Monday 31 December 2012

One Year Down. Wow.

Last year I made a resolution to start a blog and to publish something every day.  In another two weeks, we'll pass the anniversary of my first post.  And I've done it.

I wondered if I'd run out of opinions.  I wondered if I'd end up speaking essentially to myself, lost in the vasty nothingness of cyberspace. 

But I didn't. 

I may not have a huge following, but there are people out there reading this blog and some of them are not related to me.  I still have lots of opinions and ideas I'm eager to share and more I think are important to share.

It means something to me that I've accomplished this.  It may look relatively meaningless in the bigger picture, but it was still a task I set myself and I've done it.

I'll continue to post as long as I feel I'm doing something meaningful.  Thank you to everyone who follows my ramblings.

I hope 2013 brings hope and happiness to you all.

Sunday 30 December 2012

Dealing with Crankies

It's been over a week since we had our regular routine and I am dealing with two very cranky kids now.

I'm pleased we made it through the holidays without these kinds of meltdowns but now I'm facing the whiny guns and tantrum blasts.

It doesn't help that Dave had an overnight maintenance window and is also fighting some cranky tendencies.  I'm guilty of a little more snap myself, too.

I'm trying to be gentle with everyone and not compound my irritation with guilt.  It's easier said than done but the reminder keeps me pointed in the right direction, even if I don't make progress.

Part of the challenge is that I can't use my usual techniques for dealing with crankiness.  I can't put Nathan down for a nap since Alex won't settle and the noise keeps Nathan awake.  I can't take Alex out for a bus ride because I'm on my own and Nathan is too easily upset to risk being stranded at a bus stop far from home.

Unfortunately, I think this is just one of those situations we're going to have to ride through and hope it's not a sign of something else creeping up.  (My sister was sick over the holidays so I'm wondering if the family is going to come down with her bug.)

For now, I'll do what I can preventatively.  Make sure everyone eats frequently, keep demands low, ensure the highly-desirable toys are kept out of sight to avoid ownership fights.

I'm sure everyone goes through this with kids at the holidays.  And that's one of the deals with autism, often you're not dealing with an impossibly unique situation but your tool box is so limited that ordinary situations become impossible.  Like trying to build a house without a saw or nails.  It can be done, but it's a lot more time-consuming and frustrating.

Ah well, only 7 more days until school starts again.  And yes, now I'm counting.

Saturday 29 December 2012

Back to Routine

We're starting to stare back down the barrel of a return to school and routine.  (8 days ... not that I'm counting them down or anything.)

Kids with autism crave routine.  It's a fact which barely needs to be stated.  Having gotten into the holiday routine, we've discovered that the return to school can come as a real shock to them.  It can lead to all sorts of behavioural challenges.  However, I don't like the idea of trying to turn the whole vacation into a facsimile of their regular school routine.  Everyone needs a holiday, even if they don't like change.

The past few years, we've had a little compromise.  Usually there is at least a week between Christmas and the return to school.  So for that week, we have Alex's tutor come in for an hour to an hour and a half each morning.  Just to get him back into the routine of seat work and thinking academically.  She doesn't work on anything too strenous, lots of math games (which he loves) and some craft stuff. 

This year, she'll be coming for the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, which should be enough to get him back in the swing of things.  The boys will have their traditional New Year's sleepover at their grandparents' (while we go play board games with our friends ... yep, we're all geeks and loving it!) and then they can get back into a light schedule.  I'll do some work with Nathan while Alex works with his tutor. 

We've also got our aide coming in to give me a hand so that we can go out and do fun stuff in the afternoon.  It makes the days full, which also helps with getting them back on a whole school day schedule, but keeps it holiday-fun.

I don't know if other parents have to think about this stuff but as an autism parent, it's mandatory for a smooth-ish transition.  It doesn't have to be an all-out routine but if you can find a compromise, it'll make life a lot easier for you and them.

Friday 28 December 2012

Our Christmas Results

I told you all about the plan.  Now I'm going to let you know how it went.

Surprisingly well.

I was braced for disaster at several levels but things actually went reasonably smoothly.  This is the fourth year we've held to this particular holiday routine and schedule and whether it was that we could anticipate the potential kinks, had lower standards or simply that the boys found the routine familiar ... it worked for us.

Not that there weren't minor tantrums and issues to be dealt with.  But no real curveballs or dropped passes.  (I am not a sports person so that is the extent of my athletic metaphors and if I mixed up games ... meh.)

I think keeping Christmas Eve quiet helped.  So did having everything spelled out on the visual schedule.  Another big help was Nathan's attitude.  He was excited about Christmas and his excitement caught Alex's curiousity.  They were active participants this year instead of being dragged along.

Alex was even interested in unwrapping his gifts.  Often less interested once the gift was revealed but still voluntarily participating.  Nathan is still having some trouble with control issues but we held firm to our requirements (no screaming, use your words to say what you want) and managed to get over the bumps.

On the purely materialistic level, I think we did pretty well.  We got several DVDs we'd asked for, like Brave, The Lorax and Elmo's Christmas Countdown.  Dave and I had agreed to get an Apple TV for the family as our gift to each other.  (We have a lot of DVDs and like the idea of them being on a central media computer rather than having to sort through piles of discs and boxes.)  My parents offered to get us the interface cable we'd need for our ancient cathode TV to talk to the Apple box.  Which they did.  They just got one which was attached to a new LED flatscreen!  :)  (Pause for acquistive happy dance) 

Dave did pretty well on his gift selection this year.  I got a Joss Whedon Comprehensive Companion (a bunch of essays on his various movies, series and comics ... more acquisitive happy dancing) and the Big Damn Heroes Serenity Role Playing Game.  (I am a geek ... I am proud.)

