Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Laugh Like a..."

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Interrupting Cow.”

“Interrupting Cow—“


If you don’t think this joke is funny, or if you think it should be told Only Once, you are probably on a different part of the humor spectrum than we are. Lucky you. We are a very corny, silly family with penchants for repetition and nonsense. Z’s sense of humor tends toward the witty, G’s toward the baffling and awkward; both love a good potty joke. As for me, sometimes I feel as a Full Spectrum Mama that if I am not laughing I might well be crying…So when my head is clear enough to make that choice (which is not a given), I choose the giggle. That shared sense of humor may well be our saving grace.

This happened when Z was four years old. In order for the story to make sense, a few preliminary details are necessary. First, we do not have any broadcast television and live in a pretty idyllic and sheltered rural area. Second, we do not cuss in our home. I believe I may have said the “S” word once or twice, but that’s it. I manage to eff up on a daily basis in plenty of other ways, but non-cussin’ is one area of success. It is possible that Z and G have heard profanities at their father’s house, but always as exclamations, never as vernacular. Finally, at the time this incident occurred, my now-husband (henceforth referred to as “Pardner”) and I were dating, and the kids called him “Shushu” (uncle in Mandarin).

We are at a cute little restaurant in trendy, charming New Hope, PA enjoying some adequate Mexican food on our way home from visiting with family. Again, Z is four, a sassy, going-on-25-going-on-75-four, but nonetheless she is barely as tall as the table at which we are sitting. Our little family – Pardner, G, Z and me – is enjoying some jovial repartee and eating tacos and sides. Z likes her food spicy and G likes his bland, so I have apportioned the food accordingly.

In my memory, I am looking at my yellow rice and lumpy brown pile of beans when Z turns to me and says, “Mama, Susu Pardner makes you laugh like a bitc#!”

I turn to Pardner, sotto voce, “Did she just say laughlikeabitc#?” I feel, simultaneously, a very wide range of emotions. The dominant feeling is: I am about to crack up laughing worse than ever before in my life in a way that will be highly inappropriate on many levels. Also, I will not be able to stop laughing, either, should I start.

I lurch into autopilot-damage-control: “Snitch,” I say, “Where did you learn that funny, funny word?”

“I said Bitc#.”

“Oh, hahahahaha, ditch, yes, that IS funny. Hahaha.”


Has it ever hit you full on that your child, your tiny little child, is already much cooler than you ever have been or could hope to be? The best part was how she said it, all feisty and ghetto, and like she knew what she meant. Head bobbing a little from side to side and the pointed finger going. For real.

Let’s face it, hearing babies and little kids swear is funny. It just is. Cute, too. Yet of course Full Spectrum Mama has to protect her daughter from her own precociousness and from apparent insidious influences. As much as Z has seemed all her life to need nobody, nohow, she’s still a child and she needs guidance.

Somehow I kept a straight face. I used the famous parental move “ignore and move on,” (a.k.a. “Cuban Missile Crisis”). Afterward, I did do my best to figure out where she got the idea to say “laugh like a bitc#,” although I never did find out. I believe she has forgotten this particular phrase, though she still can be plenty fresh. I remind myself on the daily that Z may seem like a cooler, more socially-adept peer, even, ahem, someone who might’ve been mean to me in high school but – she isn’t. She is my little girl. So I need to be the grown-up.

I thought about “laugh like a bitc#” the other day when we were walking home from school. There is a beautiful forested area right next door to our house and I sometimes allow G to walk through it en route. That day he asked, “Mama, may I venture into the woods?” “Why, yes, my son, go in peace,” I replied.

Wonder where he gets his quirky turn of phrase?

G, a major bookworm from birth, has always talked as if he lives in medieval times, or is in a Poke´mon program (he sees them chez the ex). Back in preschool, he would literally ask the other kids questions like, “Would you care to engage in a playful interaction with me?” (Sample, highly effective Z preschool utterance: “Gimme that if you wanna play with me…whatever.”)

How did it evolve that my two children – who have the same parents* -- express such a Full Spectrum of speech patterns? Ways of speaking -- how we tap into the vernacular (or not), how we draw from our reading and other parts of the world around us…how we hit the coolness nail on the head or NOT -- can be seen as more Full and rich Spectrums.

