April 2, 2011

World Autism Day- Free To Be You and Me

Posted in My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 6:28 am by autismmommytherapist

“Justin, for the love of God, PLEASE SIT DOWN!” I implore my almost eight-year-old, as he thrusts his body through the narrow space between the front seats of our SUV, desperately trying to free Sheryl Crow from her imprisonment in our car’s player. We’re leaving for speech therapy ten minutes late as it is because his school bus was delayed, and I’m irritated by the thought of the impending traffic I know we’ll soon encounter. I’m really not in the mood for this OCD ritual today, the current “compact disc musical chairs” that has replaced shoe/toy/DVD rotation in his devotions. I’m especially chagrined because I’ve trained him to like MY music, allowed him to pick from a carefully selected musical portfolio prior to every trip, and none of these choices has ever encompassed children’s tunes.

Now that this new obsession has begun every CD in the house is a target, and unfortunately some songs from long ago have come back into play. I finally cajole/coerce him back into his own spot, manage to shove his hands clutching fistfuls of circular disks through the slotted holes of his harness, and rush back to the driver’s seat. Before we exit the driveway I reach back and say “Give me what you’ve got, Justin”, and as our fingertips brush briefly against one another I feel the cool, pliant plastic of his selection slip into my hand. If there’s any justice in the universe, it will neither be the Wiggles, nor Barney.

Thankfully, it’s “Free to Be, You and Me”. If he’s going to torture me with kids’ songs, at least he possesses good taste.

I smile as I insert his choice into the yawning maw of the DVD player, because these melodies summon pleasant childhood memories for me, hours spent in my room hiding from my little brother, afternoons playing with my dollhouse and grooving to vinyl. I’ve always thought of “Free to Be, You and Me” as the musical equivalent of the literary phenomenon “Everything You Ever Needed to Know You Learned in Kindergarten”, with its magical messages of tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion. I remember my mother telling me what a big hit it was at the time, particularly as it was introduced during an era of “peace, love and happiness”. I have to grin as I listen to the soothing baritone of Alan Alda reminding us it’s okay for boys to play with dolls, followed by the dulcet notes of Marlo Thomas imparting her message that girls must break free of stereotypes, and follow their own non-scripted dreams. There are other fundamental lessons imbued into these lyrics, monumental concepts such as crying is okay even if you’re male, we all deserve respect no matter what our skin tones, and one remaining especially current in today’s world, don’t believe everything you’re told on television.

Reality TV has made the latter particularly relevant (yes, I mean you, Rock of Love’s Brett Michaels).

We manage to make it through lights that usually halt us in our tracks, and as I check the time I realize we might only arrive a few minutes later than our intended hour. Justin is rocking out in the backseat to Don’t Dress Your Cat in an Apron, and I ponder how far we’ve evolved since this musical melange’s initial debut, how much kinder the world has become, and yet how far we still must strive to go. Since this record’s release I’ve witnessed gay military personnel win the opportunity for disclosure, as well as the right to celebrate the ritual of permanent union in many states. I’ve watched women not only destroy but redefine the concept of  the “ceiling”, as they’ve attained the highest positions both in business, and in government. Men have begun to take their wives’ names, as well as their traditional roles as caretakers of children. Finally, two years ago I sat with hot cocoa in hand, forced the boys to snuggle next to me, and reveled in the beauty of a man of color finally ascending to the most elevated office in the land.

There’s still so far for all of these groups to go, barriers yet to transcend, prejudices to puncture and dismiss. We’re certainly not completely the “land of the free”, just yet. But I do believe we’re getting there. And I think for those of us who raise children considered unique, special, differently-abled, now it might just be their turn, their time for the earth’s attention.

Their turn to have their differences celebrated, not denigrated.

Their turn to be treated with compassion, to consider kindness as their norm.

Their turn to shatter stereotypes, to be regarded as men and women, boys and girls, with gifts to share to a far more gracious world.

Their turn for free to be, you and me.

There’s a land that I see, where the children are free

And I say it ain’t far to this land from where you are

Take my hand, come along, where the children are free

Come with me, take my hand, and we’ll live

In a land where the river runs free

In a land through the green country

In a land with a shining sea

And you and me are free to be,

You and me.

It’s our Fourth Annual World Autism Awareness Day!!!

Don’t forget to turn your porch lights blue tonight!!!