I felt a little bad because I didn't get him anything in particular.  Santa got him an R2D2 USB drive and some Hot Wheels.  Thank goodness I had picked up the Apple TV early so he actually had something to unwrap. 

No matter how much I say that Christmas isn't about the presents ... it's a little about the presents.  We don't have a lot of spare cash lying around so a new TV was a pipe dream even though the one we had was well over a decade old.  I don't consider myself a particularly materialistic person but I like having nice things.  It bothers me to have worn out, repaired and cheap things surrounding me.  It smacks of being unworthy of quality ... which has never been something which described me. 

Any way you slice it, this was a good Christmas.  Little or no family drama.  Several pleasant surprises.  And happy, excited children who really did wake up in the middle of the night to try and catch an airborne reindeer.  This one goes down in the memory book as one of the good ones.

Thursday 27 December 2012

Movie Review: Parental Guidance

I only get to see about three movies a year, so I generally try to save my evening out time for something special.  (This year's must sees were The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises.)

I saw the preview for Parental Guidance and it struck me as a good mother-daughter film.  First off, we both love Bette Midler and think she's hilarious.  And Billy Crystal was an excellent foil for her.  (Add Marisa Tomei and I was good to go.)  Besides, it's a little apt since we've undergone (and are undergoing) the tricky shift of power when the title of Mom goes down a generation and the previous Mom gets demoted to Grandma on the power scale.

This was a fun movie.  Predictable but still managing to feel special.  Lots of wonderful little vignettes between the characters.  My favourites were Bette Midler's advice to her daughter (Marisa Tomei) about protecting her relationship with her husband and Billy Crystal's apology to his daughter for not being the dad he'd hoped he would be.  Both really rang true and I suspect the words came from someone's heart.

I was worried before I saw it that it was going to be a story of the grandparents flaunting everything and yet still fixing all the problems of the family.  As a parent who doesn't always agree with the previous generation, I'd have a hard time with that message.  But I was pleased to see Midler and Crystal's characters making a sincere effort to follow their daughter's wishes.  Not always accurately and, since it's a comedy, often with hilarious unintended side effects.  But they were really trying and that meant a lot to me.

I think about the future and my relationships with my boys a lot.  If they're independent (and I hope they will be), I still want to be a part of their lives.  I want to be someone they call to let me know what's going on.  I want to be an interfering and indulgent grandmother.  But most of all, I want them to be happy to see me and spend time with me rather than dreading my arrival.

It's a long time in the future and so I don't worry about it.  But those seeds have to be planted now.  If they don't have fun with me now, there won't be a bond to carry over into adulthood.  I'm sure there will be battles where I'm sure I'm right and they will be frustrated beyond words with me.  With luck, they'll be loud, out in the open battles instead of a long silent cold war.

Maybe it will be another dream I'll have to give up as we move further down the path.  But for now, I'm still hopeful that those moments are waiting in the future for me. 

So, for every parent out there who has desperately tried to convince a grandparent to try it her way and for every grandparent who has rolled their eyes before giving it a go ... go on out and enjoy watching someone else go through it for ninety minutes.

Wednesday 26 December 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different

Geek points to anyone who got the Monty Python reference.

Over the holidays I reading Denial of the Soul by M. Scott Peck.  It's a philosophical and religious look at the ethics of euthanasia.  It dips a little into the abortion and capital punishment debates as examples of how our society views willfully taking life.

Peck complains bitterly about not being able to understand how pro-life supporters can also support capital punishment (as is statistically likely).  He also can't understand how pro-choice supporters tend to lobby against capital punishment.  In his view, the pro-lifers hold that all life is sacred, therefore they should be as against killing criminals as they are about killing fetuses.  And pro-choicers claim killing is acceptable in one circumstance so why should they be against it in another?

Aside from the shakiness of his explanations, I think he's missed a rather important note.  It's not about life and the relative sacredness of it at all.

Pro-life/pro capital-punishment supporters tend to come from a conservative, religious background.  Their views become consistent if you see it as about punishment rather than life.  A murderer or rapist deserves the ultimate punishment in their books, having their own lives taken.  A girl who has had sex should not be able to scamper off consequence free, she should have to bear her God-given punishment of sacrificing nine months of her life to carry a baby.  This also ties in to the usual pro-life exceptions of rape and incest.  Those were not chosen acts of sin and thus no punishment is necessary.

Pro-choice/anti capital-punishment supporters statistically tend to be liberal and somewhat agnostic.  For them it becomes more about the right of the government or another minority to impose their will on the individual.  The state does not have the right to choose life or death for any of its citizens be they fetuses or mass-murderers.

Personally, I think the situation is traumatic and difficult enough that no formula can ever be sufficient.  Capital punishment can't be applied fairly and thus shouldn't be applied at all.  Abortion is a horrific decision which belongs to the individual and I think the psychic scars are more than sufficient "punishment" if any punishment is necessary.