(*Oops, I totally forgot that Z was adopted for a moment there – but let’s agree that certainly she has had the same parental environment as G since she was 9 months old…)

Z remains the sharp-witted queen of kindergarten, whilst G’s courtly language flies about as well in fourth grade as it did back then. Oh, someday he will find his tribe. But…Goddess? PLEASE get him through middle school with his sweet soul intact. And please, please -- I know it is not my girlbaby’s job, but she can handle it -- make Z protect him once they are in high school together.

I will do anything!!!

Laughing like a bitc#,
Full Spectrum Mama

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Spectrum Rainbow

Let’s scratch that linear spectrum from my first entry. I’m feeling now that a better visual model would be a circular rainbow pie chart deal, with everything connecting in the center and closely related qualities connecting along the perimeter.

Figure 1: An Amended Spectrum

One nice thing about this new and improved circular spectrum is that proximity can be quite telling. I pointed out that the difficulties in connection on the far end of the autism side of that original spectrum reminded me in some ways of the inability to connect on the far end of the attachment disorder side of the spectrum. Within a circle, these two pie slices – far as they might be from “normal” on the perimeter -- might themselves be quite close, with some “unknown” slices in-between. The “normal” slice might be on the opposite side of this thus-far-undefined area.

Here are some ideas for some other Full Spectrums, a veritable Spectrum Rainbow, with illustrations from my own family:

A Dance Spectrum
We do a lot of dancing in our house. All sorts of music. Sometimes we’ll even have a dance-off! I could expound at length on kinds of movement, hip-shakers and non-hip-shakers, rhythm, etc. but it basically comes down to this: If Z is Beyonce, G is Steve Martin in “The Jerk.” ‘Nuff said.

On second thought, it occurs to me that although I personally think I would fall closer to Beyonce than the Jerk on this spectrum, G definitely fancies himself quite the dancer too. Hmm.

A Spatial Self-Awareness Spectrum
Part of my project here is to distinguish and clarify, but I do so more in the ultimate aim of connection than separation. For example, most everybody has some sort of self-awareness in space, so that is a connection. Yet, for a child with Asperger syndrome, self-awareness in terms of place in the physical space one inhabits is fundamentally very different from that self-awareness for a child with an attachment disorder.

I would place Z in a position of extraordinarily high, vigilante-esque self-awareness that is connected integrally with an extraordinarily high level of awareness of others. G would seem to land close to the opposite side of this pie, with little consciousness of his weight and size and position, or of his spatial relations to others.

I am not a neurologist or psychiatrist, just a Mama wondering at and about her children (and children [and people] in general). I do wonder if this self-awareness thread relates in some way to the ways severely autistic children and children with severe attachment disorders may seem similar in their apparent disengagement with the outside world? How might their awareness of self-in-space and self vis-à-vis other people differ? How might it be useful to think of self-awareness in space and in relationships as a way IN to children’s minds and hearts? To healing, where needed?

This spectrum emerges as useful in helping me see that I, as a Full Spectrum Mama, need to help each child move closer to a healthy level of self-awareness in this regard. That’s not always true: sometimes I want to nurture that distance from the “normal” slice of the spectrum. Here, however, I would like to help Z relax her vigilance -- and G to become more attentive.

A Scotch Tape Spectrum
Some people feel perfectly comfortable using reams of scotch tape. Who are these people? Oh, pardon. I meant to write that there are different ways of approaching scotch tape use. Some of us view scotch tape as a precious, non-renewable and expensive resource that must be monitored and used in minimal, just-barely-adequate increments. Others have a “normal” take on tape. They use it when they need it, a reasonable amount…and buy more with little or no angst! And, much as it pains me to admit this, there are those who are quite “free” with their usage. [No need to let me know if you fit in this slice. I accept you. I just do not want to know.]

Z, as you might imagine, is highly responsible and abstemious in her tape-related-habits, even unto the point of Putting the Tape Back; G is a tape-waster par excellence. Left to his own devices, he would use tape for many, many non-approved purposes – and I would never be able to find the roll in any “emergency.” From time to time I have generously bought him his own roll, said roll never to be seen again.

Matters of scotch tape and self-awareness are related, yes they are: ideally I’d like to assist Z in relinquishing her control-freak position on this spectrum, while gently nurturing G in his scotch-tape consciousness.

A Style Spectrum
Here we have Z, dressed always with a flair and pizzazz and ultra-originality that nonetheless manages to scream, “I have fantastic taste!” She may be wearing seven necklaces, but they perfectly complement her nine bracelets. A cape? But of course. And matching veil. Anything she puts on, Z instantly elevates and imbues with sheer gorgeousness and chic.

