A Child With Autism

Our 5 year old son’s preschool teacher asks me regularly what she can do to help Parker.  I never know how to answer her.  Sometimes I get the feeling that she thinks I don’t care enough to offer anything valuable.  I’m actually incapable of offering anything valuable, because I don’t know what this is.  I understand autism intellectually, but our experience with our child isn’t a Wikipedia entry.

Everything that worked yesterday to get him moving, or prevent him from aggravating his younger brother, fails today.  My wife and I feel a lot of guilt for not always knowing how to react.  Parker is such a sweet kid and I can’t imagine a life without him.  I worry about him not being able to make friends in junior high.  Not being able to find a partner.  Not being able to experience life within normal parameters.

We have become more isolated.  Our 6 year old next door neighbor wants to play with Parker regularly.  But we limit it.  The neighbor is a charismatic, athletic, outgoing boy.  I fear that if he gets to know Parker too well, he won’t like him.  But this is me projecting; trying to orchestrate the social interactions between children.  I want to protect Parker from the cruelty of the world — cruelty that he doesn’t have the capacity to understand.

I embarrassed myself in the preschool carpool lane.  It had been a particularly stressful day, with little sleep from the night before.  Once again, Parker refused to get in the car until I thoroughly answered a nonsensical question, while cars backed up behind us.  I could feel the heat of mental strain building up with every car that pressed into the lane.  Finally I managed to get him into his car seat, where he thought it would be a good idea to deliberately poke me in the eye for no reason whatsoever.  So I barked at him for what was probably 10 seconds, but in hindsight seems like 10 minutes.  Mothers in the carpool lane were staring at me while I lost control of my ordinarily mild demeanor.  I’m sure I looked like a Neanderthal to them, while yelling in the face of a 5 year old.  They don’t know that loud sounds coming out of an angry face have little to no impact on him at all.  Sometimes he seems to think it’s a game.  The social cues aren’t there.

I should be doing a better job of preparing for moments like this.  Rather than using the carpool lane, just park the car and walk inside to retrieve the kids.  But there is a conscious denial that still insists we can do things the way that everyone else does them.   We can’t.  I don’t feel victimized by this.  Nor do I feel a sense of martyrdom.  Everyone has problems to solve in their lives.  Some more significant than others.  Ours just exist somewhere along that continuum.  I am, however, having a tough time accepting it.

This has come to dominate our lives over time.  I don’t resent Parker.  He didn’t choose this.  The real frustration comes from not being able to fix it, because there isn’t anything to fix.  This is who he is.  I know there are Dads who really hope their kid will make the baseball team, or one day take over the family business.  I just want Parker to be liked, because he is such a likeable boy (when he isn’t poking his Dad in the eye).  It’s really the only thing I care about.  Everything else is icing.



This is a post from years ago on an older blog.  Nostalgia.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I’m a married man now. Most married men I know can do…you know…stuff. Fix cars. Put a new roof on. Plumbing. Surely, now that I am also married, the knowledge of these mysterious arts were bestowed upon me when I uttered the pivotal words, “I do.” Much in the way that a baby bird one day is pushed from the nest by his mother and suddenly grasps the majesty of flight. I have a giant bald spot like a married grown up. I find that I can drink 3 cups of coffee before bed and still sleep through an earthquake like a married grown up. I have had more than one casual conversation about my prostate with other married men. It all fits right?

So when I discovered a tiny leak in the water supply valve connected to our downstairs toilet, I instinctively knew that I could fix it. So off to the hardware store I went. “Excuse me, can you tell me where the plumbing section is?” I felt so proud asking this question. Now Jimmy, the guy who works at OSH, knows that I am a married grown up. A real-high roller I am. He points me in the right direction and I head to an area to find a replacement toilet water supply valve. There were about 500 of them. All different. Some had nuts sticking out on the sides. Some had a nut on one side and threads on the other. Some had 3 nuts and no threads, all at different angles. Some nuts were in the bag, not connected to anything. Then I started to go nuts. Not a single one looked like the valve on our toilet.

But, confidently, I knew that my newly acquired knowledge of all things fix-it would point me in the right direction. So I picked one. I bought that and a large bag of black licorice which I mostly finished before I was out of the parking lot. Because grown-ups eat black licorice. I knew it would make me strong for the job ahead.