To paraphrase Gandalf: Some who die deserve life.  Until you can dispense both equally, have a care to what you choose.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Santa's Letter

I thought I'd share with you the story from this year's letter from Santa:

We’ve had a wonderful year here, up North.  You remember our friend, Polar Bear, who wandered in a few years ago?  He found himself a beautiful wife and now he’s a Daddy Polar Bear to two little cubs.  We call them Dagfinnr and Hinrik.  Little Dagfinnr likes to explore, especially in my workshop!  Hinrik prefers to curl up with my wife and keep her feet warm while she knits and sews by the fire.

It’s been so nice having some little ones around the place.  Dag was poking about in the workshop and got his head caught in a basket.  He ran about, pawing at it and bellowing for his mother to come and help him.  All the elves and dwarves were trying to catch him so that we could take it off but he wasn’t going to sit still long enough to let us!  His mother poked her head through to see what the trouble was and gave a short bark.  Dag immediately sat down and Thistleleaf pulled off the basket.  You might think that would be the end of the trouble, but Dag stuck his head right back in to see how he’d gotten stuck the first time.  We’re still having a good chuckle over that.

The brothers have squabbles every now and then, like all brothers.  Dag will spend all day playing out in the snow and then want to come in and snuggle up with Hinrik by the fire.  But Hinrik does not want to share his warm spot with a cold and wet brother!  Or Hinrik will have found a spot by the ice to watch the seals and Dag will come charging over to see what’s going on, frightening them away.  But there are times they play together, too.  They love playing tag and hide and seek over the snow, running and plowing through the drifts.

Monday 24 December 2012

Sunday 23 December 2012

Preparing For Christmas

I'm almost done all my preparations.  Just a few more presents to wrap.

I've mentioned before that the holidays are tricky for families with autism.  The schedule disruption and new experiences can wreak havoc on an autistic child.  It can also feel isolating when your child doesn't "get" the holidays.

I thought I'd take the time to share some of the traditions I do with my family, even if they don't always get it.

I decorate the house the first weekend in December.  This starts the cue-ing process that something special is going to happen.  It also means that the decorations are familiar by the time we get to the actual holiday events.  On the downside, I end up replacing a lot of damaged and destroyed decorations ... but I mostly use that as an excuse to shop.

We have a candy cane advent calendar.  24 candy canes in a cup and we put one on the tree each night.  Since Alex can't tolerate solid food, the chocolate calendars are out and we haven't had good luck with the toy ones. 

I put up the kids' Christmas crafts on the walls around the house.  Nathan is excited to see his work and I've seen Alex taking note.  I'm hoping they get the message that I'm proud of them and what they do.

I keep Christmas Eve as a quiet day.  There are a lot of activities coming up and I keep the 24th as downtime, even though there's sometimes pressure to fit something in. 

I read my boys the poem Twas The Night Before Christmas each Christmas Eve.  We cuddle up on the couch and I read it to them just like my father read it to me each year.

We only attend family events in familiar venues.  We've learned the hard way that unfamiliar places are full of unfamiliar hazards, which means we spend a lot of time running around after the boys telling them they can't do things.  Not a fun holiday experience.  Because the hosts are familiar with the boys and the boys are familiar with their homes, it lets everyone relax a bit.  It also takes one more element of newness out of the equation.

Santa writes a letter to my boys every year.  He compliments them on what they've done in the year and tells them a story about life at the North Pole.  They haven't always been interested but I'm glad I kept up the tradition.

It's a good system which has worked for our family for the last few years.  I've had people tell me I shouldn't bother because my children wouldn't understand or care.  I don't think that's true.  Even if they don't respond in a typical way, I think our family traditions mark out this time of year as special and noteworthy in their minds.  And that's what traditions are for.

Saturday 22 December 2012

Rotating Interests

I've been reading like a crazy woman of late and I've discovered something very important about myself.

If I read too much fiction, I get discouraged and disillusioned.

If I read too much non-fiction, I get cynical and over-analytical.

It makes sense.  Fiction is made up.  Things go badly but work out in the end (especially when you're reading romance novels).  My life has its challenges but I never quite get to ride off into the sunset with Gerard Butler and Hugh Jackman ( ... pause for happy thoughts ... )

Right.  Back.

Non-fiction tends to be written by passionate people.  Apathetic people rarely go to the trouble of typing up manuscripts.  Passionate people want to change things, specific things.  To do that, they must first convince you why the current system is flawed.  Which they do, in excruciating, if not always accurate, detail.

I've discovered the key to a peaceful and contented mind is rotation.  One fiction, one non-fiction.  So far, it's working.

Friday 21 December 2012

Disaster and Opportunity

I've been watching the documentary series Mankind: The Story of All of Us on History Channel and a common theme is how disaster opens up opportunity.

It's a historical fact that technology bursts tend to coincide with catastrophes. The Black Death birthed the Renaissance and the World Wars both fueled the modern age. Even the great Classical philosophers, Plato, Socrates and Aristotle did their work against the backdrop of the Peloponnesian Wars.

To me, the Black Death is really the example which illustrates it, partly because it's fairly well documented but still far enough back to have lost some of its immediate visceral impact. A bacteria wiped out almost half of Europe and China's populations. That's a significant portion of the world population.

Before the plague, there was a lot of available manpower. Those in power were able to sit securely on the backs of the masses because there were always replacements available if your peasants got uppity. There was no need to be efficient or inventive, they had a system which worked (more or less).

My theory is that people are essentially lazy. We're capable of bursts of brilliance but it's just too much work to do that every single day.

