Friday, July 28, 2006

Send in the Idiots

I read Kamran Nazeer's book Send in the Idiots: Stories from the Other Side of Autism shortly after it was released, mostly because it was highly recommended by Paul Collins. I liked the book very much, but decided not to blog about it right away. The truth is, I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to say about it. I thought I'd let some time pass and see which elements of the book stayed with me.

I'm ready now.

The premise of Send in the Idiots is intriguing: as a small child, Nazeer attended a school for autistic children in New York City; now, as an autistic adult (and PhD policy adviser), Nazeer has tried to reconnect with some of his former classmates to find out how and what they are doing today, and what life with autism has meant for each of them. Through Nazeer we get a glimpse not only into their lives as autistic adults, but also into his own. It is a fascinating view.

There are two concepts upon which I've found myself reflecting in the months since I read the book. The first is the idea of "local coherence," which is a theme that runs throughout the narrative. Nazeer describes local coherence as

the preference that autistic people frequently demonstrate for a limited, though immediate, form of order as protection against complexity or confusion

and

quirks...small, obsessive behaviors that provide some sort of encolsure from the world.

He provides many "typically autistic" examples of local coherence: echolalia, perseverative language and behavior, strict adherence to routine and order. He also provides examples of more subtle examples: spinning ice cubes in a glass while at a party, playing with a cell phone while trying to make conversation, brushing imaginary things off one's shoulder.

Nazeer likens the need for local coherence in an individual to the need for rules and order in a society. He writes,

One of the bars we went to had a sign that read "No Dogs Allowed." This was a statement of a rule. The strategies that autistic individuals use to negotiate the world of others...are also like rules. Like all rules, the barkeeper's rule had some problems... It was overinclusive... Not all dogs are a nuisance, and so the rule covered animals it didn't need to cover in order to achieve its purpose. The rule was also underinclusive... Clearly, there were other animals that might be a nuisance. Despite these problems of form, though, the rule probably tended to work. It achieved local coherence. We could make sense of it.

The strategies that autistic people use to achieve local coherence, Nazeer says, provide a similarly imperfect means of control, sense-making, and distillation of chaos. By responding to a potentially overwhelming situation by focusing on a smaller task, behavior, or item, they are able to reduce the overwhelming situation to one that's more manageable. It's not a flawless plan, of course: spinning ice cubes may reduce your anxiety at a cocktail party, but it will not necessarily make you a sparkling conversationalist. He writes, of one former classmate,

He can't pull the entire...experience into a coherent ball of dough, but he can do these other, much less ambitious things, and when he does them everything else becomes background...This is called local coherence.

I certainly recognize this coping mechanism in Bud. The Teletubbies provide local coherence for Bud in stressful situations - as do his scripts, his iPod, his pacing, his 3D works of art.

I also recognize this tendency in myself. I can think of times in my life when I've been consciously aware of my need to create local coherence: driving to a job interview, feeling the stress mounting, and playing a Paul McCartney CD as I thought to myself, "No matter what happens during this interview day, when I get back in the car this music will be same;" working through the depths of grieving by breaking my days into 15 minute units - How can I get through the next 15 minutes? I can water the plants. - not allowing myself to consider the next 15 minutes until I'd made it through the first; marking the greater passage of time during that same period by religiously eating the same breakfast - a buttered English muffin and a glass of cranapple juice - every morning. These things, too, provided local coherence.

What strikes me, of course, is that though Bud and I both have a similar response in the face of something that is overwhelming and frightening, the circumstances that prompt our needs for local coherence differ dramatically in scale: for me, the loss of a child or a high-stakes interview; for him, a visit from his cousins or the barking of a neighbor's dog. Despite that, recognizing our shared need for local coherence helps me to have empathy for what Bud is feeling when he "retreats" to his comfort zones and, as a result, to be a little more patient with him when it happens.

