That’s Edutainment (#504)

Yes, I am a college professor “in addition to”/”as well as”/”on top of” /”also” being mother to Charlie, my son who has autism—–and being an autism mother is a full-time-and-a-half-job in and of itself.
It goes without saying that taking care of Charlie has profoundly shaped my career. Being a mother to Charlie has made me a better teacher, a better listener, tremendously aware of the lives of my students outside of my classroom and of school and of how these affect their learning I am a stickler for high standards and never angry (I reserve such strong emotions for certain Powers That Be, especially when those Powers have the administrative say in Charlie’s education).

And being a mother to Charlie has meant that I don’t exactly spend my time wandering in the groves of academe, chasing down the writings of 19th century German philologists about a lacunae in some ancient Greek manuscript: My time for this is when I have the rare day off or when Charlie is in summer school, and in snatched bits when he is sleeping and I finish a few other things, like this blog entry……..

Being the mother of an autistic boy who is 9 going on 9 1/2 means making plans to watch Flushed Away (when I told Jim the plot—-“a pampered rat gets flushed down the toilet and encounters a whole new world in the sewer!”—-he groaned appropriately and commented, “They are really running out of ideas), instead of the latest French film with Juliette Binoche. It means whiling away cold winter afternoons in the aisles of Target, Toys R Us, and sometimes the doctor’s waiting room, rather than in some café with a nice book and cups of coffee. It means having 50 conversations of this nature (“shopping cart sushi!” “we’re going” “shopping cart sushi!” “we’re going right now” “sushi sushi sushi SUSHI I WANT” “we are going” “Trader Joe’s!”) and cutting 1/2 inch pieces of velcro with a pair of scissors that keeps getting stuck together. It means watching selected PBS shows (i.e., the selected scenes your autistic child has a marked preference for) over and over and over again with your autistic child because, being an autism parent in earnest, you are forever trying to draw some language out of your child rather than just (pace, Michael Waldman) plopping her or him in front of the TV as a babysitter. For you, every moment is Edutainment.

And so, being an autism mother, I have spent a good chunk of the past few years watching the Wiggles and, yes, I know the songs and the dance movements. This was indeed proven over a year ago when we took Charlie to see the Wiggles in Madison Square Garden. Charlie, once a big fan (that’s an understatement) of the Teletubbies, had transferred his liking for four primary-colored beings dancing and singing and laughing from one show to the next, and—once Jim concluded that Murray bore more than a passing resemblance to an old friend (who was in a band), Wiggle watching became a family activity (for a few songs, after which Charlie—-over-excited by the music and colors and enthusiasm, would start running up and down the room). Discussions ensued as to “which Wiggle is equivalent to which of the Beetles?” (“Jeff is definitely Ringo,” pronounced Jim) and “hey, what about the Monkees too!” and “Anthony is playing Captain Feathersword!”

(You see the lofty intellectual nature of the conversations in a house with two professor parents: Charlie drives the agenda.)

Charlie has not shown any interest in the Wiggles since the start of this year. His musical interests continue: Every time we get in the black car, he tells me “turn on”; he hums the strains of Sugarcane Harris’ jazz violin and the Minuet in G after hearing them; he reads out the notes from his music book and then presses on the keys for what sounded like “Lightly Row” (in addition to “Ode to Joy).

And so when I read tonight that Greg, the yellow-shirted Wiggle, has a mysterious ailment that “threatens his future with the children’s music supergroup,” I had to feel sad. Had to remember long winter afternoons or boring days when the summer sun was scorching and, for a few minutes, Charlie and I sat on the blue couch in our old house and heard Greg’s smooth voice singing about the Pufferbillies, or Crunchy Munchy Honey Cakes, or Hevenu Sholem Aleikhem (Charlie had a thing for this song and the folk dance routine, and would sing a good part of the song, twirling about, and then stand on a beat-up pink footstool at the end, just as the guys did on four Wiggle-colored cylinders). Maybe it was lowbrow entertainment to charm the preschool masses, but in the course of too many days in Autismland, Greg’s lullaby-soothing voice and the crazy antics of the group (and the Captain, and Wags, Henry, and Dorothy) were happy, sappy, and good enough for me and Charlie, a boy who knows what he likes.

More often than not, Charlie’s likes are directly opposite my own; I have noted more than once that Charlie has little (if that) interest in reading books, the favored activity of my childhood.

So it’s nearing 10pm and Charlie is jumping in and out of his bed and chortling sounds; I say, in a why-not sort of way, “How ’bout we read a book?”

“Reada book,” says Charlie. He pulls the blankets tightly around him, and snuggles his squishy ball under his body. I hold up Polar Bear Night and, after going through a few pages, I look towards him and see that Charlie’s eyes are on the book, that he is looking square at each picture as I turn the pages, that his eyes are big and concentrating. Just as I turn to the last page, my arm falters and as I read — “HOME”— the picture is flapped away. Charlie is still looking, so I open the book back to the last page and say “home.”

“‘Ome,” says Charlie.

You learn, you learn about loss, you learn about love, you love, every day in Autismland.

6 Responses to “That’s Edutainment (#504)”
  1. Hsien Lei says:

    You captured the life of a mother perfectly. So glad Charlie is learning to like books. 🙂

  2. Lisa/Jedi says:

    Mmmm, I do know about that lack of highbrow conversation 🙂 B is heavily into Weird Al lately, can repeat his fave songs verbatim, & has recently found versions online that have been sped-up ala the Chipmunks. Surreallity rules in Autismland 🙂

  3. MommyGuilt says:

    I can’t say I’ve ever seen The Wiggles. SmallBoy was a “T-Tub” fan, though for the longest time…Baby Sunshine was his favorite.

    I truly love your description of being an autism mother. You’re right. It IS your life…everything else makes itself work around our children, and we around them, too. But it’s not your life in the sense that it’s all consuming and you can do nothing else…it’s more that it’s your style of life. I know to those who aren’t familiar, that won’t make much sense, but to those of us who live this lifestyle, it’s the right description.

  4. What a perfect autsim mom illustration. Loved it. Couldn’t stop laughing on the “sticky scissors and velcro” part. Just finished some new PECS. Love it!

  5. kyra says:

    oh no. i’ve boogied to the wiggles. i hate to think one of them is ill.

    the scene of the two of you reading that book is so very dear, kristina. charlie is learning every day too.

  6. It’s living la vida loca and, truely, lovin’ it all the way.

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