Autism · Christmas

Cookies for Santa

According to Master Owen, Cookies simply MUST be left for Santa…and, not just ANY cookie.  Absolutely not!

They must be his Mum’s mini M&M cookies, which–as it happens–I am about to pop into the oven right now.

But first, I thought I would give you all the “secret” recipe as my Christmas gift to you, my new readers.

These are yummy, I must admit.  Of course, you are welcome to change the recipe any way you like, but MO seems to think there is magic in this particular recipe. Maybe there is, who knows?

By the way…whatcha doing right now?  There’s still time!  Maybe you should whip up a batch tonight! <wink>

 

Persnickety’s mini M&M Cookies for Santa, Master Owen approved

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks UNSALTED butter, softened
  • 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • A whole bag of MINI M&Ms

Cream sugars with softened butter.  Add eggs and vanilla and blend.  Add flour, baking soda and salt and form dough.  Mix in the mini M&Ms and make a ball.  Don’t work the cookie dough too much!

Chill your dough for at least an hour.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Roll dough into meatball size and place on cookie sheet.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown.  Cool well.

Don’t forget to leave Santa something good to drink.  MO prefers soda, but he will tell you Santa likes coffee or a Christmas Egg Nog.

Master Owen also reminds you to leave out some carrots for both the reindeer and Santa Paws.  Remember the reindeer work hard and Santa Paws should never eat chocolate!

Merry Christmas to you all!

 

Autism · Christmas · DIY

Christmas Trees

What do you think of when I mention Christmas trees?

Me?  One word: anxiety.  Yes, anxiety. That’s what comes to my mind when I think about Christmas trees.  Just…anxiety.  A great big ball of anxiety.

It doesn’t seem to matter if the tree is artificial or fresh. White or green. Flocked or naked. White lights or colored.  Blinking lights…twinkling lights…or not.

The very thought of Christmas trees makes me feel like I swallowed a ball of fresh, evergreen garland…the kind with the prickly Scotch Pine needles.

It hasn’t always been this way.

I remember, as a child, staring at our family’s big, shiny aluminum Christmas tree, with the color wheel that twirled around, and feeling peace.  Feeling joy.  Feeling something like contentment.

But it’s been years since I felt anything like that.  25 years of feeling anything but anxiety about Christmas trees.

It’s not every Christmas tree.  Just the one that will adorn my home.

I can sort of enjoy other trees, especially those big, beautiful trees that stand majestically at Rockefeller Center or in the Boston Common.  If not enjoy, I can appreciate the work done to make them look perfect.  Or those amazing department store trees!  Impressive and perfect…but not mine.

For twenty five years I’ve had this odd anxiety about my Christmas tree without ever really understanding or even acknowledging it.  Mind you, my Christmas Tree anxiety has never stopped me from putting up a tree. Heavens, no!  In fact, I’ve often punished myself with two or more trees in one season.

For the record, my basement is bursting with trees, lights and various decorations from years past.

I have two white trees, one I procured from Filene’s for a steal (it was gorgeously decorated at Filene’s, of course) and a smaller one I thought would make a good window tree.  I have the artificial one I tried to pass on to a friend last year.  It’s a beautiful Scotch Pine lookalike from Target, but it has the weirdest set up I’ve ever seen.  The branches–nearly 100 of them–are color coded AND alphabetized, but not well.  Far from helpful, in my opinion.

Then there is the aluminum tree I won on eBay the year my Dad died.  I thought for sure it would evoke memories of the gorgeous silver Pom Pom tree of my youth, but it fell short of my expectations.  I couldn’t even get it to stand up correctly.

I’ve got at least five Christmas tree stands–the heavy wrought iron ones from fancy catalogs–from my fresh tree days.

