The S word

We were driving home from the Y (MCA). I was done working for the day, and the kids were done with camp for the day.

Beth wanted to tell me about an “inappropriate” incident, but I asked her not to while Adam was in the car. Beth, not so easily deterred, went on anyway.

Now before I go on, I need to explain that Adam has been immune to the ‘spelling what you don’t want him to hear’ trick for more than a year.

The little stinker hadn’t started pre-k and he was already reading.

So Beth had to adapt her strategy. She told me about her time in the pool, and the boys who were saying embarrassing things about her and her classmates. Scandalous things.

For middle school, that is.

“Dad, they were saying the ‘S’ word for ‘hot,’ if you know what I mean.”

I knew what she meant.

Without any hesitation, Adam chimed in, “you mean ‘sweaty’ – that’s the ‘S’ word for hot.”

Beth – “no it’s not Adam.”
Adam – “yes it is, sweaty starts with an S.”
Me – “For your own sake, just drop it Beth.”
Adam – “sweaty!”
Beth – “Adam…”
Adam – “sssssssweaty!”

Me – laughing like I hadn’t laughed in a good while.


When the autism spectrum wins

After a month of hunting down posts about Beth’s childhood, my mind wandered to our other child. How has he fared through all of this?

I remember first thinking in terms of Beth’s disorder “winning” during a Skype therapy session for obsessive-compulsive disorder. The therapist sought to personalize, yet disassociate the disorder from Beth in a way. She tried to objectify it – make it seem separate and distinct, to make it into something for Beth to fight. It also served to lift some of the shame from her shoulders. “This isn’t you Beth. This is OCD, and we can make it go far away. It may come back from time to time, but it’ll get easier and easier to send it away.” In the case of OCD it kind of worked, with a LOT of effort and tears. There were exercises which helped her to overcome some of the distinguishing characteristics of OCD (in her case), while not letting it define her.

Asperger’s Syndrome, in the larger context of our family, has been another animal. One of the ways I fear it’s won is the attention we’ve shifted from our wonderful son to endless therapies, doctors, and counselors with Beth, before and after diagnosis (but mostly before). You may have noticed the daily posts leading up to Beth’s thirteenth birthday – my sort of mock countdown to the end of her childhood, with a few re-posts from the early days.

It got me to thinking.

I don’t have nearly as many posts about Adam’s early years. We’re still in them so I still have time, but still – not a whole lot of Adam in here.

It’s not that Beth isn’t wonderful, or Adam hasn’t been noteworthy, but damn it all if we haven’t fallen into a tradeoff trap.

There are a number of harmless explanations just dying to dive off the tip of my tongue. Some of the magic of raising a child may seem more routine the second time around. Beth had the stage to herself for seven years, while Adam has to share it with a veteran of the theater. There are a bunch more where those came from.

They all sound like reasons, but even to my mind they sound more like excuses. Yet somehow, deprived of his share of attention, Adam has thrived. Even though I haven’t read to him as much as I would have liked, he’s been reading on his own for almost a year now – and he doesn’t start kindergarten until this Fall. He writes notes in a little notepad, sounding out the words. How many times have I heard him say, “Wait! I just want to get this down before we go!” It’s precious and hilarious.

Maybe Aspergers hasn’t won, not entirely. Maybe it’s beaten me down a little, but my little boy is a little stronger.

It surely hasn’t bested my daughter.

Now for a few fuzzy birthday videos

Here’s a few quick videos from Beth’s real birthday (we’ll be doing a few late celebrations after Adam sheds his virus).

My apologies, the quality is exceptionally poor. I forgot to recharge the batteries in our camera, so I settled for my old iPhone 3G, which was never really meant to be a video camera. It’s a pretty lousy still camera when you get down to it.

The obligatory cake shot:

Beth turns the camera on us for a change:

What does it mean to be thirteen?

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Today – Beth’s 13th Birthday

Just in case you missed the last thirty posts, today is Beth’s thirteenth birthday. The title of these posts were supposed to hint at a pinch of mock doom and gloom, as our girl passes from childhood into her teen years, but in some respects I feel like Beth’s been a teenager for years.

Inheriting the sarcasm and smart-ass genes from her father created a teen-like aura at an early age. But I know better by now to assume I understand what the future will bring, so I do the only thing I can. I love my kid, and keep trying to find where I fit in life as it twists, turns, and whirls along – indifferent to my insecurities. I often wonder if she realizes where I fit in now – where I’ve fit in most of these last 13 years. As many parents can attest, the first child is the practice child. To say I’ve been equal parts teacher and student might be generous.

There’s one last post I’m going to share – one of the first posts of this blog, by date anyway. It appeared with a collection of short essays on my first web site (I’d written a few before I created the site) – the really rough birth of this blog.