The second thing from Send in the Idiots that has stayed with me - that, in fact, I have thought about often since I finished the book - is a vignette toward the end in which Nazeer meets with his former teacher from the autism program. He is nervous about the meeting; he wonders what she expects him to be like and how he will compare to her expectations. He writes,

I was afraid I might not have come far enough. Had I beaten the curve identified by the studies? Might she have expected me to do better than I had? It was also becoming obvious to me that (she) had no intention of easing my discomfort. She had spotted it, for sure; perhaps she thought that I was grown up enough to manage, that she was allowed to toy with me. I grinned as I realized that this might be the explanation.

"You're a mean person," I said.

"You're not autistic," she replied.

She and another former teacher make similar comments twice more. I waited anxiously to get Nazeer's take on the comments: What did "you're not autistic" mean to him? What did he think it meant to her? Was she paying him a compliment? Did he take it as a compliment? Did he agree with her assessment that he was no longer autistic? Had this been his goal? And though Nazeer addresses these questions to an extent, he never builds up to the final denouement I expected, in which he addresses these issues directly and reveals his own conclusions about what it means to be autistic.

Instead, in the final chapter of the the book, Nazeer discusses many of the current philosophies and perspectives about autism. He presents few absolutes and talks in vague terms about several schools of thought. Though he refers to neither by name, he appears to reject the biomedical perspective, citing studies of the genetic roots of autism, as well as the neurodiversity perspective. He writes, of a former classmate,

The premise was that you could be extraordinary and distinctive purely on account of being autistic, that this was a creative and valuable way of being... Craig didn't accept that. He felt that it was exactly the same as believing that all autistic individuals were retarded or that all autistic children were savants... I agreed with Craig.

The conclusion Nazeer draws, it seems, is that while there are some advantages to the way that his autistic mind works, he is able to be successful because he has remediated the more problematic aspects of his autism: perhaps most significantly, he has found socially acceptable ways of achieving local coherence. He writes,

What I found myself arguing...was that it was arrogant to believe that I was better because I was autistic; perhaps it did equip me well for certain things, perhaps some of these were not trivial, perhaps, for example, something of my intelligence was related to being autistic; however, I had only reached the threshold beyond which I could even have this discussion with them Thanks, surely to professional help... and a lot of consideration, and work, and care.

In sharing his own journey, and those of his former classmates, Nazeer appears to be making a case for the remediation of autism. He does not claim to have "recovered" from autism; instead, he seems to show by example the ways he has enhanced and preserved the aspects of his autism that have moved him forward, and minimized and overcome those that have held him back. He writes,

(My former teachers) were teasing me when they told me that I wasn't autistic anymore. But there was more to it: they also meant that I didn't display as many symptoms as when they last knew me... and that I no longer had all the same limitations. I got better, to say it that way. And so did all of my former classmates... We became this way through exposure to the world that lay beyond the horizon of our own selves... Our autism eased, in each case, because of other people, our parents, friends, and our teachers, of course. This realization sometimes expands inside me until I feel as if my organs are going to bruise one another.

I think I understand this feeling of organ expansion; Nazeer's assertion almost leaves me breathless. It makes me think of Bud and me, of course, but it also makes me think of so many other neurotypical parents I know who are blogging about their fears, hopes, and questions about the ends as much as about the means as they raise their autistic children by trying to connect, connect, connect, connect, connect, connect. And though Nazeer can't speak for others on the spectrum, his is one voice that tells us we are on the right path.

And sometimes, for me at least, one clear voice is all it really takes to gain a little local coherence.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Up with the roosters

Bud hasn't been sleeping well lately. He's been falling asleep fairly quickly, thanks to our good friend Melatonin, but he's been waking early. He has rarely slept past 5:00 in the past several weeks. He's often been up at 4:00. He started one day at 2:30 a.m. - and so, of course, did I.

