I used to be a fairly spontaneous person. I'm no Angelina Jolie, mind you. (In more ways than one.)
But I didn't mind picking up on a whim and going to do something fun, something exciting. I didn't need every minute of every day predictable and boring.
Roommate’s boyfriend playing in a club in Philly? Count me in, baby. Friend’s Ocean City condo free for a beautiful May weekend? I’m there, with bells on… and my bikini.
I figured being a parent would be the same, just with more… baggage. You know, like a Pack ‘n Play, diaper and a stroller. My husband and I were going to travel, visit exotic locations, see the Seven Wonders of the World. My children would be Citizen of the World, a la Brangelina.
Bye bye dream. Hello, reality.
For most people, autism takes the spontaneity out of life. Our family is no different. Before we go on vacation, I put the helicopter in helicopter parent.
I schedule down to the minute sometimes. You have to. It's the foundation for a successful outing with Conor. If he knows what to expect, things go a little more smoothly.
But, as the story goes, the best laid plans of mice and men... You can’t control everything. Not even the weather. Or bus drivers. No matter how hard you try.
Let’s use this morning as an example. Conor started at a new school last August. But since we were privately paying, the public school’s bus service wasn’t an option. Fourteen months and twelve thousand dollars in legal fees later, the school system finally agreed with us about our son’s appropriate placement and he’s entitled to the bus.
Awesome. Great. Conor LOVES riding a bus. Rode a bus every day to camp last summer; earned the award for Best Camper On The Bus. (Who wouldn’t have loved a full hour to listen to your favorite music on your headphones?)
So there we were this morning, the four of us, waiting for the bus. Me, my husband, Conor, and Linus (our dog). (Check Linus out: he's pretty cool, for a rascally pup. )
I’d written the social story. We’ve interfaced with the school. My husband has given directions to the bus company. The bus driver, having missed the house once already last week, has been informed of the directions.
The iTouch is fully charged. Headphones have been located. I personally set the volume limit control on said iTouch. (Conor can really rock out on the iTouch, let it be known.) Lunch: packed. Backpack with communication notebook: packed. Red windbreaker: donned.
7:45am, full of excitement. Any minute now!
8:00am, still waiting, happily. Running around the yard, getting his sneakers soaked in the dew, listening to my iPhone.
8:15am, husband makes first phone call. How the hell do we know what the bus number is? We never got a letter from the City.
8:20am, husband makes second phone call. Bus driver is lost. Conor is still calm. He’s excited, after all. Woke up at 5:45 this morning to make sure he didn’t miss the bus! (Yawn.)
8:30am, husband makes another phone call; starts cursing like a sailor. Conor’s still calm, but starts asking… “When is Conor going to ride the bus?” He knows something's going on.
8:35am, Husband makes another phone call. We discover the bus driver has taken the other kids to the school because he’s been driving around forever.
Conor asks, “When will Conor’s bus come?” Uh oh, his eye contact is getting really good; not a good sign.
8:40am, husband makes another phone call. We’re told the driver (and his now empty bus) is currently stuck in traffic on the way to our house. Husband starts pacing back and forth in front of the house.
Linus has decided to go into his crate; he knows the gig is up.
Conor stops asking, starts demanding, “Want Conor’s bus to NOT BE STUCK IN TRAFFIC!”.
Uh, yeah, that makes two of us, buddy.
8:45am. Jim and I see the writing on the wall. Conor sees it too, and doesn’t like the message. No bus ride today.
Insert 45 minute tantrum here. Needless to say, no bus ride.
What I’ve learned over the last decade is that we can try as hard as we can to control all the variables, but there is always something that we can not control.
The weather. Other people. Traffic. Long lines. Inventory in stores. Attitudes.
Invariably, something goes wrong.
And so we work on patience in our behavioral program. And waiting. And appropriate behavior. Handling frustrations. Accessing our calm behaviors.
And not biting people on top of the head. Yeah, we work on that too.