Next to Z, we have people with some style and then we have a series of “neutral” or “regular” style slices eventually veering toward a lack of style…and then we have G.

My son, despite being conceived, gestated and living the first few years of his life in the East Village, has never looked right in anything fey or trendy. Something about him calls for classic, regular, GUY garb. When G was a baby, we came to call this genre “football-teddy bear clothes.” I have recently managed to sneak him into a skinny cord without too much protest although he has a really, really hard time getting in and out of this particular pant. In fact, G’s pants are usually pulled up to just under his nipples, His shoes are probably on the wrong feet. Anything he puts on looks like it was put on by mistake. Obviously, we are moving away from “normal” here…but where are we going, exactly?

I contend that we are actually edging back closer to the high style slice! I further contend that G may well be edging into what we, in our house, call “meta-cool.” He is so on his own fashion planet that he may well have crossed the pie-border into the slice just adjacent to Z’s super-flair section!

Figure 2: Flair de La Z (with brother)

A Sexuality Spectrum
The increasing acceptance of a rich, full spectrum of sexuality, gender identification and sexual orientation seems to me to be one of the great leaps forward of this new millennium. Nevertheless, so far, my kids have not been taking advantage of the wide range of available options.

We live in a super-liberal area where I would wager the vast majority of parents would answer the questions “Can girls marry girls?” and “Can boys wear dresses?” in the enthusiastic affirmative, Still, Z lives in a pink world of princesses and fairy costumes and Prince Charmings. NB: her favorite doll is named “Donna Poodle Itchy,” which does give me hope for her independent future.

When G was under one year old, he leaned over from his clip-on high chair and kissed a female model on the back of a magazine that was lying on the counter. Although he does sometimes hug his (male) best friend a leetle too long, he seems to be firmly on the hetero slice of the pie and has "always" wanted to “marry” a gal he met in kindergarten.

Wherever they ultimately end up on this spectrum is just fine with Full Spectrum Mama; the only remarkable thing here is that this is one area where Z and G reside in the most average part of the spectrum.

A Sassy Spectrum
Z is monumentally sassy. G is not, in any way, sassy. When I imagine a full sassiness spectrum with these two opposite slices, one intervening side might be varying degrees of silly sass, and the other side might be mean sass. Having abandoned all hope of reducing Z’s sassiness quotient, I now try to steer her more toward the silly side and away from the mean. And I know it wouldn’t hurt for G to develop a sassy quip or two. We’re workin’ on it!

We all fit in somewhere -- and we are all connected.

Full Spectrum Mama

Friday, February 3, 2012

Control and Therapeutic Parenting

Maybe it was the “vacation” weekend on the Cape when I spent two out of three nights in the car with Z because she refused to stop screaming and was keeping other motel guests awake. And didn’t care. At all. Didn’t care about her crying, sleep-deprived big brother, or even the entreaties of her beloved “Papa” (I believe her exact words were, “Shut up, Papa!” {NOT standard words in our family}).

Or maybe it was when we were in the car and I had a migraine and Z was having a tantrum and I got her attention by explaining very, very quietly, that Mama had a migraine and that “every sound out of her mouth felt like a knife in my brain”…and then she got very, very quiet, took a deep breath, leaned forward and yelled as loud as she could into my ear.

In any case, at a certain point, my partner – who grew up oldest of eight and is, I assure you, unflappable – got the name of a therapist who specializes in children who were adopted and have associated concerns.

In Vermont, heck, in standard liberal parentland everywhere, we like to Respect our children, right? We talk to them about things, reason with them, offer them Choices. In previous generations, this might have been viewed as permissive or, um, irrational, but we are Modern Parents, Enlightened Parents and we know that our children are Human Beings.

I had noticed pretty early on that Z seemed to really like choices. She would think about them and weigh them and often contribute her own additional option. In fact, she liked choices so much that her choosing had become an exhausting element of my life.

For example, if I suggested that Z go upstairs and get ready for bed (pajamas, brush teeth, toilet), she would typically ask, “Can I pee downstairs?” Well, sure…why not? "Can I choose a goodnight book first?" "...OK"

Or if I let her choose toys for the bath, she would choose an entire bathtub full (many of which I had previously told her couldn’t get wet), so we’d have to go through a long negotiation process.