So you can imagine my frustration when yesterday I was awoken, not by a six-year-old climbing on my head, but by the ear-splitting crows of my neighbor's rooster assaulting me through the open bedroom window. I live in a rural area now, but I didn't grow up in the country. I grew up in a city, and my knowledge of roosters was limited to what I read in storybooks. I have since discovered that what I learned about roosters in storybooks is pure myth.

In storybooks, roosters always do the same thing: they crow a rousing "Cock-a-doodle-doo" when the sun comes up. And then they, and everybody else on the farm, quietly go about their daily business.

This is not so with real-life roosters. In real life, roosters crow an annoyingly loud "ERR-ERR-ERR-ERR-ERRRRRRR" at the first glimmer of dawn, long before the sun is actually over the horizon.

Then they continue to ERRRRRRR until the sun goes down again, which in the summer months is an extraordinarily long period of time.

Sometimes they take breaks.

Sometimes they don't.

Yesterday, the neighbor's rooster started to ERRRRRR around 5:00 a.m. I woke and was astounded to find that Bud was sleeping soundly next to me. With a heart full of gratitude, I rolled over for what I hoped would be another hour of sleep. I closed my eyes and

ERR-ERR-ERR-ERR-ERRRRRRR

ERR-ERR-ERR-ERR-ERRRRRRR

ERR-ERR-ERR-ERR-ERRRRRRR

ERR-ERR-ERR-ERR-ERRRRRRR

40 minutes.

Nonstop.

At the end of 40 minutes, the rooster either collapsed from exhaustion or was shot by another disgruntled neighbor. Either way, it was finally quiet enough for me to go back to sleep.

And that's when I heard it. Not quite as loud. Nowhere near as annoying. But equally persistent, and this time at close range:

"When will Daddy be home?"

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Feeling week

"Daddy will be home in one week."

I've heard Bud say these words at least 75 times in the past 36 hours. My husband left yesterday to visit family for a week, as he does a couple of times every year. Bud has typically handled these trips well, and though he misses Daddy he looks forward to him returning with a present for Bud in his suitcase.

This time, though, the experience is entirely different for Bud. The Absence of Daddy is the primary thing on his mind. We've charted out the length of the trip on Bud's calendar so that he can mark the passage of time. We've talked to Daddy on the phone four times. Despite that, he perks up at every sound he hears - a car driving up the road, the wind rattling the windows, the clunk as the washing machine changes cycles - and exclaims with a smile, "Daddy's home!"

"No, sweetie. Daddy is at Grandma's house."

"Daddy will be home in one week."

"That's right."

"Daddy will be home when I wake up?"

"No, honey. Not tomorrow."

"Daddy will be home in one week."

"That's right. One week. Seven days."

"Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Daddy comes home."

"That's right."

"Daddy will be home in one week."

"Yes."

Pause.

"When is Daddy comes home?"

It's going to be one very long week.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Here be Boohbahs

From time to time when you enter the front door of our house, you'll be greeted by this sight:


Upon closer inspection, you'll discover that what you're seeing is this:


the Boohbahs, hanging upside down, always in the same location, always in the same order. I've just assumed that this is the next in the series of Bud's 3D works of art or, perhaps, an odd little preference of the Boohbahs' to which only Bud is privy.

This evening, when we once again found the Boohbahs hanging out on the stairs, my husband told me that this particular display strikes him as just a bit foreboding, as it is vaguely reminiscent of the villagers of old who put the decapitated heads of pirates on stakes at the entrances of harbors as a warning to any who might be considering a life of crime.

So, hear ye now and listen well: if you've been thinking about dropping by our house, consider yourself warned - and enter at your own risk.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

In the swim

It looks like Bud is joining the ranks of the bigger kids in the autism blogosphere. Following in the footsteps (or, more accurately, in the wake) of Charlie and Nat, Bud has officially started swimming.

He's been on the verge of it for a while. We'd been trying to teach him the doggie-paddle - dig the water with your hands, kick with your feet - and while he had the basic mechanics mastered, he seemed a bit confused by the coordination of them. The visual element of swimming seemed distracting to him as well - should he watch the water? watch his hands? watch the kids playing in the water nearby? watch us watching him?

