Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Land of Ahhs? :

For some strange reason, or another, (it's surprising how many of my stories begin that way) I was overcome with the urge to visit my Homeland two whole months earlier than normal. Now this urge does happen occasionally. The unusual part is that normally there's no opportunity to actually indulge in the notion. But this year, due to uncooperative weather (not enough snow) Dude actually had extra days tacked onto his Easter Vacation (f-u, PC!) and I was going to have to take an extra day off work to cover one of them. I turned to my Partner in Dude-Crime (Raine), and said, in a facetious tone, 'I'm thinking about running back home over the weekend. What do you think?' She looked up from the ads she was perusing and replied in a flat voice, 'Take Dude.' and went back to her commercial flyer. The entire problem, and both of the men in her life, dismissed as casually as a passing breeze. Be that as it may, in less than 72 hours the 2 Dudes were wending their way into the Sunset
     Well... That's how they'd say it in the Novelized version of the movie. (I want Hugh Jackman to play me, complete with Wolverine claws and... ... ... Forget I said anything) But the reality was just a bit more complicated. Because, unfortunately for those breezes, Dudes can't actually just cross-fade to the next scene. Cars had to be rented, bags had to be packed, vacation time had to be begged for. And worst of all... ex-wives had to be called. (damn my courtesy, anyway!). And also, I had to prepare David for a break in schedule and to be good in school without actually telling him why he had to be a good boy. You see, according to the Book of Dude, all trips should be made through airports, giving all and sundry the chance of taking elevator and/or tram rides before getting into large aluminum tubes and flying through the air to do it again in another state. That's just the only way for people to get around. I couldn't tell him we were going to Kansas without raising his expectations of an airplane ride, and I didn't want to disappoint him. So I just told him that if he was a good boy, we would do something 'cool'. Without ever identifying what the 'cool' thing actually was. Somehow this brilliant (desperate/thrown together) scheme actually worked. Dave got good notes, talked about the 'cool' thing we were going to be doing, and absolutely didn't have a clue as to what that was. He just kept coming home every day saying, 'I've got the good notes so we can do something COOL!' And that was good enough for me.
    At long last, the car was rented and packed and the Dudes rode off into the sunset. Literally. In the late evening we drove west toward the heart of the Midwest. (I don't care what Ohio says, they are not in the Midwest) Dave was mildly disappointed that we went to the airport but didn't use the elevators. That was mitigated by getting to ride in our 'new car'. 'Nice new red car, Dad!' For those that don't know; I like to drive. I have nothing against flying, I've flown hither and yon any number of times, but I just enjoy being (in control) able to pull over whenever I like, eat whatever happens to be close to the highway, and able to see out the front of whatever vehicle I'm in. I also have very wide shoulders and don't like to elbow my neighbors, so I tend to spend the entire flight hunched over and pinched in. Not the most comfortable way to spend 2 hours. I also have the ability to drive from 12-20 hours at a time, so there aren't too many places that I want to go that are much outside of my range. Normally the trip from Pgh to KC takes about 14 hours or so driving time. I generally leave after work so I take a 2 hour nap somewhere in the latter stages and make it by the next morning. To me, this is no big deal, but it's evidently some sort of Iron Man Triathlon of driving, because people are always telling me that I'm crazy for doing it. I tell them I just get on the Interstate that goes right past my house, make one right turn and keep driving until I pass the big racetrack, then make another right turn...easy. Of course there are 950 miles between those two turns, but still.
 So our 2 intrepid explorers drive on into the night. Despite Dude's incessant talking, he's actually a fairly decent travelling companion. Other than a distressing tendency to call out loudly 'Oh No! We're out of gas!' Every time we have to stop for fuel or drinks (3 times each way) and then; 'We've got to get going to KC/Pittsburgh to get the GAMES!' Every time we got back on the highway, and kind of a siren call to read out either highway markers or billboards at random intervals he's actually pretty good in the car.
   Now David has inherited my stubbornness, but not the stamina evidently. Because about 1 am I noticed that he is starting that jello-necked head bobbing thing in the passenger seat. I tried to tell him where the lever to lay the seat back was, but he couldn't find it. So, being ever aware of highway safety and the fact that I'm driving a Focus in the midst of a pack of semis, I reached across his body, pulled the lever and shoved him with my elbow until he was lying back in the seat. Mission aclomplished, with a minimum of horn-honking and death threats. Except for one thing. He wouldn't stay down. He would lay there quietly for just long enough for me to think he was asleep and then startle the hell out of me when he'd pop up like some autistic jack-in-the-box, looking around blearily for a while, then nodding off until I told him to lay down again. I tried to tell him to go to sleep any number of times but all I got back was something I couldn't understand about 'something....blah, blah something... understand?' He wasn't very coherent, and I wasn't really paying attention, but I got the distinct idea there was some element missing, but had no clue as to what it was. Dude has slept in a car any number of times, but not this time. I was tired of playing Whack-a-Mole in the pitch-black at highway speeds, but I was also 400 miles into a 1000 mile drive and had no attention to spare to figure out what the problem was. After 20 minutes of Dave's yo-yo imitation I grabbed his coat out of the backseat for him to use as a pillow when I  caught the word 'blanket'. I awkwardly spread his coat over him with one hand at 75 mph, and 30 seconds later he was out like a light.