August 6, 2010

Family Outing

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , at 6:31 am by autismmommytherapist

The McCafferty clan spent the entire day in public this weekend, no crying, no tantrums (except for when Daddy was told he couldn’t bring his Swiss army knife past security), and no agita. Just five consecutive hours of blissful, calm togetherness.

The Christmas miracle came early this year.

Truth be told, we began having successful family outings about six months ago, when a combination of therapeutic interventions, maturity, and the correct medication culminated in my oldest son’s ability to consistently behave in public. We’ve been going places for years he and I, but our field trips have been limited in scope and time, and generally have excluded his father and brother due to Justin’s penchant for leaving any destination within half an hour. We’ve been working on extending our stays, but now that Zachary’s older it didn’t seem fair to risk cutting his trips short, and depleting two gas tanks seemed an extreme alternative, so we’ve kept our boys’ trips separate for the most part. This Sunday however we got brave, and armed with season passes for Great Adventure that “by God as a family we are going to use”, we decided to give it a go.

For once the stars aligned, and literally everything went smoothly. Everything.

Of course, by this point in the autism wars I am conditioned to expect the worst in just about any situation, so I was mentally prepared for meltdown Armageddon. My heart rate elevated within seconds of entering the gates after I was told the office for activating our season passes was on the opposite end of the park, a route that would take us past almost every ride Justin deems appropriate. Jeff and I briefly debated our options, which included either waiting until later in the day and risking the long lines we’d been warned about, or instead popping a wheelie with Justin’s stroller and whisking him past his coveted rides so we could get the photo portion of our day concluded swiftly. We opted for the latter, and I bent down and whispered in Justin’s ear that he would indeed get to partake in his usual fun eventually, but we had to accomplish this errand first. He regarded me with what I interpreted as minor disdain, but settled back in his souped-up carriage, and calmly let us wheel him past his faves with nary a complaint. We didn’t even have to bribe him.

The four of us waited mere minutes to have our likenesses captured on tiny plastic cards, and Justin dutifully complied with disembarking from his seat and returning post photo shoot, even gracing the camera with the slightest of smiles. Our passes were quickly returned to us, with half of us looking annoyed, and the youngest, palest member of the McCafferty household barely registering his image on his entrance ticket. We swiftly gathered our things, made a brief potty stop, then worked our way back through the park, stopping at every ride that caught our fancy.

The four of us, together, went on every attraction that caters to the four feet and under crowd.

We were an ensemble crew on the teacups. We raced each other on the carousel. We were even able to get Justin to participate in every ride in the Wiggles World pavilion, an area of the park which he has made perfectly clear in the past year he has seriously outgrown. For whatever reasons, ones I’m certain I will never discern, this weekend the Wiggles were once again cool. Through Justin’s acceptance his entire family had the opportunity to plunge to the ocean floor on the yellow submarine, ascend to the heavens in the Wiggles balloons, and condone mommy’s lead foot on the Big Red Cars speedway. The lines were short (and so were the rides), but we went on every one the boys pointed to, some of them twice.

Before I knew it, we’d been there for five consecutive hours, and I’d relaxed for at least four of them. We’d enjoyed ourselves. We’d had an entire day of fun.

We were just like every other family.

Well, okay, not REALLY, but for a few hours, minus the fact my oldest son doesn’t speak, we were. I realized it was the first time we’d been together as a cohesive whole in the three years since my youngest was born where there wasn’t an incident, a struggle, or even just the marital sniping all couples indulge in on family outings. I’d even remembered the camera, so if I didn’t believe it later, I could prove to myself this day had occurred after all.

We eventually made the long trek back from roller coaster mecca to the waiting vehicle I only located by activating our car alarm, and before I employed that lead foot once again I decided to scroll through the wonders of modern technology and reenact our day. I was rewarded with a shot of Justin, eyes wide as he whirled around on the teacups, with Zach grasping his brother’s hand for dear life. There was an image of the boys, side by side, happily scarfing down the contraband carbs we’d snuck into the park to accommodate Zachary’s GF/CF diet. My photo gallery even included a family portrait, slightly askew, of two grinning parents and their progeny staring off in the distance from the top of the ferris wheel, blithely ignoring entreaties to smile and look into the lens. It wasn’t a perfect day. It might never be most peoples’ definition of perfect, ever.

But it worked for us. And that’s all that matters.