The Typewriter

Tuesday was day four in an All-Liev-All-Day Marathon. By then, the stomach flu that incapacitated him over the weekend had dissipated.

This left me with a bored, petulant and well-rested child. Filling such a day with activities can be a challenge.

When I ran out of good ideas, we went on a Basement Safari. Old things seem new after a few months in boxes. We searched through collections of aged balloons, abandoned craft supplies and strange building equipment.

Finally, we found an old typewriter. I would like to add a third floor to our house just to shelter the abandoned typewriters and outdated radios I find.

Anyway, Liev loves typewriters as much as I do. We hauled it upstairs and weighed it (32 pounds!). I set Liev up with a little station and he spent the next hour typing.

As he typed, I painted and drew with pen and ink nearby. I took a dozen trips to his station to show him how to work the typewriter and to keep him company when he became frustrated.

During that time, I saw my husband’s intensity reflected in Liev.

For years, certain issues have troubled my husband. He seeks to understand his need for perfection. Sometimes, he speculates that this need for perfection arose from the Russian school system or even his family.

As Liev obsessed over his typing, he ripped page after page out of the typewriter and discarded in frustration. His need to type the perfect letter consumed him. I watched as he walked around in circles between sheets, talking to himself about typing.

“His motivation is entirely internal,” I thought. “No one is putting pressure on this child to type the perfect letter to Hello Kitty.”

At that moment, I understood that the perfectionism that grips my son grips my husband.

This inner desire to work well is precious. Yet, in trying to align all the details, the whole can be lost—whether the purpose is play, work or artistic expression. People in our family become stuck in tiny corners and crevices when we really need to peek over the walls and survey the horizon.

My job as a mother is to mediate perfection seeking. If I can help my son build a plan, he will feel less frustration and attain more satisfaction from life.

We spent the rest of the afternoon problem solving and building tolerance for mistakes. Our stack of recycled art paper still grew, but it was more fun.

I saved and clipped some of his “not perfect” excerpts to a watercolor background (above). I also have his final letter to Hello, Kitty:

dear kitty

Boredom and Dysregulation

Count It Out

Despite a family stomach bug requiring lots of fluids and patience, our weekend is going well.

Every fifth weekend we are blessed. Liev is healthy and we amiably enjoy each other’s company and do fun (but odd!) things together. When Egor’s folks came, we were graced with one such weekend.

The other four weekends, however, vary in their degrees of misery. I’m sick, E’s sick or we are bored into a depressive funk. Liev runs amok, despite our best intentions.

I ask myself why we have such trouble.

Egor made a substantial observation last weekend:

Liev cannot have a quiet mind. He must be occupied with an activity that has personal meaning for him. If he is not pursuing such an activity, his mind fills with anxiety or boredom.

These already powerful feelings are amplified by his autism. He is lost in a sea of unbearable emotion. He acts out as an escape.

How do I know this? I feel the same way.

True that, husband.

Coping with an empty mind is my biggest difficulty.

My younger self would have scoffed. “How could you be bored? There are so many things you can do! Quick, collect something, open a book, look outside!”

That younger self never coped with an autistic five-year-old in a kanji writing mania.

Sometimes kanji duty numbs the brain. I know every parent has such moments, but we are like our son. The mental void of boredom fills itself with ugly, unpleasant things.

So, I paint, write or doodle. My husband draws or stares sadly into space.

This weekend, despite protests that it never works, we are doing The Strict Schedule. The Strict Schedule keeps transitions between parents to a minimum, which helps greatly. It is a full day for me, minus two hours of Papa breaks.

In the past, this worked well. We were happier and more organized. We only get off track when I’m ill (me=schedule queen). The next weekend, group amnesia sets in and chaos begins anew.

I don’t want to find myself wondering what went wrong in three weeks. Thus, I made “Count It Out” to remind me.

All week, I told Liev to use numbers to count through difficult moments. There is always the first thing you need to do.

This is mine, to remember what works even if it seems hard.

Losing The Battle…

day

Last week we had a double feature— my son took a mental health day followed by a regular sick day.

Sick days are the worst. I wonder if “typical” sick kids use the same maniacal quantity of energy as my son to argue. At noon, shortly after his 500th  “NOOOOO!!!” I let out a sigh of happiness when he conked out for a nap on the couch.

Our kitty must be able to smell sleep since it took her two seconds after Liev’s snores started to visit for some Mama love. The problem, of course, was that Liev was curled up in her favorite blanket.

Since I would not let her jump on his chest to knead contentedly, she paced and meowed forlornly. I whisked her away and heaved her outside lest she wake Liev. She shivered pathetically as the cold wind ruffled her fur.

Meow, meow, meow, shiver. Sigh.

