world that all too often gives no quarter to those with special needs. Knowing that he will be able to shout “No thank you!” to purveyors of questionable meat at his doorstep fills me with joy and relief.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Day in a Life

So you want to know how a writer, wife, and child wrangler lives a typical day. Okay, so you don’t. But I’ve got a page to fill and a house to clean. Since I don't want to clean, we’re stuck with this blog.


Yeah, I’m not that enthralled either.

1. Alarm goes off. I think about how much I hate mornings. Already everything that needs to be done is crowding my head. I think about finding a nice cave to live in where I don’t have to function in the real world. But I hate the outdoors. (See my blog on camping.) Get out of bed. 

2. Schlep to the bathroom. Doesn’t matter that I got up three times last night to pee. I have to go again. Sit and ruminate on how much I hate mornings. Finish, comb hair that looks like it went through a blender all night long.


Same stylist Rolling Stone Keith Richards goes to

3. Pull on sweats. The thought of eventual exercise makes me hate mornings all the more. Leave room. 

4. Nine times out of ten, Kiddo is already up, huddled in a miserable ball on the couch. He’s not huddled because he hates mornings as I do. Nope, this kid snaps awake like a cannon went off in his ear. The one morning person in our household. He’s huddled because he hates school. I have the urge to huddle with him, like terrified people hoping to escape the notice of a zombie horde. Instead, I fetch his vitamin and make the day’s first cup of coffee. 

5. Kiddo eats breakfast at school, so all that’s really left to do is for him to put on the clothes we wisely laid out the night before and wait for the bus. Unlike me, he does not wake up ravenous. I begin shoveling breakfast in my mouth, chased by wonderful, life-giving coffee.



6. Bus arrives. I walk the sad child to it. He boards, I wave goodbye, he stares at me as if I have just sent him off to a Siberian gulag. The pang of guilt recedes as I return to my house and the coffee pot. 

7. Waste ridiculous amounts of time on the Internet while drinking coffee. Hubs gets up. He drinks coffee too. We are miserable with morning, but in sync.



8. Notice the clock. Curse. Hate mornings. 

9. Exercise. Look forward to being done...and drinking coffee.



10. Shower. This lasts a long, long time because it’s warm and quiet and I don’t want to go back out there where life and people are.


11. Put clothes on because there are Jehovah’s Witnesses out there and they always end up at my door. 

12. Sit down. Face computer. Think about the writing I need to get done today. Stomach turns to lead and panic attack sets in. Grab coffee. 

13. Sit back down and face computer again. Open the file I’m working on. Type. Type. Forget everything else and type. 

14. Hubs says lunch is ready. Scream in terror because I am surprised out of my writing world where Plucky Heroine is in dire straits and Dashing Manly Hero is racing against time to save her only to be confronted by the Twisted Unstoppable Villain. Give Hubs the glare.


“Wendy, let me explain something to you.”


15. Stomach growls. Glare turns to gratitude. Food!
16. Eat. Drink coffee because ... well, coffee. Go back to writing. 
17. Kiddo arrives home. Stare at him in surprise. Is it that time already? Almost give him the glare but remember my priority is to be his mother and not traumatize him. Give him a hug and a kiss while thinking about how little work I’ve gotten done.


“You know I love you, right?” while looking insane.

18. I ask him how his day was. He dutifully replies it was okay and begins edging away. To our mutual gratitude, I send him off to melt his brain with the Xbox and go back to writing. 

19. Realize I will not complete half of what I’d hoped to. Sigh and go make dinner. 

20. Dinner, serenaded by whatever gross noises my child thinks are hilarious that day. 

21. Kiddo’s homework. Pouting, bargaining, and threats to throw out the Xbox ensue. Homework finally gets done. 

22. Waste time on Internet. Realize how late it's getting and run around to get stuff done. Realize the house looks like an episode from ‘Hoarders’, just as it has for the last couple of weeks. Laugh at the idea of housework and pray no one ever comes to visit me.  

23. Send the child to bed. As it is too late for coffee, I open a bottle of wine. 

24. Brain has shut down. Fall into chair next to Hubs to watch television and grunt incomprehensibly at all comments he makes. Look at the clock and wish it was time to go to bed. 

25. Fall into bed. Get back up to make sure door is locked. Get back into bed. Hot flash. Go to adjust thermostat. Get back into bed. Random but compelling thoughts decide now is a good time to crowd into my brain. Lay awake thinking about why slow-moving zombies keep catching humans who can run on ‘The Walking Dead’, the lingering impacts of the War of 1812, or the gross national product of Germany.  

26. At long last, sleep. 

So there you have it. The glamorous life of a writer. Try to keep the envy at bay.