    Which meant that I had some peace and quiet (and complete control over the radio) for the next several hours. But it also meant that 4 hours later, when I wanted to take my nap Dude was ready to go, (Time for Breakfast?) even though he'd briefly been up a couple of times. I laid my seat back, covered up with my hoodie and said, 'Quiet you! And lay down and go to sleep!' I must have looked especially cranky, because that's exactly what he did.
    A couple of hours later we were up and off again, and several hours after that we were in the heart of Kansas City. But instead of immediately heading for the hometown, we pulled a detour in almost exactly the wrong direction to visit my Aunt Barb. Barb's only 5 years older than me and I have the distinction of being the only one of her many nephews to have whacked her in the head with a big stick. As far as I know. I was 3 and her brother, Rick gave me the stick and the instructions, and I'm pretty sure she's over it by now, because she requested a picture of mine blown up to put in her shop. The town that she lives in is set up with the classic Midwestern town square with a large brick courthouse in the middle. Her shop is on one side of that square, facing the courthouse.
    Our first day in the Homeland was Surprise Visit Day. Sometimes my surprise visits don't work out so well,(it's hard to surprise somebody when they're not there) but that day, I was in the groove. We pulled up to her shop just as she got out of her car and started walking in. I rolled down my window and said, 'Hey, do you know who owns this shop?' Strangely enough, she didn't immediately run the other way screaming for the National Guard. And even stranger, she actually invited us in. Where Dude and I spent several minutes bothering her in her salon, and puzzling the hell out of the lady whose hair she was coloring. (I also checked out my/her picture, but despite what you might think, that wasn't the primary reason for the visit)
   Dude was pretty good in her shop, for Dude. He was sticking his nose in everywhere, babbling incessantly and mostly remembering to ask for a soda... after he'd already pulled it out of the cooler and started to open it. A sharp clearing of his father's throat might have had something to do with his return to manners, who's to say? After the politely confused lady's hair was colored and Barb's husband was surprised by PA Dudes as he was walking to the building next door, (He works in the courthouse in the center of the square) David and
Dad: No that is NOT a GameStop!
I 'walked the square'. I was photographically stoked by the Victorian architecture while Dude was somehow under the impression that we'd traveled 1000+ miles to buy a copy of 'Wreck it Ralph' only to head back home so he could put it with the rest of his movies. He kept repeating, 'Got to get the Wreck it Ralph, with the Blu-Ray and DVD copy!' And when that had no effect, 'I got the good notes, so we need to get the Mario Bros., and take it home with the Games!'  I'm pretty sure the only thing that saved me was that there was no GameStop or video store on the square.
    After our tour of the center of town we went to Barb's house for a 'chat'. Now, in my mom's family that doesn't mean what it means to everyone else. In our family the word 'chat' indicates that we spent the next 4 hours hitting the highlights of just about everything that had happened over the last 40 years to just about everyone we know. Not because we hadn't talked to each other in 40 years, but because that's just what we do. Dude is the extreme that proves the family rule in the talking department. Early on, during the obligatory tour, David, with his amazing Dude-like powers, found Barb's Wii in a closed cabinet underneath her TV. Once again, only Dad's intervention prevented him from just doing his thing. (I mean, c'mon Dad! sodas are for drinking, Games are for playing. What's the problem?) But at least he had something to do while we were talking. As a matter of fact, after a couple hours he was already better at the two games they had, than they were after a couple of years. Because it was a weekday and some people still had that annoying 'work' thing going, we cut our talk short (for our family) and David and I were on our way once again.
  Every time we got into the car Dave was certain that we were headed back to the land of the GameStop. But this time we were off to my Goddaughter Jenny's house. To yet another small town in the middle of Somewhere Kansas, with not a GS in sight. Jenn had recently given birth to my Great-Goddaughter (okay, I just made that word up) Squeaker. (Brynn, actually, but she did squeak a lot) Small towns are quiet and you kind of get used to a routine of action (or lack of it), so having a large man unexpectedly pound on your door, saying that he was looking for a baby and heard you had one, is something of a startling event. But we were invited in anyway. Dave is a divining rod for gaming systems, spin him around blindfolded in the middle of the Gobi Desert and he will point like a compass to the nearest electronic device. While I was making strange baby-noises and showing off my Super-Power. The one where any baby almost instantly falls asleep while laying on me, (Ask any new mom if that isn't a super-power) David found yet another Wii system. Unfortunately for him, the controller didn't work, so he was out of luck. Jenn and I were having a nice time, catching up and talking about babies and such, but with nothing to do the lack of sleep started to catch up with Dude. After I caught him face-down on the couch for the second (or third) time, I decided it was time to go into town to my sister's house. Because, since we're family, she has to let us stay there whenever we're in town. Yes, there are many down-sides to being related to me.