I wish I’d saved a copy of that first little piece of HTML I’d typed – even if it was just a running list of links to text files I periodically uploaded, or a back up of that first site for that matter.

– – –

“Independence Day”

Written: 7/4/1997, originally posted sometime after Dec 1998

July 4, 1997 makes it eight years since my own independence day. It was July 4th, 1989 and I was just starting my first semester at UF. I remember sitting alone atop the Broward Hall parking garage. I remember thinking that I should be happy, that I was free on this Independence Day. In reality, I was free to be alone that night. I was free to worry about my future. I was free to have life’s unknowns weigh down on me like the weight of the universe. It was such a beautiful night, looking out across the campus from high above, the sun spectacularly lighting the evening sky. All around was such beauty, yet such turmoil resided within me.

I look back, now eight years later, and I don’t have that freedom anymore. Then I was moving away from a family. Now I’m on the brink of starting my own.

Sometimes freedom is over-rated.

– – –

I’d sprinted up the deserted Broward parking garage at the end of a cathartic, self-loathing circuit of campus on my bike.

What can I say? I was a lonely, moody kid. If there is a sense of doom and gloom now, on the day of Beth’s baptism into teen-dom, it was born of neural pathways and chemical bonds formed long ago in my head, in the memories of my own experiences growing up. My daughter’s life has already been filled with its share of social challenges, and now she’s running headlong into the odd phenomenon we refer to as adolescence.

But enough of the gloom. I’m going to do something unusual to you. I’m going wax optimistic. There’s a part of me that feels Beth is uniquely prepared for the awkward years of adolescence. Because of autism, she’s been dealing with being the awkward one in the room all her life. Though I could be naive. The combined effects of autism and adolescence could make life that much tougher. However, Beth’s made great strides this last year since she started at a new school, one that finally knows what to do with her combination of gifts and shortcomings. She’s much happier. Her anxiety doesn’t drive her to tears after school anymore. Instead of a glum, “ok,” she actually wants to talk about the specifics of a school day.

Well, sometimes.

I prefer to think that having survived the shock of an autism spectrum diagnosis and catching a break being accepted into the study at USF for OCD therapy, after spending most of her childhood stumbling around in the dark treating phantom disorders, not knowing the real problem, living some of the horrors of unnecessary medication, adolescence will be a refreshing dose of normal.

Beth’s childhood is gone. There are parts of me that morn its passing. Its innocence. Its playfulness. Although we had plenty of good moments at home over the years, as you can see by many of the last month’s worth of posts, there were many more heartaches. But there’s obviously nothing I can do about it now, and as much as I’ll miss those aspects of her childhood, I won’t miss the near constant worry that I was making a mistakes. Mistakes where there was no remedy. All those years of therapy, doctors and medication. All those years of frustration. All those years believing it was my fault. Now I know it wasn’t. Now I feel like we have a clean slate.

Part of me worries a little about the coming years. I’m a worrier by nature so there’s no way around it. Things are not perfect. No kid is. No parent is. Perfect is WAY over there and I’m WAY over here. We still fight over various things. There’s even yelling involved. She still has high functioning autism/Aspergers. I try to be patient when she has a social misstep, hoping if it doesn’t come naturally, she’ll remember the next time that folks will usually take it personally when she asks about some part of their body which is out of proportion in size with the rest of it. We still occasionally work together to beat back OCD. However, more than at any other time in her life, I feel like we know what’s going on. I ‘get’ my daughter, or as much as a father can anyway.

Stripped down to its core, here’s the take away from this post:

As Beth turns thirteen I feel like I have my daughter back.

More than any birthday, anniversary, or holiday – that’s worth celebrating.

D – 1 (Beth’s 10th)

Counting down the days until Beth’s thirteenth birthday with a few reposts from the archives.

Originally posted: Jul 16, 2007, Beth’s age: 10

Listen to Beth’s family sing off key…


D – 3 (Tween time)

Counting down the days until Beth’s thirteenth birthday with a few reposts from the archives.

Originally posted: Aug 20, 2006, Beth’s age: 9

I am stuck in that moment between getting home late and the time when you feel like going to bed.

We decided to go to a Devil Rays away game this evening, and we’re just getting back. They were at Tropicana Field, where they occasionally play home games, so we didn’t have to travel too far. Tonight’s benefactor of the ice cold Rays’ bats were the Indians from Cleveland; and there were a lot of Indians from Cleveland there this evening. It was so bad there was this old Midwestern fella who pointed to the Rays’ base runner on first and arrogantly proclaimed, “I’ll bet that guy hasn’t stolen a base in HIS short career.” He was, no doubt, playfully taunting the Rays’ fans about all the youth being served on the field. It was almost too bad that the guy he was pointing out was Carl Crawford.

It sucks when you can’t get a taunt right… on the player’s home field no less.