I arrived home and went into the basement for the toolbox. I sifted through the ragtag bunch of hand-me-down tools, trying to decide what I would need. Windshield ice scraper? Mmm…probably not. Can of Fix-A-Flat that expired in 2003? Perhaps. Let’s start with a wrench and some pliers. I headed back upstairs to the bathroom and laid out a nice work area with my tools, parts, and a hot cup of joe. I even had black dress socks on with my flip flops. Now that’s grown up. I inspected our leaky water supply valve. Like a doctor examining a patient. Very thoroughly. Then I looked over at the replacement part I purchased from OSH. Then I looked at our leaky valve. Then back at the replacement part. This went on for about 5 minutes. I needed a break.

Being somewhat computer savvy, I decided to check out some videos on the You Tube for a little guidance. What a great resource! Not only was I able to discover several step by step videos guiding me through the whole process, I also discovered that I didn’t have a single supply required to do it. Back to the hardware store. Only this time I chose a different hardware store. You see, if you go to the same hardware store twice because you mistakenly bought the wrong thing, then you’re caught. Then they know you don’t know what you’re doing. They’ll talk about you on their smoke breaks. “Did you see that jackass in the plumbing section?” It’s like taking a mistress to the same restaurant that you frequent with your wife and kids. At TruValue, I was anonymous. An anonymous plumbing expert.

As I stared at a wall containing 500 other replacement supply valves that didn’t look anything like the 500 at the first hardware store, Cesar recognized the stroke affecting the left side of my face and helpfully asked me if I needed anything. “Is there a standard size for replacement supply valves on home toilets?” Cesar asked me if the pipes were galvanized. I wasn’t sure how to answer that question since the only context I could think of for using the word ‘galvanized’ was ‘The rebels were galvanized in their plight to overthrow a ruthless dictator.’ My confidence was waning. But I really wanted to be a big-shot, so I couldn’t bear the thought of telling him I didn’t know what a galvanized pipe was. “I think it’s partially galvanized.” He looked at me for a long, long time. “Why don’t you just take these two. If one of them doesn’t work, you can bring the other one back for a refund.” Thanks Cesar.

Our condo complex only has one water shutoff. If I turn the water off in our condo, I have to turn the water off in the other 5 condos connected to our building. I thought it neighborly to wait until midnight to start this project so as not to interrupt everyone’s Sunday afternoon. So off I went to wait tables for 6 hours. So many unruly children. So many unhappy people. So much pain…

Back at home from work. I was really quite excited to start this project. Plus, Anne was home, so I could show her what a reliable and resourceful husband I am. “You need any help?” “Nope, I’m good. You just relax.” I’ve got it all under control. All under control…

It only took me about 20 minutes to remove the old supply valve and install the new one. I did it just like the You Tube video instructed. Everything fit nicely. I went down to turn the water back on to the condo and came back to congratulate myself on a job well done. I went into the bathroom and there were no leaks where there had been before. Except…now…there was a new leak. The mother of all leaks coming straight out of the copper pipe. Shooting up to the ceiling. Shooting me in the crotch. How the hell did that happen. I wadded my ego up into a little ball and threw it into the trash. “Anne, can you come help me?”

I asked her to go to the front of the building and shut the water supply off so that I could readjust the fitting. Just like the video. I mean, exactly. I called her to turn the water back on. Hallelujah! Now the leak is even bigger! “TURN IT OFF, TURN IT OFF, TURN IT OFF!”

We were at Defcon 5 now. I started the reassembly process over. Only this time I needed Anne to hold one tool while I turned the other tool. So as to ensure that everything was perfectly snug and pointing in the right direction. I don’t know why they put the water supply valve in a place where only a spider monkey with a contractor’s license can reach it, but we were on top of each other. Anne’s face almost in the toilet tank. My legs cramped around the bowl and my head sort of upside down-ish. By this time my patience was running out. I was getting that adrenaline surge that allows a baby to lift an overturned car off of his mother. Man, that fitting was on tight now. You’d need a blowtorch to get it off again. I sent Anne back down to turn the water back on. Our HOA president came outside because he thought that a burglar was lurking around in the bushes. By this time it was 1:30 am. I called Anne. “Go ahead and turn it on.” The leak…was…even…bigger. “S**T! F**K! ASSBASTARD!!!” My outburst sent Pickle, our dog, upstairs and under the bed, where she shivered in the dark for 20 minutes before Anne found her. I’m sure our next door neighbors were convinced that things weren’t working out too well for the newlyweds.

