Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Moving Stairs?:

Hit the button!
     I may have mentioned at some time or another that Dude likes elevators/escalators. I was wrong... David LOVES them. We once almost missed a flight when he found out about the slideways in the Charlotte airport. We had a one hour layover. So I thought I understood the depths of his attachment to the mechanical consumer movers but recently I've had to reassess my opinion. Upwards.
   Not too many days ago, and for reasons I can't fully explain Dave and I decided to accompany the females in our lives to the Mall. It seems that Raine's daughter, Alayna, was feeling unfashionably shaggy somewhere around her cranial regions. Translation: She needed a haircut. She chose to go to the Mall for some sort of fashion reason that I'm too male to understand, and also chose to have her mother accompany her, for something along the same reason that women can't go alone to restrooms in public places.
    The first I heard of the trip was when I answered my cell phone and Raine asked me to ask 'Layne (who has her own phone. And it's cooler than mine) if they were meeting at home, or at the mall for their hirsute rendezvous. Not being a consistently fluent female go-between, I immediately handed my less-cool phone to Layne. While they were plotting their latest round of conspicuous consumerism something strange was percolating in my brain. Well... stranger than usual, anyway. I vaguely remembered some sort of near-promises of malls and elevators. And I could almost remember who I'd almost promised these things to. Who did I know that liked such things? I knew it would come to me sooner or later. I was pretty sure it was a relative. So that was somewhere to start.
      By the time they'd finalized their meeting I had an idea. During the wait my diabolical scheme began to take shape, and when Raine got home I sprung it on her. Like all male plans it was simple, direct, brilliantly conceived.... and completely doomed to failure from the beginning. It was my intention that all four of us go to the Mall and then essentially pretend like we'd never met. They would go off in one direction to do their 'girly' things and Dave and I would pursue more manly diversions in an entirely different part of the Mall. This would include each group being responsible for their own dinner. (remember that part) And when each had finished their (supposedly) timely tasks, we would meet back up at the vehicle and return to our version of domestic bliss...ish.  Our mutual exit prompted by the fact that we each had keys to the car, and no compunctions about abandoning our partner at the local Monument to Consumerism. (Not really, but we each threaten pretty good)
   It was actually a pretty good plan up to a point. And not the point you might imagine, we met up for the exit, just as I had planned. It was the some of the stuff in between that got kind of skewed. As is wont to happen in our little happy group.
   We arrived, and parted company in the parking lot, and much like a gang of retail ninjas might assault their objective, we split up right there and entered through different doors. We kind of skipped the synchronizing the watches step, but the old Mission Impossible theme was briefly hummed by someone in one of the pairs. (I'll leave it to you to guess which one)  Dave and I entered through Dick's (no joke) a sporting goods store renowned for its selection and higher than average pricing. Dude and I weren't interested in their tremendous selection of overpriced merchandise, because at this mall, Dick's had something in particular that we (?) needed. Dick's had escalators. A big part of my 'Clever Plan' (tm) was a ride up those same escalators to the second floor as access to the Food Court, as a part of our Fast Food Diet Plan. (or FFDP, also trademarked)
     I will admit that Dick's response to the much-delayed, but imminent start to the NHL hockey season did have me distracted a bit with a full, center aisle display of Penguins apparel, so it was David that first noticed their mechanical difficulty. A loud, startled cry of,  'The escalators are broke!' was my first clue that my 'Clever Plan' (tm) was slowly beginning to circle the metaphorical toilet bowl. I turned my head to see real distress on the face of my youngest child. 'You have to fix the escalators!' he cried loudly. 'We can't go up in the escalators until they get fixed!' I obviously had to respond quickly to this tragedy, lest the world stop spinning, or dogs and cats started living together, or something.
Is he leading me down the Garden Path?
   To keep myself from panicking I leaned on my secret Dad-knowledge that there were, in fact, 3 other businesses, with a possible total of 5 other sets of escalators along with a glass elevator and  3 escalators in the common area of the mall. But to Dave, none of that mattered. This was the finest example of movable staircase art in the world, and quite possibly the only specimen left alive in captivity. And it was dead! Or at least that's what it sounded like.
