Friday, December 24, 2010

Santa Claus is coming to town

My parents didn't want me to believe in Santa Claus.  So, of course, I did.

It's not even that they didn't do anything to reinforce the myth.  They straight out told me that Santa didn't exist.  I would argue with them.  Magic explained it all.  It didn't matter that I knew my parents bought the presents and filled the stockings.  Somehow Santa was still a part of it all.

I think I needed that magic in my life.  Still do, although it manifests now as my love of reading science fiction and fantasy.

The year that my parents had nearly convinced me of Santa's non-existence, I received a present with a "From: Santa" gift-tag.  I waved that around as the very proof I had been lacking for so many years.  Even though the gift wrap and handwriting matched the other gifts from a certain aunt.

I suspect that my parents' original decision, not to indulge a belief in Santa, came from my father and matched his decision to raise us knowing about both Christianity and Judaism without encouraging blind belief in either.  It's something I never thought to ask my dad before he died, but I can imagine it as a topic we might have discussed over coffee when E. was a baby.  (My mother is something of an "unreliable narrator," so conversations like this just don't happen very often for us.)

A. and I are letting E. believe in Santa.  The story is everywhere anyway, and E. just loves the various Christmas movies and stories, fed by A.'s love of them and habit of playing them during the fall, starting with The Nightmare Before Christmas shortly before Halloween.  After seeing The Polar Express a few years ago, he found a jingle bell in our house and carried it around with great reverence.

I can reconcile our encouragement of all this with our desire to raise E. to be a critical thinker thanks to an essay written by Dale McGowan.  He's run it during a couple Christmas seasons and it appears in his book Parenting Beyond Belief.  The short version is that Santa provides kids with an opportunity to reason through something that they are originally told just to believe.

E. is not ready to stop believing yet.  He has accepted, without question, Santa's budgetary limits and deadlines for wishlists.  He does not care to notice that the gift-tags are the same as on some of our presents, that the handwriting is mine, that Santa uses different wrapping paper at our house and at his grandparents'.  He does not dwell on the logisitics of Santa making it around the world in one night.  All of it still just is.

And I'm happy for it to stay that way for just a bit longer.

Monday, December 20, 2010

On sneezer and wheezer and cougher and...

Less than a week until Christmas.  This holiday season has been more fraught than others, with E. on a bit of a trigger.  It probably didn't help that we started out December with a rush of presents.  E. has two advent calendars this year: a Lego one, which has become something of a tradition, and the more common chocolate calendar, courtesy of his grandma.  On top of that, Hanukkah began December 1st, so there were gifts associated with that.  The tears began immediately when he had some trouble putting together the Lego Star Wars set on that very first night.

Finally, we realized that he's probably been fighting illness since Thanksgiving.  None of us has been at our best since he came down with some 24-hour bug the night before Thanksgiving.  For the past two weeks, I've had a particularly bad sore throat.  Through several doctors' visits, at least one for each of us, we've determined the following: our household is suffering from a combination of strep throat, stomach flu, and a virus (or 3).  E. stayed home from school on Thursday and Friday, extending his winter break by a couple days, but he's still coughing up a storm.  We should have realized, even before the sore throat and coughing began, that he was not feeling well, as an inexplicable increase in meltdowns is almost always a sign he's ill.  We'd attributed it to the holiday season, but it's been even more intense than usual.

After two days of antibiotics, I'm starting to feel functional again.  For the virus E. has, it's likely to take another 3-5 days for recovery.  Just in time for the Christmas festivities.  I sure hope that works out since I'd rather avoid continuous Lego meltdown next Saturday.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Can I get that in writing?

Back when E. was in kindergarten, A. and I borrowed a DVD from the school district's autism team (not an unusual act).  Three hours of Tony Attwood discussing Asperger's.  Both of us found it riveting.  And one thing I definitely have to give him is that it's possible to listen to him talk about the challenges posed and the work that needs to go into supporting Aspies and still come away feeling optimistic.  He clearly appreciates Aspies' strengths and quirks and is one of the few NTs I've come across who really seems to get it.

A. has read even more of Attwood's work than I have at this point, and getting to hear him talk in person was a definite highlight of the conference we attended this summer.

As I mentioned before, J. was with us for the conference.  A. and I had our spots on the far aisle, just a few tables in from the door.  When he would fuss beyond being hungry, I would take him just out of the auditorium, catching as much as I could from the chairs on the other side of the door.  I had both the stroller and sling, so we walked a lot too.

At one of the breaks, I was back in the auditorium with A.  Attwood was striding out, trying, I'm sure, to get a few minutes downtime before continuing his presentation.  But when he saw us off to the side passing J. back and forth between us, he came over and expressed his surprise to see the baby.  He'd had no idea there was one in the crowd.  I explained that we'd been in and out, depending on J.'s mood (and felt better knowing that he had not been disruptive).  Attwood bent down a little and looked J. in the eyes for a few seconds, taking his measure, smiling, engaging him.  He looked back at us and pronounced, "He's just fine.  No autism here."

Now I get that this is not a formal evaluation and that we will have no recourse should we find ourselves with a diagnosis down the line, but really Attwood was giving weight to an opinion A. and I have already expressed: J. is neurotypical.

Some of our reasons are subtle and hard to pin down.  It's been seven years since E. was this age, so the memories are not fresh.  Yet while we did not have concerns at this point in E.'s life, we were able to recognize some of the earlier signs once we began reading about Asperger's.

It's not that E. did not make eye contact, but it wasn't his focus.  J., on the other hand, craves our attention and draws it out of us by catching our eye.  Whereas E. could spend a long time studying geometric patterns, J. will only look at them as long as there's no face or other interactive opportunity available.

There's a huge difference in how our two boys play(ed) at this age.  E. has always loved toys with wheels.  We would later find out that staring at spinning wheels is a common trait of kids on the spectrum.  J. enjoys his buses, but generally propels them along so that he can pursue.  He varies how he plays with his toys and explores them with all of his senses.  Everything goes into his mouth or is used to bang into something else.  We joke that his use of toys as tools illustrates the human link with the apes.

The differences extend to all of J.'s interactions with the world, his movement, his interests, the way he eats.  I know that this is not a "Get out of jail free" card and that we have a high chance of some sensory issue and/or other quirks, but it's clear to us that J. is on a far different trajectory than E. ever was.  It's not necessarily better--I have moments of wondering, "What am I going to do with an NT?"--just new ground.