Archive for December, 2008

The Galloping Gourmet

December 24, 2008

So Sonny continues to help me wash the dishes each night, although sometimes “help” needs to be in quotation marks. He sees it as his job to collect the dirty pots and pans still on the stovetop, whether I am ready for them or not. Last night he spun around holding a heavy pot, and proceeded to whang it into my elbow so hard that for a moment I couldn’t see. How did he do that? I wasn’t watching — I didn’t realize I needed to watch out for sneak attacks. Did he wind up, like a baseball pitcher?

These days, he also wants to help cook dinner, which brings up the question: Does one teach a mentally challenged eight-year-old how to turn on the stove? I lean tentatively towards yes, and we’ve been working on this. You have to push in the dial a little bit before you turn it, a design feature that was surely intended to thwart the Sonnys of the world. I admit to feeling more relief than frustration that he hasn’t gotten the hang of it. He understands in a very general way that stoves are hot, but he is not exactly Mr. Safety in the kitchen. He’ll stand there, inches from the glowing red burner, watching the food cook until I can’t take it anymore and have to chase him away. Yesterday he came running toward the stove while a frying pan that had been in the oven was sitting on the stovetop, and I yelled at him so loud I’m surprised I didn’t break the windows. I don’t know if there’s any way for him to learn except to get burned one of these days.

We haven’t yet begun Microwave 101, except that Sonny will happily push the Open Door button when I’m preparing to nuke his Easy Mac & Cheese. I don’t even know how to where to start on teaching him about this — it’s got so many damn buttons. Maybe over the holiday break I’ll show him what happens when you nuke a grape. That should certainly pique his interest.

Happy holidays to all of you. I’ll probably write a few posts over the next week or so, but blogging will not be daily again until January 5th.

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Let’s Not And Say We Did

December 23, 2008

I’ve been awake since 2:00 a.m. The dog again. What am I supposed to do, blame him for getting old? He doesn’t want to go out there any more than I do, but the bladder must be heeded.

Toby’s view of winter is very much the opposite of this dog. I’ll open up the door for him, and you can see Toby think, Oh, right. Snow and ice. I forgot about that. Damn this planet. He’ll navigate his way cautiously to the desired spot, and it’s clear he wished that dogs could walk on tiptoe. He’ll do his business, and then come limping back, paws frozen. At least he doesn’t linger, as he’s prone to doing on warmer evenings.

He went back to his doggie bed and I went back to my human bed. The difference is, I heard him snoring within five minutes, whereas I was permanently awake. I gave up half an hour later, played some games online, determined I was the only one of my Facebook friends crazy enough to be awake, and finally called up Netflix and watched a movie.

I suppose I should have taken advantage of the early morning hours, and found a way to be extra productive. I can’t even tell you how little that idea appealed to me.

So now I’ve been awake for close to seven hours, and I am counting the minutes until I can go back to sleep. The kids have a half day of school, and my wife has to work this evening, which means I’ll need to start parenting just as my kids have reached maximum stir craziness. I see a Pixar film festival in the near future.

All this is a way of saying, no blog post today — except it seems I have written one after all, so, yay.

Look, Ma!

December 22, 2008

A few months ago we took Sonny to the dentist. The first time I tried this, years ago, was a complete and total nightmare. The hygienist and the dentist tried treating Sonny like any other boy, and that went about as well as you’d expect. We now have a dentist that claims to specialize in developmentally delayed children. They didn’t try to put him in the chair. They didn’t try to put any scary tools in his mouth. They were, in short, realists — my kind of people. The dentist did as much of an examination as he could as Sonny stood there sobbing. He declared Sonny cavity free (how he was able to determine that is anybody’s guess) but told me what I already suspected, which is that Sonny’s grown-up teeth were coming in faster than he was shedding his baby teeth. He needed to have some teeth pulled. He needed oral surgery.

So we went and the dentist did the job, knocking Sonny out and yanking the incisors. It was expensive, but it was worth it. I declared myself satisfied.

