Tag Archives: cooking

Striking Balance

I like to hold books. I like simple, beautiful covers and plain, clear fonts. I like waxy heavy book open in sunshinecardstock that sticks to my hands. I like pages that hold some weight. I like the way words scrape meat off bones. So I try, in the dark hours of mornings, to spend some time with words, both reading and then writing. The window for my own pursuits is limited because I am a parent with a full time job and like most parents my greatest obligation is to my sons, the middle of whom is twenty and has autism.

Of course, it has always been my desire to be equally attentive to all three. Communication with Oldest Son (who is shacked up with his girlfriend in a city an hour and a half away, and is doing his best to avoid my guidance) tends to be in pithy text messages like: “Why do people wear socks with sandals?” “Reference Mom’s pinky toes.” “*Nauseated face emoji.*” I’d prefer an actual listening-to-his- voice type of conversation on the telephone machine, but I’m told that is passé.

Middle Son is like his mom, a morning person. He rises on an internal clock at precisely 7am during these summer months between graduation from a vocational program and the procurement of what we hope to be a meaningful position alongside neurotypical peers. When I hear Middle’s feet hit the floor, my train of thought tends to arrive, with a squeaky halt, at the nearest station; but not because he needs me any longer to navigate breakfast.

After calling a good morning he gets straight to the business of creation. Depending on what is in the refrigerator, he will collect suitable cooking tools and assemble ingredients. This morning he uses leftovers from his dad’s homemade tortilla dinner. Before setting the frying pan on the burner, he selects a tomato from the windowsill, slices it uniformly, then quarters each slice. He methodically chops a portion of onion and green pepper and gets out a bag of grated cheese. While he works, Middle practices conversations that I cannot help but listen to. Most of them begin with phrases like, “Oh, I’m sorry…” or “Excuse me, I didn’t understand…” The words that trail after are not discernable, but I have already left my words, and now I dwell in the full time job of fretting over all it will entail to conquer this journey of living.

After he plates his breakfast, if Middle is particularly pleased with the presentation, he finds me to share in the delight of food arranged beautifully. If there were a restaurant somewhere that was not concerned over having things done quickly, a job in the culinary field might be the best and most logical position. But for Middle, food preparation is more a hobby. Something he enjoys. And I’d hate for that joy to be muddled up with other people’s expectations over trivialities such as time.

When he takes his meal into the den, I hear the television click on which causes my concentration to compete with Spongebob or a Tom & Jerry soundtrack. If he comes in to say, “Hey, good news…” I don’t have the luxury of saying, “Not now! I’m trying to write!” I must stop what I am doing, and look into his eyes and listen. With all my heart. To something like, “New episodes begin on the Cartoon Network on September 3rd.” Because I know so many parents are wishing for such wonderful distractions. Because of all people in the world, I may be the only one who speaks his language. Because when he tells me about the episode where Spongebob gets fired from his job at the Krusty Krab, Middle’s eyes are nervous, even with me, worrying about whether he is speaking with “regular person” clarity.

Since we got his diagnosis at 2 ½, I have been determined to save Middle from becoming Boo Radley, only able to love from a distance. Only able to share his deep understanding through gestures left like talismans in a hollow tree. Lonely. Lonely frightens me most. Lonely is a horrible suffering. You don’t even get to blame somebody when Lonely is the bully. There is only the victim.

Youngest son is still in high school. Because he has a difficult time with beginnings, I read to him a couple days ago the first chapters of his summer novel assignment, Of Mice and Men. A lifetime after my initial reading, I come to the revelation that Lennie is quite complex. Perhaps even more complex than George Wilson. “This book makes me sad,” I tell Youngest. “Mom, it’s not that sad,” he almost scoffs. “Are you and Middle, George and Lennie?” I ask. He just smiles.

Youngest has always smiled when he was uncomfortable or frightened. It looked like a downright smirk when he was in elementary school – would get him into deeper trouble from someone who didn’t know him. And I didn’t know him for the longest time. So wrapped up in Middle Son, so wrapped up in all things autism.

