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.

October 8, 2010


Posted in Fun Stuff tagged , , , , , , at 6:20 am by autismmommytherapist

This year, my husband decided to buy our Halloween candy in September, and not the crappy kind, mind you. No dots, licorice, or Smarties are gracing our dining room table, hiding in plain sight. No, my husband has opted this year to select the good stuff, the Kit Kats, the Milky Ways, and of course, Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, which I believe with all my heart are the “chosen” candy. He has done this, instead of waiting until two days before the holiday to get it “fresh” like he usually does, because apparently there was a good sale. He has purchased this chocolate with quite blatant disregard, knowing that in October I have to fit into three separate outfits to attend a Bar Mitzvah, my twenty-fifth high school reunion, and my annual “get away from the boys” girls’ weekend in DC.

I believe in divorce court this would constitute a stellar example of extreme mental cruelty.

I suppose I’ll eventually forgive him, as he has promised to hide the offenders somewhere in the house that I’ll never look for them (they will probably make their home in one of the thirty boxes labeled “KIM’S STUFF” residing in our garage, the ones I was supposed to unpack when we relocated four years ago). I guess I’ll have to move on, because he took the time this weekend to fill our house with “Halloween spookies”, weeks earlier than I generally would have had to harass him to do it. He redecorated because he knows I adore the holiday, the ghosts and goblins who will take up residence throughout our home, the ten thousand times Zach will change his mind about what costume he’s going to wear, the promise of infiltrating the afterlife.

And of course, there’s always the time-honored tradition of post-Halloween candy stealing when my boys aren’t looking.

It’s a little insane for us to keep decorating every year. My youngest has developed a number of anxieties over the past several months that include the supernatural, and my oldest’s OCD will ensure that the flying witch on our piano and its neighbor, the moving mummy, will never have a moment’s rest. We’ll have to be on constant patrol, reassuring Zach that everything he sees is make-believe, and preventing Justin from spinning every pumpkin we have, whether they’re plugged into a socket or not. My husband and I will have to be more vigilant than usual, which is saying a lot, but the truth is it’s worth it, for one gigantic reason.

Halloween makes me happy.

I’ve loved All Saint’s day since I was a kid, back in the pre-global warming days when I’d fight with my mom about wearing a coat over my costume, those pre-historic times when trick-or-treating lasted about four hours and was not necessarily transacted with an accompanying adult. Much like my birthday, I felt Halloween was simply too big a concept to be contained in one day, so I granted it a month. When I was little, I celebrated by reading everything about the occult that I could get my hands on, and I often bribed my friends to play “Ouiji board” with me (connections to the immortal world are clearly stronger in October). Now that I’m a mom, October 1st includes the purchase of new spooky stories, crafts galore from A.C. Moore, and the profound hope that my children won’t mind wearing their respective Halloween shirts at least three times a week between now and November.

We all go crazy differently.

The truth is, I’ll let Halloween go head-to-head with Christmas any day, regard it as a far more low-maintenance holiday which thrills me to no end. I’ve decided that even if I have to Velcro Justin to my side for a month every fall we’re going to keep doing this, because the sight of their faces when they first see the  living room in the dark, Justin inserting his loud “eeeeeeeeeee” into the equation, Zach gripping me so tightly with his legs and arms that any boa would be proud, brings me joy. And within this life, this crazy life with two boys on the autism spectrum, I’ve realized in order to parent these children the way they need to be parented, mommy had better find herself some more joy.

When my friends ask me how things are going I usually respond that they’re going well, that it’s “kids, chores, and writing”. I tell them that we’ve reached a sort of détente with autism in this house, that we are generally happy. Most of the time it’s the truth, and part of that is because I manage to carve out time for myself now, precious hours that are solely about me, not laundry, errands, or Pap smears.

There was a time back in VA that my entire existence literally centered around Justin, that our days were composed of simply chores and therapy, and of course tears, both his and mine. I made my son and his autism my entire world, and nearly lost myself in the process. I learned the hard way, six months into our twenty-five hour a week therapeutic regime, after I had reached rock bottom, that I had better start taking care of myself if I wanted to take care of him. Jeff was at work, my family was in NJ, and short of video-conferencing, there was no way I was getting out of my home for therapy. If I wanted to be whole, healthy and happy again, nobody was going to do it for me. I had to do it for myself.

Hell, I just had to get out of the house.

And I did. I slowly began to carve out time for friends again, relinquished ABA hours on weekends and let Jeff and Justin watch football instead of teaching him how to clap again. I went shopping. I saw bad matinees. Sometimes I just went to Michael’s and bought craft kits I knew I’d never use. It didn’t matter what I did, as long as there was a bit of escape involved, and access to an activity that didn’t require six consecutive hours of pinching.

Clearly, I’m a converted behaviorist.

And for anyone out there with a child who’s just been diagnosed, please learn from my example. Do whatever it takes to keep some pieces of your pre-child life intact, even if it annoys your husband or occasionally frightens a babysitter. A few hours away from your child will not make the difference between whether or not he speaks, is potty-trained, or drives you insane with his text-messaging bills. Take care of yourself. Find your joy again. And I promise, as I dim the lights once more this evening for our seventh consecutive showing of “spookies”, I’ll continue to heed my own counsel.

Because nobody likes mean mommy.