Saturday, June 18, 2011

Here's one for Fathers Day


A Father's Moment
By Patrick Paulitz

Reprinted with permission from a featured article that appeared in the September/October 2005 issue of Autism Asperger’s Digest magazine. Learn more,

All of us make daily choices in life. Most of these choices are trivial, like what to have for dinner or what color socks to wear. Other choices are more life-changing, like whom to marry, where to live, or what house to buy. Sometimes, choices are made which at the time seem to be in error, but allow us, if our ears, eyes, and mind are open, to learn about life, our children, ourselves. Sometimes a wrong turn can lead to nothing less than a miracle.

It was a spring Saturday in the Bay Area. There was nothing exceptional about the day, except that it wasn't raining. Not bad for a weekend in the wettest year California had experienced in decades. The sky was blue with white puffy clouds, and it was on the cool side - a great day for a picnic.

April and I decided to spend the day in Sausalito, a trendy upscale town on the waterfront just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. We packed a lunch and ate hot dogs, chips, and sodas with a spectacular view of the San Francisco skyline. The pigeons and sea gulls, we discovered, are only your friends when you're eating. They're not one of God's more loyal creatures, to say the least. Later that afternoon we blew bubbles with Shamus, our four- year-old autistic son, in a local park before starting the drive back to our home on the Peninsula.

On the way home I took a minor detour; I wanted to show April some nice places to have a picnic another time, with a great view of the San Francisco Bay. As luck would have it, despite our best efforts to follow the signs to the freeway we somehow took a wrong turn. Or was it a wrong turn?

We soon found ourselves among green rolling hills that we could see eventually led to the Pacific Ocean. We were debating whether to turn around, or just keep going and enjoy the ride. It was so beautiful, we decided to venture on. By the time we arrived at the ocean, April had no interest in making the short trek to the water. I parked the van and walked to the beach by myself, staying only a few minutes. It was no fun being there without my wife and son. That's just not the way God intended it.

Before maneuvering home, we knew Shamus needed a potty stop. Even though the restroom building was not more than a few hundred feet across the parking lot, we figured the less walking our boy did here, the better. Parked cars are a real distraction for Shamus. Once “business” was done, I turned to Shamus and said, "Shamus, do you want to go to the beach?" He was never a beach-lover before, but I thought I’d give him the option. Surprisingly, he said "yes." Kids, even autistic ones, do change sometimes, I guess…

We watched the waves tumble in, leaving the hissing, white-green foam behind. Shamus seemed to be enjoying it so much - the sound of the ocean, the frothy surf, the big sky overhead.

Now, Shamus is a native Californian and our home is only 10 miles from the ocean. He had been to the beach many times before and had never been too interested in exploring beyond the blanket he was sitting on. But today was different; he wanted to get his feet wet.

San Francisco is not a “beach” town, despite its physical proximity to the ocean. The water is cold, and summer weather along the coast is usually cold and foggy the entire day. Bay Area residents, especially coastal residents, don't wear shorts and don't keep beach towels in their car. Extra blankets and jackets are a far more practical item to have on hand.

But here was my son wanting – for the first time - to get his feet wet. So, we rolled up his pants, took off his socks and shoes, and I did the same. Shamus got his feet wet. He was ecstatic. As for me, the water felt like ice, my feet were frozen, my rolled-up pant legs soon unraveled, and in no time, both our pants were soaked - and we had no dry clothes. And yet, I wouldn't have traded that moment for anything in the world. It was our moment - father and son - playing in the surf. Nothing else in the world mattered to either of us. For most four-year-olds, such a moment would be routine. With our dear Shamus, however, I take nothing for granted.

April is such a “Mom.” Even today my own mother, who is 82 years old, often tells me to put on a sweater when she is cold. A mother's nurturing nature transcends generations and crosses cultural lines. As April motioned for us to come out of the water, even trying to bribe Shamus with a bag of potato chips, I shook my head. I laughed and laughed and shook my head. “No way,” I was thinking to myself. This is our special moment in time. I knew what she was thinking. We were cold and wet - more specifically, Shamus was cold and wet. Dad can take care of himself. And I knew that I would allow nothing - not even a loving Mom waving a bag of potato chips - to spoil this moment. Potato chips and a warm minivan could wait.

After we came out of the water, April drove home as I sat in the passenger seat, stripped down to my T-shirt and underwear. Shamus wore only a shirt and a towel – and a big smile on his face. As we drove south across the Golden Gate Bridge, I thought about what a miracle God had given me that day - and all because of a wrong turn.


