Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Happy Hallow-Where the Hell Are You-een:

Halloween is a wonderful time for kids. And I, behind this linebacker-like facade, am a really big kid. A really big kid with theater experience. When Dave was about 5 and we were staying with them, I helped my nieces (Alexis-11, Kirbi-8, and Alyssa-5) with their holiday attire, bouncing around like a Broadway costumer on opening night. I also dressed David up like a pirate, complete with head-rag, gold hoop earring (plastic), genuine-fake scar and eye patch. (No sword, no parrot, no way) The eye patch ended up on his forehead, the earring didn’t make it much past the front door, and the head rag needed constant re-adjustment, but we had a blast. Due to his medications, or his own inclination, David never developed a taste for candy. What he did develop a taste for was walking up to random strangers’ doors and being given stuff. Also, there was that brief glimpse of what lay behind all those mysterious doors. Not to mention that the doors themselves hold a certain fascination for David anyway. My sister lived in a small pocket-suburb of ranch-style and duplex homes in northern St. Joe and Dude tried to drag me up every sidewalk in the subdivision. He didn’t know, or care, that only the houses with lights on were giving stuff out. He’d say, “Next Dad!” and haul me down the street,  nearly pulling my arm out of the socket trying to get up to the next house, lit or not. But as I said, it was a wonderful time, weather in the Heartland had co-operated for once with a balmy, clear night. Semi-supervised groups of kids were drifting around laughing, talking too loud, exchanging ‘treat-intel’ and dashing off for the next goodie-grab. Adults traded slightly embarrassed, but beatific smiles and small shrugs at their antics. Small annoyances broke in occasionally, but not anything you’d remember looking back on it, unless you were the one participating in the annoying act. But sooner or later Trick-or-Treat ends and it’s time for kids to gather like dragons in caves and gloat over their hoards. Dave didn't care what happened to the candy, so I took what I wanted and parceled the rest out. Eventually even sugar-buzzed kids go to sleep and, after turning out the last of the lights, I sat out on the front porch and thought to myself, ‘This was a good day.’
            Unfortunately certain aspects of that day would come back to haunt me like Marley’s ghost for the next year or so. And I’m not talking about bellyaches either. David took it into his head that walking up to people’s houses was just naturally part of any day, not just the ones you wear a costume for. And since, except for Halloween, he’d never been to a house that he didn't have an open invitation to just walk into, that was just what he did. At arbitrary intervals, just to check ‘ole Dad’s blood pressure, David would slip out of
the house, wander down the street pick a house at random, and walk right in. The first time this happened was about 2 weeks after All Hallows Eve, I looked around after fixing our lunch to find myself Dude-less. It doesn't take long to search a duplex, even with a basement and attached garage but I’m sure I set the record. After re-checking 3 times that I hadn't somehow missed him I still hadn't used more than 10 minutes of panic-induced terror, and I still had plenty more to burn.
            You see, with an atypical child you have all the agony that any other parent would feel upon discovering that your 5 year old is suddenly missing, with the added dimension that even if his disappearance is innocuous he’ll never be able to give anyone even the slight information a regular kindergartner could be expected to give. In most cases the child can’t even tell anyone that this biker/hippy looking guy actually is his father. So mostly you’re banking on random chance to bring the two of you back together, and in a town of 80,000 those chances aren't good. To add to even that level of terror, Dave has absolutely no sense of personal danger. Puppies, kittens, speeding cars or alligators, it’s all the same to him.
            I called the police (they were to learn to love me) while testing the limits of Anne’s cordless phone, to inform them of my plight and the danger to the public at large if anything had happened to my son, but was not able to wait around for the pre-Amber alert wheels of justice to start turning and started to stalk the streets. It’s normally very quiet in the ‘Burbs during the day, while most of the people are off to work and the kids are in school. The birds are tweeting and the crickets chirp their little songs. But I have a voice that can (and does) cause windows to ring and small to medium sized objects to fall off shelves 20 feet away, and I had the volume cranked to ‘11’, frantically calling Dave’s name while looking under every shrub and car and into every back yard and porch in the neighborhood. Actually it couldn't have been 15 minutes or so before the first car arrived and found me 2 blocks away from the house calling Dave’s name and madly scouring the area
Just after the first cops pulled away from me to search the surrounding neighborhoods a dainty lady in her 70’s opened her side door and asked, “Are you looking for a little boy?” I spun on her and almost screamed “Yes! Do you have one?” I must have looked a sight, because she took a quick step back and brought the open door further between us at a speed I wouldn't have assumed she still possessed. Peeking around the left hip of her print dress was a set of hazel eyes I was very familiar with. He didn’t seem to be concerned with his inevitable destruction. He didn't even try to hide behind the door! As soon as he saw me he cheerily said, ‘Dad!’ like ‘where have you been?’ he rudely pushed past the nice older lady whose house
he had invaded, and strolled down the walk directly to me. In the midst of that relief rush that cools the sternum and loosens the neck muscles I vaguely heard the woman’s story. It sounded something like this: She had been sitting down to her morning tea and newspaper at her kitchen table when her side-door opens and in strolls this 5 year old boy. (many Midwesterners don’t even know where their door-keys are, let alone actually use them)  He looked nothing like any of her grandchildren, (and a good thing too, I think they lived in N Carolina and that’s a long walk) but he immediately sits down at her kitchen table and begins reciting lines from Winnie the Pooh, and The Legend of Zelda, treating her like an old friend who should have been expecting  a visit.