   When we finally got to my sister Beth's house in my hometown (she would probably get upset if we didn't stay there. Or, at least that's what I tell myself) Dave found his third gaming system of the day. My nephew's old PlayStation II 'abandoned' in the front room while he was at college. Beth said that he was free to use it, but she wasn't sure it was hooked up. I assured her that wouldn't be a problem, and in less than 5 minutes, without either of us moving from our chairs, we heard the sounds of gaming from the other room. I cut his action short after a couple of hours, because even with the Playstation recharge he still needed to get some
   The next morning my Sister and nephew were out of the house and Dude was unusually quiet at the PS2, so I took my e-reader and sat out in the backyard, soaking up that special kind of quiet you can only get on a weekday in a Kansas small town. (trust me. I've been around) Those two hours turned out to be the only time of peace for the entire weekend. Soon my sis and nephew were back and then we were all in a flurry to go our separate ways. Dude and I were off to visit my #2 mom, Mata, who unofficially 'adopted' me once I was past the age of traditional adoption, and the home-team was off to find a new truck for my nephew. After a bit of a snag where I went the way I wanted to go instead of the way she told me to go we made it to 'Lonesome Dove', Mata's hideaway. (I still ended up in the right place, it just took longer) She tries to tell me that she doesn't live in the middle of nowhere. Maybe not, but she's got a hell of a view of it from her back porch. She also has 2 dogs, about 8 alpacas, 3 horses, a donkey, 2 goats and a revolving population of wild geese. But all of that didn't mean anything to Dude. Because one thing she had was an older iPad that she had gotten out especially for him to play with. Is that cool, or what? Dude thought so. As a matter of fact she is now David's favorite Kansan, yours truly included.
   David did like the dogs, they were friendly, but once he got that iPad in his hand all of the animals (us included) could have walked off into the fields and he wouldn't have noticed a thing. I know this for a fact because that's exactly what she and I did, and I'm pretty sure Dave never knew we were gone. Also, wonder of wonders, there was a 10 minute video of an elevator ride on the pad. He played that over and over. I'm not even sure he noticed that everyone in it was speaking German. And if he did, he didn't care. #2 mom didn't get the full Dude experience because every time either of us asked him a question about all we got out of him was 'We have to go to (about 4 different places) to get to the elevators!' or some other elevator driven comment.
     After meeting her husband and talking a bit more, it was time for us to be on the move again. I drove David to KC so that he could have a day with his mother, and I turned around so that I could visit my eldest son in Lawrence and to watch the KU Jayhawks lose to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament. Which he and everyone else in the house totally blamed on me. The whole house was darkly muttering something about me bringing my PA jinx to Kansas. The next morning I retrieved the Dude from his mother and we went back to my hometown (Thank Vishnu for unlimited miles) to have lunch at the only Mexican Restaurant in town with my sisters and a couple of nieces and my nephew. We were the last ones there ('cept for Alex) and everyone tried to chat David up for a bit, but all he cared about was his tortilla chips and cheese enchiladas. After an extended family-type goodbye, Dude and I gathered up our things and loaded up the car. 'Let's go home Dude.' I said when we were finally ready to roll. 'Yes!' he said quickly (and loudly) and I was inordinately pleased that he was so enthusiastic about returning home. Until he continued, 'We have to go home to get to the GAMESTOP to get the GAMES!!' Returned to earth, by the reminder of reality of where the rest of us stood in in Dudeworld, I shook my head ruefully, put the car in gear and headed East toward the land that William Penn founded.
 Dave figured he didn't have anything to prove on the ride back, so about 11:00 or so, he kicked the seat back, covered himself with his coat and crashed out, only waking up for the interesting stuff; Gas stations, Steak and Shake, large cities, and really sudden turns of the steering wheel. We almost stopped for a nap in Ohio, except for three things. 1: It was Ohio. 2: It had gotten much colder and that woke me back up when we got out of the car, and I couldn't have slept anyway. And 3: I looked at the 'You are Here' map in the rest area and realized that I was only about an hour away from home. So back on the Highway we went. (Got to get to Pittsburgh, to get to the GameStop to get the GAMES!)
  When we pulled up in front of the house I briefly contemplated sneaking in the house to surprise Raine, cause I'm the kind of guy who thinks that kind of thing is funny. Only one thing held me back. No, not discretion, or even self-preservation. I was travelling with the least stealthy being in the known universe: Dude. That boy couldn't sneak up on a rock during a fireworks show in a stadium full of deaf people. 
At any rate, our two Drained Dudes were finally ensconced in our Island Paradise. We were so excited to get home that we immediately... went directly to bed. (do not pass Go, do NOT collect 200 games)
  David started bugging me for his 'Good Points' Game just about 30 seconds after I woke up though. I get the feeling that for him the whole trip was just a huge, long way around to get to GameStop. I mean, I know I know I take the scenic route some times, but c'mon!

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