Thank You, Cheetah Extended Family!

Thank you to those of you who donated to Jack’s hockey team, the Montgomery Cheetahs in Jack’s honor.

Jack wearing a black jacket that says "Jackson 42" on it.

Jack says thank you. Or something snarkily charming.

Thank you to Stacy and to Laura and to Heather & family and to Lyda & family and to Nana & Grandpa Richard. We are so very grateful to each of you.

The Cheetah-thon is May 2 from 5-7 pm at Rockville Ice Arena. We’ll be there and we’d love to see any of you there. Jack will be the one wearing shin guards and a huge smile.

There’s still time to donate as well. Put a shout-out to Jack in the comments on the donation site if you do, so I can be sure to thank you!

Every Day Is An Autistic Day

Even though Take Your Son or Daughter to Work Day has been a thing for a long time, I’ve never been able to participate, what with my not having an out-of-the-house job for most of my kids’ lives.

Finally, though, I have the perfect job to take my kids to. All three of them were interested in having me take them to my job at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network for the day, but I knew that it was Jack whom I wanted to take first.

Jack owns being autistic like no one else and I wanted him to be able to see an office full of autistic people working for autistic people. I made sure it was okay with the folks I work with and then I asked Jack if he wanted to go.

He was all in.

So last Thursday we sent Sam and Quinn off to school and Jack and I headed off to work. And I gotta say, commuting is waaaaay more fun when Jack is with me.

Jack staring out the window of a Metro train.

It turns out that there are aaaaaaaall kinds of things to look at from the Metro train window.

Jack riding an escalator up from the Metro. He's looking behind him.

Look at him standing to the right like a proper commuter.

The first thing I do when I arrive in DC is pick up ASAN’s mail. I figured that taking your kid to work day pretty much meant that I could make Jack do all my work for me.

Jack opening a PO box and peeking inside.

He was a natural.

I thought it might be fun for Jack to see Alex in his office, so even though the traffic lights didn’t send us that way, we headed past his building. Jack was delighted.

Photo of Jack on one side of a street. There is a big arrow pointing to a small, shadowing figure in a window across the street. It is Alex.

There was lots of thumbs upping and waving. It was adorbs.

Eventually we made our way to my office where Jack discovered that an office full of autistic people is home to a large number of stim toys. Jack had found his happy place.

Jack playing with an office toy. There is a magnetic base with lots of metal balls stacked on top.

This little magnet toy was one of his favorites. Mine too.

As my coworkers came in, I introduced them to Jack. One of the first things he said to one of them was, “Every day is an autistic day for me.”

“For me too,” they responded.

Yeah. I brought him to the right place. I sure do love both my job and my kid.

The day Jack was in the office was the day a bunch of us were doing #AcceptanceIs and #ILikeBeingAutisticBecause photos for social media. I told Jack that he could do it if he wanted to. He did.

Jack leaning over a conference table. He is writing on a piece of paper. Printed on the paper is: "I Like Being Autistic Because:" Jack is writing "I am unique."

Jack wrote “#ILikeBeingAutisticBecause I am unique.” Did I mention that I love this kid?

Eventually, however, we ran out of things to do that were interesting to an 11-year-old.

Jack playing on an iPad.

Jack was willing to make a sacrifice and goof around on the iPad for long stretches of time.

After work, we walked back via a different route, which opened up a whole new set of things to experience.

Jack standing in front of a wall. There is a thin sheet of water running down it. Jack is touching it with one finger.

Like this water wall.

Jack standing in front of a fountain with streams of water runnin in arcs. Jack has his finger in it.

And this fountain.

Our journey to and from work took longer than it normally does because of said water features as well as jumping on every manhole cover we saw and checking out all the sidewalk grates.

Jack on a DC street. He is stopped and looking down through big panels of street vents.

I wish I could commute with him every day.

It also took a little extra time because we passed a Dunkin’ Donuts and I couldn’t say no to his excitement over a doughnut shop in a different location than our normal doughnut shop!

He chose a double chocolate doughnut. He even shared a little piece with me.

Selfie of me and Jack in DC.

I don’t usually make this expression whilst commuting.

As we were going down the escalator to the Metro, I stopped and looked at Jack. “I feel  like this was a really fun, special day with you,” I said.

“Yeah,” he responded. “I feel like it too.”

I swear I could almost see his brain processing the day. I think it’s going to stick with him for a long time. It was a meaningful day for both of us.

Later on the train, we were talking a little about autism and he said a variation of something I tell my kids all the time: “Mom, I think you’re perfect just the way you are.”

That kid. I feel so lucky to be able to expose him to such positive influences. I feel so lucky to be able to teach him. What’s more, I feel so lucky to be able to learn from him.

I don’t know what he’s going to do with his life, but I know it will be full of pride in himself. And that is enough.

The Cheetah Family

I have been extremely remiss.