In the eighteen months or so since then, I think this dentist has undergone some changes in the front office. At out last visit a few months back, Sonny once again stood there and screamed while the dentist stood a respectful distance away, peering into Sonny’s mouth the best he could. Once again, he said Sonny had no cavities. I expressed wonder at this. No cavities! It’s not like Sonny has the best teeth-brushing skills. The dentist said that flouridated water and good old genetics can make up for poor use of a toothbrush. I added as well that Sonny wasn’t much of a candy eater — given the choice between a chocolate bar and a cup of yogurt, Sonny will go for the yogurt every time. So I guess I’ll stop being surprised about the no cavities.

But Sonny will need more surgery. More adult teeth are coming in and more baby teeth will have to be yanked. It’s a kind of dental eminent domain. If the baby teeth refuse to vacate the premises on their own, then force will have to be applied. As last time, we were told a secretary would call and schedule us for the procedure.

Months passed.

It dawned on me that we’d never heard from them, and I began the fun-filled adventure of trying to get the right person on the telephone. On one of my many calls, someone in the office informed me that the scheduler had tried to call us the previous day and that we had never returned the message. I don’t like to accuse people of prevarication, but this sure sounded like a big old stinkeroo of a lie. Whatever. Just have her call us again, please. A week or two passed. We actually established contact at some point, and were told that they were trying to find a facility that accepted our insurance. This sounded more plausible, but our insurance company is Aetna, not Jim-Bob’s Insurance and Bail Bonds. How long could this possibly take?

The phone tag continued. Finally, finally, they called with the happy announcement that they had found a facility that would deign to accept money from one of the largest insurance companies in the nation. We would receive notification shortly. And indeed we did: This past weekend an envelope arrived telling us that Sonny must report to such-and-such a hospital at 6:30 a.m. (gah!) on February 16th. Reason for the visit: Oral surgery.

Reason for the oral surgery: Cavities.

That’s what it says, right there on the form. Now. I would like to believe that the dentist, upon opening Sonny’s mouth, will peer inside and say to himself, “Cavities? This boy doesn’t have cavities. What gives?” He will then further notice the problem of the adult teeth squeezing aside the baby teeth, and we will be back on track. That’s what I would like to believe. But we’ve all read the stories of people who were admitted to the hospital for gall bladder surgery and came out with three extra arms, because the nurse had written “Give this man three extra arms” on the admitting sheet, because she was drunk.

So now begins Stage Two of this increasingly frustrating misadventure: Getting the reason for this surgery changed on all the official pieces of paper floating around. My strategy is to bypass the office staff in favor of talking to the dentist his own self. I’m sure the middle of the holiday season is the PERFECT time to attempt this. I can see already that I will have to perform the role of the Uptight Parent in the very near future.

Stage Three, should it come to that, will be finding a new dentist.

Trucks!

December 19, 2008

The New York Review of Books passed on my suggestion that they review a buncha truck books, so I guess I’ll have to do it here. All of the following have received the coveted Sonny Seal of Approval:

John Scieszka’s Trucktown: Smash! Crash!, illustrated by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. Sonny doesn’t go in for playing demolition derby with his trucks — he’s more likely play Traffic Jam, lining them up in one long “parade.” I take it from Smash! Crash! that he is in the minority on this. Part of an extensive series of Trucktown books, Smash! Crash! tells the story of Jack Truck and Dump Truck Dan, two trucks that love nothing more than crashing into things. The illustrations almost leap off the page, they are so colorful and frenetic, and a parent can really go town with the constantly repeated words SMASH! CRASH! SMASH-CRASH! We need to look for more in this series.

Bus Route to Boston by Maryann Cocca-Leffler. How’s that for an exciting title? Right up there with Your Fingernails and You, right? But this turns out to be a charming memoir of the author’s trips into Boston with her sister and mother in what I assume is the mid-1960s or so. Lots of stores get name-dropped, and the author sweetly captures the excitement of traveling to the Big City from outer suburbia. A nice, calm book to finish the evening with.

The Bus For Us by Suzanne Bloom. A book almost any child can read himself after one or two rehearsals. The dialogue is a simple repetition of a little girl saying, “Is that the bus for us, Gus?” and her older brother replying, “No, that’s a ____.” Thus do we meet the usual litany of trucks — garbage truck, ice cream truck, backhoe, etc. Meanwhile, more and more children come and wait for the school bus, which means the illustrations get busier and busier and sometimes it’s all I can do to get Sonny to turn the page.

