Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Tao of Travel:

The journey begins...
    I have (what I've been told is) a problem. I like driving too much. I'm a good driver and can (and have) driven almost everything with wheels, and some things without. Several of my professions have involved some long distance driving and for most of the last 20 or so years I've lived an average of a thousand miles away from my Homeland. So the bare fact that I enjoy driving is normally a plus. I'm not a sprinter on the highways, I'm a marathon runner. I honestly don't understand what the big deal is when I tell people I drive the entire 16 1/2 hours from Pitt to KC in a straight shot, or the 22 from Orlando to KC with a 2 hour nap. I'm in my own little Zen-zone while driving, I have found my place in the Tao (fundamental order of the universe) and even though time is passing, and I am passing through it, it does not touch me. Okay, I get lost in the moment.
The Stop sign to anywhere.
    Since she dislikes driving, most of the time Raine is totally prepared to take advantage of my tendency to jump into any vehicle and wander aimlessly about the countryside.  She'll endlessly send me on errands hither and yon, and have me play chauffeur any time she needs to go anywhere but work. I suspect that if I didn't leave for work and get home an hour before she did that I'd be taking her there too. She will even (upon occasion) admit that I'm her favorite travelling companion, as I'm fairly entertaining on long rides, I don't 'wig out' at every little problem, I'm rarely in a rush to get anywhere, and I almost never get lost, to the point that she claims that I have some sort of  'travel radar' in my head. (it was an aftermarket addition)  She has little complaint about my driving abilities, or willingness, she doesn't even mind coming along on one of my semi-famous Wanderjahrs (Vaunder-yar: German for: a year of wandering), even going so far as to volunteer to leave the comfort and safety of the Home Cave upon occasion. What she does take issue with is my tendency to forget to eat or stop for restroom breaks during these excursions. For some reason she (and Dude) believe that food and drink and access to the 'facilities' should be provided at regular intervals. Not only at home, but during road trips as well. In theory I have no problem with this concept. In practice.. let's just say things don't always work out that way.
   I generally look down my nose at people that blame their parents for everything, but this time I'm throwing my Father under the bus. It might have been either parent that gave me the genes that built me into a natural long-distance driver, but it was Dad that had the training. Dad had one rule on long trips: It takes more than one kid saying 'I gotta go potty!' to cause a pause in the trip. Every year he'd box up a smaller version of our stuff, cram it into a 22 foot trailer, jam 5 kids and 2 adults into a small series of large vehicles and flee the Heartland for someplace more interesting. Let's face it, after 11 1/2 months of staring at wheat, everybody could use some interesting. Unfortunately, Kansas is about 900 miles away from 'interesting', and since there is no way any human adult can stand to be trapped in a vehicle with 5 children for more than 8 hours at a time, that translated into almost 2 solid days of driving. If Dad would have stopped for every bouncing, cross-legged kid in the backseat it would have been winter before we'd even gotten out of the state. He even had a special torture for the kid who swore they didn't have to potty at the potty stop and then discovered a full bladder 10 minutes later. Let's just say it was against the codes of God, woman, the Geneva Convention and the Texas State Highway Patrol, and leave it at that. (for those that don't know, I have 4 sisters. The world may be a man's toilet, but girls are pickier about such things)
   Although most of our trips aren't nearly that long, there have been trips (nearly all according to some sources) when serious threats of bodily harm have disturbed my Zen-driving state from just about every angle of the car. I'll suddenly realize that I've heard 'So, what do you want for supper?' a number of times from the back seat, and I'll suddenly feel the bruises in my arm from being poked from the passenger seat for the last hour or so. Raine thinks I should be able to translate 'I'm starting to get a little hungry' into 'I'm about to go all Donner Party/Uruguayan Rugby Team (Alive) on your big ass unless you find me something tastier and possibly even served buffet style in the next 30 seconds.'  That just wasn't in the Yinzer phrasebook I got when I moved here. I'm not kidding, I got a T-shirt with all the phrases on it, and a link to a Yinzer-dialect site ( gave the T-shirt to my son Tim, who lives in Kansas... not going to do him much good there)
   Dude is just as subtle (I'm amazed I can use that word to describe him) about his gastronomic needs. The occasional, simple, 'The Wendy's store is open, remember?' or 'He needs to get the cheesburgers' is normally about as insistent as he gets. I try not to take it personally when they act like I've taken them off of 30 days bread and water when I finally turn into the parking lot for our next (possibly their last) meal.