     I tried to calm him down by telling him we would, in the natural course of events find other escalators, and that this one would work perfectly fine as a set of stairs and then to rise from the ashes and move again when that bright day dawned and power was restored, but he was having none of it. This is a kid who, when my car ran out of gas in a parking lot blocks from home, giggled his butt off for about an hour. I mean, this was his major form of transportation. The conveyance that obtained his Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers, and the only thing keeping his skinny hysterical butt from walking 3/4 of a mile home. But does he cry? Does he moan? No. He laughs at his father for the next hour. But one measly set of escalators. One out of maybe 10 in the building, mind you. One set that we see maybe once every 6 months and it's a tragedy of epic proportions. Someone must spring into action immediately to rectify this egregious offence against God and man. Riiiiiiight.
    So, despite this obvious evidence of the downfall of modern civilization, I just said, 'C'mon Dude, let's go.'  and calmly led him up the 'stairs'. Griping the whole way, he followed me, still mumbling about the blasphemy of walking  up a set of what should be moving stairs. Sometimes when we're in a public place Dave lags behind me 5 or 8 feet, so I'm constantly turning my head to check on him, so I saw what happened next, but was too far ahead to prevent it. As we were walking away from the escalator/stairs a man in a red sweatshirt walked past me to begin his non mechanically-assisted journey to the lower level. Dude intercepted him by stepping sideways to put his body between this... random guy in a red sweatshirt, and the top of the escalator. He placed his left hand on the man's left shoulder to fully stop him and gain his full attention. Dude then leaned in slightly, as if to impart some dire secret. 'You MUST fix the escalator!!' Dave practically yelled in his face, 'It's broke!' This guy's back was turned toward me, so I couldn't see the look on his face, but I did see him flinch back rather sharply. 'Dude!' I said flatly, 'C'mon man, let's go.' The guy (who will probably never take a broken escalator for granted again) gave me one startled look, and bolted down the 'stairs', and presumably, directly out the exit to find a land where people made sense, and escalators never broke down.
   Dave and I made our way out of the store. Thankfully the escalators top out only 20 feet away from the front doors. There may have been people staring at us the whole time... It wouldn't surprise me if there were, but honestly, I don't even notice things like that any more. We then walked across the mall to the food court to comply with our FFDP requirements. I was kind of in a hurry to get our dinners going because, A: I'm a large man, and require at least one meal a day, and I tend to skip the other two. B: I figured something with sauce and ketchup on it (hopefully not at the same time) would distract Dave from the tragedy we'd just been force to witness. and C: If we ate while Raine and Alayna were en-coiffure I wouldn't have to pay for their dinner. (long story, and inside joke) Well... none of it worked. Because, Dave never stopped complaining the whole time, and before I even got to pick a place to get food I got a phone call from Raine. It seems their appointment, meaning they didn't have one before we got there, wasn't for another hour and a half. So, figuring that 'B' and 'C' were already shot, I'd go extra hard at 'A' and told her I'd take everyone to Houlihan's, even though it wasn't Fast Food.
   Dave was still complaining about his lack of escalator action, so while we were waiting for the women to arrive, and to prove to him that there wasn't actually an epidemic wiping out all the moving stairways in the land, I took him around the corner and we, for no real reason, made a complete circuit of the escalator thus presented. This had apparently given him enough of a fix to get us through dinner and slightly beyond, but while the girls were attending their appointment Dude and I hit every escalator in the common area of the mall, up and down. We even had to ride the glass elevator before his equilibrium had been restored. After we stepped off and as a woman and her two small children were getting on, Dave, holding the doors, said brightly, 'It's okay, just step on. This elevator WORKS!' (Mr Otis would be so proud of him)
Also Fountain Operator
   All of the vertical transportation devices in the commons having been properly inspected, we could now leave the building. Thankfully Raine and Co. met us on the first floor so when we exited through Dick's we didn't have to reenact our entrance dilemma in reverse order, but somehow... And I don't remember actually agreeing to any of this... I had evidently promised David that we would find more elevators and escalators on the weekend. Presumably, Dude was just taking his newly self-appointed position as Public Elevator (escalator) Inspector very seriously.
