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Jan 13

To give or not to give...

Posted by Brett in sharing toysmilestonesautism


Gavin accompanied me on a post-Christmas trip to the local Goodwill, and he learned first hand what goodwill means. After "receiving" so much at Christmas time, it was a good opportunity for him to do some giving.

Incognito, Sara had packed up a big black lawn bag full of forgotten toys and tied the top the best she could. To further avoid a huge confrontation on which toys to keep and what not to keep, I only casually mentioned that we had to take some "things" to the Goodwill, and not that his toys were involved. Most of the items are toys these kids have outgrown and had been shelved for more than year. A major un-cluttering was needed. I was silently hoping not to have to explain all of this to Gavin.

He cheerfully hops in my truck, happy to be in the front seat "where he can see the speed limit signs".

We arrive at the store, and I begin to remove the black bag. Gavin is now curious. I've used Goodwill as a threat in the past, i.e. "You boys better take care of your stuff, or I'll take it to Goodwill." Those threats were now surfacing in Gavin's brain as he eyed the overstuffed lawn bag.
"What do you do with the stuff here?" he asked.
"We leave it here at this building, and the man in there will give me a receipt."
"What can I do with a receipt?" He looked puzzled.
"Well, it's for my taxes, and it's like money." I wondered where his line of interrogation would take us, as I struggled to hoist the bag over the side of the truck.
"Can we go to Target with the money?" he pressed onward. Perfect! I'll deflect his questions by turning the conversation to income and deductions, rather than face a showdown over his, ahem, "donation".
"No, it's not really money. Its just a piece of paper that says I can keep more of the money I earn this year. The more toys we give away, the more money I can keep." Oh great - now I've done it. Toys, I said. The cat is out of the proverbial bag, and also Gavin's "Wheels On the Bus" game is plainly protruding through the top of the Hefty sack.
"Are those my toys?" he asked. I could instantly tell his blood pressure was rising, and I knew bomb defusion was my most critical skill at this moment.

"These were our family's toys, and since we have lots of new stuff to play with from Santa, we get to share these with other kids."   He pondered that for about 1 second, then started to pull the Wheels On the Bus game out of the bag. I let him struggle with that for a bit as I thought about the most tactful way to make this a teaching moment.

In the back of my mind, I guess I invited him on this mission to show him that my previous threats were not a bluff, that Goodwill really was a place I could - and darn well would - take his toys. So then I thought, to heck with it, let's get all the cards on the table here. What's the worst that could happen? "Well," I thought to myself, "He could scream at the top of his lungs and onlookers would think I'm a terrible dad." So what else is new? As long as he doesn't run out into traffic during the apocalyptic meltdown, I'm doing alright. Besides, I like to be glared at.

I opened the sack. He pulled out his Bus game, looked at the box with its happy bus full of students and singing driver, then held it under his arm as he probed further into the black bag. He was frantically trying to salvage anything he could. His breathing was becoming shallow and accelerated. Not a good sign.

I chose my words very carefully as I asked him, "Do you remember the last time you played with this game?"
"Well I do, and we had a lot of fun, but you were four. That was 2 years ago. Now we can let another little 4 year old have fun with it." I emphasized the phrase "little four year old" because Gavin relishes being an older, wiser, superior-in-all-ways first grader to the younger kids. That statement reached him, I think.

He didn't get a chance to respond. Just then, as if sent from above, (or maybe she had just been eavesdropping on our parking lot face-off) a smiling older woman approached us with a question for Gavin:

"Did you bring that here so that somebody else can play with it?" She asked, gesturing to the Wheels On the Bus game he clutched to his side. He stood silently looking at the game. He gets shy and clams up around people outside of our immediate family.
"Yes we did," I answered for him.
"Well my four year old grandson would just love to play with that at his house. He loves school busses. Would you like to give it to him?"
Again Gavin said nothing. He quickly scanned around the parking lot for the 4 year old she spoke of, as if the kid were there hiding, ready to burglarize all the toys.
"I can take it to him. He would be so happy," she continued.
Gavin loosened a bit, but remained non commital and silent.
"See Gav? This game is already going to a good family!" I prodded.
He stood as still as a statue, eyes staring at me, avoiding the nice lady. His eyes were full of conflict, like Frodo at the brim of Mt. Doom, wavering on his resolve to toss the One Ring into the fire.

I didn't know which way the scales were going to tip on this one. Previous data is saying that it'll probably end up with Gavin flat on his back in the parking lot, full blown melt down, and an awkward confused look from any adults present. For me, it was another one of those moments when I wished I had a sign. A sign to explain that my son isn't "neurotypical." A sign that says "He's not a brat. He has autism. He's really a sweet, loving kid. He and I are both doing the best we can."

Turns out no sign was needed.

