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.


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 5, 2010

Come Out and Play

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , at 9:13 pm by autismmommytherapist

We pull quickly into the McDonald’s parking lot, Justin already annoyed at me because I’ve made two wrong turns despite the protests of my nagging GPS, and since I’ve driven by the golden arches twice with no sign of slowing down, he is making his displeasure known. For once I can totally block out his familiar whine, as in two minutes I know I’m about to blow my boy’s mind, and he’ll completely forget his prior angst. I find a spot close to the entrance, grab my purse and holy bag of toys (just in case), release him from his harness, and let him charge with me in tow to the entrance. We make it through the wind tunnel of double doors, and he is about to throw the last one wide and run into the “restaurant”, when he stops dead in his tracks.

“Hi Justin, I’m here!” shouts “David” through the glass partition that still separates them, at a pitch loud enough that everyone in central Jersey knows he’s in residence. Justin responds by throwing his entire body onto the other side of the divide, face and hands suctioned against glass as I pray that I’ve remembered his wipes. I watch a range of emotions cascade fleetingly across his face:  confusion (this is his friend, but it’s not school), shock (again, WHY is he here?), and finally pleasure (I guess this is okay after all). At last my boy turns to me and graces me with that look that says “you did it again, Mom”, that precious second of connection that makes all the worrying, the drudgery, hell, the sheer annoyance of trudging through his autism worthwhile after all. We bound through the heaviest door yet and my son is immediately surrounded by his classmate and his two siblings, while their mother and I attempt to shake hands and introduce ourselves over the chaos of four young children in a fast food chain.

My boy is on a playdate.

In a prior post, Buddy System, I explained that we’ve ventured into this territory before, so this isn’t quite his first foray into the world of friendship. While I wouldn’t label our prior attempts as failures, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the “mom” part of our get-togethers was by far the most exciting component for all involved. Our kids only acknowledged each other for a moment, then went back to their far more reinforcing activities which ranged from stimming, perseverating, hiding small toy parts throughout my home (an activity guaranteed to shave years off my husband’s life), or my favorite, asking me repeatedly, without words, for more food. Never let it be said our kids can’t figure out ways to get their needs met.

No, if I’m honest, I cajoled these other moms into giving up some time on a few Saturdays because I thought this is what Justin should have, because the thought of him not having a true friend has been one of the most difficult components of his type of autism for me to accept. I can’t even imagine what my life would have been like without a constant, sometimes shifting array of wonderful women with whom I could bitch about boys, men, pour our collective hearts out, eat(!), and drink better and better wine. The idea that he’d never get to experience this has been at times more painful for me to accept than the thought he might never have real language.

Yes, I was a big fan of Sex and the City.

But today, even if only for a few minutes, my son is going to hang out with a peer, one whom I even felt comfortable allowing to take my boy’s hand and lead him to a booth without my accompanying death grip (trust me, there should have been a parade for that moment). Justin actually laughed as David and his brother and sister played “war” with their exquisitely crafted happy meal toys (God, I hate fast food), even permitting his friend to take his hand and conquer one of the weaker warriors. I sat AT A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT TABLE from my offspring and had at least ten minutes of conversation with an adult, knowing my child was safely ensconced mere feet away from me, yet immersed in a completely different world. I even got to finish my McSnack wrap without interruption.

It actually was “good times”.

I don’t know how long this friendship might last. I have no idea for what time period Justin will remain at his new school, nor what the future holds for David. We don’t live too far from one another, but we have eight kids between us, and I’m certain this tenacious single mom might eventually have more important things to worry about than her son’s social life. This entire adventure might end as quickly as it’s begun.

But I do know this. We’ve been slowly building up to this point for the last two years, as I’ve watched my child grow more and more aware of his surroundings, show interest in others, and express an increasing desire to connect. This half hour has had true meaning for him, was worth the “playdate dance” we mothers endure. This time, he really had a taste of what I’ve always taken for granted. He actually had fun.

And no matter what happens down the road, I get to carry with me the knowledge that even for just a few moments, my son dwelled joyously in the land of his peers.