Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Monday, September 12, 2011


Ta Dah!!
Every year (so far) my company tries to urge some sort of family togetherness feeling... thing at the local amusement/theme park, Kennywood (still not affiliated with Kenny Rogers). This years was supposed to be at the end of July but frankly, they refused to A/C the whole park and as it was too hot for real human beings (those under 17 haven't been proven to actually be human, so they don't count) they decided to kick the whole thing back a month and try their luck with the end of August. Actually I don't know the reason, but that's the way it worked out. Now back home this would be a case of out of the frying pan, into the steam oven as July, especially toward the end of the month, may be hotter, but August in Kansas is typically the muggiest, steamiest, most miserable month of the year. August is when more people in Kansas plan a move to Antarctica than any other time of the year.  But in western PA, you actually get hints that Global Warming, while a great concern, might not actually send us into a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max universe this year.
  Well, this time their gamble paid off. Thanks to a hurricane named Irene bashing the hell out of the East Coast the Picnic Day was almost too perfect to call it Summer, temps in the mid-60's to low 70's, a light breeze and low humidity. I don't want to call my adopted people heartless, but not once did any of them express any regret that our perfect day came at the discomfort of New Yorkers and Philadelphians. Of course, Yinzers don't actually like anyone in those two cities, so I wasn't really expecting any apologies. (They hate Cleveland and Baltimore too, but that's mostly a football thing)
  So Picnic Day finally dawned, or at least we assume it did, because the Sun was well up by the time we saw it. Dave was excited to go and ride the coasters, but I think he's starting to get comfortable with the way Raine and I do things. He did still try to rush us out the door, but he didn't even blink when we had to turn around after about 5 miles to go back home and get the tickets. I was expecting some protest, or grumbling, or at least sighs and dirty looks from the backseat, but when I looked back Dude was calmly looking out the window, listening to his MP3 player, calm as a clam. I was almost disappointed, so I tempted fate and tried to determine if Dave actually knew where we were going. 'We've got to pick up something at home, okay Dude?' I asked/apologised, 'Then we're going to Kennywood.' He replied enthusiastically, 'Yeah! Ride the escalator (chairlift) to get to the park to ride the coasters!' Then he put the ear buds back in and kicked went back to looking out the window, bobbing his head in time with the music. (at least as far as I know)  He wasn't oblivious to our destination, just completely unfazed that, once again, there was a forgetful hitch in our plans.

  Eventually, tickets now in hand, we made it to the park. Unfortunately for David, they had just opened the top parking lot and the chairlift wasn't running yet. Actually, Pen-DOT owns and runs the chairlift so it's hard to tell why the lift wasn't running, but the state of PA roads give us grounds for speculations of incompetence. Thankfully the escalators were still operating from the second to the first level, so Dude did get to ride one of his favorite (but not the favorite) people movers to get to the Park.
   Dave knows that the only reason that Kennywood is open the rest of the year is to prepare for his eventual arrival. Or at least that's how it seems, because he walks right up to the gate as if he owns the place and is just there for his yearly inspection of the grounds. After the (now traditional) tug-of-war to keep him from wandering right through the gates and being carted off to whatever secret Gestapo room KW has for
 line-breakers, we entered the park to our now usual routine of bathroom then Logjammer. Raine decided this year that she wanted nothing to do with the slight dowsing you might expect from David's favorite ride, so it was decided in Executive Committee (Raine) that she would take the pictures while the 2 Dudes took the plunge... literally. I'm not sure what her problem was, it was 68 degrees, after all, and only a 10 mile an hour breeze. It's not like she was likely to catch pneumonia or anything. Isn't a favorite ride worth a little hypothermia? I mean, really.

