April 7, 2011

Get the Picture

Posted in If You Need a Good Laugh, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:59 pm by autismmommytherapist

Dearest Picture People,

My name is Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty, and I have been a loyal patron for almost eight years now, a customer who has spanned two states to buy your particular photos. My family’s relationship with your establishment began a few months after the birth of my eldest son in northern Virginia, where I would faithfully schlep him to our local mall at least three or four times a year to capture his cuteness on camera. We’ve since relocated to New Jersey, where I make a longer schlep to take my two sons, both of whom have autism, to your shop. Between Halloween, Christmas, and birthdays, during the last decade my family has frequented Picture People on many, many, many occasions.

Trust me, I could wallpaper an entire room (we’re talking family room, not bath) with the amount of product I’ve purchased from you.

I know this may sound like a nutty obsession on the part of a woman who clearly has her hands full (there was a time I could barely get my first child into a car, much less get him to smile for a photo shoot), but I am a self-professed shutterbug. After my passion for writing (okay, and perhaps scrapbooking, I am THAT cool), I admit I adore photography, and have used up almost every square inch of wall space we possess to project the images of my little boys. Frankly, it’s just one giant photo shoot chez McCafferty.

The truth is there are a multitude of things I could be doing with my children other than running maniacally around a portrait studio as I attempt to make them smile, but I enjoy having those formal photos around the house, and it’s worth the effort to me. Having two children on the autism spectrum has forced me to give up any number of things I took for granted I’d experience when I reproduced (you know, like the eventual return of a full night’s sleep, and a chance at retirement), but having gussied up pictures of my kids is one slice of “normal” I refuse to relinquish.

I’m just that stubborn.

So when I heard from one of my favorite photographers yesterday that not only have you discontinued the practice of emailing these digital memories to customers to peruse at their convenience (a Portrait Club Member perk I adored, since my husband is even pickier than I am), I will share that I did turn my head faintly in the direction of JC Penney’s for a moment. When I was further informed that your store would only be keeping my kids’ photos on file for twenty-four hours now despite my “elite” customer status, I admit I pondered whether my GPS would work indoors to help me find your competitor.

Immediately.

So, I simply have this to say to those in charge. I am one of those annoying people who always says they’re going to write a letter of complaint and never does (the discontinuation of McDonald’s fried apple pie and my desire to abolish “skinny jeans” both come to mind), but today, well, today, I’m venting my wrath in prose. I’m not asking you to light up your studios blue (although I’d appreciate the attempt at added autism awareness, I understand those cerulean filaments might not make for a prime photo opportunity for everyone). I’m not requesting an exception for those of us with children who might not be capable of waiting an hour-and-a half post-shoot to bring home our pictures (hell, I’ve been there when it’s taken thirty minutes just to upload and view our take on a computer screen). Truly, I’m not vying for special treatment.

You’d know it if I was.

I also understand the economy sucks. I completely comprehend the principle of “once they leave the sale is lost”, or whatever far zippier phrase those marketing geniuses have concocted to raise revenue. I get the bottom line here. Despite the furry Easter props, and the admonition to “make special AND unique memories AND have a great day” every time I place a call to your company, the ultimate goal is to make money.

It’s always about money. Sadly, it’s no longer about me.

But I am asking you to consider this. I’ve been at that mall, walked by your store and recognized a customer, then seen her hours later on that same swivel chair with her sobbing infant after I’ve completed half my Christmas shopping and had a manicure. There are plenty of children who do not reside on the autism spectrum who can’t wait around for mommy to bring home their preciousness, “normal” children who risk slipping into a total meltdown that can be heard from the outer limits of the parking lot (trust me, I’ve heard the faint cries as far away as Macy’s). And given that economy I mentioned before, I’m willing to bet any number of those stressed-out moms might actually have jobs they can’t boycott to return the next day and claim those images, particularly within your draconian twenty-four hour limitations.

It was suggested to me I partake of this option. Since we’re usually five minutes from the Apocalypse at my house on any given day, I “politely” declined.

So please, dear Picture People executive-types, kindly consider what I’ve penned. Bring back the opportunity for the “slide show of joy” I can view with my spouse in the relative comfort of my bedroom. Have respect for the fact that our (and I mean the global, Kumbayah, “our”) children might not tolerate the wait/screaming babies/overwhelming crowds/PMS-state mothers every single time they mug for the camera. Take pity on families trying to forge memories of what their kids looked like in this crazy world, and grant them some options.

Give us back the gift of time.

Because I’ll tell you, there are days in my household where the random sight of those grinning cherubs is the only thing saving my sanity, as I deal with the sometimes tragic, and often profoundly irritating consequences of living with autism. Honestly, just glancing at their photos, in those silver frames I’ll never get around to polishing, simply makes me happy. So come on Picture People, have a heart, and make a Jersey girl smile.

I’ll even let you capture it on film.

December 19, 2010

The Santa Clause

Posted in If You Need a Good Laugh, Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 9:09 pm by autismmommytherapist

Last week my husband came downstairs, grabbed a diet Dr. Pepper and some GF/CF Swedish fish that are supposed to be Zachary’s, and proclaimed that something momentous had just occurred. No, Bristol Palin didn’t win Dancing with the Stars the night before (NOBODY puts Baby in a corner). No, he hadn’t discovered his impending end-of-year bonus check would cover not only  Christmas, but those insanely expensive “sexy boots” I’ve been eyeing online for weeks now. And no, Justin didn’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing “Pants on the Ground” to him before he got on the bus this morning. The truth is, I’m referring to a far more modest miracle, one that has a direct impact on our family.

Mall Santa is in the house.

