Monday, August 27, 2012

Wait For It, Wait For It

(My husband would like a shout out that he made dinner the night of the following story.  It's so awesome that he cooks.  Studies show men who cook dinner get laid way more often than men who just sit on their butts.)

At dinner last night, Conor spewed on my bare feet. Opened his mouth and from it poured forth a liquid projection of monumental proportions.
Not near my feet, not in the vicinity of me, not toward my feet.  No.  ON my bare feet. Squishy.

In all fairness to Conor, he puked on my feet, on the floor (duh), and even a little bit up the side of the kitchen cabinet.  With fourteen hours left to go until school starts again, it seemed a fitting end to a very trying summer.

As I cleaned up the goo off the floor with the old, tattered beach towels my husband had grabbed from the dog's crate, all I could think about was--

Yeah, that's right.  Dexter.  And spatter.  That's all I could think about.  Spatter patterns.

(For those three people who don't have Showtime, Dexter is a seasonal mini-series about a serial killer. Dexter's adopted dad discovered his, shall we say, predilection when he was young. Instead of, you know, getting him psychiatric help, his cop-dad taught him to direct his murderous instincts toward eradicating our world of other very bad individuals.  Other serial killers, murderous drunk drivers, rapists, child molesters, and people who don't like puppies.  So, as his day job, Dexter became a blood spatter pattern analyst for the Miami Metro Police. He likes blood. He can tell you how it got there.  If you are not squeamish, I highly recommend it.)

Hmmmm, so what does this middle-of-dinner spatter pattern tell us, I asked myself?

Doesn't smell.  Food barely got to his stomach.
Whole blueberries.  Food didn't get chewed.
Mostly liquid. Drank about a gallon of cranberry juice.
Made it to the fireplace hearth.  I give him a "10" for distance.

Ok, first of all, don't go all "ew, that's gross and I-can't-believe-you-wrote-that" on me.

Having a child with autism is kind of like going through medical school.  After awhile, you're immune to all the poop, pee, vomit and blood that your spawn can put forth.  At 13 years-old, mind you. (Can't wait for the semen to start. Yeah, ew.) This ain't no baby vomit, is all I'm saying.

I didn't even BOTHER to wash my feet off until I finished cleaning up most of the goo.  Boo-yah.  That's how I roll, baby.

Second of all, he's not sick.  He's done this many times before, but with much better aim.  And, usually, a big bowl.

Let me explain.  When Conor was inpatient at Kennedy Krieger Institute's NeuroBehavioral Unit, they put him on a food protocol.

My boy, well... as I've said before, he's food restrictive.  He doesn't like to eat a lot of different foods.  He won't eat meat. Or eggs. Or fish. Or fruit.  Or vegetables.

For years, due to a milk allergy, he was vegan too. Plus, we did a special diet to help get his gastrointestinal issues under control. Gluten-free, casein-free, soy-free, corn-free. (Yes, it helped. People always ask.)

For a brief moment, we tried to add sugar-free as well, but that left him with only dandelions to eat so we abandoned that. (Seriously, dandelions are fine for the French but we're American. We smoke weed, we don't eat them. Except in brownies. Not that I would know, officer.)

But I digress.

So, long story short, he has a "non-preferred foods" protocol.  The goal is to try to expand his food selections and increase his tolerance.  The result is to torture my husband and me.

Forget meat.  I have no problem with Conor being a vegetarian.  I mean, I love bacon more than I love my wine, but if Conor doesn't want to eat it, I'm not going to force him. So we settled on protein sources like nuts, seeds, and brown rice, and agreed to fruits and vegetables. (Shout out to for her help with all this.)

Before lunch and dinner, Conor must take 25 bites of "non-preferred" foods. We only do this at home and at family members' houses.  (We do not attempt this at restaurants. Can you imagine?) Conor asks us to keep a tally of the bites.

Tally sheet
And thus, the vomiting was born.  To get through this twice-a-day ordeal, Conor takes his non-preferred fruits and vegetables like medicine.  To be honest, he's actually quite fine with nuts and seeds, particularly sunflower seeds.  They're salty and crunchy, an acceptable food group for Conor. (And for school, I make sure I include foods that he doesn't prefer but don't cause him to projectile vomit. They've got enough to deal with.)

But fruits?  Vegetables?  Shyeah, as if. He'll pop a blueberry in his mouth, kind of move his teeth around on it, and power it down with a gallon of juice.  Repeat 5 or 6 times.  Remember to gulp air frequently and wildly in between bites, chugs, and chews.  Repeat 5 or 6 times.

Start burping. Add some farting for good measure (why not?), and stir.

"Conor, do you think you're going to throw up?" I asked.  Inquiring minds want to know if they should get a big bowl ready.

"No!" he burped.  "Are you sure?" I asked. He had a funny look on his face.  Hmmm, he usually does tell me when he thinks he's going to vomit. But...

wait for it... wait for it... wait for it...

Oh my.  Brings back college memories.
Good times, good times.