A stroll through my cellar will reveal all kinds of garland, ribbon by the box load, colored lights, strands of beads, stars and tree toppers of every persuasion.  I’ve got boxes of vintage Shiny Brite ornaments and other  boxes of personalized ornaments dating back to my childhood.  There’s trimmings from last year’s Corgi Christmas Tree, which IMHO was as close to perfection as I have come in the last decade.

There’s also enough things to decorate in any style you could think of: Victorian, Shabby Chic, Art Deco, and even blue and green decorations from my attempt at a “mid-century modern” Christmas.

You’d think after twenty five years of wrestling with Christmas Tree Anxiety, I’d figure out how to do it “right” or, at the very least, acknowledge I have a problem with Christmas trees, right?

Of course not.

It took my ten year old son, Master Owen, and a comment from a middle aged Jewish man I barely knew in my youth to finally acknowledge what has plagued me for years.

This year I was “surprised” when MO put the rebound green tree together without my help.  It was all wrong, of course, because he didn’t follow the ridiculous color/letter codes on the branches.  It looked horrendous! Branches that belonged on the bottom were sticking out toward the middle of the tree and there were holes everywhere, despite my attempts to “fluff” them.  To make matters worse, the lights were incorrectly hung and the star wasn’t even close to to the top of tree!

My head, my heart and my stomach automatically launched into high anxiety mode.  I couldn’t say anything.  I just stared and stared at it.  It looked awful.  Everything about it was just…wrong.  But then I looked at Master Owen and saw how proud of himself he was.  He looked at me, knowing full well what I was thinking, and said: “Give it a while, Mum, it will grow on you”.

Grow on me? GROW on me?  Was he insane??  Did he not know how much my Christmas Tree must be fussed over and worried about?  How the lights had to be perfectly woven throughout the branches so as to create the proper dimension?  Didn’t he understand that you simply couldn’t put the icicle garland on without making sure all of the individual icicles faced downward?

No, he didn’t understand.

I snuck away and called my childhood friend to kibbutz: “Can you believe it?!?” and “What was I going to do? How could I fix this, this monstrosity?”

His response instantly opened my eyes: “What’s more important to you? The tree or your son’s sense of accomplishment?”

Schooled again by Master Owen.

Autism

Same

Communicating with an autistic person can be challenging, but it holds some unique rewards, too.  You have to put in the effort though to reap those rewards.

At the age of four, Master Owen could barely string two words together, so I became an expert at deciphering his efforts to communicate.  Active listening builds your own communication skills as you seek to understand and be understood.  I considered myself a tourist trying to learn how to survive in Master Owenland and it worked.

Time passed and MO’s communication skills grew, of course.  Eventually I discovered MO struggled with “sharing” small life experiences.  By sharing I mean developing a connection between himself and others when seeing or experiencing the same incident.  This difficulty is common with people on the Autism Spectrum; they lack that ability to connect with others.  

Not being able to connect with others doesn’t mean people with autism don’t notice or experience the same things, as often thought.  It’s actually quite the opposite!  MO could walk in a room and immediately notice what was changed.  What he lacked was the ability to communicate those differences. 

Pointing is a classic example of the struggle to relate.  Master Owen, like so many others on the Spectrum, never pointed to objects and he is unable to visually follow someone pointing out something.  You truly don’t realize how difficult it is to communicate when someone fails to identify the skill of jesturing.  Back to Master Owenland I go, trying to find alternate ways to relate.

Now that Master Owen is ten and has developed a wide vocabulary and can communicate well with most people, I’ve noticed a little peculiarity. When we are having a conversation and MO agrees with something I say, he will say: “same” or “also” to show agreement.  It’s taken me a bit of time to adjust to this response as I am expecting “me too” or “I agree”.  When I hear “same” I don’t feel the enthusiasm of agreement, but there IS agreement.  And, once again, I find myself in Master Owenland learning the finer points of communication in his particular language.

My point in discussing these communication hurdles is to show you that people with Autism do indeed have feelings and thoughts, and they desire to communicate them to others.   They are always in the process of learning how to change themselves to meet OUR needs, and we seem to score their progress based on their ability to meet what we consider “normal”.