I Stink by Kate McMullan and Jim McMullan. My personal favorite. We meet a crass, noisy, wonderful braggart of a garbage truck as he makes his early morning rounds. (“Did I wake you? TOO BAD!”) This isn’t so much a book you read as a book you perform — the main character is like a New York City cab driver times a thousand. I know I’ve done my job right, reading this book, when Sonny is doubled over laughing and I have lost my voice.

Those Were The Days

December 18, 2008

Ahh, nuts.

So, let’s see… we last went to the doctor on November 21. That’s when we doubled up on his afternoon methylin and adjusted the times when he gets his meds. The result, as I wrote just after Thanksgiving, was a whole new Sonny. His teacher, in her e-mails, was using phrases like “awesome” and “best day ever” and “worked very hard” and “saved five children from a burning building.”

That was then. Sonny comes home each day with a “behavior sheet,” with two simple checkboxes: Essentially, “Yes, I was good” or “No, I was not good.” On Monday he came home with both boxes checked. Looking at those two checkmarks, one on top of the other, you could almost hear the dramatic musical cue. You know, a few tremulous violins backing a sad trombone — the music that confirms for the audience that things have reached a terrible turning point.

On Tuesday, only one box was checked, and it was the wrong box. Yesterday was another bad day, and he came home and had two accidents. He has been more and more resistant about doing his homework, making no effort to write clearly and then getting upset because he did sloppy work.

This morning I asked him if he was going to be a good boy at school. He said, “No!” And I was like, at least he’s honest.

So the good streak is over, after less than a month. Next doctor appointment: January 2nd. Was it really just a few days ago that I was thinking about cancelling that appointment, so we could have a nice, long New Year’s weekend at my parents’ house? Geez. Now I’m wondering if we can move it up, make it earlier. Today, for instance, would be nice.

The Latest Sonnyisms

December 17, 2008

They come and go like the tides. Here’s the latest roundup.

I Salute You: Sonny’s typical way of greeting people these days is a weird little casual hipster salute. He raises the back of his hand to his forehead and then flips it out slightly, while saying, “Hey hey!” Heaven knows where he picked this up. He’s like a member of an underground society, one that hasn’t figured out that a secret handshake is usually the way these things are done.

I Beg You: Sonny has always been polite, but now when he says “please?”, it’s more like PLEEEEEASE? He squeezes it out with mock desperation, his hands up at the sides of his face like Macauley Culkin in Home Alone.  It always sounds like he’s trying to say “PLEEEEASE let go of my intestines.” This Sonnyism has quickly worn out its welcome.

I Help You: I am the official doer of dishes in my household, and lately Sonny is right there when I turn on the water, ready to aid and assist in any way possible. I’ve got him putting away the silverware, and maybe one of these days he’ll stop grabbing the knives by their blades. (No cuts yet. Just a constantly freaked-out father.) When that task is done, he grabs a dishtowel and starts drying pots and pans. The kid volunteers to do household chores. Whose child is this?

I Applaud You: Did you successfully tie up the garbage? Walk across the room without tripping? Turn on the stereo? Sonny is right there to congratulate you and say, “Take a bow!” You might be able to ignore this. On the other hand, he might insist you take that bow. If so, perhaps you can get away with a quick little dip at the waist. Some days, however, he will demand nothing less than a full-blown acceptance of his adulation, a bow worthy of center stage at the Met. Since it’s clear you have forgotten how to do this, he will teach you: One hand on the belly, one hand on the back, and a deep bend at the waist. You’ll know you are doing it right if you bang your forehead on the ground.

Smart Idea

December 16, 2008

Researchers at the University of California have devised a new way of measuring the IQs of Fragile X children. They pretty much came up with this idea yesterday, so it may take a while to catch on, but let’s hope it does.

Miss Independent

December 15, 2008

In April of this year, a newspaper columnist named Lenore Skenazy wrote in the New York Sun about how and why she let her nine-year-old son take the New York City subway by himself. The reaction was fierce and instantaneous: Half the country thought she should have been prosecuted for child abuse. I was not among them. I thought Ms. Skenazy had found an excellent way to fight back against the thudding drumbeat from the news media that the world is more dangerous than ever and our children are eternally hanging on by their fingernails. One false move and the abductor waiting just outside the front door will swoop in, and our child will never be seen again. Happens every day, you know. CNN tells us so.