Patrick Paulitz, a freelance writer, lives with his wife April and son Shamus in San Mateo, California.

Copyright © 2011 Autism Asperger’s Digest. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Last day of school is tomorrow... Wow.

I have been in my happy little hermit-hole here at the house. When I get stressed out, as illustrated by the last not-so-enthusiastic blog post, I tend to avoid everyone and just do my own thing. Not sure why I’m that way. I guess I am not really much of a people person to begin with, and when I’m feeling sad or stressed I hate trying to be fun and interesting and happy around other people. I’ve barely talked to any friends, and not much better as far as family goes.

I have been busy with all those summer things I seem to start as a hobby, but which turn into a LOT of work. The garden is going great, the plants are enormous and everything is starting to grow wonderfully. I planted 15 or so tomato plants, everything from yellow cherry tomatoes to grape tomatoes, to Roma tomatoes, the beefmaster tomatoes… And so on and so forth. I love tomatoes, could eat them every day. Not a great thing for someone with pretty bad GERD to be addicted to, but it’s totally worth the pain! I put in four broccoli plants, but I have never grown the stuff before so I am not all that sure anything will come of those. I don’t really know when or how to harvest. I did a ton of cucumbers, and they have grown all the way up the big metal clothesline poles in our back yard. The cucumber vines and flowers look beautiful- kind of transforms those ugly poles into something less offensive! We did five different types of bell pepper- green, yellow, red, orange, and purple. Yes, purple. I hope they turn out really purple, that would be too cool. I also have potatoes planted, those are growing like mad. The tomatoes have gotten taller than me (admittedly, that’s not a whole lot… I’m only 5’1) and I have been struggling with stakes, cages, and bailing twine in an effort to keep the darn things from falling over.

We did meat chickens this year as well, the last of them were processed and frozen about a month ago. I am planning to do a lot more of that this fall, and next spring. Very cheap to buy the chicks and raise them, and it only takes 5-7 weeks to get a 6-8 pound bird. We’ll never be able to eat Walmart chicken with much enjoyment again- my birds taste a thousand times better! It’s also nice to know that the bird we are eating lived in clean conditions, got to enjoy the grass, bugs, and sunshine, and even got handfuls of popcorn or strawberries as treats. No antibiotics, no sick birds, no horrible living conditions. My birds live wonderful lives, and are processed humanely without any extra stress. I am considering getting enough chicks this fall to sell chicken to friends. I’ve had a few people ask, seems like a good idea.

Our laying chickens are getting big. I’ve got two hens laying right now. One is a beautiful white Silkie, and the other is my beloved frizzled Silkie. Both hens have had some issues, one prolapsed after laying an egg, so she is being kept in a milk crate with a blanket in the living room right now until I know she’s recovered. I ended up selling two of our Easter Eggers, chickens that lay blue, green, or pink eggs. I also sold the two Black Sexlinks. I decided I would rather just have my couple of Easter Eggers and my herd of fluffy little Sikies. I don’t need a whole lot of big eggs, the little Silkie eggs will be sufficient for me!

It’s been too hot to ride Rocket, and too much money anyway. Gas prices are so high I just cannot afford to pay gas to have Rocket hauled to our hunter paces. He doesn’t seem to depressed about his vacation from work! He’s fat and shiny, and living the life.

Jaymes has been doing really well. He has gotten to where he will tell me about his day, and he can sort of have a conversation. He especially enjoys going over what his stuffed animals eat and drink. In case you did not know, Silver Noctopus eats fishies. Silver and orange fishies. He drinks water. Jellyfish eats snails, and drinks root beer. Jaymes likes to boss his friends around too, telling them things like “no biting, Silver Noctopus.” It’s really funny when he lectures the offending stuffed animal.

Jaymes had his med management appointment last Thursday, and the psych was really amazed at how much he has changed. She was really impressed when I told him to stop doing something, and he listened. We decided not to mess with a good thing, and keep the meds right where they are. We’re coming up on a year from when Jaymes was in crisis, and spent that ten days at the inpatient psych unit at Baptist. Never want to repeat that again.