When the population crashed, all of a sudden the tables turned. Have someone productive and loyal? Better be good to them because there aren't replacements waiting in the wings. Skilled craftspeople became more valued because of their rarity. Whole chains of knowlege were lost as people died without passing on their craft secrets to their heirs. The idea of writing things down gained new importance ... and so did the associated skill of reading.

People needed to figure out ways of doing things with less manpower. Those who could engineer and invent suddenly found themselves in great demand.

Disaster created opportunity and opened up new realms of thought and experience. Literally, in the case of Spain and Columbus. Without the catastrophe of the Black Death, the medieval world would have continued in its strangehold for the foreseeable future.

There's a certain fatalistic comfort in this way of thinking. Stock markets may crash, civilization as we know it may crumble ... but maybe it will eventually open the way to something better.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Our Family Pictures

Having blogged earlier about our amazing photographer, Ryan Parent, I thought you all might like to see some of the photos we got out of it.

We tried something a little different this year.  Rather than the traditional sitting on a chair or sitting on the stairs for our family picture, I put a duvet on the floor and we all laid down on top of it.

After we had our group photo out of the way, Ryan essentially just followed us around, snapping pictures as they came up.



Nathan was not interested in interacting with Mommy and Daddy so no parent-child shot for him.  Instead, he decided Ryan must be his own personal photographer and thus he needed to pose for a photo shoot.

I tell ya, he's got the money pose down.  :)  But my favourites are some of the candid moments captured with the boys.

Especially this one of Alex with his Wheel of Fortune wheel I made him last year for his birthday.

I've got tons of great shots to choose from.  These are actually the leftovers after choosing the family photos to send out to our friends and relatives.  Twenty minutes in a department store studio could never match this. 

Wednesday 19 December 2012

The Autism Advantage

A co-worker forwarded this New York Times article to me about a company who specializes in hiring out autistic/Asperger's workers to companies.

I've heard about these kinds of companies before.  Apparently the FBI crime lab is a big employer of various people on the spectrum.  I saw an interview about a fellow who was obsessed with locks.  Show him a fragment of any lock and he will tell you the name, serial number and when it was sold.

As a mom, these stories give me much more hope than inspirational stories about how autism brought a family closer together or an eleventh hour breakthrough.  This is something real which doesn't require my sons to change but could give him the opportunity to use his abilities in a way which helps society.  (Which is really all any of us can ask out of a career ... something we love which is useful.)

People with autism really do have something to offer the business world.  Often they're capable of extreme detail orientation, of seeing patterns in large amounts of data or have large amounts of information available for recall.  I'm not just talking about the feats of autistic savants, which are an extreme minority in the autism population.  Rather just the simple level of proficiency that any obsession can bring.

There is a downside.  People get very uncomfortable with those who do not fit the social model.  Think how quickly someone can get ostracized as "weird" in an office setting.  After that, competence doesn't count for as much (no matter what the writers of House would have liked us to believe).  At our heart, we are still social creatures and we have primal fears about outliers.

This company is upfront about both the limitations and the abilities of their workers.  Once it's out on the table as something understandable, my experience is that the world is much more accepting.  Oh ... he's autistic ... not a selfish untrustworthy jerk .... ohhh, now I get it.

After reading the article, I smiled.  Because maybe the world will start to see my boys the way I do, as wonderful, amazing people with gifts to offer ... even if the wrapping is a little strange.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

A Pleasant Geeky Surprise

Nathan likes comic books!  We've been assembling a decent junior collection for Alex, in the hopes that comic books might prove to be a good link in getting him to appreciate fiction (no luck on that front but I haven't given up hope). 

Nathan found our stash and asked me to start reading to him.  He's seen the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes cartoon and has been playing with an Iron-Man action figure.  He seems to really like the format.  He can identify Iron-Man, Thor and the Hulk ... little fuzzier on Hawk-eye and the Wasp. 

Comics are often dismissed as juvenile and trashy (sort of like romance novels and sci-fi/fantasy ... the other two genres I really enjoy) but I think it's an underserved reputation.  Yes, there is garbage out there.  No question.  But there are also some amazing story lines and really interesting characters.  I defy anyone to convincingly argue that Chris Claremont's Phoenix and Dark Phoenix sagas don't touch on universal themes of power and responsibility with emotional impact. 

And don't get me started about Midnight Nation.  (A battle between God and the Devil for a single soul and a breath-taking insight into the world of poverty and the street and how it remains hidden from our comfortable lives.  Just read it, it's amazing.)

So I am thrilled that Nathan is showing an interest in venturing into this amazing world of adventure behind me.  I can't wait to show him Spider-man, Batman, the X-men.  These are stories that give great opportunities to touch on the challenges of life.  Granted, most of us will never have to stop an invading alien race, but we all have challenges we feel are beyond us.  The heroes give us a chance to explore how people react.

I am an unabashed geek and proud of my geeky heritage.  And now I can share it.

Monday 17 December 2012

Another Score Against Us for Bedding

I've talked about the wide variety of measures we've used to deal with my son's bedwetting.  Having run the gamut of fluid-proof shields, we've moved on to washable bedding.

And now he's managed yet another tactical strike.

He is shredding his diaper, leaving little bits of absorbent silicia embedded in the duvet we use as a mattress.  When washed, these bits swell up and cling to the material and each other.  I've run it four times through the washer and cannot get rid of them.  The duvet is just too large and bulky in the washer.  Not enough free flowing water.

I've also tried vacuuming it once it's dry.  It's impossible to get all the bits.  It feels gritty to the touch, as if it's been used on sand.

