Voice vs. Conscience

I am stuck in the middle of a conundrum.

(What do you think a conundrum looks like anyway? What do you think is in the middle? Based on what I see from here, it’s filled with unruly pets.)

Anyway. Some of you may know that I write about autism in a column called Autism Unexpected over at the Communities at the Washington Times. I am not an employee of The Washington Times nor am I under their control. I work with editors at the Communities, but they have never restricted what I write and have, in fact, been very supportive of what I write.

Here’s the problem: The Washington Times publishes some crazy shit. Just about every single belief I have is opposite of and offended by what they publish. About a week ago they published an editorial attacking affirmative action for people with disabilities seeking to enter the federal workforce. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network put out a statement responding to the editorial, which I published in my Autism Unexpected column.

At the same time that I sent that column to my editors, I tendered my resignation. I no longer wanted the ad revenue from my page views going to an organization that was putting forth these offensive words. I no longer wanted to be affiliated with their vitriol.

I expected my editors to tell me they were sorry to lose me. I didn’t know if they would publish the ASAN response. I expected to part ways.

What I didn’t expect was for my editors to fight for me. To go to the Times and ask them to retract the editorial. To say that they were outraged too. To tell me that my voice and my message is too important to shut down.

So now I don’t know what to do. I tend to write different things there than I write here. There are pros and cons to both sticking and leaving. I could make a list here, but I’m curious as to your opinion.

Am I silencing myself by quitting? Am I compromising myself by staying?

What would you do? Should I cool it or should I blow?*

* Name that tune.

It’s Always Feast or Famine

You know what is frustrating about writing online on your own schedule? Sometimes you can’t think of anything to write about to save your life and sometimes you can’t even keep up with the ideas swarming past you, let alone write about them all.

And sometimes a scarily conservative newspaper that you are marginally affiliated with publishes something stupid, offensive, and I-haz-sad-making. I’m still trying to figure out if this is the straw that finally pushes me right off that camel’s back. That’s how it works, right?

So, upcoming topics:

I am currently trying to remember to write about our trip to California in a little more detail because it was oh so fun, and because I have a lot of photos I want to show you. Plus, I gave a whole presentation on autism to the staff of one of my kids’ schools and I have a two- or three-parter in mind about that. Also, there is the kid that tried to insult one of my kids by calling him both “gay” and “mentally retarded” in one of those horrible McDonald’s tube structures.

Actually that last one might not end up as a post. I could probably just tell you that the kid in question (Sam) is super awesome and when told by the kid that “gay” means “weird,” he said, “I am weird. I like being weird.” Also, then I had to define what those words actually mean when not being used incorrectly as slurs. At least the part about gayness was awesomely easy because my own sister and her wife are actually gay themselves. (Funny how that works.) It sure is nice to have a handy, positive example. The “mentally retarded” part was harder.

All of it kind of boiled down to, “Don’t be an asshole and if I ever hear of you using those words in a mean way, I will be very disappointed.”

Also, I kind of wish I knew who that kid’s parents were so I could punch them in the face. Or just tell them how awesome my kid is compared to theirs.

But! Until I get to writing all of that, which was supposed to happen this week because my kids are all in school, but didn’t yet because guess who came home sick at 10:30 am today, I do have something I wrote over at White Knuckle Parenting about my top ten activities that I’m going to be doing now that my kids are in school. You know, if all three of them ever are actually in school.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some words to put together about federal hiring and disabilities.

First Day

It seems to be the thing to do this week to post photos of our offspring on their first day of school. Sadly, my kids all left the house at different times today because, hey, I think I might have mentioned that they’re all going to different schools these days. Consequently, I don’t have an adorable photo of all of my munchkins. Instead, I have individual photos, each taken with a varying degree of success.

This one turned out really well.

Sadly, his school bus never showed up.

Sam was first to leave and gave me the closest thing I got to a first day of school smile. Look at his natural pose and totally sincere smile.

He had a good day and didn’t yell at me until after he got home.

This next one, on the other hand, started yelling at me from the second he woke up. He was tired because he couldn’t fall asleep last night and I think he was probably stressed out about the first day. I was worried that I wasn’t going to get him all the way around the corner to the bus stop and up the steps of the bus.