   Two days later we went to the Phipps Conservatory (where these pictures were shot) even though they only had 2 elevators. I was checking with the teller that parking was indeed free, he informed me that was because of the holiday. 'Oh, cool.' I said, 'That's the same reason he (Dave) is with me...' I looked in vain for my son, '...uh I mean, with the elevators.'  Dave was peeking at me around the corner where the elevators were, waiting rather impatiently for the only thing in the whole flowery building he cared about. Later, in the Tropical Forest room, and the only other elevator in the building, he blocked a 5-6 year old and her family from entering 'our' elevator. 'Nope! Sorry, you'll have to wait for the next car!' he said briskly, and hit the button to shut the doors in her face. There was nothing I could do at the back of the car except say, 'Dave, you don't actually own the elevator, you know.' He just looked at me like I didn't know what the hell I was talking about.
     I think I could save on video games if I just had an elevator installed in our house. Maybe I'll just go with one of those StairClimber things instead.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Ho, Ho.... Huh?:

Stockings hung by the chimney... check
   Dave and I have a long-standing tradition... Or maybe it just seems like a long time. Every school day I get  smiley/frowny notices on the notebook provided. When 5 of these occur in the same week (No hoarding of Smileys!) we go to GameStop and get a game. Although lately he has been stocking up on movies as well. One lesser known codicil of the Smiley/Game Exchange Contract is that for the 4-5 weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Game points become Christmas points. This addendum to the Contract was mostly to avoid Dude-Dad succumbing to Scrooge-like outbursts from being forced into double game buying duty during the Holiday Season. Of course, in Dave's mind it's a chance to add to the game-unwrapping frenzy that is (to him) the very essence of the Holiday season. He's still not sure why we bother wrapping that 'other stuff', or why the rest of us have things to unwrap as well. But he's magnanimous and allows us our little... whatever he thinks that is.
     Anyway... The accumulation of 'Christmas Points' became the central tenet of Dude's existence, as a matter of fact, he was much like someone who's just gotten his membership card at a local department store and has an inflated opinion of what all those membership points actually mean, and no idea at all of how slowly they actually add up. We heard, endlessly, about what he was wanting for Christmas. And even though the list was quite large, financially speaking, it continued to grow, and change, morphing much like a monster in an old horror movie. Believe me, as the one who was supposed to supply all this stuff to his trusting offspring, I was horrified. Then there were the talks every afternoon about the accumulation of  said points, and once David boasted, 'I'm gonna get ALL the Christmas Points!!' To which I replied, 'Well, I'm sure you're gonna try.' 'No!' He flatly insisted, 'ALL the points. Every Christmas Points!' I had thought (logically) that the sum of Christmas Points was roughly (if not exactly) equal to the total number of possible Game Points in the five weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. From his insistence and growing list of demands, it seemed as though I had only a rough idea of the true extent of the vast sum of Christmas Points to be had in the universe at large. And had also vastly underestimated my son's ability to procure these valuable items.
Let's just say he needed help
   Actually, he managed to be (mostly) good for one whole week before genetics and personal inclinations brought him low. He came home the second Wednesday after Thanksgiving whistling the Darth Vader/Imperial Theme from Star Wars. Okay, he didn't really, as a matter of fact, I don't think he can whistle. But he looked like that particular music was running through his head as he got out of the school-van in front of the house. And I seemed to hear the faint dirge-like sounds of Chopin's Death March (dun, dun, duhduh) as he walked up the steps, and waited silently. Holding the screen door open, like he'd just been invited to his own funeral.
    I didn't have any need to use my awesome Dude-dad powers to figure out that the chain of reckless accumulation of 'Christmas Points' had hit a major snag. Also, without using my amazing powers of precognition (if I had any) I knew what I was going to find in 'The Book' before my youngest son dragged it reluctantly out of his backpack. I was even fairly (incredibly) certain as to the reason for this hiccup on the road to Christmas Point glory.