So this weekend, Bud did what he always does: he figured out how to do it his own way. And it's interesting that when I saw him start to swim I remembered that I first swam the exact same way. Instead of focusing on memorized steps and procedures and first-this-then-that, Bud swam by intuition: He put his face under water, pushed off with his feet and started gliding, his kicking legs propelling him forward, his outstretched arms slicing the water and reaching for his destination. And so he swam, again and again: from Nana to me, from me to Nana.

Push, glide, kick, reach.

Push, glide, kick, reach.

Bud just keeps teaching me the same lesson over and over: there is more than one right way to get where you're going.

Sometimes you just have to be willing to take the plunge.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The great equalizer

Bud loves the water. All water. Any water. He loves to play with water balloons, with watering cans, in puddles, in the rain, with a sink full of water, in the bathtub, in pools, near streams, at the lake; Bud has never met a body of water he didn't like.

This weekend we made our annual trip to the ocean so Bud could ride the waves of the frosty Atlantic. Despite the high temperatures, the ocean breeze was chilly and the water was so cold that the only souls brave enough to actually submerge themselves appeared to be under the age of 13. I stood with the other cowardly parents shivering on the shore, feeling intrepid when the waves crashed over our feet.

We were there at high tide, and between the thunder of the crashing waves and the roar of the winds whipping off the water it was impossible to hear much of anything. So I watched Bud and the other children around him as they starred in their own silent movie.

Each child was in a world of his own, engaged in a struggle of kid vs. nature, some armed with boogie boards, some preferring to take on the waters with only their bare bellies for armor.

They each crashed into the waves, the water splashing into their faces and over their heads, and then sprang to their feet, startled by the cold, talking rapidly to themselves, shaking their arms and flapping their hands, hopping and staggering to warm themselves, then turning around to start again.

It's funny: so many parents of autistic children talk about their hope that someday their child will be indistinguishable from other children.

But as I watched Bud bobbing and weaving with the other children in that magical land of Atlantis it struck me: here, they have all become indistinguishable from him.

Just warming up

Last night my husband and I went to see Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth. Though I have been a fan of Al Gore since the late 1980's, I have to admit that I was a bit reluctant to use a rare and highly-coveted date night to watch a feature-length film with a gloom and doom messsage about global warming.

I'm glad I didn't listen to myself.

An Inconvenient Truth is factual, compelling, startling, and overwhelming; but I didn't find it depressing. That's just not the sort of leader Al Gore is; he doesn't engage in scare tactics and hyperbole, and neither does his film. The overall message in An Inconvenient Truth is an optimistic one: We are on a collision course toward global devastation if we continue our current practices. But we can change our current practices and reverse the problem we have created. We can do it, we must do it, we will do it.

I feel better informed today than I did yesterday. More than that, I feel more empowered today than I did yesterday. I believe that my personal actions can make a difference. And, after several years of feeling disenfranchised by the political establishment, I am beginning to feel hopeful once again that my political actions and the votes I cast can make a difference as well. I have high hopes for the outcome of the 2006 midterm elections, and I am developing resolve - and, yes, even optimism - for the 2008 Presidential election. I haven't thrown my support behind any particular candidate yet, but I have to say that the fine people (and autism advocates) at Wampum are promoting a very intriguing grassroots campaign.

As I watched An Inconvenient Truth, the thing that was most on my mind was not the polar ice caps, not the warming of the ocean, and not Hurricane Katrina. The thing that was most on my mind was Bud. If I truly want Bud to have the best possible future, then I needed to be in that theater, listening to that message, and learning some terribly inconvenient truths.

Today I read a terrific review by Roger Ebert, who seemed to be affected by the movie in a similar way. He wrote:

In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.