I honestly can’t remember if I threatened him or bribed him, but I was effective enough to put him in motion.

This photo might not end up in a frame though.

(Incidentally, he yelled at me after he got home as well even though he seems to have had a good day. We made him go to sleep early tonight.)

Then Jack and I walked back down the street to wait for his bus. I was pretty sure it was going to be late because it was the first day and all, but I wasn’t prepared for it to drive right past where we were standing on the sidewalk…waving…and not even slow down.

If you were a bus driver, wouldn’t you stop for this?

The the driver called me and I was all, “Hey, yeah, I totally watched you turn onto my street, drive past us, and then turn off of our street. It was weird.” Eventually they came back and Jack very happily jumped on board. He’s been very worried about school, and he was sick enough yesterday that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to send him today, but everything turned around for him. When he got home and I asked him how school was, he told me that it was, “Awesome!”

Jack didn’t yell at me at all today.

Also? In between all the yelling, my day was quiet and delightful.

Three Elementary Schools Is…A Lot.

This summer has been quite a time for me. Every week there has been something big going on—house guests, travel, personal revelations, intensive napping. It has all made the past couple of months with my kids home for the summer pass really quickly. School starts Monday for us and I can’t quite believe it.

I’ve had some low-level worry all summer about this year’s school situation, because Jack is moving to a brand new school and I fear the unknown. He’s worried too. He’s worried that the work is going to be too hard. I think that last year threw him because he had such a tough time. Interestingly, even though he had a tough time every day in class and his grades fell, he rocked the hell out of the state standardized tests. I know he can do the work. He just has to be able to relax and access that part of himself.

This is why I’m really hoping that when he sees how different this class is, he can settle in and have fun with school. Or at least not be miserable. I want him to really understand that there are only six kids and they are all autistic like him and his teacher will have enough time to really give him attention. I think that will help. He does so well in that type of environment.

Other than that, I have been kind of in denial about the logistics. Getting everyone to school last year was a complete nightmare. This year, buses have fallen into place, which means that all my kids will be on well-timed buses to and from school except Sam in the morning. I cannot tell you what a relief this is. Now if only I could get my kids to eat school lunch, my life would be complete.

The other thing that is stressing me out about this school year is that I’m not quite sure how to fit the activities, meetings, and class events for all three of my kids into one little schedule. I’m already concerned about Halloween. I mean, Alex and I can’t even divide and conquer, because there are more schools than there are us.

My first challenge of the year was open house on Friday. The great thing about open houses, where kids get to meet their teachers, is that schools decide that it’s a good idea to stuff every single family into the school in two hours. Or less. It’s chaotic. Add in travel time and parking at three different schools and you have a recipe for flop sweat.

Especially if this is your schedule:

Bad things happened to the schedule over the course of the day.

Also, fuck you, Jack’s school. 45 MINUTES?! Can you imagine if you had more than one student there? Also, not really. I’m sorry, Jack’s school. Please, don’t hate me. I’m paranoid now. DID I MENTION THAT I FEAR THE UNKNOWN?!

We headed out at 1 o’clock to find out who Quinn’s teacher is. The problem is that about 15 minutes before we left the house, Jack started to freak out. He told me his eyes hurt. All he seemed to want to do was lay down and cry. He felt warm and feverish.

The problem is that we had to go. We had to go. Quinn needed to be given the chance to find out who his teacher is and have a chance to see his classroom. Sam was really looking forward to going back to his school. I hadn’t had a chance to meet Jack’s teacher at all yet. We HAD to go.

My poor baby Jack. I gave him some Tylenol and put everyone in the car. We were a block away from the house when Jack threw it up.

I didn’t even stop the car.

I’m a terrible fucking person. But I didn’t know what to do.

We got to the Q-ball’s school and found out who his (awesome) teacher is. She is the same teacher Sam had in second grade and I feel very lucky that Quinn gets to have her too. We waited until 1:30 when we could go meet her and check out the classroom. Sam and Quinn were energetic.

Jack, less so.