The facts, of course, do not back up this extreme, yet commonplace, paranoia. Abductions by strangers are a vanishingly rare occurrence, and yet too many parents use it as an excuse to refuse to let a child go outside unsupervised. (Skenazy now writes a blog about this topic.)

I have fairly strong opinions that our rush to constantly protect our children from unseen enemies is actually hurting them more than it’s helping them. We are creating a generation of overly dependent weaklings. These are thoughts I have largely (but not entirely) kept to myself. Until recently.

Peanut was invited to a birthday party at a house around the corner from us. Walking there is a journey of less than five minutes, and requires crossing no streets. I thought this was the perfect opportunity for six-year-old Peanut to venture out on her own.

I did not expect this idea to be embraced by my wife, and it was not. She knows how I feel, but What If Something Was To Happen? She put the question to other parents, and came back to inform me that none of them would let their children do something as crazy as what I was suggesting. I theorized in return that I was right and everybody else was wrong. This did not do much for my argument.

I don’t put up much of a fight when these issues arise, because I have too much empathy for my wife. We have one “typical” child and one developmentally delayed child. My wife loves both of them. But she cherishes Peanut. Not every Fragile X family is blessed with a non-Fragile-X daughter.  If anything was to ever happen to Sonny, that wound would take a long, long time to heal. If anything ever happened to Peanut… that wound might never heal. Is it crass and unfeeling to say so? Does this mean we love one child more than the other? I don’t think so. We can love them with equal passion — as we do — and still admit the obvious: That they are two different kids, and they affect us in two different ways.

Saturday was the birthday party. My wife was at work, which meant I played around with the idea of letting Peanut make the trip on her own even though I said I would not. But before I could even entertain those thoughts, I realized that the birthday party was for a pair of twins, and the gifts were in two large gift bags, and Peanut would not be able to carry these by herself the whole way. So the whole damn thing was moot. I got the kids into their shoes and coats, gave Peanut one gift bag while I carried the other, and off we went.

At the street corner and within view of the twins’ house, I gave Peanut the other gift bag and bid her farewell. She didn’t understand. “You have to walk me to the door,” she said.

“No, I don’t. You’re a big girl,” I said. “Go on.”

She took a couple of tentative steps away from me, like she expected me to reveal that this was a test and that she had failed: Never go more than fifteen feet away from me! Not even if I say so! When I did not yell at her but in fact made a shooing gesture, she turned and ran happily to her party, and Sonny and I went home.

Thus did Peanut have her first small taste of independence. I think it’s safe to say she liked it.

Ninety minutes later, Sonny and I went back to get her, and we were greeted warmly by Peanut with the following words: “You can go home. I’m going to walk by myself.”

“Peanut, we’re already here. And we’re all going in the same direction. So we may as well walk together.”

She said, “Then I’ll stay here for a while more and then come home.”

“No, Peanut, the party is over. That’s why all the parents are here.”

“Then I want to walk home behind you! By myself!”

Fine. We all left together, but Peanut walked at a snail’s pace, relishing the notion that no grownup was within handholding distance, while Sonny and I puttered on ahead. Sonny didn’t get it. He kept turning around to see what Peanut was doing. This freaked Peanut out. “No, Sonny!” she screamed from down the block. “I’m walking by myself! You stay with Daddy!” But Sonny kept turning around, making Peanut angrier and angrier, until she was a furious, bawling mess of tears.

The pinnacle came when Sonny, waiting for Peanut on the porch, had the nerve to open the door for her. You would have thought he came at her with a scythe. Peanut cried louder than ever to SHUT THE DOOR I WANT TO OPEN THE DOOR MYSELF.

Sonny, unnerved, starting laughing, which did not improve Peanut’s mood. I grabbed them both, brought them inside, gave Sonny a truck and put Peanut, screaming bloody murder, in her room to calm the hell down. She didn’t come out for twenty minutes.

And that was my first foray into letting my children run free. Surely the day Peanut gets her driver’s license will be an improvement over this. Right?