Even if you're not typically a fan of Al Gore, even if you disagree with his political leanings, I urge you to watch An Inconvenient Truth.

Someday our children will thank you.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

An alternate view of Autism Every Day

There has been a great deal of controversy in recent months regarding the video released by Autism Speaks, titled Autism Every Day. This week saw the release of an article written by Jennifer Liss of WireTap which includes an interview with the filmmaker, Lauren Thierry, which is nicely deconstructed by Kevin Leitch on Left Brain/Right Brain. In the interview, Thierry defends the controversial comment made in Autism Every Day by Alison Tepper Singer, the mother of an autistic child, who says that she would have driven herself and her autistic child off a bridge had it not been for her neurotypical child, who needed her. The article quotes Thierry this way:

"If most mothers of autistic children, Thierry responds, look hard enough within themselves they will find that they have played out a similar scenario in their minds. 'If this is not your reality, then God bless you,' she says."

I am absolutely horrified.

I have been the mother of an autistic child for almost seven years. I have never once, not for a single, fleeting, fraction of a moment, thought about harming either him or myself. If I ever do experience such a thought - even if it is a brief flash of a half-thought - if the idea of doing harm to Bud or to myself in any way enters my mind - I will pick up the phone instantly, and I will get help. I will book an appointment with a counselor. I will acknowledge that something is wrong, and that thinking about hurting a child - ANY child - is a sign that a person can no longer manage on her own. I will not write it off as just the sort of thing that happens when you're living with Autism Every Day.

Let me be clear. I do not take issue with Ms. Singer's statement, which I imagine was a hard and painful personal truth - though I do question the wisdom of revealing it in the presence of her child. I do, however, take issue with the extrapolation of the director, Ms. Thierry, who universalizes Singer's personal truth and paints it as the rule and not the exception.

Ms. Thierry's comment is not just inaccurate and offensive; it's also reckless, irresponsible, and dangerous. If an autism mother so desperate as to have homicidal and/or suicidal thoughts were to read it, she would see her deepest fears realized in its message: your desperation is born of autism; it is part of the package; we all feel it; it will never get better. I would imagine that this sort of bleak perspective on the future might make a desperate person take otherwise unthinkable action. I am not being dramatic here. Sometimes it happens. And then it happens again.

Some autism bloggers, among them Kev and Ballastexistenz, have suggested that Ms. Thierry deliberately staged the interviews she did with the mothers who appear in Autism Every Day so that their lives would appear as bleak and hopeless as possible. The article reports:

"Thierry told her subjects not to do their hair, vacuum or bring in the therapists. She showed up with her crew at their homes sight unseen and kept the cameras rolling as a mom literally wrestled with her son to get him to brush his teeth, as a 9-year-old had a public meltdown, as a 5-year-old had his diaper changed. And, as moms revealed dark and uncomfortable truths about living with autism. The result is a window into an exhausting world of interminable work."

In other words, let's take everything we know about what will help a child with autism to be well-regulated, and then let's do the opposite. Had Ms. Thierry filmed us, Bud would have been dysregulated by the very presence of strangers in our house without warning - never mind the video cameras, or my being in the room with him but giving my full attention to someone else, and saying things that were making me distressed. And if I were saying in front of him that HE was what made me distressed? I can't begin to imagine how that would affect him.

So I encourage Ms. Thierry to film a sequel, using hidden cameras, and I volunteer to appear in it. She can follow us around on a typical day as long as she agrees that in the editing she will show the whole day, and not just the worst bits. Yesterday was a pretty typical Mom-and-Bud day; it would have been the perfect day for her to film. She'd have gotten the footage she was after: me bleary-eyed after waking up much earlier than I'd hoped, a few battles of wills, some difficult transitions, a bathroom accident or two.