We finally got up to Quinn’s classroom and Quinn settled in at the back of the class to draw on a whiteboard. I hope the teacher appreciated the last time Quinn will ever be quiet in her class. Quinn is a very different child than Sam. It will be fun to see the teacher realize that.

Quinn is also a child looking for the right hair conditioner.

Algernon also went to the open houses.

He is a mouse looking for the right soap.

The whole time we were in Quinn’s classroom, I had my eye on the clock. We had to be out of the school by 2:15 at the latest if we had any chance of staying on schedule. Furthermore, we had to stop by to say hello to our other favorite second grade teacher as well as Jack’s teacher from last year. It was a tightly packed schedule.

As we were walking to the car, Sam asked if we could stop and get food because he was hungry. I was all, “THERE IS NO TIME!” Then I threw an almost empty bag of Goldfish crackers at him when we finally got in the car—and four minutes ahead of schedule, I might add.

(Did I mention that I am a fucking terrible person? And mother? Because evidently I am.)

We got to Jack’s school just after 2:30 and snagged the second-to-last not entirely illegal parking space on the block. Then I started dragging my kids up this long hill and Jack started looking more and more ill because it was hot and humid and I tried to give him the ice pack I still had in my bag, but it was tepid and full of water by this time and he totally didn’t fall for it.

But! And yay! I met my new best-friend-at-Jack’s-school on the way in. She was all, Hi! And, I recognize your kids! And her husband told Sam about the vast conspiracy that we parents have to make kids’ lives as miserable as possible, which is SUPPOSED TO BE A SECRET, SIR, but that’s okay because we already have a friend at Jack’s school!

(Said new best friend might be slowly backing away from her computer right now.)

Then we were left behind because at some point Jack sat down on the sidewalk and refused to go any farther and I was only able to get him to stand up by suggesting that maybe his teacher might have some water he could have. Honestly, at this point, I was just hoping that he wouldn’t puke in his new classroom. You know, BEFORE the first day.

We finally got to his classroom and met the teacher and the two paraeducators that work in this classroom of six kids. I know. I make an involuntary happy sighing noise every time I hear that too. Everyone was really nice and Jack seemed really happy there. He immediately found the quiet sensory corner and camped out there for the next 20 minutes.

He might end up there a lot.

Jack is going to be mainstreamed for part of the day, so I wanted to take him to meet the teacher who will be teaching him during those times, so we walked up a staircase to find her. Jack found a rocking chair in that room and parked there.

Then Quinn sat on his lap and Jack choked him in retaliation, which is out of character for him, and I was all disheveled and sweaty and the paraeducator was standing right there probably silently judging us and I kinda didn’t know what to do, so I just continued to stand there.

I ROCKED as a parent today; have I mentioned that?

I haven’t mentioned yet that this tiny 45-minute window also included a popsicle party in the school courtyard, where “party” really means “line to get a popsicle,” but Quinn and Sam were STOKED about it, so the paraeducator took us there. We walked down two flights of stairs, through this crazy maze-y space and finally found a door to the outside. I felt as if I should have left a trail of bed crumbs so we could get back out. This school is HUGE.

We got about five feet out the door into the hot, crowded courtyard, which stretched up a hill past a loud piece of machinery—I’m guessing air conditioner. And Jack stopped. And said, “I want to go inside.”

I was fine with that, but Sam and Quinn were already out of reasonable shouting range. I asked Jack if he could sit on the grass while I went and told the others that we were going back inside the doors and he shook his head no and said, “I can’t.”

I decided Jack needed me more than the other two, so I took him inside, found him a corner, sat him on the floor, and made him promise not to move while I went to tell his brothers where we would be. He agreed, so I went back outside. Sam and Quinn had stopped at the top of a short hill and were waiting patiently. Sometimes the two of them are crazy and impulsive and not as mannerly as I want them to be, but there are times where they really step up and do what I need them to do. I was really proud of them.

On the way out, I had to stop and take a photo of a member of our party on the red carpet that the school had laid out. It was a nice touch.

 Algernon appreciated the glamour.

Then we went back out to the car and at 3:23 we were on our way to Sam’s school, which was fortunately only five minutes away.