Guardian Window Angel
   The thing is, no matter where we go, or how long it's been since his last meal, Dave always knows when we head toward home, or even where we should have turned if that's where we were headed. He's a regular DPS (Dude Positioning System). Doesn't matter if we've been someplace before or not, or how long ago the last time we were there, somehow he knows. I'll make a 'wrong' turn hundreds of miles away from home, and he'll gust a huge sigh, and then start blowing air between his teeth. That's how he shows me he's agitated without getting loud, which would get him in trouble. He'll use this technique when I'm not going to Pittsburgh, not headed toward any of the 20 GameStops he knows the locations of, or when I am headed for any of the 5 parks I regularly go to on random weekends. And after a couple of  'wrong' (by Dude standards) turns he'll amp up the action from the back seat. Oh, he'll pull out the whole autism scorecard then, right down the row of agitated repetitive patterns. He's devistated enough to regress to when he was 8 and still re-learning how to be human.... Right up until the point were Rain or I say, 'You want to give me the MP3 player?' Then the storm clouds part, the trumpets blow, the angels sing and a halo decends to grace and crown the head of my youngest child. The transformation itself is awe inspiring. I almost expect the animated God from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to look down and say, 'Hey! Give the kid a break!'
Headed home
   But most of the time we just get directions from our DPS. 'Turn right here.' or 'He's gotta get in the left lane here.' 'Turn right for Pittsburgh!' and we're always getting directions to the nearest (and dearest) GameStop (Power to the Players!). 'The restaraunt store is open, remember?' Uh, oh. Forgot about that food thing again, didn't you?  I'm sometimes not sure if he's convinced that my senility is sufficiently advanced that I've actually forgotten where we're going, or if he thinks I'm muddle-headed enough to just go to whichever destination I'm supplied. I mean, I'm kind of Zenned out when driving, but I'm not hypnotized or anything. 'Yes mahstah, I will take you to the Game store. Your robot slave will buy you bacon-cheeseburgers with extra catsup.'  Nice try, Dude. Not happening..... very often.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Trains, Not Planes or Automobiles:

I'm pretty well used to the idea that most of the things I'm interested in as diversions aren't universally popular in our house. Long drives, biking, walking trails, getting lost in the woods, taking pictures, and 99% of the shows on the Discovery/History channels. But it seems that even a broken clock is right twice a day, and sometimes that even happens on the right day.
   I know I'm repeating myself, but David's mom bailed when it came time for Dude's visit, and just to make it more interesting, she didn't call for the preceding 3 weeks, waiting until just 3 days before she was supposed to pick him up before informing me of her decision. After that unpleasant phone call there was 4 solid days of trying to explain to Dude why he wasn't taking a plane ride this year, and how it wasn't his fault.
   With 30 extra days of Dudeness this year I decided that we should have some sort of adventure-ish things to do on the weekends. I'm not sure why this seemed like Dude would think this was such a good idea, as his favorite adventures all revolve around his game console. But, undeterred, I plowed on. The one thing that Dave was really sad about was not getting to ride in a plane, which he absolutely loves. I got out of buying a rather expensive plane ticket to aimlessly circle the city, by telling him that we would go on a train ride for his birthday. He was unexpectedly excited about the idea. I was starting to feel pretty smart when he started talking about 'Taking the train to the plane'.  I think he was remembering the tram from the terminal to the gates at the Pittsburgh airport. Even when I told him that wasn't the train we were going on he still seemed pretty interested, so I let it lie.
  Our first expedition was a scouting trip to Oil Creek State Park, the birthplace of the entire petroleum industry and home to the Titusville and Oil Creek Rail Road. On the way we stopped in a Sheets and across the street at the local DMV was a strange flower garden. There were 14 or so flowers all made out of street signs. Raine immediately knew that a photo op would ensue. She was right. I tried to get Dude excited about the signs, but he just said, 'Yeah.' and turned up the MP3 player.
   We got to the park and did a little car-scouting (which pleased my two passengers no end as the didn't have to walk anywhere) until we found a short circle-trail along the creek and through a little bit of woods. Despite complaints to the contrary we did not walk the entire Appalachian Trail (2100 miles), we walked maybe a mile on a nearly completely flat trail.
  Something I've noticed about taking David (or Raine) on any walking path; He'll hang back so far that you're afraid you'll either lose him or have to take a nap waiting for him to catch up. Then, somehow, he seems to know when we've reached the halfway point and are actually heading back to the car. Then he'll be so far ahead of you it seems as if he's running ahead for help (help for him, or us we're never too sure about). We once walked along Slippery Rock Creek to Breakneck Falls in McConnell's Mill SP and he was taking soooo much time and being so very careful climbing over the rocks I started to feel sorry for him. But as soon as we turned around and headed for the car he was suddenly leaping from rock to rock with a grace that would put shame to a mountain goat. He reached the trail head while we were still 50 feet or so down the trail, despite being repeatedly called back to walk with us.