She'd have gotten some beautiful footage as well: Bud and me at the lake, holding hands and counting "one-two-three," then him diving under and surfacing, his eyes glued to mine waiting for me to ask if he was okay; Bud sitting nose-to-antenna with a beautiful yellow butterfly; Bud lounging in his beach chair, singing and eating an ice cream cone and getting more ice cream on his face than in his belly; Bud and me burying each other in the sand and giggling, then me building a sand castle as Bud looked for rocks to play the roles of King, Queen, Knight, Dragon, Princess and Bud; Bud and me making up a song to the tune of the musical meadow instrumental from his Reader Rabbit game; Bud smashing water balloons on the driveway - first against the garage door, then by throwing them up in the air, then by tossing them two at a time, each new smash a little different from the last as Bud continued to discover that sometimes new is even better than familiar; Bud and me cuddling up at bedtime, as through heavy lids he smiled at me and told me it had been an easy day.

You see, around here, this is autism every day. There are challenges, there are difficulties, there are struggles. But at the end of the day, when the tallies are totalled, there is more joy, there is more beauty, there is more love. Even with autism. Every day.

My hair is not done. My house is not vacuumed. There are no therapists in sight.

We're ready for our close-up, Ms. Thierry.

Friday, July 14, 2006

It's an electrical storm, right?

One morning this week we experienced a brief but ferocious thunderstorm that turned the sky nighttime dark with blinding flashes of lightning and almost simultaneous booms of thunder. It was jarring for all of us, and while Bud never crossed the threshold into full-fledged anxiety, he spent several storm-filled minutes pacing and suggesting ways to make it stop. He remained the model of grace under pressure and was extraordinarily polite, if increasingly persistent, with his requests. I transcribed the monologue as he gave it. It went something like this:

"Can the storm go home now?"

"Say 'Let the storm go!' Everybody: 'Let the storm go!'."

"Can you make the storm go with our umbrella, please?"

"I need you to let the storm let go, Mom."

"There are too many storms, Mom."

"Can you turn the storm off?"

"Can the storm run out of battery?"

"Can you let out the battery, please?"

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Fleeting glimpse

Several months ago I posted about a high school senior named Rob who was planning to attend the college where I work. I'd just helped him select the classes he'd be taking in the fall, and I'd picked up on cues that indicated that he was probably on (or near) the autism spectrum. Our brief encounter made me eager to work with him again when he arrived in the fall, and left me feeling buoyantly hopeful about what the future might hold for Bud.

I just found out that Rob will not be attending college here after all.

It's unclear to me whether the decision was Rob's (because he's decided to attend college somewhere else) or the college's (because his grades from his final semester of high school were not strong enough), but I fear it was the latter.

I barely know this young man. I spent a brief 30 minutes with him.

But I'm absolutely crushed.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Nutcracker, sweet

Bud has added a new skill to his ever-expanding repertoire: cracking walnuts.

He has developed his very own unique approach to the task. He goes to the top of our wooden stairs and balances a walnut somewhat precariously on the railing. Then he smashes the walnut with the soft mallet from his tom drum. The force of this action sends the walnut bouncing down the stairs, where it slips through a space between the steps and crashes onto the tile floor, breaking open and sending up a spray of shell and nut fragments. Once the pieces have settled Bud scrambles down the stairs to gather his bounty and share it with anyone who is willing to partake.

My little nutcracker. Isn't he sweet?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Miped out

"A little guy like me has no place in the great big sky."

blip-blip-blip

"A little guy like me has no place in the great big sky."

blip-blip-blip

"A little guy like me has no place in the great big sky."

blip-blip-blip

"A little guy like me has no place in the great big sky."

This is how Bud has been watching an episode of Pinky Dinky Doo that he's recorded on TiVo. One line, over and over and over.

Of course, he's not watching one line of Pinky Dinky Doo exclusively.

He's also watching one line of Dora the Explorer: "It's time for the pinata!"

And one line of Max and Ruby: "La, la, la - HICCUP! - excuse me, Louise."

And one line of... well, you get the point.