Things went smoothly there. Sam is in the highly gifted program at this school, where there is only one fourth and one fifth grade class for that program. So Sam knew who his teacher would be and also that all his classmates would be moving on with him. This made open house very easy and happy.

Algernon even managed to get a little bit of work done while we were there.

Awesomely, Jack was the one who posed him.

And while Sam was reconnecting with some of his buddies, Jack proposed to me.

He doesn’t look ill at all, does he? *headdesk*

The ring was some sort of bolt or fastener of some kind. I started to frantically look around in hopes that I would catch whatever expensive electronic equipment that he’d taken that off of before it smashed into a million pieces on the ground. Turns out he’d just found it on a desk and he was happy enough to return it. But the sentiment was nice.

Sam had an issue he had to discuss with his safety patrol teacher. It was kind of complex and based on fears and anxiety and leadership and he was able to talk to her about it like a real-life, grown-up person. It was impressive. Especially considering he had to do it with Quinn ping ponging off of him into the wall and back.

After that, we headed downstairs (I dragged a lot of kids up and down a lot of stairs today, people) to say hi to Sam’s teacher from last year.

There, Jack and Quinn found their own makeshift sensory area.

We returned to our car at 3:58. I can’t believe we did it. I immediately took my kids to buy them ice cream. They were awesome at those schools. I was really proud of them. I was also exhausted. Because I am not the type of person to keep my problems to myself, I sought sympathy from Alex.

And that was that.

What I really love about this exchange is that he wasn’t even fazed by the barfing. He just accepted it and moved on. He didn’t even need details.

Welcome to Team Stimey.

Now that open house is over, I’m really looking forward to Monday. Although if Jack (or any of my other children) is sick on Monday, I will probably cry. Because although I will force a sick child to go to three open houses, I won’t make him go to school.

Let the countdown to time alone begin!

I Don’t Get To Make Those Decisions

Do you know what happens around here next Monday? Back to school! Hoo-ray! I do have to tell you though, that the week before the kiddos go back to school is extremely hectic, what with all the sneaker buying, and searching for orange pocket folders, which Target DOES NOT carry, but that more than one school specifically asks for on their “donation” list. We also have intake meetings and open houses, and trips to find new skates for Jack and his two-sizes-larger-than-his-skates-feet.

Plus, I am giving a talk to the teachers at Quinn’s school tomorrow (this?) morning about autism and education, so I’ve been busy trying to write something that makes me sound smart.

Shut the fuck up, jerks. I can too sound smart.

I mean, not in ^ THAT paragraph, but…

I do intend to tell you some stories about our very fun trip to California, but first I want to tell you this story about our trip to the mall today.

We bought sneakers and then went to have lunch in the food court. My kids were eating and I was trying to think of a way to get to the ice cream shop without passing either a GameStop or the miniature mall train, neither of which I wanted to spend money on. (Turns out it is impossible. All roads lead to GameStop.)

So, we were doing that, when Jack made this hooting/moaning/shouting noise that he makes sometimes. It’s not an uncommon noise and it’s not an unhappy noise coming from Jack, but it is one that most people probably don’t expect to hear in a food court.

I have heard this noise a lot, but it seemed to be escalating in frequency lately, so I stopped and asked him, “What does that noise mean? Does it mean you’re happy?” Pause. “Sad?” Pause. “That it’s too much?”

“Too much,” said Jack.

Ooooh. Interesting.

“What is too much?” I asked.

“The music,” he said, followed by a long pause. Then, “the talking.”

I stop and listen. To me, the food court is the exact definition of cacophony. It is loud, it is echoing, it is downright horrible, but to me it is hard to even distinguish individual noises. Until Jack mentioned the music, I hadn’t even noticed there was any playing.

I tell him I understand and then I think about the noise and how it isn’t a noise that most people tend to make. And I start to say to him, “Instead of making that noise, maybe we could have a code word for when you are too overwhelmed…”

And then I stopped.

Because I had just reread Quiet Hands that very morning. And it was fresh in my mind that not allowing free expression, even in unexpected (by NTs) ways is maybe more disabling than anything else I could do.