The year’s big fundraiser for Jack’s hockey team, the 2015 Cheetah-thon is coming up in two weeks and I haven’t written anything about it. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve written anything about the Cheetahs all year.

That, however, doesn’t mean we don’t still love our Cheetah Nation. ‘Cause we do.

Photo of Jack wearing a black jacket with the Montgomery Cheetahs logo on the back.

Unrelated: Look at his hair. I wish he hadn’t wanted to cut it. Oh, I miss it sooo much.

I’ve been a little checked out from the team this year. It used to always be me who took Jack to practice on Saturdays, but Alex has taken him at least half the time this season. We also didn’t go on the tournament trip for the first time since Jack joined the team. There’s been a lot of Cheetahs hockey without my participation over the past few months.

Jack has had a few really rough practices this year, mostly because he doesn’t always want to do the drills or stay on the ice for the whole practice. (And once because he just flat-out got pissed at another kid and wanted to brawl, hockey-style—that was a hard week.) He gets tired, he says, and it’s cold.

Even so, when I ask Jack if he still wants to be a Cheetah, he always says yes. We’ve talked about some of the things that are hard for him when he’s skating and we’ve been flexible in letting him take a week off here or there when he’s needed it.

Because the thing is, when he’s into it, when he’s happy to be with his team, the magic of special hockey appears.

Photo of Jack and another player in red jerseys skating across the ice.

I stole this photo from the Montgomery Cheetahs Facebook page. I love it.

Photo of Jack sliding to the ice during practice. He's smiling.

Jack often enjoys the drills where the entire point is to fall spectacularly. I love that grin.

Profile of Jack in his hockey helmet.

Taking a break during practice.

Photo of Jack from the back, skating away from the camera.

One thing Jack almost always enjoys is simply skating. It’s second nature to him now.

Jack in full gear on the opposite side of the plexiglass from me. His hands and helmet are pressed up against the glass.

Jack has also been known to ham it up a little during practice.

Jack in a red jersey and his buddy in a blue jersey. They are on the opposite side of the rink, leaning against the side of the rink and looking totally relaxed.

Jack hanging with one of his two best friends, who is also on the team. (Obviously, I suppose.) They’re working hard. Can’t you tell?

Jack is resourceful. He’s always finding things to keep him entertained. There was one practice where I saw him skate over to the rink door and I thought he wanted to get off the ice. By the time I made my way over to see what was up, he was busy entertaining a group of parents by finding ways to ask for their drinks through the plexiglass.

Photo of Jack on the other side of the plexiglass. He's breathed on the glass to make a fog and has written the word "coffee" in it.

I was all, “If you caffeinate that kid, so help me God…”

This is one of the things I really enjoy about Jack. He looooves entertaining people. He is such a goofball.

And every once in a while, he grabs the camera and I get to see parts of the hockey experience from his point of view.

Photo of me sitting on the ground in a locker room. I'm untying his skate.

One day he will be able to tie his own skates and life will be sooooo good.

The Montgomery Cheetahs have given Jack so much.

He’s learned to do something that’s pretty hard and that a lot of kids his age can’t do. He has access to a large disability community. He gets good exercise and learns about teamwork.

More than that though, he is unconditionally accepted. Yes, he is asked to do things and demands are put on him, but if he can’t do it, if the drills or following directions or doing anything other than lying the ice is just not in the cards that day, it’s okay. He isn’t forced to perform. The coaches and I encourage him and try to get him excited, but if the answer is no, the answer is no. And even better, he’s not made to feel bad about it.

For kids like Jack who are pushed so hard so often to do things that are extremely difficult for them, it is nice when they have a place they can chill out and just belong.

This is never more evident than when the Cheetah Nation gets together off of the ice. The team held its yearly party last weekend and, as always, it was a joy to behold. There was food and booze and a DJ. Players of all ages and their parents danced or jumped or ran in circles or shared video games or did whatever made them happy.

Photo of chairs stacked against a wall. Jack is laying across a bunch of them.

Like hanging out on piles of chairs.

That’s what I love about the Cheetahs. No one is pressured to be anyone or anything other than who they are.

With the Cheetahs, Jack is accepted for being exactly who he is.

Photo of Jack in a large room, with tables and people behind him. He has a huge grin on his face.

Anything that makes Jack this happy makes me that happy.

If you are able, please consider donating to the Montgomery Cheetahs on their Cheetah-thon fundraiser page. It takes a lot of money to keep a team like this going. They work really hard to keep player costs to a minimum, so the team depends heavily on funds raised at the Cheetah-thon. If you donate in Jack’s honor, make a note of it during the donation process so I can be sure to thank you.

Whether you can donate or not, thanks for always being so supportive when I talk about Jack and the Cheetahs. It really is a fantastic community. In fact, it is far less of a Cheetah Nation and far more of a Cheetah Family.