   With our scouting trip under our belts we set out the next weekend for Dude's favorite part. I was actually afraid to tell him where we were going for fear of what I'd have to explain if the train wasn't running for some reason or another. Luckily for me when we got to Titusville not only did we find the Titusville and Oil Creek Railroad right where they said it was, but the train was already there and waiting for us to board. Unfortunately it had to wait, as we had gotten there almost an hour early. Dave, knowing nothing of train schedules wanted to board immediately. 'There's the TRAIN! ALL ABOARD!' he yelled as he headed for the platform.  'Slow down, boy.' I said, grabbing him by the collar as he whisked by, 'First we have to buy the tickets.' I skipped over the part where we had to get lunch and wait an hour, but eventually we were standing out on the platform waiting (impatiently) for the conductor to allow us on board. Dave loves waiting in line (yeah, right) and with the train right there, 30 feet away, it was almost more than he could take. 'Tickets, please. Gotta get the tickets to get on the train. ALL ABOARD!'  Then he'd take off for the roped off portion of the platform. I got more than a few indulgent smiles as I continually had to corral Dude back into line.  We were finally allowed to board, and immediately ran to the back to get to the open car. But for some 'safety' reason we weren't allowed onto that car yet. The T&OCRR was very big on safety. We must have heard 25 times throughout the trip that they'd never had an 'safety accident' (whatever the hell that is) in their history.  The... I guess he was a porter, was talking over the conductor's safety speech, telling us 'what you really need to know' instead of what the guy was trying to tell us. I guess we really needed to know some of it, because he repeated the thing about crossing between the cars about 4 times. Dave immediately broke 2 of their safety rules by banging on the window to get me to open it, and then putting his arm on the window sill with his elbow sticking out of the car. This did not make the Nazi train porter guy very happy, but it was kind of funny watching him trying to get Dude to understand how large his transgression of the rules actually was. Dude ignored him like the 'King of the Rails' he is, I told the porter that I'd 'watch him like a hawk' and life continued on, as I suspected it would.
  Once we had reached the first stop we were allowed to herd into the open car. Now that sounds really glamorous until you realise that the 'Open Car' is just a hundred year old flatbed rail car with 2x12 railings, and that the railroad itself is a bit less than diligent about clearing the right-of-way of overhanging branches. It's evidently much easier to patrol the car and warn people not to hang over the side than actually clear the dangerous brush away from the tracks. Still, enough people were smacked with leaf filled branches at random intervals to cause me to doubt the effectiveness of their technique. The whole there-and-back ride took about 2 1/2 hours. It took David about 20 minutes to get over riding the flatcar like a hobo-tourist, and once I found him sitting on the floor the second time I took him back into the passenger car with Raine. (she lasted 10 minutes) I, however was in my element and stayed on the flatcar for most of the trip. After a while the Catholic Guilt started to kick in, it seemed as if I were the only one enjoying himself on this family outing. I re-entered the passenger car and found both my fellow travellers kicked back in the seats on opposite sides of the car, far from the miserable travel wretches I imagined I'd find.
   It's kind of a funny thing. In the old train cars, rather than turning the car toward the direction of travel, the seat backs were upholstered on both sides and slid to either the front or back of the seat. This meant that if no one was in the seat ahead of you, you could just push the seat back forward and suddenly you had a padded footstool in front of you. And this is how I found my travelling companions, stretched out on either side of the aisle, feet up, enjoying the scenery and the breeze blowing through the open windows. Dave looked up at me and said with a grin, 'This is soooo COOL!' It seems I was wasting perfectly good guilt on the two of them, so after a bit I went back out on the flatcar with conscience clear.
   After we'd all piled in the car and were headed home Raine nearly unhinged my jaw with the comment, 'Next time we need to go on a train with a steam engine.' Dave piped in with, 'Go on the steam train like the choo-choo!' (I'm not sure I could translate that, but it sounded like he agreed) So it seems that not only was I wasting guilt, I completely missed the opportunity to bask in some well deserved glory. I hate when that happens. My father used to say (and might still) that 'The sun will even smile on a dog's ass someday.'  Well, I am that dog's ass, and that day I was just basking in the rays. Now excuse me, I have to go talk to a man about a steam train.