Monday, June 13, 2011

Taking Time to Smell the Dogs

We've been very busy around here. The same week John had bike camp, our city's nine-day music festival , Riverbend, started. We were all excited and had already been running on high so we piled in the van in ninety degree temperatures and headed downtown along with tens of thousands of others.

John was immediately unimpressed with the idea. "I hate Riverbend. I hate listening to muuuuuuuuusiiiiiic. I'm not going" with his classic, arms-folded-across the chest maneuver. He loves music. Geez. We reminded him of all the fun he'd had before and just kept on with our plans because we decided a long time ago that we might have to make accomadations for John but he was not going to run the entire household with his ever-changing desires.

He warmed to the idea and started to get excited, though he picked on his sister most of the way there. Then we had to walk a mile and he was livid. He also had to pee. And he was thirsty. OH. MY. WORD. How on earth could we miss that he was thirsty? He informed us of the fact about a million times.

He also stepped in front of us, close enough to trip us, grabbed things out of our arms, back talked, picked on Hannah, complained, and was generally no fun to be with. Let's not forget it was extremely crowded and we didn't know where the port-a-potties were, let alone, the closest place to buy water.

We got some super expensive water and took him to the bathroom but that didn't stem the flow of complaints and insults. He was picking fights even with me, his staunchest supporter. We were rushed along by the pace of the crowd and the desire to see an act and frankly to find some loud music to maybe distract or at least drown out John while juggling three kids and folding bag chairs. We were in a hurry, a little lost and it was getting very frustrating. I asked Theo, after John stepped on my toes, both literally and figuratively, again to take over because I was feeling much less than gracious toward him and he didn't deserve all of my ire. Some of it, maybe, but not all.

Within five minutes, I saw Theo, red-faced, speaking very intensely and pointing at John. I realized we were both about to blow our tops. Something about seeing someone other than me being that angry with him allowed me to feel a little compassion. It frequently happens that way. I think it must just be a quick change in perspective.

I suddenly started thinking Aspergers and realized this was a major assault to his system. Not only had we not given him a verbal or written plan (which generally helps tremendously), he was being bombarded with intense sensory stimulation and the only people in the world who could help him were getting angry and saying mean things in harsh ways toward him. This place was an Asperger nightmare.

I sent Theo on with the Hannah and told him I was okay to deal with John now. He nodded thankfully and huffed away. I completely understood how he felt. I walked over and put my arm around John in what I've learned is a safe way. Too light a touch is received badly, too heavy and he feels trapped. A hand too high on his shoulder and he wrenches his body away and runs. I smiled at him and said, "This is really hard for you, isn't it?"

Immediately, all the hostility melted and I saw my John again. "Yeah Mom!" So I took a few minutes to walk at his pace and explain what we were doing and the plan for the rest of the evening. I also reminded him he could ask for help instead of being mean. I also apologized for being nasty with him. He leaned into me as we walked in the stifling heat but it felt so much better than our relationship just a few minutes before.

As we walked near the stage, John spied this lady with a dog at the top of a rock incline. He asked if he could go say hi to the dog. I hesitated. I wanted to say, "No, John. We are already missing the beginning of this show. Daddy and Hannah are already finding seats and visiting a dog is the last thing I want to do because I'm also hot and tired of walking and ready to sit down. AND I don't feel like rewarding your behavior."

But I thought better of it. What did it matter? We were close enough I could clearly hear the music even though I couldn't see the performers. I could see Theo and motion to him that we were alright and would be there shortly. So I told him sure and reminded him to ask the owner first.

He walked up and spent the next ten minutes having a lively conversation about all the dogs and cats he knows and how important they are to him. He talked about his aunt's dogs, his grandma's dog, the cat we found at the dam. He loved on the dog and returned completely calm and ready to participate. He was grinning, relaxed and happy. He had a positive social interaction, do something self-directed, and got to be with an animal. Ten minutes bought us almost a full evening of peace. It was a good investment.

As I watched him, I found myself calming as well. I realized we were going to have many days at this festival and I actually giggled as I reminded myself of an old saying translated into Aspergers: Take time to smell the dogs.

Oh, I almost forgot to share the dog's name. John said, "Her name is Cemetery. That's an interesting name. Of course, a cemetery is where you bury people so the name must be based on the other meaning."

Pause. Blink. "Um.."

"Mom, what IS the other meaning of the word cemetery?"

"There isn't one, John."

"Oh. Well, it was a cool dog anyway." A beat. "Weird name."

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