Once on a weekend visit to my mother’s house, I happened upon a book on her shelf entitled The History of Names from the Bible. “It was a gift,” she explained. Leafing through, I found our youngest son’s name. There on the edge of her yellow chintz sofa, I remember a rush of guilt. “We weren’t trying to replace Middle, were we?” I asked. “Of course not,” she lied.

“Hey, Mom, I took my morning medicine and now I’m going to take a shower” calls Middle from the kitchen. “Thanks for telling me,” I say, and up he goes.

At this point, I will get my second morning for about half an hour, before proceeding with the less-inspired work of my day. Middle tiptoes up the stairs. He is quiet because Mom is writing and she needs to concentrate. But my guilt is big and so noisy.

 

 

Tracy has been a high school teacher for over 30 years and currently teaches creative writing and journalism.

Holiday Take-Homes



Shake things upHolidays are a good time to shake it up. Normal routine is out. Normal sleeping is out. Normal food is out. So with all this disruption, when could be a better time to jolt our children to greater independence? You take more of a holiday. Let them work.

You deserve a rest. You have more time because, presumably, you’re relaxing as a family. So don’t hurry. You don’t have anywhere to be. Use the time as a slow opportunity to solve ongoing problems/issues that you don’t always have time to address. Start the day by letting them get their own breakfast.

We first did this a while back now with our daughter at the buffet breakfast area of the hotel in which we were staying. She enjoyed the adventure. First the juice – bring it back to the table. Next the cereal – back to table. Eggs and toast – table. Then pastries. We did, breakfast pastrieshowever, quickly realise we didn’t just need to show her how to get breakfast, we needed to also teach her restraint and healthy eating. We aimed for a reasonably healthy breakfast, whereas without guidance she went for the less healthy more sugar option.

After a week of this, when we came home we tried letting her make her own breakfast. We put the cereal out, and a bowl and spoon. Except for school days she has always got up before anyone in the house. So when we came down on weekends we found the scattered remains of breakfast. Bowl on the table, the dirty spoon next to it. Crumbs on the bench and a puddle of milk next to that. We realised then this was going to take a little practice and patience.

We also did some practical things to help her: we bought a small carton of milk. She was still a junior school then, and so a large carton of milk was too heavy for her to control as she poured. This is probably the way to go for all children without a lot of core strength, or even having a pre-poured small jug of milk left in the fridge with just the right amount in.

Another thing we perfected while on holiday was getting dressed. There’s ample time and plenty of opportunities as we change from clothes to swimming trunks and back again. It’s also a chance to teach modesty if your child is not as aware as you would like them to be.

Maybe if you’re camping there’s a chance to learn to ride a bike. Balance issues is often a challenge for children with additional needs. I, or should I say my daughter and I because it was a marathon for her too, spent many hours teaching her to ride. Follow the link for our download explaining the steps we went through to solve this. Learning to ride sometimes takes time and perseverance.

On holiday are other skills older children/young adults can develop too. Going to reception if you’re in a hotel and asking for more towels for example. I think that hotels are a relatively safe environment to let my children wander to experience being away from us alone, but that is your call. Independence can’t happen without us letting go to some degree.

If that’s a bit more than what you feel they are ready for, going across to the café for a cold drink while under your watchful eye from the pool might not be. This could be their chance to stroll , get distracted, take forever so whatever they’re buying for you is cold by the time they arrive back – perhaps it’s better to ask for juice rather than coffee.

But seriously though, holidays are a good time to practice independence skills. You aren’t in a rush. Sometimes we do more than we should, and on holiday could be a good testing ground to see what we can stop doing for them, because we aren’t trying to get out of the door by 3 minutes past 8. The benefits of them developing greater independence skills are for the whole family. Other children won’t feel a sibling is being given more attention. You will have more time.  Your child will feel just that little bit more independent, more grown up. In Breaking Bad Habits I talked about the habit loop. We all get stuck in our habit loops, so let’s use holidays as a chance to break some of them. Good luck!

To easy the stress of the travel, Vicki in this week’s podcast Happy Holidays gives useful suggestions on how to cope.  Vicki is a travel consultant, as well as a mother to a child with additional needs.