I've run out of ideas to clean the <insert choice of profanity here> thing.  He's gotten two of his three duvets so far.  Which means a pricey trip to the store to replace them during holiday crunch.

We're going to have to start putting him to bed without a diaper and hoping we can catch him between falling asleep and flooding the bed.  Which means I'm likely going to get to add another two or three loads of daily laundry to the four I already do.

I'm being honest with everyone about my frustration levels because this is one of the regular occurences parents with special needs children get to deal with.  There are no manuals out there for how to deal with a non-toilet-trained eight year old.  There aren't even diapers of a size to fit him (part of the reason we have the constant leakage problem we do).  Every family has different needs but every family also gets to deal with something "typical" parents get to take for granted.

I'm to the point that I don't have to remind myself any more that this isn't his fault and he's not doing it deliberately.  He loves to destroy and shred things.  It's satisfying to him and he doesn't understand the consequences.  There's no malice or ill-intent.  It's also not his fault that he isn't toilet trained and doesn't have adequate diapers.  So I'm not angry with him.  But that doesn't change my frustration with the situation.

Situations like this are the dangerous ones for special-needs parents.  It's frustrating and demoralizing.  My advice is to recognize and accept the feelings for what they are and remember that this isn't something your child has done deliberately, so venting your frustation at him or her is neither appropriate nor effective.  Easier said than done, but necessary.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Superhero ABCs

First off, a must have for any self-respecting geek parent.  It is written and drawn by Bob McLeod of both Marvel and DC fame.  Lots of in-jokes for parents.
Like this one, mocking my beloved Wolverine.  It's from the X page, for the Team from Planet X.

Here we have the cuddly beaver.  With it's lovely red and yellow uniform with the Xs on the shoulder.

    And here we have everyone's favourite Canadian superhero, Wolverine.  With his yellow and black uniform ... in the exact same pose.  You be the judge.

But my absolute favourite is this one.  The page is from T, the Terrific Three (not a reference to the Fantastic Four or the Thing in any way, of course.)  His name is the Thingamajig and he has a Temper but is Ticklish.
And here's a picture of Elmo.  Note the eerie similarities ...
Who knew?  Elmo's going to be a superhero when he grows up.

Saturday 15 December 2012

Holding On To Stress

One of my friends kindly offered me a Thai Yoga massage today.  (It's a form of massage that includes deep tissue manipulation and the masseuse folding your limbs into various positions and I find it's quite effective.)  He mentioned that I was carrying a lot of tension in my back, a sign of feeling burdened.

Well, duh?

There is a lot I'm trying to deal with and no matter how conscientious I am about making sure I have time to relax and work on my own projects, there's always something to worry about.  I read very dull and dense academic treatises at night so that my brain will shut down and actually let me get to sleep.  If it put me to sleep in university, it still puts me to sleep now.

He also mentioned that he carries his stress in his jaw, a sign his particular challenge is communication.  That got me wondering what else could carry stress and what the various body parts would mean.  Would tight and tense legs mean you long to escape?  Is pain behind the eyes a sign of someone who attempts to collect all knowledge?

Our bodies really do talk and betray the things we would most wish them to keep secret.  I've heard various figures of how much of communication is non-verbal, but it's usually well over half.  It's an interesting approach and one worth looking into for research.

Friday 14 December 2012

Not Much To Write About

With the strike action this week, I didn't get my regular writing time.  I'm pretty disappointed about it.  Especially since I don't see a good point in my upcoming schedule to fit it in.  I was supposed to have a massage on Saturday but now it looks like I'll have to cancel because of some unremembered and unexpected additions to the schedule.

I'm also starting to think about the summer and how I'm going to get writing time then.  (Or time for anything else.)  I don't know if we're going to have help or not, which will make a huge difference.  I may start having to set aside evenings during the week and see if I can make that work.

I'm a natural night person, which means my ideal writing time would probably be from 10pm to around 2am.  But then I wouldn't want to get up before eleven, which is not an option with active children and a husband with an out-of-the-house job.  I've discovered another good active point from 1pm until 4 ... but I have found that between 7 and 10, I'm kind of brain dead.  I want to watch other people's stories ... I don't even like to read then.

But maybe I can make it work with a little caffeine or an afternoon nap or something.  Okay, the afternoon nap might be a pipe dream what with the active children and outsourced husband. 

Guess I'll have to put my brain power down to finding a solution.

Thursday 13 December 2012

Back to a 4 am Alarm

My youngest son has gone back to waking up between 4 and 4:30 am each morning.  It's been a few weeks now since he's slept through the night.  And I noticed this week and last week, his anxiety levels crept back up.

I'll take this as proof that the anxiety is somehow tied in to waking up early and not getting enough sleep.  It could be his brain can't handle as much when he isn't rested, making him more anxious about unpredicted changes.  Or maybe it's the other way around, he's waking up because he's anxious and can't get back to sleep.

Either way, we're back to seeing a number of problems we thought we had dealt with after our visit from the behavioural therapist.  He's refusing to participate in school and refusing to transition from activity to activity both there and at home.  He insists on having everything laid out for him, including the schedules of random people walking past the house (several of our neighbours would be surprised to discover they were walking to catch a plane ... I get bored with obvious answers).  He's cranky and irritable and throws long extended tantrums.