I often wonder if we–as a society–are so transfixed on sameness that we forget that others don’t think, live or communicate the SAME way.  To use an Autism term, I’m wondering if many of us lack “theory of the mind” instead of the other way around.

 It seems to me our society seeks more to be understood, to communicate our particular preferences and thoughts than to find ways to relate with others.  Perhaps closing our mouths and using our ears is a truer form of practicing “freedom of speech”?

Perhaps we would be better people and a better society if we sought first to understand than to be understood.  

As a wise nun once said to me: “God gave us two ears, but only one mouth”.  (Or, if you are an evolutionist, we have evolved with two ears and one mouth, not the other way around, to ensure our survival.) 

Maybe it’s time to notice something as plain as the features on our faces. Maybe then we would make some progress.  

Let us venture into the land of the unknown with a desire to understand.

Autism

I don’t need another hero

I’m continuing on with my exploration of what goes wrong in my relationships.

One of the biggest obstacles I’ve had is parenting and having a relationship.

Since before Master Owen (MO) was even born, I knew he wasn’t going to have the classic two-parent-relationship he deserved. Owen has never experienced life with two parents.  Why, you ask?  Well, quite literally, MO’s biological father and my former husband was incapable of being a father, plus his presence in our lives proved not only counterproductive to us but also harmful, due to his ongoing battle with drugs and alcohol.

I learned of my husband’s addiction problems about halfway through my pregnancy; I remember the exact moment it happened.  I was about five months pregnant and scheduled on a 6am flight  for a “last hurrah” vacation with my sister.  At 2am, just a few hours before my flight, my husband woke me screaming and cursing; he had just been arrested for “possession with the intent to distribute”.  According to him, It was a “bogus charge” and he was “going to fight it”, because he “had his pride to think about”.  Seriously?!?

Well, I did what any sane, pregnant women would do; I told him to clean up his act and then I went on vacation.

He didn’t clean up his act, of course.  He got worse.  And I got more and more pregnant and, unfortunately, very sick.  Sick to the point of being hospitalized sick.  And then ordered on bed rest for the rest of my pregnancy.  All while my indignant husband sat on a lawn chair in front of a chiminea gabbing on his cell phone, drinking and drugging and unable to work “because of the stress”.  Oh? Did I mention he fueled his drug habits by siphoning money from our accounts and selling all of my jewelry?

The icing on the cake was the morning I went into labor and tried waking my husband to take me to the hospital.  I was met with refusal that left me waiting for my sister to take me.  The husband later admitted he was so high he couldn’t drive, but it didn’t stop him from being a total ass to me as I sat crying on the sidewalk with my Pullman suitcase.

So, by the time MO was born, I had prepared myself for being a single mother.

Yup!  It was pretty clear it was going to be a “you and me against the world” scenario.

Sure there was help along the way.  I had my two sisters’ and my dad’s help in the early days, but for the most part I managed on my own.  In addition to caring for a newborn, I also had to care for my animals (two corgis and a bunch of cats) and a very old, large house, both inside and out.  Remember I live in New England, so that means snow removal!

Add to that the enormous stress of fighting with my former employer over benefits I earned, having little to no income and dealing with some obnoxious in-laws and I was an enormous ticking time bomb.

Needless to say the first few years of MO’s life were not MY happiest.  Just when one thing got resolved, another reared its ugly head.  I was dealt several almost overwhelming blows in the decade that followed MO’s birth, the hardest of which was losing my father in 2011.

And through all of this, I realized I was always looking for a replacement father for MO.  My needs did not matter as long as MO was happy.  Which led to some pretty weird relationships as well as a few men taking full advantage of my situation.  I labored under this delusion that Master Owen was missing out on something I was so grateful to have…that is a wonderful, healthy relationship with a stable and loving father.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized–no matter how hard I tried–I could not be that for MO, but I could be something better.  I could be what the late Nora Ephron so aptly described “the heroine of my own story”.