This is not the same sort of "productive rewinding" that I've seen him do in the past. This is a more manic perseveration that is building upon itself, spiraling to a place that's beyond Bud's control.

It's behavior I've seen before; it's strikingly similar to the reaction Bud recently had to the video camera, and once again it's made me think of a comment that I heard RDI founder Dr. Steve Gutstein make about video games. He said that it's important to expose children with autism to the same things you would any other child, "except video games. Video games are like heroin to kids with autism." And that's the image that keeps coming to mind as I watch Bud hit the rewind button on the miper: heroin. He can't stop. Even if he wanted to - and I'm not sure that he'd want to - I don't think that he could resist the urge to rewind just one more time.

I keep re-reading the comment that Zilari made when I wrote about this before:

My parents used to tell me, "If you get upset when you're doing something you think is fun, you have to stop". And if I ended up getting upset or at a point where I couldn't stop, then I wouldn't get to do the "fun thing" for a while. I also remember having very strong feelings not only of liking something a whole lot, but wanting to continue liking that thing, and getting edgy when the thing started to not have quite the same appeal.

Over time I have learned to alternate perseverations a bit, and keep an eye open for new things on the horizon that have the potential to be just as interesting. The "brain stickiness" is always there and is something I would never want to lose because I do think it lends tremendous, awesome, all-encompassing depth to experiences.

But fun is supposed to be fun, and when it's not fun anymore, that is indeed a sign that it is time to take a break.

I don't think it's fun for Bud anymore. So I'm taking Zilari's advice and I'm telling Bud that it's time to take a break from the miper. I'm not cutting him off completely, as I did with the video camera - not yet, anyway. But when he picks up the miper I give him a ten-minute warning: ten minutes with the miper, then it's time to choose a show to watch.

Luckily, we're also cultivating an alternate perseveration that seems to delight Bud even more than time with the miper: water balloons. We stand at the sink together: I fill small balloons with water and Bud counts them as we put them in a shopping bag. Then he carries the bag very carefully into the yard and hurls the balloons at the garage, one or two at a time, until they break. Some balloons smash right away, little fireworks of water streaming across the garage door. Others prove more challenging, bouncing away and rolling down the driveway as Bud chases them in his bare feet. Once all of the small balloons have burst we head back inside and fill a really big balloon, then we head back to the driveway for a grand finale in which Bud drops the balloon to the ground and the water splashes our feet and he dances in the puddle as it streams toward the street.

I have to say, I'm enjoying Bud's passion for water balloons. It's certainly a welcome break from the intensity of the miper. And it's a show I don't mind watching again and again.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ingenuity counts

This summer, we're working on one-to-one correspondence, trying to bring meaning to the concept of numbers instead of simply counting rapidly by rote memory. That means we're spending the summer pointing and counting, placing and counting, sorting and counting, throwing and counting, lifting and counting.

How many rocks in your rock collection, Bud? Let's count them!

How many socks do we have to put away? Let's count them!

How many stones can we throw in the stream? Let's count them!

Today we were shopping and as we passed by the candy aisle Bud picked up a bag of jellybeans in one hand and a package of Twizzlers in the other.

"I have red candy and jellybeans, Mom?" he asked.

"Let's choose one, Bud: red candy or jellybeans," I replied.

"Red candy for eating, Mom," he said. "Jellybeans for counting."

How could I argue with that?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

"What did I did?"

This afternoon I was upstairs folding laundry and Bud was downstairs playing. I heard some rustling in the kitchen, but didn't think anything of it until Bud came up the stairs, his eyes twinkling with excitement and said "What did I did, Mom?"

What did I did? is the question that Bud asks when he's feeling very proud of something he's done or when he thinks he's done something that's particularly cool. He seems to be seeking acknowledgement that we, too, think it's cool and share his pride.

"I don't know, Bud. What did you do?"

"I made milk."

Uh-oh.