When he first started to wake up early again, I thought about putting regular naps back in his schedule but I worried about encouraging the early wake-up time.  When he gets up, he starts to play in his room, which would be great if he wasn't shouting and jumping around.  So I get up with him and escort him downstairs and we watch TV together or he plays in the basement, which lets Alex and Dave continue to sleep until the alarm goes off.

However, now I'm thinking I'll have to be more proactive about managing his sleep.  When he was getting 9-10 hours a night, he was doing much better.  So if he starts cutting it short, I have to start fitting it in.

Besides, I could use a nap myself.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Separating Elmo from Kevin Clash

I read this post by Erika Christakis about how adults read too much into Sesame Street.

I agree about her premise.  People worry too much about messages kids couldn't get even if they tried.  Adults can have a little chuckle on the wayside with a nudge-nudge, wink-wink but kids are happy to watch the guy trip over something and drop his tray of pies.  I watched Shrek with my boys and I will guarantee that they saw a very different movie than the one I did.

But there is one area where I think she missed her own point.  She complains about how Elmo is being tarred by Kevin Clash's alleged misdeeds.  (I say alleged even though his accusers have recanted.  The accusation is enough to cause problems on its own without going into whether its true or false.)

Sesame Street made a cautious decision to remove a potential threat from a potential victim pool.  It's not about whether or not Elmo is lovable or effective, it's about the possibility that Clash might be able to use his position as an access tool to vulnerable minors.  (For the record, I'm doubtful that it happened but I can certainly understand taking precautions.)

Elmo is not going to be retired, any more than Ernie was after Jim Henson died, or Grover was now that Frank Oz doesn't regularly participate.  It's the beauty of voice muppeteering, a talented mimic can roll with what has been created.

Elmo should be kept entirely separate from what's going on with Kevin Clash.  And if he has done nothing illegal and inappropriate, then his suspension/retirement is wrong and he should have the opportunity to reverse it.  However, once the accusation is made, it must be investigated and precautions should be taken.  That's just common sense.

It would be a real shame if we lost that charming little furry fellow with the ear-splitting laugh because of some medieval fear of tainted association.  Elmo is guiltless and we should take advantage of the fact that we can be cautious and have our Elmo, too.

Although I may have a different opinion after watching three straight hours of Elmo's World.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Strike Day Tomorrow

Tomorrow, both my boys have a midweek holiday because their teachers are on strike as part of a continuing labour dispute between the provincial government and the union.

I've actually phrased the previous sentence very carefully.  I support teachers.  The majority of those I've have the privilege of meeting were dedicated and amazing individuals who genuinely care about the kids around them and are passionate about opening their eyes to worlds and information.

I do not support the union.  Nor do I support the government.  As far as I'm concerned, despite all the mouthings, the only people who actually care about my kids are the teachers.  Both the union and the government seem to see them as convenient targets and photo-ops.

I am amazed by the arrogance of our government that they chose to tamper with a contracted agreement, not once but several times.  I'm disappointed that they continue to mouth off about 10 and 15 year plans when circumstances has shown over and over that they cannot be supported.  A three year plan is pushing it for government foresight.

As for the union, it's a more long-standing problem.  Unions are good and workers should have the right to band together to prevent being taken advantage of.  But sometimes unions get so powerful that they become more concerned with increasing that power than in doing their job.  When an incompetent or uncaring employee cannot be fired, when problems become more about the bureaucracy than solutions, or when bureaucracy is used as an active tool to prevent dedicated employees from being effective, then the union has outlived its usefulness.

Bill 115 worries me.  I am against removing our hard-won democratic rights but on the other hand, how else can the power of the union be broken? 

The good teachers out there deserve community support, good pay and a decent benefits package.  There's no question in my mind about that.  I would desperately love for everyone involved in the dispute to sit down, toss out the rule book, and figure out genuine solutions to our education problems with common sense and a spirit of cooperation.

But that's probably asking way too much of career-bureaucrats.

Monday 10 December 2012

Variety Show

Last week, we took the boys to a variety show.  They had a magician, Michael Bourada, Junkyard Symphony, an illusionist, Gabe, and an act called Mini-Circus.  The boys were predictably bored by the patter of the magician and illusionist but a few tricks caught their attention.

Bourada wrote the words "Bowling Ball" on a pad and drew a circle beneath.  Then he closed the pad and an actual bowling ball dropped onto the floor.  That got Alex's attention and he spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out where else bowling balls might be concealed.

Junkyard Symphony was fun and loud.  They bang on various homemade instruments and are very heavy on the audience participation.  Nathan was quite disappointed that he didn't get chosen but I was a little relieved.  He's quite sensitive to implied criticism and wouldn't have done well with being the butt of the joke.

Alex lost patience before the end, which is a shame because I think he really would have liked Mini-Circus.  The act is a woman who does hula hoop and acrobatic tricks.  For her grand finale, she turned off the house and stage lights and used an LED hula hoop and little spinning balls on strings.  Nathan was getting a little worn out and frustrated with not being chosen for any of the audience participation but he still thought that was pretty cool.

Overall, not our best outing, but some encouraging results.  Nathan was able to sit through almost the whole two hour show and showed definite interest.  Even Alex paid attention for some of it but the whole event was too long for him.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Book Vs Movies

I read a post recently which complained about the general assumption that any book will be better than its movie adaptation. 

Since the Internet is all about blinding shouting your opinions to the great (mostly-uncaring) masses, I'm taking advantage of my gods-given right to share.