     If Dave gets excited about gaining 5 Smileys in the same week (and he does...more than a bit) he gets 110 times as excited about Christmas Points. Every Day he would LOUDLY proclaim his incredible gain in the standings and immediately and repeatedly (and even more loudly) inform everyone in the area, and most people in Western PA, what his virtuous reward should be. The words 'Kinect', 'Super Mario Brothers' and 4 different games for his 3DS will probably be rebounding off the insides of my skull until just before his birthday in 6 months. Just in time to start the whole cycle again (which may all be part of his diabolical scheme...) So I wasn't too terribly surprised when I looked at the frowny face in the book, and even less astonished when I read the note that said: Wouldn't focus and very talkative.
   I looked at Dave, trying very hard not to chuckle at his expense, and he looked back with the look of hopeless-hope. You know, the same look that death row inmates get on their faces when the phone rings as they're walking to the chair.(you know how much a wrong number would suck at that point?) Too bad for Dude that no call from the Governor was going to save him. He was Doomed. (or at least I wanted him to think he was.) I waited, looking at him expectantly. (It's just not as much fun if you don't torture them) and he awkwardly, nervously, and repeatedly glanced at me to ascertain how imminent his demise actually was. When he's really nervous Dave hunches slightly, cups his hands and brings his fingertips together in nervous little motions. Kind of like a timid mouse in an animated movie.... or Renfield... it's a tough call.
Where's the presents?
   'Well...' said the Voice of Doom (mine), 'Looks like we've got to do better in the Christmas Points gathering, doesn't it?' Which didn't sound much like Doom at all. As a matter of fact, before I'd even stopped talking, Dude was already coming at me with, 'Sorry! Sorry! My Bad!', and patting me on the arm to appease my anger. It must have worked, because instead of cancelling the entire holiday, I promised him some dire (but unspecified) consequences if Bad Notes continued to grace the pages of The Book. It really sounded a lot like the 'Slippery Slope' speech once given to me by a Principle of my acquaintance. And I didn't have any realistic hope that it would have any more effect on my son than it had on me all those years ago. But it says right here in the Manual that you're supposed to give that particular speech in these situations, so I gave it a shot.
    With the Holiday closing in, presents started to appear under the tree, and I learned something new. Dave is a psychic (I always pronounce it with an 'o' instead of an 'ic') because even without looking at the labels he could tell me who all the presents were for. Of course he was wrong, not all the presents under the tree were for him. But, hey, what psychic gets it right every time? The thing was, he hazarded a guess, put his neck out there and stuck by his guns come hell or high water. No matter what I (or anyone else) said, those presents were for him, and the rest of us could just go and find our own. Also, he could evidently peer though the wrapping and the boxes inside to the actual contents. Mysteriously they were all games and videos. And the bigger one off to the side was, of course, a Kinect system for his Xbox. I guess I have to look into the security system, because once Christmas came someone had mysteriously switched all these presents for the ones we actually opened. (His presents weren't even under the tree when he was guessing)
  The Big Day was closing in, and Dude was very lucky... Lucky that Christmas wasn't any later in the year. A starving buzzard wouldn't hover over a dead horse as much as David circled that tree the last 2 days before Christmas. He'd oh, so casually come downstairs about 3 times as often as usual, unobtrusively (If you were blind, deaf, and in another state, you wouldn't even know he was there) peering under the tree, then saying things like, 'Ooo! More presents!' and 'Got the presents with the games and DVD's and Kinect system for the Xbox!'. A couple of times, only my personal tattered ghosts of Holidays past prevented me from strangling him with something decorative. Well, that, and the fact that I'd used all of the garland on the tree, mantle and porch swing.