Jaymes goes to summer camp on Sunday. He is all enrolled and paid up with Camp Royall, one of the camps run by the Autism Society of NC. He will spend an entire week at sleepover camp, swimming and playing and having the time of his life. He is especially excited to do art projects. He tells everyone “I going to camp. Going to do art with the glitter.” I think he will just love it. It makes me happy that at least he gets to do one thing the “normal” kids get to do. Every kid should get to experience camp at some point. It will be really weird not having him home though, I’ve never been away from him for a week solid. We plan to make it a special week for Sierra. Jason took off the whole week for his vacation time, and we’re going to take Sisi to the zoo, to her first movie, and lots of other fun things. She deserves her own special time with mommy and daddy- I know how hard it must be to have a Jaymes as a brother. She puts up with a lot, and she is really mature for an almost five year old.

I found out that Jaymes will be getting a new school principal and vice principal- something that gets my nerves going again. I actually really liked Mrs. Cannon, our current principal. I think that after two years of dealing with me, we’ve come to understand how to work together and make things work best for everyone. It makes me want to scream to think I’m going to have to spend another year or more with someone who does not know Jaymes at all, trying to advocate for him. It’s very frustrating. I don’t like change, I guess. I get used to people. I really like Mrs. Cannon, and I also really like Mr. Moss, the vice principal. He’s a very mellow guy, very easy to work with on issues, just a very good guy all around. It will be hard to get used to two new people who do have a big impact on how the school year will go for Jaymes.

We have been so lucky, this last few months, to have Jaymes back with his teacher from last year, Mrs. Colditz. She is a fantastic teacher. She cares about Jaymes, and she and I really get along wonderfully. Nothing like the nightmare that was the original teacher Jaymes had this school year. That was a total waste of half the school year. Thankfully, he made up for some of that wasted time once he was placed back with Mrs. Colditz. I am praying he will have her again next year. She is one of only two teachers I trust completely with my little guy.

We were truly lucky to have an exceptional Kindergarten teacher this year too. He’s had teachers who tolerate his time in their room for circle time and stuff… But Mrs. Walter went above and beyond to make Jaymes part of her class, rather than “that autistic kid who comes in for a few subjects a day with an EC assistant.” She included him in EVERYTHING, and she did it happily- not grudgingly. I have never met a regular education teacher willing to go the extra mile like that for Jaymes. He got to go on all their field trips (and did wonderfully, by the way!), to the assemblies with her class, and he even got included in a school play. While that was a horrendous failure, the fact that he was included was incedible. I wish every teacher could be so openminded, willing to learn, and tolerant as Mrs. Walter. I kind of wish she’d teach first grade next year!

Mrs. Walter said some things at the last IEP meeting that really made both myself and my husband think. To us, we’re used to Jaymes as he is, so it can be hard to see which behaviors might be off putting to the “normal” kids. One thing that Mrs. Walter mentioned was the diaper thing. I never thought about it, but she’s right- what kid wouldn’t be a bit grossed out by a diaper? Especially if he is going toward someone to sit on their laps. He is nowhere near being potty trained, though we are still trying. He peed in the potty once for me, and never again. Jason and I have been trying to think of ways to cover up the diaper, so that kids won’t realize he is wearing one. I thought maybe putting on slightly large boys underwear over it might help. It’s worth a try at least.

The other thing touched on at the meeting was the fact that the spit wiping habit Jaymes has… Well, it’s just icky. Not only to kids, but to everyone. This one, I have been painfully aware of since it began. He cannot control it, the spit and wipe thing is an OCD type deal. It has all kind of lovely side effects- from red, painfully chafed skin on his face to a raccoon like appearance caused by the spit being wiped onto a dirty face, with dirty hands. Add to that the smell of a face constantly wiped with saliva, and you have a dirty faced, sore, slimy child who smells like rotten fruit all the time. Nothing we have tried has helped this, and I really think it is just going to have to run its course. It is what it is, it isn’t going to stop until it wants to stop.

We accept Jaymes for who he is, and we’re so desensitized to the ick and the smells and the diapers and the behavior. Sometimes we forget that not everyone deals with these things on a daily basis- and it’s ok for kids to be grossed out. We can’t force understanding and tolerance, but it Is wonderful to realize that in any situation, there are at least one or two or three kids who can look past the icky things and like Jaymes for who he is. The rest.. Well, they’re human and I can’t blame them for how they feel. Especially kindergarten kids.

I’m scared to death about next year. Jaymes will be a first grader, with new school administrators. New classmates, new regular ed teacher who may love him, or may be totally bugged by his presence. He may develop more bad habits, he may hit and kick and bite more next year than last year. Or, he may get put in with a kickass EC teacher and a kickass first grade teacher, and have a fantastic year. Only time will tell. For now, we’re ready to have a great summer, and get Jaymes working as best he can.