Raise your hands!!
    Anyway, after our traditional first ride we were at something of a loss. Due to vicious re-scheduling of dinner-time, and a relatively early (for us) starting time we had 4 more hours to kill before dinner. Raine had 'next pick' and decided on an old carnival favorite called the Parachute ride. Dad's pick was that he would not be the third person on a two seat ride under a metal umbrella whirling around and up and down from a central pivot. So this time Dad took the pictures and Dude and Raine took the ride. Whenever we get on a ride or coaster Dave always says, 'Raise your hands! You have to raise your hands on the rides.' and then he extends his arms their full length until the ride does something that requires greater personal stability. The Parachute doesn't make any sudden motions, it just revolves around in a circle, so Dude spent the whole ride with his arms at full extent, and the right one spent most of the ride directly in front of Raine's face. I'm pretty sure that didn't do much to enhance her riding experience, but I didn't get to pay much attention as I was dealing with a precocious 4 (almost 5) year old girl whom I had never seen before, but was wondering what I was bringing to her birthday party. After informing her that my invitation had been lost in the mail and that I was probably working that day anyway, I somehow found myself promising that I would give her a present the very next time I saw her. I then spent the rest of the day paranoid that our paths would cross again.
  AB (American Bridge) had instituted a new and subtly devious scheme to get their money's worth out of the 'free' tickets they had given to us. Normally once each of us had filled up on free burgers and dogs we'd fly to the winds, either catching another couple of rides or just bolting out the front gate for home. But this year there was a raffle to be held at the end of the dinner, and not before, with one rule... you had to be present to win. Thus forcing longer social interaction and a definite lateness of bedtimes as most of the kids wouldn't let their parents take them home without the prerequisite extra rides, funnel cakes and cheaply made crap won at great expense on the Midway.
  Occasionally and unexpectedly I run across a fellow traveler of the Autistic Spaces, and since we don't have cool badges, mysterious passwords, or secret handshakes, or even hats, it's sometimes hard to tell who the players are without a program. My usual liaison with Corporate American Bridge is through a wonderful woman named Maudee, she's da' bomb when it comes to all the intricate corporate things that I know next to nothing about and have even less patience for. She's also willing (if there's time) to listen to my endless stories about Dude (harder than reading them.... Here, one mouse click and I'm gone... ). I worked at AB for some time before I learned that her son has a specific form of ASD, which I also know nothing about. She was also one of the organizers of the picnic which earned her bonus points in both my and David's books (even though this year we had veggie-burgers and NO cheese). She makes a special point every year to take some time during the dinner break to come over and talk to Dude and I, and this year was no exception. She spent several minutes talking to David. He was a bit uncomfortable with someone new, but she's knowledgeably patient and has no expectations of actual conversation. Which is a good thing when dealing with him.
  Something was actually going on during their conversation that I didn't even notice, but was brought to my attention by Bob, one of our maintenance guys. We were talking at lunch several days later when, out of the blue, he gave me a 'Not for nothing' that included him noticing that I was 'a wonderful dad'. I gave my usual, 'I think you're off your nut' response. (And for those of you who have said this to me, it's not false modesty, I truly have no fricken clue what you're talking about.) He went on to explain that he was watching us during our talk with Maudie and he noticed that whenever David got too uncomfortable, or nervous he would lean toward me and touch my arm, or my shoulder, and that would calm him down enough to continue the conversation. He went on to say that that calming effect combined with the fact that I always looked to see if he was okay, instead of getting annoyed or ignoring him, proved beyond a doubt that I was some sort of card-carrying Super-Dad. I was flattered, I was moved.... I still thought he was nuts. Observant, but nuts.
   After completely wasting our time hanging around for the raffle (Translation: we didn't win anything), we flung ourselves once again into the fray, hitting our favorite steel coaster, The Phantom's Revenge. Raine was unwilling to sit beside the Flailing Arms of Death that is my son on another two-seat ride, so she sat alone in the car behind us, giving her a greater opportunity to laugh at the antics of the two goofy Dudes she lives with. (We give her plenty of reasons for that) We even convinced her to ride with us on the Logjammer this time. I convinced her that I knew the secret of not getting wet on the ride... And hey, whaddaya know? It worked! Other than a small complaint about her butt getting wet from sitting in the boat she barely got a sprinkle from the actual ride.


   So, tired but happy we slunked (I just made that up) out the front gate. Our usual fudge-stop was full to the rafters and we were too tired to brave the teeming hoards, even for all the joys that concentrated chocolate can bring. We were destined for even more dissapointment as the chair lift still had tumbleweeds rolling through it because it had been abandoned so long. But we did get our own private bus to the upper lot which David tried to direct like a visiting Admiral on a battleship. 'Got to get to the Silver Car, to get the games!' and ' All aboard! This train will be leaving the station in 2 minutes. Please have your tickets ready for boarding.' I tried to tell Dude that this conveyance a bus, not a train, we didn't require tickets and we were, in fact, already aboard and moving but, once again, reality didn't seem to make any difference to him at all. After the traditional sideways 'how crazy is this kid?' glance the driver actually seemed to enjoy our conversation. I was sort of bummed that the lift wasn't working, but once we were in the car and headed back to The Games, David could have cared less. He was all: 'Going to the Pittsburgh for the tunnel!' and 'He gets to play the games, remember?' (As if I could ever forget.) One thing about Dave, when the moment's gone, no matter how enjoyable, it's gone. Time to move on to the next thing. So that's what we did, Raine and I to crash our tired, old bodies on the couch, and David to his Virtual Glory, helping a dog defeat the machinations of the Green Eyed Man. And with all our Heroes in their proper places, all was right with the world once again.

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