Which I have pledged to continue to be so long as I live.

Autism

Don’t call me, I’ll call you…maybe.

For as long as I’ve known how to use a telephone, I’ve pretty much avoided them.   

Phones–to me–have always been a disturbing interruption of my day.  Basically anyone can just call you anytime they want with no regard for what you might be doing, which I have always perceived as rude.  I suppose that makes me antisocial, but it’s just how I am.

I grew up with only having a house phone and, for a long time, no answering machine.  In those days, people had certain rules about calling and things were civilized. Everyone knew you didn’t call during the dinner hour or after 10pm unless it was an emergency.  

My aunts, who lived in different area codes, even developed a way to contact each other without incurring additional charges for a call, because in “those days” phone calls were always cheaper at different times.  If my aunt in Watertown wanted to speak with us in Peabody, she would call, let it ring once and hang up; that way we knew to call her later.  So, of course, we never picked up a call on the first ring.  

When the phone company–“Ma Bell”–changed your area code it messed you ALL up, because then you’d have to figure out if you needed the area code to make a call.  This was a real problem growing up, because you didn’t always need the area code like you do now.  Furthermore, in some places, like Amesbury, which was too small for more than one exchange, you only needed to call the last four numbers.  Yup, if my neighbor wanted to reach me, he’d  simply dial “6788” and *poof* we would be connected!  This was a real time saver, because most everyone had rotary phone then.  Remember rotary phones?  I loved the noises they made.  

Back in those days, we remembered phone numbers.  I’m pretty sure I could recite a list of numbers from thirty years ago today.  Of course, we memorized phone numbers, because no one had pre-set numbers in their phones.  And, if you forgot the number, you’d have to whip out the gigantic phone book and hope the number was “listed”…because being “unlisted” was a thing then.  Ah! Phone books! I miss them, truly I do.

Anyway, as I was saying, I have a weird relationship with phones.  It got worse when everyone started getting cell phones, because they seemed pointless and just another expense.  If you called me and I wasn’t home, you either tried later or you left a message.  What was so urgent that I needed to be available 24/7?  I’m not a doctor.  I’m not the President.  The world is not going to collapse if I go out for groceries, is it?  So, of course, I resisted getting one for the longest time and reluctantly jumped on the band wagon when I began traveling for work. 

After I decided to leave my professional life to raise my son, MO, I once again fell into the house phone routine, but maintained my cell phone for “just in case”.  So, basically, that meant I only ever used it if I was going out of the house, which was rarely. Naturally I didn’t carry that dumb cell phone around all the time when I was home.  Needless to say, this irritated many people!  

“Call my house phone!”, I would say, which usually led to an argument about why I didn’t have my cell with me.  I’d forget.  It needed to be charged.  Plus I needed both my hands.  And, besides, yoga pants, which was my daily uniform, don’t usually have pockets. 

But my attitude toward my cell phone has changed a lot in the past few years, which I can attribute to the iPhone.  I know some people don’t like them but I think the iPhone is the best invention in the world.  It does everything–takes pictures, plays music and videos, keeps track of my schedule and even stores all my telephone numbers.  Plus I can check all my social accounts with it, too! Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Quora, my blog, my website. Oh! And texting? Love it! 

Do I use the phone part though?  Um..not really.  I’d rather let my fingers do the talking.  Talking takes up too much energy.

I’m pretty sure the idea of talking on the phone will always be something I dislike.  It’s just a part of who I am.  People I talk with know this and have just adjusted.  Some people think it’s weird or I’m weird, but I don’t care.  

I’m weird. 

So what? 

Tell me something I DON’T know!   

Best,

Ritamarie

P.S. You know how to reach me now, so feel free to leave me a message.  Just don’t ask me to call you back.