So I paused and then I asked, “Does it make you feel better to make that noise?”

And he said, “Yes.”

So I said, “Good,” and the subject was closed. Because who am I to say what noises he can and cannot make in a cacophonous food court? I’m not him. I don’t get to make those decisions.

*****

If you’re dying for a sneak peek at our trip to California, you can start with this story about me trying to find a doctor for Jack when he got an earache on vacation. Turns out that technology (and antibiotics) saved the day!

Cali Fun in the Not Sun

Team Stimey is having a great time in California, although we have reached super saturation whining levels by one particular small, blond dude. He’s been equal parts awesome though too, especially considering all the together time and forced walking tours we’ve taken.

This next photo was taken before some lady stood directly in front of Quinn’s viewfinder, which caused an epic meltdown, unnoticed by said Worst Lady in the World.

If only they weren’t so raggedy and hooded. This would be our Christmas card.
It still might be.

Thanks to Sam, mini-blogger/photographer in training, we actually have proof that I was on this vacation. That almost never happens.

Me! In California! See also, Alex.

We went to a beach today because that was what Quinn wanted to do while on vacation. (Sam wanted to order room service; we did that yesterday.) We drove down the coast a ways to the coldest goddamn beach in the world. We were greeted by 800 seagulls hellbent on stealing our lunch. They were not fucking around, those birds.

We kind of assumed that no one would want to go in the FREEZING ocean, but we were wrong. (It’s like we’re new around here.) Fortunately after they ran into the ocean and got their clothes all wet, we had dry swimsuits for them to change into. We’re a little backwards around here.

Cold schmold. The ocean is fun.

Tomorrow we’re going to a lake to feed…seagulls. I’m sensing a theme for our vacation. Last time we went to this lake to feed seagulls and geese, one of the geese bit Jack on the ass. I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow!

Tidbits From Prison

Today Team Stimey went to Alcatraz. I had a scenario in my head where we would end up on the news when Jack turned out to be the only person to disappear from the island and mysteriously appear on the mainland, but in fact no one fell in the Bay and everyone stuck close together and only Quinn was so whiny that we considered leaving him in a jail cell.

It was like we were a normal family.

Well, except for all the spinning through the corridors and the physical restraint of one kid *cough*Jack*cough* who had determined that the instructions coming from his audio tour were more important than the instructions coming from his parents. Also, the lady taking photographs of her stuffed mouse.

Speaking of Algernon, he went missing this morning. Everybody put on a brave face, but some of us were busy mentally creating missing posters that would unfortunately have to read, “Last seen wearing an onion ring.”

It’s possible he was trying to escape.

The truth is that we all thought Algernon was gone for good, but everyone was trying to make sure that his disappearance wouldn’t wreck our trip to prison. Then, after we parked the car before our tour, Jack gave me a hug, which involved his putting his hand into my sweatshirt pocket, and he suddenly had Algernon and we were joyous and the rest of the day was wonderful. Also, I’ve provided a monetary reward to Jack.

I know that I’ve been a little Algernon-heavy here lately and for that, I apologize. I promise to not only write about and post photos of him for the rest of time. In fact, I took something close to sixty billion photographs of seagulls today, so maybe I’ll tell you about those guys instead.

Like this angry fellow.

I mean, I guess I could write about Team Stimey itself, but that seems so…obvious.

Also, I’m tired, so for now I’ll just tell you that my kids are troopers, I’ve entirely given up trying to feed them nutritious food on this trip and we have moved to an all-dessert diet, and even though this next photo is not very good, it features all three kids and prison bars, so Imma share it with you.

Also, I had to sacrifice my sweatshirt to Sam. *sulk*

Tomorrow we are thinking about walking the Golden Gate Bridge. Keep your fingers crossed that no one gets run down by unruly tourists on rental bikes.

*****

I haven’t yet told you about our trip to get out here. Guess what, friends? We almoooooost got here without anyone barfing. (Sam, upon landing.) Naturally, this not entirely disastrous flight gave me the hubris to consider myself qualified to offer tips for flying with children. You can find them over at White Knuckle Parenting.