In the middle innings, Beth got into a grudge match with a couple of Indians sitting around us (we were surrounded).
Beth: “Why are you rooting for the Indians?”
Indian: “Because I was born in Ohio.”
Beth: “But where do you live now?”
Indian: “I live here.”
Beth: “Have you lived here a long time?”
Indian: “Longer than you have kid.”
Beth: “Then you should be rooting for the Rays.”
Indian: “We can’t help where we’re born kid.”
Beth: “My dad was born in Boston, and he roots for the Rays.”
Indian: “I think I might have left my lights on.”

Then there was the drunken Indian incident.
Beth: (Screaming at the top of her nine year old lungs) “GO RAYS GOOOOOOOOOO AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Drunken Indian: “Way to go kid, gimme five.”
Beth: “Why should I give you five? You’re an Indian’s fan.”
Drunken Indian number two: “HA HA HA! She showed you!”
Indian chorus: “HOO HOO HOO! You tell him!”
Dad: sits quietly in his seat, not sure whether to be proud or afraid for his daughter’s life.

Capping the evening off, Beth gets in the extended, post game bathroom line.
Woman leaving the bathroom, walking past, talking to someone else: “There was this little girl in there trying to talk one of us into letting her cut in line….”
Beth’s grandfather: “I wonder who they could have been talking about.”
Beth’s dad: “Yeah, I can’t imagine.”

There are times when I can see a lot of myself in my daughter, but not one of those times came up this evening.

D – 4 (Beth versus the psychiatrist)

Counting down the days until Beth’s thirteenth birthday with a few reposts from the archives.

Originally posted: Jun 8, 2006, Beth’s age: 8

“Can I call you Miss Rachael?”
“No, but you can call me Dr. Rachael if you want.”
“Wait, are you a real doctor?”
“Yes Beth, I’m a real doctor.”
“Did you go to college?”
“Yes Beth, I went to college.”
“Did you go to college AND medical school?”
“Yes Beth, I went to medical school.”
“O.K., you went to college and medical school… so why don’t you do the things a REAL doctor does?”

This is where Beth gets the look of resignation with which her parents are well schooled.

D – 5 (The dust settles on another school year)

Counting down the days until Beth’s thirteenth birthday with a few reposts from the archives.

Originally posted: May 18, 2006, Beth’s age: 8

Let me say that most of the folks we’ve dealt with at my daughter’s school have been wonderful. They’ve been kind, patient, understanding, and caring. All the same, next year my daughter will be going to a different school.

Why is she going to a different school? It’s a long story, one I don’t have the energy or inclination to tell right now… but here’s the abbreviated/censored version: Beth’s third grade teacher. Every one of the conditions these kind, patient, understanding, and caring school professionals carefully laid out for Beth to succeed in school were conditions that Beth’s third grade teacher either ignored or outright contradicted. We had our last meeting at Beth’s old school this morning, and the staff (sans Beth’s teacher – per usual) acknowledged Beth didn’t get what she needed from her teacher. One of them said she was sorry.

There’s just one problem with being sorry… it doesn’t change anything that’s already happened. I just wish someone was sorry six months ago when we wanted to switch teachers. I just wish someone was sorry when we pointed out time and again the teacher’s failure to abide by the school’s policies. I wonder if someone will still be sorry when they review this teacher’s performance in the future. Is it standard procedure for teachers to ignore counselor’s and paid consultant’s recommendations? What’s the point of having guidance counselors, psychologists, and social workers on the payroll if their advice is ignored?

I’ll bet I know what you’re thinking. “With all of those people involved, I wonder what’s wrong with this kid? I wonder what her parents have done to make all of this necessary?”

You know what? I wouldn’t blame you. I’ve seen misbehaving kids in public and I’ve wondered the same thing about their parents. If you’ve done any reading here before, you know I’ve blamed myself many times. All I can say is I’m trying.

Dear God I’m trying.

Is it too much to expect the same from her teacher?

To be fair, this is the first problem we’ve had with a teacher at this school. Her other teachers have been wonderful. But it’s a sign the administration is a gutless shill for the teachers – good or bad.

We won’t be around for another roll of the dice.

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D – 6 (Not so shallow)

Counting down the days until Beth’s thirteenth birthday with a few reposts from the archives.

Originally posted: Jan 20, 2006, Beth’s age: 8

Beth and I were leaving Tae Kwon Do and I heard the sound of sudden submersion behind me. I looked back and saw Beth up to her shins in water.

(Defensively) “Dad, I stepped in a puddle by accident!”

(Angrily) “Beth, that’s the only puddle in the parking lot and you had to walk about ten feet out of your way to get to it. The only thing accidental about it is you didn’t mean to get soaked half way up to your knees – because you didn’t expect it to be so deep.”

(Sheepishly) “How did you know dad?”

(Honestly) “Been there, done that, Beth.”