Once Conor spews and we get the whole thing (and him, of course) cleaned up, he sits back down at the kitchen table.  And he continues his non-preferred foods protocol until he has completed all 25 bites.

We don't want Conor to learn that if he vomits, he gets out of completing the protocol.  That would be rather unpleasant for everyone concerned, don't you think?

I also know that he's not doing it on purpose.  And he's not sick. The combination of not chewing the food correctly, gulping enough air to fill a balloon, and then adding a gallon of liquid on top of it just naturally leads to him, metaphorically, blowing a gasket.

The whole protocol sounds awful, I know.  But every time a piece of carrot or a blueberry gets popped into his mouth?  I feel like a winner. Antioxidants!  Vitamin C!  Fiber!  Take that, food restrictive behavior. Whoopee!

We just have to teach him how to not blow a gasket.

Story of my life.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Two More Days! TWO MORE DAYS!

Two more days until school starts.  Boy, what a summer it has been.  We've been so busy, I haven't even had time to write much. Mea maxima culpa.  This summer has been so FUN!

Look, here I am jet-skiing.  Boy, that waterproof mascara really does the trick!

Oh, and here I am getting ready to head out on my dad's boat for some sun and fun with the kids!
(It was a little cool in the water, so I opted for the neck-to-ankle wet suit. 
Not sure if silver is my color.  I'm more comfortable with the basic black.)

And then, you won't believe this, but we headed to the beach for a little R&R. 
Boy, it just doesn't get any better than THIS!

I have totally been working out. 
Fine, I'm sucking in my stomach here. I've had two kids, cut me a break.

Ok, ok, so summer with Conor hasn't exactly been, well, relaxing.  Or fun.  It's been exhausting. Taxing. (No, seriously, we wound up having to pay some taxes over the summer. I know, what?) Somewhat discouraging at times.  Things didn't always go as planned, despite all my... planning. Conor had his ups and downs. Then his downs had downs.  Then some small ups and a few more downs.

You get the picture.

Cross my heart, my husband just took snapped this pic of me today.  
I told him it wasn't my best side, but he took it anyway.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Wax On, Wax Off

Yeah, I went old school.  'Cause I'm old.
At 13 years old, Conor sometimes has trouble with the fact that he is growing up. Part of him still wants to snuggle and cuddle with mommy, sleep with a night light on, and watch Caillou.

"Big boys don't sleep with their mommy," he says wistfully as I put him to bed.  "No, Conor, they don't," I reply.

Like a very young child, he often finds comfort in close physical contact with me. Combine that with his obsessiveness, hormones, and lack of boundaries, and, well, it can get a little uncomfortable.  For me, anyway.

This has culminated in his simultaneously hugging and snuggling with me while he also tries to surreptitiously touch various parts of my body. He wants to touch my neck, the crook of my arm, the back of my knee, my jiggly-soft belly. He grudgingly settles for holding my hand and kissing my cheek.

Honestly, he's not buying it.

Blocking his repeated attempts to touch me, half the time I feel like I'm Ralph Macchio--wax on, wax off, sand the floor, lock wrist, side side, paint the fence.

Look eye, always look eye!

They really get going around 1:48.

You know, maybe it's just that he's still a little boy in his mind and, let's face it, little kids grab you in all sorts of uncomfortable places. (I swear, they're born knowing how to give you a purple nurple. And don't get me started on nursing when the teeth come in, the little vampires.)

I'm really not quite sure. But he's not 5 years old anymore, at least not chronologically, and I need to continue to try to teach him age-appropriate behaviors.  And from what I remember, 13 year old boys are not obsessed with touching their mom's antecubital region, know what I mean?

A few weeks ago, I was helping Conor get ready for bed. I floss his teeth each night after he attempts to brush his teeth.  By necessity, we stand close together.  (Although I guess I could put him in a chair and play dental hygienist. Wait, that sounds bad.)

That night, Conor tried to touch my stomach again. I quickly moved away and tried to initiate some conversation.  I want him to like the things that come with getting older, like acne and body odor, so he focuses less on what he's leaving behind.

(Yes, I know it's hard to not be able to lay your head on mommy's soft belly while you lounge on the couch and watch Blues Clues, but look...  You get braces! Whoo hoo!)

"What do you like the best about being a big boy, Conor?" I asked him, as I moved a few feet away.

"Because I am special," he replied, looking at me directly.

"Yes, you are," I said, moving back and giving him a big bear hug.  "You are special.  Let's go brush your teeth again."

And thankfully, he just wrapped his arms around me, hugging me back.  And didn't even try to touch my popliteal fossa.  Progress!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

A Little Dishing Over Cheesecake

Last night, Aidan (our typical kid) and I had our weekly dinner date after his rock group and electric guitar lesson. See, on Wednesday nights, Conor and my husband go out to dinner and Aidan and I are persona non grata. 

So, fine, be that way. Aidan and I have our own little evening out each week, just the two of us.