Or –- and this was my stock story whilst commiserating with other mothers of daughters – if I would ask her to put her dishes in the sink, inevitably she would respond, “Can I put them Next To the sink?”

Everything was open to negotiation. Still, this felt progressive to me, especially as compared with other elements of our life together (many of which felt challenging and disconnective). So even though I sometimes wanted to say, “Just do it! Because I said so!” I didn’t.

Meanwhile, Z’s tantrums and certain other habits – hoarding food, stealing, sneaking, lying, general mayhem and human enslavement – continued to escalate. Z seemed profoundly angry and, quite frankly, did not seem to be developing a conscience. I knew that while she might pretend to toe the line when I was in the room, she would do whatever she wanted the instant she was unwatched. I didn’t care so much about most of the basic practical aspects of this, such as spoiled food or ripped clothing (well, the theft and destruction of jewelry was problematic), but I worried about the implications for her later life - and I did worry about safety.

The bottom line was I had NO idea what to do. I had tried all the suggestions of friends and family and none of it had worked. Some of the things she did were developmentally appropriate but many were not. Even the developmentally appropriate things were, when done by Z, on a larger, more Machiavellian scale. The whole Z package was just so over the top: brilliant, adorable, charming…and so, sooo incredibly poorly behaved.

Full Spectrum Mama was accustomed to G, the first child, who lived to do the right thing. G’s very loving, stable start in life, coupled with his innate literalness and natural sweetness, had produced a child who was liable to happily do what was asked of him, so long as he didn’t get distracted en route. Lest you think G is Mr. Perfect Child, I should add that he does indeed get distracted, oh, say half the time – and let’s not get into multi-step instructions.

It seems to me that toward the middle of a Full Spectrum of Doing the Right Thing (according to parents, anyway), children sometimes do what is right and sometimes do not, in either case sometimes because they want to and sometimes because they feel forced. I had one child who was glad to do what FSM asked, basically at all times, because he genuinely believed Mama had her finger on the pulse of cosmic rightness; and one child who didn’t give a rip about right and wrong and only ever did what she was told when directly observed. And often not even then. Her urge to do or get what she wanted felt to her, I suspected, like a matter of survival.

Consequences – another tenet of Modern Parenting – meant NOTHING to her. I would start with the threat of reasonable consequences and sometimes, in the avalanche toward the ridiculous, end up going to extremes. A dispute over whether Z had done something with 2/3 of my $54 jar of Clinique Redness Solution – a huge, wedding-based splurge – resulted in absolutely no admission of guilt from her and my having to enforce no dessert for a month. Because, as you know, Consistency and Follow Through are further tenets of Modern Parenting.

I cajoled. I punished. I warned her. I gave her her own creams. She was invariably back in the medicine cabinet within hours.

Extrapolate from the medicine cabinet to almost every other area of our lives -- I was lost.

During our very first therapy session, the therapist taught me the single most important thing I ever learned as the parent of an attachment-disordered child: [in this context] “therapeutic parenting is control freak parenting.” It turns out that the main thing my daughter needed from me was to help her feel safe. And by what felt to me like honoring her as an individual – giving her choices - I was actually showing her that I didn’t have the answer! Z needed me to tell her what to do. What a revelation!

Have I mentioned I am an extremely controlling person by nature? Knowing this, I have always gone out of my way to Not be a controlling person. It’s not about power for me (as it somewhat is for Z) it’s about my part of the spectrum, self-diagnosed long ago (pre-G!) at being juuust at the tip of the autism range. I am very literal, and there are right and wrong ways to do things. In the abstract, I do know that other people have their own ideas about right and wrong and, in principle, I honor that. But, given half a chance, I could definitely be a total control freak. Drop the constant negotiation and lengthy discussions about every move? “I can do that,” I assured myself.

How could I have known that by allowing my child to make her own choices I was sending her into a tailspin of uncertainty in which she would constantly and anxiously feel the need to exert the control that I was apparently incapable of managing? I began to give her clear direction – and she began to heal.

I explained to G that different children need different rules sometimes, and I think he understands. His particular spot on the spectrum sometimes calls for extraordinary monitoring as well. Figuring out just how to balance control and respect in these relationships is an ongoing project.

In the meantime, as for everybody else, you, too, may put the dish IN the sink, goldang it! Except glasses. Glasses and other breakables Next To the sink, please. And silverware in that cup with the soapy water? Thanks.

Full Spectrum Mama