As she’s wrapping up her story, and I’m just about to interrupt and ask why she didn’t call the police, the two cops pull up to inform me that a woman had reported a strange child in her kitchen. (Why she didn’t call animal control, I’ll never know) Many embarrassed explanations, assertions of gratitude, several ‘Oh, it was nothing’s and a lecture by two cops who watched too many Andy Griffith episodes growing up followed in rapid succession. After the dust had settled I walked David back to the house, sternly lecturing him on why causing heart palpitations to his custodial parent is never a good idea. I often get the idea that to Dude I sound like one of those parents in a Peanuts cartoon… ‘Whaaa wahh, wuh whaaa waah waaaa.’ Upon reaching the house I did not pass go, I did not collect $200, I immediately dragged my youngest offspring to the nearest hardware store to look into and purchase items to secure the little Papillon to his own personal Devil’s Island. There followed many manly things done with power tools and screwdrivers to upgrade his prison to ‘Supermax’ status. Despite the added security the bloodhounds had to be called out 2 more times in the next 7 months, culminating in an exciting trip around two corners and across an incredibly busy and dangerous 4 lane state highway, just rife with dump trucks semis and impatient drivers, to get to his favorite convenience store. Luckily the attendants recognized David and called the cops. Who, by this time, also recognized him from a brief description and called me immediately. I was already out canvassing the neighborhood, but didn’t think he’d ever go that way. As soon as I heard, I bolted out of the subdivision and was nearly run over twice trying to get across the highway.  And, if I wasn’t terrified enough, the counter-lady describing her horror at watching him cross that deadly road would have done it. David’s fate would have been sealed, except that I had a flash-back of two incidents, one from my own childhood and the second from my oldest child.
One afternoon when I was about 5 or 6 my sister, Deb (one year younger) and I were following mom around the block while she was knocking on doors and bothering other women for some church thing
or another, when my sister needed to use the bathroom. Due to some Midwestern etiquette that I’m still not certain about, it was decided that I take her to our bathroom and return. Since we were only two houses away, mom watched us walk down the alley and turn into the correct yard, but unfortunately underestimated the speed of our return, mostly due to the fact that although the sun was still out, the inside of the house was getting dark, and that, evidently, had the power to dry up my sister’s bladder almost at once. Unknowing, Mom allowed herself to be briefly invited into her friend’s house. When my sister and I returned, mom was gone. After what seemed like an interminable amount of time (to a 6 year old) and unwilling to return to an empty, dark house, it seemed to me that the only logical thing to do was to drag my sister 10 winding blocks to the grocery store my father managed downtown. (I was 6, I’m not sure actual logic was involved) Without one wrong turn we arrived at the store, only to find out that my father had been called away. It seems his children were missing. The events of the rest of that evening are, thankfully, a repressed memory which I have no interest in calling back.
The incident with my daughter Heather occurred the very first time, after she had become mobile, that I was allowed to watch her unsupervised. She was just about 18 months old, and we lived in a mobile home near the small Coke bottling plant (then closed) my grandmother owned in the middle of the residential part of town. I was lying on the couch reading in that almost-dozing state when you can’t tell if you’re awake or asleep, when I noticed the quiet. David may be the noisiest of my children, but none of them have ever been quiet unless something was up. Sometimes they even make noise while they’re sleeping. Thinking that perhaps she had taken an impromptu nap, I went in her room to put her in bed, but when I got in there… no baby. Even a three bedroom mobile home only takes so long to search. Once again, no baby. I checked the doors, certain that I’d locked them both but finding that thought was slightly incorrect. The front door had not been secured. I frantically searched the ¼ block square trailer park, even looking under the trailers to no avail. Knowing I was a dead man, and that no one would ever trust me with their offspring again (and admitting that they probably shouldn’t. I didn’t even trust me with my offspring), I walked back into my house to call the police and make public what I already knew; that I was a bad parent. Just as I picked the phone up off the breakfast bar I heard a giggle and a WAM! That sounded suspiciously like Heather giggling as she took a wooden spoon to the bottom of a pan. I quickly scanned the area but didn’t see her. Not knowing if the sounds were just a figment of a desperate and guilty conscience I waited breathlessly for more noise knowing that having my genes make it impossible to remain quiet for long. I was so focused on listening for my daughter I almost dropped the phone when it started shrieking from being off the hook for so long. More of the suspicious giggling ensued, so I followed the sound to its source under the sink and when I
opened the cabinet door I saw the brightest blue eyes under that familiar cap of white-blond hair, look up at me like, ‘Oh! Aren’t you so clever to have found me!’ She showed me her wooden spoon then proceeded to whale the tar out of the bottom of the baking pan she had in her other hand, giggling the whole while. Where was this noise during my paranoid scouring of the mobile home? My legs decided to take a vacation at this point and the next sound I heard was my butt hitting the linoleum of the kitchen floor. I’m sure it puzzled my first wife when I bought a box of cabinet locks and installed them in the kitchen that weekend,
but luckily for me the local news did a segment on Child Safety in the Home, so I didn’t have to admit to a thing.

So you see, my children have long made a habit of scaring the crap out of me. The only consolation is that it seems to be genetic. And I can hope that it will be passed on to allow the next generation to engender my revenge. Still, that’s no consolation at all when you’re trying to decide whether it’s worse to call the cops or the mother of your child to report your son missing, or if you should just ease on over the border into Mexico. I know it’s about 1200 miles due south of Atchison but you don’t know how tempted I was.

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