After a few uncomfortable seconds, his eyes became teary and he straightforwardly held the game up to the lady.
"Oh thank you so much!" she gushed. "My grandson will have so much fun with this!" She took hold of the game. He let it go. The transaction actually went down without a hitch. Unbelievable.
"You're welcome," Gavin said sheepishly, then buried his red-flushed face in my coat.

That's my boy. Learning to be a giver, not just a receiver.

Nevertheless, I didn't waste any time tying the bag back up and carrying it into the donation center. He seemed smugly pleased with himself as he said to me,

"Dad. If we come here again we will just bring a small bag of stuff."

Now I'm the confused one. Did that statement mean he got the point, or not?

Jan 05

Some More Darndest Things

Posted by Brett in parentingchildrenautism

It was Christmas morning, and Gavin (6) was up at the crack of dawn. He popped out of bed, ready to go look and see if Santa had been there. I brought him into our room so he wouldn't wake his brothers and so they could all approach the bounty under the tree as a unit. (You know, for the best pictures!) He really wasn't saying much, but I could tell he had a lot on his mind about the previous night. He was just humming and stimming around the room like a bee in a mason jar. Of course, there was no way he was going back to sleep. Finally, I got him to lay down with us and just wait a bit. He laid there quietly for a while, but soon I heard his little voice whispering something. I looked at him and saw that he had a perplexed look on his face,as if something were completely out of order. I've seen the look before. His autism gives him a passion for order and regularity. Everything must go as planned, or all is failed. It's one of the issues we deal with regularly.

"What are you thinking, Gav?" I asked.
"Daddy," he whispered, "Last night I didn't see any sugar plums dancing on my head. Did Santa come here anyway?"

Garrett (4) and I were talking in the kitchen the other day about growing up and being an adult. He sat at the table munching his breakfast and pondering life. We have these great talks where he'll really get me thinking about things I'd never considered before. Today wasn't like that, he just wanted to know what he would do when he didn't have to go to school anymore. I always remain neutral on the subject and tell him the obligatory "You can be anything you want to be" type answer. He responded immediately that he wanted to be a doctor. I told him he would make a great doctor, and I'd be very proud to be a doctor's dad. He then asked me how he can become a doctor.

That's an easy answer for dumb ol' dad, "You just have to go to school to become a doctor."

He thought for a few moments, then his face brightened and he said, "Okay, when it is circle time at school and we get to raise our hands to ask a question, I will ask the teacher to make me a doctor."

Dec 21

A Word on the Xmas Card Below

Posted by Brett in holidays

This photo didn't come easily. Then again, is there a family with 3 little hooligans like these anywhere in the world who can get it done in a  traditional manner? You know what I mean, each little clean smiling face posed docilely in front of the fireplace; calm, composed, meek, traditional, lamblike. If you have a method to achieve those results, please e-mail me. I'd take any advice that doesn't involve use of sedatives or physical restraints.

Check out our Christmas card from last year December '09. You might think, "Well, you seem to have already mastered the art of conventional Christmas card photography." Au contraire, mon fraire. Maybe you didn't realize that my wife is a master of photoshop. A true Jedi with the weapons of mouse and Mac. That card is purely a result of her photoshop proficiency. Sure, the kids and the Christmas tree are real, but one or more of those children was a cut and paste job, even I can't tell the difference. That photoshoot was as challenging as it gets. With those striped pajamas on, as Papa Geno put it, it was "like trying to shoot a can full of worms."

This year's card was no different. I carefully laid the boys out in a beautiful starburst pattern, heads converging in the center, a true display of innocence and Christmas joy. Sara climbed a stepladder to get the perfect perspective. The flawless layout lasted all of 2.5 seconds. Gavin's obsession with his brothers' ears is what started the systematic breakdown of our Christmas card vision. Gav loves to touch ears, and Garrett can tolerate that for about 1 nanosecond, then he has to defend his lobes before the touching becomes pulling. He swats Gavin's hands away, meanwhile Bodie is just plain not in the mood for this nonsense. He wants to flip over onto his tummy. Anything besides looking up at the camera. Even my "Brer Rabbit" like reverse psychology wasn't working: "Please, boys! Don't smile at the camera! Whatever you do, don't hold still and look at the camera!!" They actually listened, for once.

Needless to say, we took over 100 shots, knowing it would probably come down to another photoshop doctoring. The magic trick I employed to finally get their hands off each other and smiles on their faces was pretty simple. "Tickle yourselves!" I said. It worked for a few shots, and in the end, we decided just to use one of those without doctoring it. As we reviewed the myriad of photos and crazy expressions, it became clear that our boys are just as cute in their natural chaotic state. Why deny it? Peace comes in many forms. Our peace comes in the form of pandemonium.

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