Due to the fact that my kids have special needs, they will each have approximately 5,000 opportunities to meet and greet with Santa this year. There’s the Challenger party, the Elks bash, and a wonderful little shindig near our local aquarium that includes not only his Jolly Lordship but FREE CANDY (you all SO know I’m going to that one). There will be multiple chances for Justin to look bored and fix me with his infamous “REALLY mom?” stare, and for Zach to let his eyes well up with tears in such dramatic fashion that any soap opera star would be proud. We’ll attend as many sightings as we can, but for me the big kahuna, the “REAL” Santa, will always be the portly dude smelling slightly of nicotine, situated somewhere between Macy’s and Victoria’s Secret, just like when I was a kid.

Hell, I gave birth. It’s my God-given right to use my children to relive some of my childhood, isn’t it?

After Jeff made his pronouncement we both ignored the fact that it was still November, that in Zachary’s terms we hadn’t even “put away” Thanksgiving yet, and whipped out our planners (yes, my husband’s is electronic, and I still use a slate and chalk). I remembered Jeff was taking the day before the holiday as a vacation day, and since both kids had half days then we figured we could get them off the bus, throw on their “pretty” clothes, and drag them to the car before they knew what had hit them.

I assumed Zach would be enthralled with the idea as Santa is all he talks about these days, and Justin would tolerate the trip as long as he got a bagel at Starbucks and a ride on the faux roller coaster our local mall houses. Since both of their parents would be there, we figured one of us could save Santa’s beard if Justin was not excited by our choice of outing (my eldest child is not a big fan of facial hair), and if we had to spirit him away Zach could still regale his idol with his Christmas list (and a long, long, list it is). We finalized our plans, I ripped the remainder of Zach’s treats out of my husband’s hungry hands, and began to anticipate how excited my little guy would be when we told him his Santa sighting would be tomorrow. I also reminded myself to have patience when he asked me 500 times if it was “tomorrow yet”.

The next day dawned, and Zach of course remembered our plans for the day, even trying to “reason” with me that Santa would rather see him first thing in the morning, so he should not go to school. I didn’t have the heart to tell him Santa was either asleep or on Stair Master at this hour, so I fibbed and told him Rudolph had a cold, he’d been delayed, and we’d have to wait a few hours.

It turns out lying to your kids is really fun.

After a few more years (hours) of bargaining I finally got both boys off to school, had a taste of a “life”, and packed the eight thousand items necessary for our field trip to shopping mecca. What seemed like five minutes later I heard the “beep,beep,beep” of the bus backing up as it overshot our driveway, and I rushed out with excitement, expecting to see an ecstatic boy launch himself into my arms and yell “it’s tomorrow Mom!” with glee. Instead, I watched as Zach’s exit required the assistance of the aide for the entire length of the bus, culminating in a stand-off at the top of the stairs as he refused to grip the safety handle. When I asked if he’d had a bad day he simply uttered a “HARRUMPH!” complete with crossed arms, proclaimed himself a “BAD BOY!!” without a hint of remorse, and reluctantly lowered himself onto the asphalt and trudged his way back to our home.

Ho.Ho.Ho.

After five minutes of witnessing our youngest child engaged in a snit that made my worst PMS episodes look tame, Jeff and I contemplated canceling. I then broached the subject with Zach and was met with a cascade of tears that would have made Niagara Falls proud, and since we’d promised him, we sucked it up and said we’d go. I had a feeling we would deeply regret our decision.

I was right.

We placed both boys in the car, and Jeff quickly found some Christmas carols on Sirius. I relaxed a bit in the driver’s seat, somewhat secure in the knowledge that Zach loves any form of transportation, and whatever tirade he was immersed in would probably disappear within minutes of playing “Look for Christmas Crap” (yes, I leave out the last word when I refer the game to him). The Chipmunk song was just ending (thank God) and Taylor Swift was about to commence a lovely rendition of “Oh Holy Night” when I heard “HARRUMPH!” again from the back seat, and looked back in time to see the crossing of the arms that means that good times are to come.

Here are the transcripts from the next few minutes in our car. Nobody will be subpoenaing them any time soon:

Mom:  “Zach, do you want to sing a Christmas song?”

Zach:  “NO, NO CHRISTMAS SONGS, THEY’RE TOO SLOW!”

I figure I can beat him at this game. I’ve got forty-plus years of Christmas carols on the little bugger after all.

Mom:  “How about Jingle Bells then?”

Zach:   “NO, THAT’S TOO FAST!”

Of course it is. Stupid, stupid Mama.

Jeff, trying valiantly to change the subject, chimed in “Zach, are you excited to see Santa?” and was rewarded for his efforts with “NO, I DON’T WANT TO SEE SANTA, I’M A BAD BOY’, which at the moment, is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Because we’re already annoyed with ourselves for trying this trip anyway we decide to play with him a bit, see if we can cajole him out of this foul mood, and amuse ourselves in the process. Since I’m not sure we’re going to make it to Starbucks I realize this might be the highlight of my day.

“Zach, want to see Rudolph?”

“NO!!!”

“How about Donner, Blitzen and the rest of the reindeer posse?”

“NO!!”

“How about Elmo?”

Pause, then “NOOOO!”

“Conan?”

“NOOOO?”

“Clooney?” (hint, that one was mine).

“NO,NO,NO!!!!!!!!!! (he may not be my son).

We eventually made it to our destination, and true to form Justin blithely ignored St. Nick and tried to abscond with most of the fake presents surrounding him, and Zach displayed almost as much desire to sit with Santa as he does when confronted with his potty seat. I won’t get my fabulous photos this year, but I’ll leave you with a far more festive group of pictures from “happy Christmas past”.

And to all of you going to see “Mall Santa” this year, please don’t forget to mention I, however, have been a very, very, very good girl.