Over Aidan's bow tie pasta and my HUGE Mexican tortilla salad at The Cheesecake Factory, my 10 year-old and I had a heart-to-heart about what to expect out of the fourth grade (bottle rockets! the egg experiment! a camping trip! more homework!), how to balance taking on an additional instrument (drums) while also playing fall baseball and flag football, and how to be more organized and independent with his pre-school routine.

I don't know how we got on the subject, really, but all of a sudden Aidan declared he has always wanted to be a marine biologist. 

Check out the clip, it's STILL hilarious

Now, I think Aidan just likes to catch fish and crab off a dock, but he's decided that he's really, quite terribly interested in marine life and how cool would it be to spend all day on a boat catching fish and helping to cure fish rabies?  I mean, really, how cool? (Ignore the fact that fish rabies doesn't exist.  At least, I don't think it does. Maybe piranha suffer from it? I don't know, I'm certainly no marine biologist.)

Practically knocking over his root beer in his haste, Aidan grabbed my iPhone and proceeded to look up what he needed to do to become a marine biologist. We had quite a lively banter about how much school, exactly, does one need to become one. (He was a little taken aback by the amount of school one must suffer through to get a Ph.D.)

Except Aidan wouldn't be a world class philanderer.
And which school to choose?  There were so many!  There was Duke (no way his dad would approve of that, thank you) or the University of Miami but surprisingly also the University of Maryland--right down the road!  

(Although, knowing my boy, he would wind up at the University of Hawaii.  I mean, why wouldn't you?)

Now, I have no illusions about Aidan really becoming a marine biologist. Quite frankly, I think he'd make an excellent kindergarten teacher. He loves children and he's always right. (At least, in his mind.)

But by the end of the evening, I felt like I had just swallowed a dose of brandy, all warm and cozy and wrapped up in a fleece blanket in the middle of winter. 

I felt good. It felt great. We had connected. He shared dreams and aspirations with me. We had a meaningful back-and-forth about things that impact us as a family.

And he admitted that he didn't want to live with us when he went to college--which he had been saying--so whew. Dodged that bullet. (I mean, I love ya kid, but get outta here at 18 already.)

Driving home, though, it struck me how much I miss having conversations with Conor. 

I can't help it. I know it sounds silly after all these years.  But I still mourn the lack of conversation and connection with my older son. 

I mean, of course I feel connected to Conor. He's my son. I love him and he loves me back.  But I don't mean the intimacy of spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week with someone (c'mon school!). That's a connection of a different sort. 

I miss the heart-to-heart, the social connectedness and the intimacy you feel with someone that you've known for years, through ups and downs. The mutual sharing that naturally happens when you each talk about experiences and perspectives and something as simple as what you did that day at work or at school.

It feels a little weird to miss something you never had.

Only rarely do I receive flashes of insights from Conor. He's still mostly a one-way street. Honestly, sometimes it feels like he has a better relationship with the iPad than he does with me.  

The outsides of Conor, that I know well. His chubby cheeks, the scars on his elbow from breaking his arm, the signals that his stomach hurts or he has to go to the bathroom.  His tantrums, his perseverations, his smile, and his laugh--I know these all by heart.

It's what's inside Conor's mind that I struggle to reach. It can't only be a chaotic mishmash of calculators and numbers and ceiling fans and clocks and racing from activity to activity. It just can't.

For him, it's a struggle to get it out.  For me, it's a guessing game.  He struggles to identify even simple emotions, how could I possibly parse out his more complex hopes, fears, dreams, and his aspirations? 

Despite my son's verbal skills, despite all of the time we spend together, Conor remains somewhat of an enigma to me. 

I'm sorry, I feel like I'm not doing a very good job of expressing myself.  I just want to have a meaningful conversation with my son, one that doesn't entail his wanting me to buy something or to take him somewhere or to do a preferred activity or for him to whine and scream at me. 

I would just like him to talk to me.  Just... talk to me, not at me.

We're getting there, but it is painfully slow.  Glacial, even. If he's excited about an event or a purchase, he'll expound on it over and over.  Often, he'll use the same exact phrases and expressions.  He'll talk to the camera for 3 minutes and 35 seconds or hold his hand up for a high-five after each script.  If you listen closely, you'll notice that he can converse about the concrete things, but not the abstract, emotional ones. (Half the time, when I ask him what he did that day, he says, "I need help."  Or simply, "I had fun.")

But a bona fide, honest-to-God conversation about his thoughts and feelings?  Nope. Not yet, anyway.

He's like a 5,000 piece puzzle that's been dumped into a big Ziploc baggie.  All the pieces are there, I think, but I don't have the box top to use as a guide. I just have to sit patiently and search through all the pieces and painstakingly fit them together.

With a glass of wine by my side, of course. 

Sunday, August 05, 2012


Today, my son's autism makes me feel like this--

So I'm sitting in my office, staring hard at the card I have that says this--

It's not really working very well, but hey--at least I'm trying.  Right?