Shall We Dance?, Part 2

December 12, 2008

So that went more or less okay. I got it into my head that Peanut’s ballet performance started at 4:30, but it was really 4:45, so instead of five minutes of keeping Sonny occupied, it was closer to twenty. I let him wander around the community center on his own for a while. I like to encourage a little independence in him when I can, and how much trouble could he cause in these big empty hallways?

And then I looked up and he was gone. Whoops. I sauntered off where I’d seen him last, and discovered that a door that had been closed every other time we’d been here was now open. It was somebody’s office. A woman was typing at her desk. Sonny had peeked his head in, introduced himself, noticed the woman had a basketful of toys in one corner, and made himself at home. The woman didn’t mind, but still. People rarely mind when Sonny wants to shake their hands five times in a row, but I still have to teach him that’s not proper, and neither is barging into someone’s office just because they have a Hess truck.

The performance started soon after that. We weren’t in a theater or anything. It was just a big classroom. We all sat in plastic chairs such as you might find on someone’s patio. The teacher had arranged it so that we could all sit ten feet away from where our particular shining jewel would soon be dancing.

The program was as follows:

– The company performing a semi-synchronized ballet to a pop cover of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Two older girls performing a random series of ballet moves

– The company performing a not-remotely-synchronized jazz dance to Disney’s Give A Little Whistle. (Note to the Disney Corporation: I am absolutely sure that the ballet teacher paid for the rights to use these songs. Please do not sue my six-year-old daughter. Thank you.)

– Encore: Another go at Beauty and the Beast.

Sonny sat still, mostly, but he was increasingly giggly and talkative as the show went on. At one point he had to loudly say, “Good job!” and give a thumbs-up to each girl in line, despite the fact that they were still in the middle of their dance. That was the worst of it. Luckily, the whole performance was only about twenty minutes long. If it had been another five or ten minutes I might have had to drag Sonny out of there. But that didn’t happen, so let’s just put the whole thing in the Win column, shall we?

Shall We Dance?

December 11, 2008

Sonny has a field trip today. We don’t know where he’s going. I’m sure we were told at some point, but neither the wife nor I can remember, and every time we ask Sonny we get a different answer: A supermarket. A parade. A bowling alley. A Christmas show. A pumpkin. (Not a pumpkin patch. Just a pumpkin.)

Whatever it is, I guess I don’t have a problem with it. I would probably remember if he was going on a trip to, say, a slaughterhouse.

He’ll be going with the mainstream classes, on a big school bus, and it is this aspect that Sonny is most excited about. He used to ride a real (though small) school bus every day. This year it’s been a plain white van — a real downer for someone who still delights in supersized motor vehicles. So I’m happy he’ll get to ride on a real bus for once. In fact, unless the trip is to a bowling alley where they can bowl pumpkins, I’m sure it’s the bus we’ll be hearing about later.

After school, we have Peanut’s ballet recital. I am trying to ignore the whiff of disaster on the wind. The dance recital will take place in the exact same room where Peanut had her piano recital two years ago. (She played Jingle Bells.) Sonny didn’t want to be there, and in no time at all he was a giggling, squirming, hysterical mess. That event culminated when Sonny, who had just started wearing underwear full-time, had every type of accident a little boy can have. It is funny how when we set out to have children, all we can think about is how cute they’ll be and all the charming things they will do. We sort of forget that there is the distinct possibility we’ll be on our knees in a public restroom, handling poop with nothing more than a paper towel so thin that its creation should be considered a miracle of physics.

I don’t think we’ll have another accident of that severity. But I don’t think it’s going to be a particularly relaxing evening, either. We’ve asked Sonny again and again over the last couple of days, in our most excited won’t-that-be-great? tone of voice, if he wants to watch his sister perform ballet. His answer has been the same each time: No. I don’t want to go. No ballet. No. We keep waiting for him to change his mind, to laugh and say YES! and throw his arms into the air excitedly, but I’m starting to think it’s not going to happen. Somewhere along the way he developed strong opinions about how he wants to spend his leisure time, and watching ballet does not make the cut.

But he’s going. There’s an excellent chance that I will see about five seconds of dancing before I am forced to remove Sonny from the room. But we’re at least going to give it a shot.

Tomorrow: Hopefully the very boring conclusion to this story.