See, the problem we had now was that I had to admit to myself that I could not fix this problem. But that also meant that I couldn’t turn the water back on for the condo at all until a plumber could fix the problem. So when 5 other units awoke to have showers, brush their teeth, and make coffee on Monday morning…there would be no water. Anne suggested we should call a 24 hour plumber. I knew we would pay a ridiculously high price for that. I had experienced it with a 24 hour locksmith. 24 hour also means 24 times what it would normally cost to do the job. I think she saw some crazy in my eyes, so she didn’t push the issue. She’s good that way. I paced, and I thought, and I paced, and I thought of any possible solution to this problem. We went downstairs to watch the “how-to” videos that showed me how to do this in the first place. “You see Anne? You see? Didn’t we do exactly that? Didn’t we? Here, watch it again. Isn’t that what we did? I did that right there right? Didn’t I”? I found myself talking defiantly to the computer. Scolding the teacher for giving me a bad grade when I followed instructions exactly. As if You Tube would come upstairs and fix the leak since it was its fault that the problem wasn’t solved. Anne just quietly looked at me. The way that we look at the yelling people all over Los Angeles who push around shopping carts full of empty cans and bags of garbage. She finally had had enough and decided to go to bed. I couldn’t blame her. I wasn’t good company.

As a last resort, I went upstairs to the leaky valve to give it a last once over. Then a Eureka moment came over me. I picked up my hammer and I banged it. And I hit it, and I banged it, and I hit it. It didn’t fix anything, but it made me feel a little better.

I decided that the best thing to do would be to set my alarm for 5:30 am and turn the water back on for the complex so that people could live their lives in the morning before work, and sit under the leak with some towels and a mixing bowl to avoid any water damage. I had let my neighbors know the day before what was going on, and sent them a follow-up email at 2:30 am, hoping they would check their email before work. I shut the water off, and went to bed for 2 1/2 hours.

5:30 AM — The alarm goes off. “S**T! Where am I? Am I at summer camp? NO! I’m late for school!” It took a couple of minutes for the confusion to wear off. I took Pickle down with me for her morning walk. It was still dark, so she seemed a little out of sorts. On my way back, I stopped at the water shut-off and turned the water on, as I had promised my neighbors. Back in the house, I discovered that the leak seemed manageable by just setting a bowl under it to change out every few minutes. But as the pressure built, things began to get out of control again. I had no choice but to shut off the water supply again, hoping that by 7:00 everyone else had already taken a shower and would soon be heading to work. By this time I just decided to take the whole leaking assembly off of the copper pipe leading into the bathroom so that the plumber would be able to start fresh with the pipe.

After shutting the water off I went downstairs to look for plumbers who could come over fast. As I meandered through various websites, I heard a familiar sound. Like a shower or sprinkler. “NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!” I sprinted back upstairs in a panic. As I flew past Pickle, she got spooked again and hid in the pillows on the couch. Some jerk had gone to the water shut off valve and turned the water back on. Now, mind you, maybe they hadn’t checked any of their emails. So I gave them the benefit of the doubt. But wouldn’t you think that if the water supply valve is shut off, it’s shut off for a reason, and might be worth investigating?

Since I had only an exposed copper pipe leading into the downstairs bathroom, a flood of water was spewing forth as if a prankster had run a garden hose in through the open window into the bathroom. I was almost up to my ankles before I was able to jam the leaky water supply valve back onto the pipe, to at least mitigate some of the leaking. By the time I was able to get outside to find out who had turned the water back on, whoever it was already was enjoying a nice, warm shower.

A few of the neighbors called me to find out how the plumbing was going, so I was able to narrow down the mysterious water-turner-onner culprit to 2 units. One is a really nice couple with a new baby. But he has had some plumbing problems of his own, so I suspect that he wouldn’t just go turn the water supply back on without checking to see if something was going on. The other is a couple who really don’t speak to anyone and I have found to be somewhat off-putting. But, the HOA is starting legal action to begin foreclosure on their property as they haven’t paid their HOA dues in over a year. I’m on the HOA board. Payback’s a bitch.

The plumber showed up at 9am and fixed the problem in 4 minutes. I laid down to try to sleep for a couple more hours, but Slingblade who lives at the adjacent house decided to mow the lawn just as I crawled back into bed. So, I’m on my 5th cup of coffee, and am wondering if we should look into getting Pickle into therapy for PTSD.