In case of shopping emergency
   I have to give credit where credit is due, however. The day before Christmas, thinking I was clever, I (foolishly as it turned out) sent Raine out of the house so I could finish wrapping her presents. I know that she hates crowds of people and driving in high traffic areas, so she left as kind of a personal favor to me. Well, that and I told her that was wrapping day and she wouldn't be getting any presents that weren't wrapped. While she was gone I asked Dude to help me bring them out of the 'secret hiding place' so that I could wrap them. David ended up helping me through the whole thing. Not only handing me stuff (paper, scissors, tape), but also helped me put the paper on, fold it and held the corners while I did my Laurel and Hardy wrassle with tape, imitation. I consider his efforts a nearly heroic unselfish act, because it was quite obvious early on that none of the presents were for him. As a matter of fact, if there were a medal for such things, I'd make sure he got one. Once we were done with our wrapping and some extra stuff we were roped into by Raine, I texted Raine and told her it was okay to come home.  Being male I was completely oblivious to the fact that I'd sent an unsupervised woman out on 'Last Chance Before Christmas, Sale' day. Turns out she was enjoying herself and didn't want to come home.

     But 24 hours later, the presents were opened, the ham (mostly) consumed, and peace (of a sort) reigned in the Dude-iverse. Dave was well pleased with the half a metric ton of games and movies that he received. Even more pleased with the fact that he got almost no clothes for Christmas. Which he considers a waste of both time and good wrapping paper that could be used somewhere else (games). Not to mention, the money wasted on clothing that could be used for some other, more worthwhile pursuit ... like games. And Dude-dad had a Special Project to use up that pesky down-time in between presents and dinner.

     Now when I was a kid I was always amazed that my father looked so drawn and tired on what was to any kid, the Most Exciting, Best Day of the Year. When I was a little older I suspected my father of indulging a bit too much in Holiday Cheer the night before, combined with an overuse of the 'adults set their own bedtime' prerogative. Also, it amazed me that we couldn't get him up before 8:00 am, even though we'd been up at 6:30. Dad woke up every morning at 6:30, even on vacation. What was so different about Christmas?  It was a puzzle. One that I solved for myself when I had my own kids. My Father, like so many other fathers was playing Santa's Elf until the wee hours of the morning putting together the Christmas Crap for his 5 ungrateful offspring. It wasn't turkey that knocked him out watching the football game, it was Mad Elf Disease. With this lesson in mind I resolved to A: Not buy my children anything requiring Tab A to be anywhere near Slot B. and 2: If such things were absolutely vital to the survival of my progeny I would, then, put them together in the 'down time' sometime Christmas Day... the next weekend at the latest. Or at least sometime before the end of the school year.
To understand the full horror, click to look at this full size
    So while my son didn't get his Kinect/Wii/electronic present so expensive as to cause bankruptcy, he did receive a tube/ramp/marble/race-game thing that had 847 parts (it looked cool, and I didn't check the box) and took a team of NASA engineers 16 years to conceive and looked like it would take me twice that long to construct. Especially since Raine categorically refused to have anything to do with its construction, and even refused to read the instructions once she'd seen how huge they were. So during that 'golden time' when Dave was upstairs loading games and movies into his machine with the speed of an Uzi, I was downstairs with a table, 8 bags of parts, and a 39 page instruction manual, doing an amazingly life-like rendition of a psychotic roller coaster builder. Mumbling to myself and jamming parts together, peering at an increasingly unhelpful diagram, then cursing in the language of my choice, and ripping it all apart again. Building and checking and re-checking to make certain everything worked correctly at each stage of construction. Between this and cooking dinner, I spent an eventful 5 hours entertaining myself and amusing everyone else in the room.(yes, they were laughing at me) After dinner was over I proudly brought my son over to his new (and cool) machine so that I could receive the accolades I so justly deserved, for both the coolness of the present and the pain and effort I had gone through to provide it.
   I said something like, 'Here it is, Dude. Isn't this cool?' (man, you are so setting yourself up) Dave looked everything over, watched me send the marbles flying up the tubes, then watched the results as gravity pulled them down the ramps and through the chutes until they'd come to rest at the end. He learned the mechanism to send the marbles and sent a couple flying around the course with the same result. 'How 'bout it Dave? You want this up in your room?' Dude looked it over, one more time, and said, in a polite but unenthusiastic voice, 'Yeah, sure.' Then he walked out of the room and up the stairs to his 'real' presents. He is so getting socks and coal next year, I swear.
  PS. Raine still laughs when she remembers how I looked pulling all those parts out of that box, and how long it took me to put it all together. She's just getting coal. No socks.