 

Me Too, Jack

It’s April, which means it’s Autism Acceptance Month.

If you want to know why I celebrate Autism Acceptance Month instead of Autism Awareness Month, check out the spring issue of Zoom Autism. I have an essay in there on this very topic. (There is also a lot of other great stuff in it.)

A lot of places, especially schools, tend to celebrate Autism Awareness Day on April 2. A few days ago Jack told me that his school would be celebrating Autism Appreciation Day instead.

First: Awesome.

Second: Yep, still awesome.

Photo of Jack. He's working on a magnetic puzzle ball.

My Jacksy. Also awesome.

I tell you this to preface a story that one of Jack’s teachers emailed to me on the first day of April. She explained that they are celebrating diversity of learning and other abilities in addition to autism.

There is an “I am” wall in the cafeteria to involve students in “the differences and similarities that contribute to each of our unique personalities.”

Sounds pretty cool, right?

Wait until you hear the next part of the teacher’s email:

“Yesterday, we kicked off the activity by introducing it in 6th grade lunch,” she wrote. “I walked through the cafeteria and had kids give some examples into the microphone. Some were ‘I am creative,’ ‘I am kind,’ ‘I am funny.’

“I felt a little tug on my sleeve, and it was Jack. He gently pulled the microphone to himself and spoke into it. ‘I am Jack, I am autistic and I am proud.’ There was applause from the entire 6th grade.”

You guys. This is what it’s about. This is everything.

Jack’s teacher told me that students approached Jack after he said that to tell him they were proud of him too and they shared their own experiences with autistic friends and family.

Jack has known about his autism since pretty close to the time he was diagnosed. He has been leading me in understanding autistic pride for years. I am grateful to be able to follow his example. You’re proud of you, Jack? Me too.

This is why autism acceptance matters so much to me. I need my kid to hear this message. I want to protect him from people who say something is wrong with him and needs to be fixed.

Lest anyone worry that he might be getting that message at his school, let me put your mind at ease. The teacher who sent me this email is Jack’s case manager and teaches him multiple times a day and took home a sweatshirt that had ripped to try to fix it and is generally The Right Person For Jack At The Right Time. This is how she ended her email about this lunchtime experience:

“So you can tell Jack that I think he is courageous and different and wonderful.”

Me too, Jack. Me too.

The Rat Stands for Obviousness

On days that I work, I take the Metro train into DC and then walk about 15 minutes or so to my office. My route from the Metro to work is entirely dependent on the timing of the walk signals. If the walk sign is green, I go one direction. If it is red, I take a turn. This means I get to walk a different route almost every day.

That first walk signal though. I don’t know why, but it is almost always red, leaving me to make a right turn. Very rarely it is green, sending me on a route that, if the other signals cooperate, leads right past Alex’s office.

Today all the signals were in line and as I neared the corner by Alex’s office, I texted him to demand that he wave to me.

Closeup photo of the outside of a building. You can see three windows. Alex is visible in one of them, giving a thumbs up to the camera.

This photo wasn’t taken this morning, but you get the point.

I rounded the corner, focused on his building windows across the street and expecting only to see Alex. Instead, I saw this:

Photo of giant, really creepy inflatable rat on a sidewalk.

I know. I fucking know.

Alex, looking out of his window, must have seen my head explode right there.

I waved to Alex, I took a flier from the guy standing next to the rat, and I continued walking. And then I stopped because, dude. I’ve seen Scabby the Rat before, but never close up like this. I knew I couldn’t just walk away without, well, without doing this:

Selfie of me. There is a giant inflatable rat in the background.

My best celebrity sighting yet.

As a former union member myself, I felt a little bit bad being a big dork around this Very Serious Protest, so I made sure to read the ENTIRE flier that the guy gave me as penance.

There was an actual picture of a fat cat on the flier.

Photo of a corner of the flier. There are words and also a cartoon of a cat in a suit and top hat, smoking a cigar and holding a bucket of coins.

It’s like my morning was full of small presents, wrapped in awesomeness.

It turns out that Occidental Petroleum is using a contractor who uses a subcontractor who does not pay area-standard wages and benefits. The Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters has a labor dispute with this subcontractor and wants you to call Occidental Petroleum to tell them that they should hire different contractors. *fist raised, solemn nod of solidarity*

Anywho, while this whole thing was going on, Alex was watching with his own special kind of joy. Evidently my backtracking for a photo and to get a better look did not go unnoticed by the guy handing out fliers. It turns out that I am neither subtle nor smooth.

But I was delighted. As you know, I’m a big fan of rodents, especially weird ones. Add in a good cause and a rare DC-sighting of Alex? Well, that was the best block in DC this morning.

******

* “The rat stands for obviousness” should actually be “the rat symbolizes obviousness,” but Alex and I always use it the first way, so that’s how it stands here. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, look up Ralph Wiggum and The Debarted/Departed.