I let her back in and we spent the next ten minutes in a dramatic but silent battle. Kitty tried to leap on the couch as I gestured vigorously to keep her away. I tossed pillows and made scary faces. When she circled around behind the couch and crouched to jump, I chased her away. She stubbornly returned.

Finally, I remembered she was a cat and took her away.  I carried her upstairs and deposited her in the bedroom for the balance of Liev’s nap. I closed the bedroom door.

Apparently 45 minutes is too long for a senior kitty bladder. She dug a dainty little nest in my pillows, relieved herself, and snoozed on hubby’s bed till I let her out.

I did not notice the accident until bedtime. All I could only say was “Oh, no!” for the twenty minutes straight.

Fortunately, a pillow absorbed most of the mess. The mattress was spared. I washed up the bedclothes and found the fresh sheets to be extra soft and cuddly.

What did I learn from this, aside from not to close the door on kitty? Be grateful. You can always be surprised by the unforeseen.

The Communication Board

Last weekend, Liev made his own “Communication Board.”

At first, I was not sure what he was up to. He prints out Boardmaker stories so often, I tune out his babbling and printing.

He requested a ruler and poster board. I am no stranger to giant ruled calendars. I retrieved his supplies cheerfully. He looked so cute with the marker and ruler that I took a picture.

I doodled as he drew,  jumped, and talked to himself.

He got my attention, however, when he asked for the scissors. Last time T asked for scissors, he discretely ventilated the crotch of his pajamas. Now, I supervise scissor time very closely.

After Liev cut out his pink grid,  I whisked the scissors away. We laminated and velcroed the icons he printed.

Finally, he announced that he needed a hammer and some nails.

“What for?” I asked.

“To put up my schedule so I’m not silly in the morning. I don’t want to be silly.”

I am not a tearful person, but I was overcome. He spent the entire morning building something to help him navigate the world.

He had walked me through all the steps, but I did not recognize his goal. I felt saddened by my lack of insight and understanding.

My son is a little jewel, struggling with sensory sensitivities but blessed with the desire to help himself. In his heart, he yearns to be a good boy. Let no one label him otherwise.

project final

First Day of Kindergarten

Liev had his first day of kindergarten yesterday. The sheer excitement left me quite sleepless, but he slept like a champ.

We actually started preparing Tuesday. I made an appointment so we could meet his before Open House Day. The quiet environment would allow him to explore and get comfortable.

I was a bit worried when we arrived. Liev had already cried on the way here and was still borderline upset. Plus, we had to wait in the office until our escort could be located. Nearby, workmen drilled, hammered and shouted as they put in two new entrance doors. I imagined both Liev and me going on a rampage in the office, tossing paper in the air and flipping light switches.

Instead, I asked to close the office door. Heh. Every person who came in afterward chocked it open again. So I closed it–again. After the third time, I realized why people continued to wedge the door open–the lock was broken and the door could not be opened from the outside. D’oh!

So, I stood guard over the door and eyed Liev.  He discovered the copy machine and was delighted by the multiple buttons. After my fiftieth “Look but don’t touch!” reminder, Karen the Special Ed coordinator, arrived. Everyone was glad to see her!

The summer remodel of the school glimmered. Liev happily exclaimed, “This looks just like Reed’s Ferry!!!” He danced down the hall happily, looking for room numbers.

We met Ms. St. G first. Apple cheeked and young, Liev liked her immediately. I can’t remember a word of what was said except that Ms.G had a family member with Asperger’s. This soothed me. I appreciate the zest of a young teacher, but experience tops my list.

Next, we went to see Ms. L. Mellow and kindly, she had the air of a veteran teacher.   I was shocked, however,  when she asked me how I wanted Liev to write his name. I forget that other people don’t know he can write! Liev relaxed even more, especially when he found the place value magnets.

After a pleasant exchange, Ms. Karen escorted us to the door. I was impressed by her sweetness. She seemed so professional at meetings. I could now imagine myself sipping tea and eating tiny pastel cookies with her.

Wednesday, we had our haircut and made “menus” (choice lists) for the big day. Before daycare in the summer, Liev would quibble over clothes, food, and cartoons. So, we made our choices early to spare us the drama.

Thursday morning Liev woke up in good spirits. Our morning routine went smoothly, well, almost. The bus arrived 15 minutes early. No problem, we were ready!

When Liev returned in the afternoon, he raced off the but shouting, “I need to make a list of friends!!!” His hyperactive joy was an indicator of the fun he had at school. The structure and stimulation seemed just right. Success!

I need to remember that I must prepare him all over again Sunday and that the first few days are always easier. I hope this fall is filled with minimal viruses and fortuitous family visits. I feel grandly optimistic!