There is a point to her argument.  There are a lot of fabulous ideas which were developed by truly craptactular writers.  And now I'm going to point a finger at some of the most egregious culprits.

Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, a fantastic adventure of brotherhood and achievement, buried in page after page of description, singing and grammatical flights of fancy.  The story is literally buried in backstory, sidestory, alternastory and probably a few other -story options. 

Swiss Family Robinson and Moby Dick both share the Victorian flaw of a love of catelogues.  Ooh, don't bother telling us anything interesting which might be happening.  Just start listing off various types of flora and fauna.  We'll all be fascinated.  Though to be fair, both of them are less catalogue driven than ancient Greek epics.  The bit with the Trojan horse isn't even in The Illiad, it's all about Achilles moping in his tent because his boss stole his girlfriend ... okay, slave. 

Don Quixote, an insane guy wandering the countryside.  Who could possibly make that suck?  The answer: Miguel de Cervantes.  He was much more interested in pointing out how stupid the contemporary trend of pastoral literature was, but you have to be an expert in 17th century Spanish literature to get the parody sarcasm.

A story takes you on a journey, be it a play, television, book or movie. 

Books allow for a more in-depth and interactive experience.  There's time to think and react and go back and react again.  They require imagination and allow us to be introduced to characters and situations which can truly broaden our minds.

Movies are a much more passive medium.  That's why they can be so mind-blowing.  There's no time for your mind to adapt and so you can get swept into something you didn't expect.  But on the flip side, because they don't have long to make their point and get you interested, they often have to rely on stereotypes and two-dimensional supporting characters.  This makes it really hard for them to break social conventions.

The theatre suffers from many of the same difficulties as movies, but there is a connection in having actual people right in front of your nose.  And it can be a wonderful example to show how much of our communication takes place outside the text.  I knew a teacher whose final drama exam had her students memorize a scene from Hamlet which was then directed by five different directors.  It was a great opportunity to show how different the words can become.

Television is passive but it has the advantage of being able to keep people involved in an evolving story over an extended period.  To me, the best example of this is Babylon 5, which kept mostly the same characters over 110 episodes.  There was incredible character growth among our main players and even the secondaries were able to develop beyond typical stereotypes.

Each medium has its weaknesses and strengths.  But the book is the best at creeping into our lives and transforming them.  Adaptations of the book can echo that or try and expand on it.  Echos are weak repetitions of what has already been done and attempts to expand may fail.  So, yeah, the book always has a strong chance of being better, unless it was pretty awful to begin with.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Love and Sorrow Quotes

Two very awesome quotes about loving and losing:

"Sorrow is how we learn to love.  Your heart isn't breaking.  It hurts because it's getting larger.  The larger it gets, the more love it holds."  - Rita Mae Brown.

"There is a sacredness in tears.  They are not a sign of weakness, but of power.  They are messengers of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love."  - Washington Irving.

Something to remember the next time you need a good cry.

Friday 7 December 2012

Memos From Nick Fury

Dave found this site and passed it on.  Some of the notes are hilarious to a comic geek like me.

Here are some of my favourites:

"Whoever took Captain Rogers to see Inglorious Basterds and told him that's how World War II really ended will be found and punished."  (Captain Rogers being Captain America)

"Tony Stark is reminded that answering 'yes' to 'Can you help me for a second?' does not constitute  informed consent.  I don't care how cool your new flamethrower targeting system is."

"Stop telling Thor Odinson that 'It's hammertime' is a traditional Norse battle cry composed in his honor.  And whoever tried to insist on the dance moves will be punished."

"Anyone who suggests that Agent Romanoff would do her work better in a bikini will have to repeat the suggestion to her face.  Medical expenses will not be covered."  (Agent Romanoff is the Black Widow)

"We are not starting a Quidditch team.  Not even if some of our agents can fly."

Thursday 6 December 2012

Surrounded and Alone for the Holidays

This time of year is always a little bipolar for me.  I enjoy the holidays and I enjoy making a big deal of them.  I decorate my house and write up cards and a newsletter.  I like shopping for gifts (as long as the stores aren't too crowded).

And yet, at the same time, I can end up feeling very much alone. 

My husband is not a big holiday person.  With his Asperger's he finds it to be a nightmare of social expectations and disrupted schedules.  He worries a lot about doing the right thing and thus isn't comfortable taking any kind of lead position.  He'd probably prefer to avoid it altogether but since he knows that would disappoint a lot of people, he's content to follow my lead.

For many years, Alex hasn't gotten the concept of the holidays.  To him, this is the time of year when interesting things appear and he's not allowed to touch them (making them twice as interesting).  His routine vanishes and he gets plunked into strange situations with people he's not terribly familiar with.  There has been none of the excitement which is a child's holiday birthright.

Up to last year, Nathan didn't get the holidays either.

There's always a point in putting up the decorations and frantically running through preparations where I'm exhausted and I ask myself why I'm bothering.  The boys don't care and might even be relieved not to have to battle temptation.  My husband finds the requirements of the situation frustrating.  So why do I do all this when sometimes it seems like I'm just making the situation worse?

I also have to deal with my feelings of jealousy towards so-called 'normal' families who may be worrying about what Uncle So-and-so will say when he's all nogged-up but who also get to enjoy their children's excitement.  Kids with endless wishlists of toys and pets who actually wonder about Santa and the North Pole.  They have something incredibly precious in their grasp and they don't have to fight for it.