Bud's motor planning is not what it could be. We give him cups with covers and straws to avoid the inevitable spills that come with open cups. Pouring milk from a heavy jug could be a significant challenge for him.

"You DID?" I asked, keeping a smile plastered on my face as I pictured a frothy white river flowing through my kitchen.

"YES!" he answered. He giggled, then wriggled, unable to contain his excitement.

"I want to see it!" I said. Bud dashed for the stairs and I mentally prepared myself: He is proud of himself. He is trying to be independent. This is a very big deal to him. Don't wreck it. No matter how big the mess, it can be cleaned. Do not ruin his moment.

We walked into the kitchen and I saw a small drop of milk on the counter.

"Where is it, Bud?" I asked.

"It's over there," he said, pointing to the table.

And there, set at his place, was a full cup of milk, cover on, straw through the hole. The heavy jug of milk was back in the refrigerator, its cover on securely.

I gushed about what a big boy he was, what a great job he'd done. He beamed with pride. I decided to let the conversation about asking permission wait a while so that he could bask in the glory of his accomplishment. We sat together as he drank his milk.

I'll bet it was the best milk he's ever had.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Je ne sais pas

I've joked about it a lot before... but maybe Bud really is French!

He was reading a book to me today, and each page started with the word "we": "We can run," said the children.; "We can jump," said the children.; "We can crawl," said the children.

A short time later we moved on to a counting game, and he was counting each item of food on a series of card strips: "One, two, three - three grapes!"

I pulled out a card strip and he pointed to the first item and said "We -"

"We?" I asked, laughing.

Bud stopped, and I could see a flash a recognition in his eyes as he realized what he'd done. Then he smiled slyly, pointed to the first food and said "Oui! Bon jour!"

Then he counted the strip in Spanish.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Eight great words

"Mom, I have to go to the bathroom."

I understand why other parents are not delighted when they hear these words. I particularly understand why they might grumble to themselves, roll their eyes, or heave heavy sighs when they hear these words in the contexts in which I've heard them lately - yesterday, in the middle of a three-hour car trip just as we drove past the highway exit with the sign reading "Next exit - 10 miles"; today, in the hot grocery store parking lot, just as we loaded the last bag into the car.

I really do understand; but for me, there was no grumbling, no eye rolling, no heavy sigh. For me, there was excitement, enthusiasm, and a couple of dances of joy. Because for me, these eight words meant more than barreling at top speed toward the nearest rest stop. They meant more than having to deal with melting ice cream in the car and holiday shoppers in the grocery store.

They meant that we continued to carry a backpack with the same unused, unnecessary change of clothing, not because I'd been diligent or proactive, not because I'd read Bud's body language well, not because I'd been directive and encouraging -

But because Bud is increasingly able to read and interpret the cues that his body is sending to him;

Because he knew that he had information that I didn't have;

Because he wanted to engage with me in problem-solving;

Because he communicated not at the moment of crisis, but with enough lead time to resolve the problem without incident.

Bud has spoken eight-word sentences before, but with these particular eight words Bud told me everything I needed to know.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Popstorm

There is poetry in the way Bud sees the world.

We drove through a rain shower today. It was the kind of rain shower we only see in the summer around here - the kind in which plump, full raindrops appear slowly out of nowhere, gain furious speed, build to a crashing crescendo, then disappear and give way to brilliant sunshine all in a matter of minutes.

It started with raindrops that must have been the size of quarters. They fell slowly, hitting the windshield one at a time with a sound that filled the car:

Smack!

Smack!

SmackSmack!

SmackSmack! SmackSmackSmack!

SmackSmackSmackSmackSmackSmackSmack!

The pace increased and suddenly the smacking sounds thundered as the downpour became torrential, the rain bouncing and swirling on the windows, blocking our view of the outside world.

"Mom!" Bud said, his voice full of awe, "The rain!"

"I know," I said, wondering if he was getting scared. "It's really neat!"

"It's like popcorn!" he said.

He was exactly right.