I tell myself that someday they will get it.  Someday they'll look back at this and remember that the holidays were special, not just frustrating.  Maybe, if I'm lucky, they'll find a little bit of snow-driven magic to hold on to.

We might get there.  Nathan remembers Christmas from last year and this year, he helped to decorate the tree.  Alex is twigging off Nathan's excitement and while he's not quite sure how the pieces all fit together, he is certain there's more going on than Mom's crazy obsession with not pulling down the oh-so-tempting lights.

That's what gets me through.  Although there are days when I am certain my efforts are futile, I can never entirely banish the hope that I'm wrong.  So I cling to that little spark and sometimes I get rewarded with an actual heart-warming fire.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Broke the Chapter 7 Barrier!

The last three weeks I've been stuck on chapter seven of my burlesque novel.  It's been less a not-knowing what to write problem as being interrupted problem.  I only have a two hour block but in the last few weeks something has conspired to creep in each time.  And it's never something I feel comfortable blowing off.  Like the school occupational therapist calling to discuss Alex's program.  Or a charity who gives us money asking about receipts.

But this time, I made it through.  And I wrote the final sentence for chapter 7:  "Taking a deep breath, he descended into Hell."  (Catchy hook but we'll see if it survives rewrites.)

It's slowly coming together.  But I'm still on target for my March 1st deadline. 

Tuesday 4 December 2012

The Dangers of A Big Reward

One of the big challenges in working with children with autism is finding something they're willing to work for.  Most children learn and grow because of social pressure, either pursuit of praise or avoiding shame.  Neither of those motivations tend to work particularly well with children with autism (or at least, definitely not with my children).

My boys still do things for attention but its generally not enough to get them to stop doing something they're really enjoying (like running around shrieking during a movie) or start doing something they don't want to (like reading a book aloud).  I have no control over their sensory preferences and escape is usually the last thing I want to encourage.

That leaves tangible motivators.  This can be anything from a treat to getting computer time to (one of Alex's favourites) getting to ride on an elevator.  (If I had an elevator at home, he'd be a lot more academically advanced right now.  Or bored of it and I'd have to think of something else to use.) 

But I've found there's a hidden trap.  One would think: the more your kid wants it, the better a motivator it will be.  But if the reward is too big, my kids get focused on the reward instead of the task.  They try and rush through the task to get their promised reward and have very little tolerance for delays of having to do things right.

Too big a reward can actually become a deterrent to learning the lesson you're wanting to teach.  Not intuitive, but true.  It can also become a real challenge if your child doesn't meet the required standard to get the reward.  Imagine how upset you'd be if someone promised you a million dollars to do something and then you couldn't do it.  You wouldn't just be frustrated with failure, you'd be upset at missing out on the money.

So I've learned to ration out rewards.  Small rewards for small steps and big rewards for bigger, but still achievable ones.  And some things Alex really loves, he just gets to enjoy without having to work for it. 

Monday 3 December 2012

Long Day

Today started at 3:30am and just kept going.  Which means it's going to be over shortly after the boys are in bed.

I'm a fairly competent multi-tasker and organizer but today stretched me a little further past my comfort zone than I was quite ready for.  I'm juggling four jobs, any one of which would be time-consuming but not hugely difficult.  Okay, being a mom is definitely difficult but the others, not so much.  Today I've been trying to balance my work as an office administrator, a housekeeper, a mom and the secretary to ORWA during our Executive transition.  Oh yeah, and trying to get my writing career going but writing anything beyond simple facts was beyond me today.

Not an easy task when my brain is sleep deprived.  Trying to keep track of my mental to-do list was tricky.

But here's the bit where I share the mental attitude which gets me through these days. 

It's okay to mess up.

There are a lot of messages out there about how you have to be perfect all the time, effortlessly perfect.  Failure is treated with the same horror as medieval plague boils. 

So I remind myself that mistakes aren't the end of the world.  They only become problems if I refuse to acknowlege them.  An open mistake can be fixed.  A hidden mistake becomes a time bomb.

Accepting my mistakes lifts an enormous amount of weight from my mind and spirit, giving me the energy to move past them. 

Sunday 2 December 2012

Solution to Broken Curtain

The room darkening curtain in Alex's room broke and was then torn into pieces, taking repair off the table as an option.

I knew I had to replace the curtain but given that we're in a budget crunch, simply reordering another was going to be too expensive.

I'm fairly handy with both hand-held needle and machine so I knew I could visit my local fabric store and make something suitable, but the question remained: how to hang it up?

A curtain rod was out of the question.  Too many possibilities for disaster.  I could picture Alex trying to hang from it or yank it down to get the curtains down (which is how the room darkening curtain met its fate).  I could see him wanting to use it as a post (a use to which every stick in the houseful has been put).  It would likely be ripped out of the wall at one point or another and I wanted to avoid that.

My solution: Velcro.

I used self-adhesive Velcro over the window and then sewed the other side to my curtains.  (For the curtains themselves, the fabric store had large swatches of fleece in almost exactly the right size.)  Alex is ripping them down almost every night but they go right back up again, no problem.  And if they need to be washed, also no problem.  No having to thread them onto a pole afterwards, either.

The fleece works surprisingly well as a curtain.  It blocks the cool draft from the window and is almost opaque.  It's not Martha Stewart ... but I'm happy with it.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Funny Overheard

"So I was at my mom's for the holidays and it was the usual family drama.  Mom's going on about how we're all going to leave her.  So I walked out ...

... because I was taught never to contradict my elders."