Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why I'm not blogging so much right now

It started so slowly. One night, one kid has finished her homework early and asks if she can get on the computer and go to…and I can't really think of a good reason why not. After all, she's done her chores and finished her homework…

One night I'm trying to make dinner and Captain Adventure is making it difficult and his father is so deeply entrenched in the Man Cave that I would need grease and a crowbar to get him out of there (actually, just a crowbar…to smash his Netflix-watchin' computer with…), so I hand him the Wii remote and tell him he can play until dinner is ready…and then I can carry on chopping onions without being rammed from behind by his hard little head. (That's my favorite of his little autistic tricks, the "I'm going to run up on mommy from behind and slam my head into her backside while she's cutting things with a big old honkin' knife…awesome!…)

I come home extra tired, and make the Critical Error of sitting down on the couch in front of the TV to watch the news. Just the half hour national one. Well, and maybe the top of the 6:00 local. Up until the weather. Oh, but I totally want to hear this local politician 'splain hisself, so I'll just leave it on until they get to that part of the 6:30 show…

The husband wants to watch his Netflix movie and when is he going to do that? Now, of course, because we have to get up early tomorrow and can't stay up late tonight…so into the Man Cave he goes, to watch until dinner is ready and then, naturally, he'll emerge…well, after this scene or that scene and can he help put the kids to bed because I'm kind of up to my eyebrows in dishes and laundry and cat puke on the stairs and…sure, sure, yeah, I'll do it in a minute {stares fixedly at computer monitor until movie is over an hour later}

Meanwhile, I'm upstairs staring at my monitor because I've got a lot of stuff to do. Email, blogging, reading, researching, paying bills, etc. etc. etc. (Amazing how "paying this bill real quick" can lead to a seven hour Internet odyssey, huh?)

Once a week becomes twice, twice becomes thrice, and thrice becomes Every Night.

It didn't happen overnight. It happened over a period of months, not a bit coincidentally the months between when I started working again and now.

Monday, I got an email from Captain Adventure's teacher asking if anything "different" was going on around the Den, because his classroom behavior has been eroding lately. And folks, we're talking about a classroom full of autistic kids – by the time the teacher is telling you your kid is being a pill, it's serious.

He's humming (tunes from his video games). He's refusing to participate in the class activities (because he wants to be playing the Wii instead). He's making weird hand gestures (which would probably be the same movements he makes to play his game – waving the wand and remote, pressing buttons, etc. etc. etc.). He grudgingly responds only when his teacher asks if she needs to pull his last card…which means she'll email me, which means no Wii.


More tantrums. More stubborn. More withdrawn. More anger.

Less communication. Less interaction. Less play, and therefore less learning.

Good Parenting Points: Negative 27,000,000,000.

This came on the heels of a nasty surprise we had a couple weeks ago with one of the girls (who shall remain anonymous to protect the guilty). Report card that looked like something you would never expect from a kid that smart. Downright bloody awful, across the board. How? How is this possible? She's done her homework, she's told us so…granted, we haven't been really looking at it much because we're so busy-busy-busy. We'd glance and see a filled-in page and say, "OK, good, yeah, you can go ahead and play on the computer now."

She'd been dashing off practically random answers. Did she actually know what 'perpendicular' meant? Could she pick an octagon out of a lineup? (She could when she was two, but now, {redacted} years later? Knowledge gone.)

She'd done the same thing on tests. Turns out that maybe telling her how smart she is all these years wasn't such a good idea – she thinks she's so smart that whatever answer she comes up with will be the right one. Duh. Because she's sooooooo smart.

She is smart. But Lord-Lord, is she ever ignorant when it comes to basic {redacted}-level math, science, English, social studies, art and even PE.

Good Parenting Points: Negative 26,276, 004.

And, last week I got another call from another teacher who wanted to Express Concern (teacher code for "scold roundly") about another child's sudden sloppiness around doing and turning in homework. Doing it but not turning it in. Not participating in activities. Not giving a flip about what she was doing.

Same basic thing: Dash off any old thing on the homework sheet, shove it under the nearest parent's distracted nose, and get the blessing to get on with the electronic f-u-n.

Good Parenting Points: Negative 8,000,007.

I relayed the email from Captain Adventure's teacher to the husband as we were settling in on the BART train. And we agreed right then and there that, no matter how much we didn't want to (because we knew he was going to be a seriously pissed off kid on this deal), we needed to cut him off on the Wii / computer playing on school / work nights.

But all the way home, I was thinking that the problem wasn't just Captain Adventure playing video games too much…and the girls' problems weren't entirely their problems.

Yeah, they do need to start developing their own drive and ambition. They need to care. They need to learn responsibility and accountability and blah blah blah.

But it isn't enough to take them aside and go, "Blah! Blah blah blah! Blah! BLAH! BLAH BLAH BLAH!!! Blahblahblahblah blahblahblahblahblahblahblahblahblah…" and then walk away saying, "Wow. That was an awesome lecture about responsibility. I am the Parent of the Year™!"

I was pondering the old saying, Whenever you point the finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at YOU.

We came home this one time, probably a Thursday or Friday when the commute + working + late nights + early mornings starts to really catch up with us, and just didn't want to deal with the whole homework / housework / kid wrangling thing.

Then we came home another day and it was the same way.

Then it was every Thursday. Then Thursday became Wednesday and Thursday. And then it started on Tuesday, and if it's OK on Tuesday, why not Monday, too…

No need to really go over homework with the kids, they're smart, they get good grades, they don't need any extra help from us, shoot, they probably know more about it than we do anyway. Oooooooh, a two hour documentary about the derivatives market!

(Seriously? I can't even pick CSI:Anywhere? MSNBC? Seriously?!) (Although actually, I would watch CSI:Anywhere, but I can't with the Denizens running around. They have a knack for running in right when something really yucky is on the screen.)

And look where it's getting us. The Denizens are going feral. Their school work is suffering. Our son is getting less and less social. Yeah, yeah, we're tired and we just wanna sit down and have some peace and @*&^@ing quiet when we get home…but hey, guess what?

We can't. Not unless we'd like to sit down and redefine what we think is really important. Scratch out things like "good family life" and replace it with "four hours TV nightly" or "at-will Internet fix." Get rid of the whole thing about self-sufficiency (which is hard work that has few shortcuts) and homemade meals and replace it with nightly pizza delivery or Chinese takeout. (One of the most dangerous discoveries I've made in the last month is that my favorite Indian place delivers. GAH! NO! No you don't! YOU DO NOT DELIVER! Get thee behind me, Satan…!)

Instead of sending four kids to college with a scholarship or two, we can put a more reasonable goal; say, "at least one of the kids will graduate high school."

And while we're at it, we can just downgrade our hopes for Captain Adventure. Instead of "eventually mainstreaming and being able to live a happy, independent adult life," we can just go ahead and say, "will end up making macaroni art in adult day care, still in diapers, unable to communicate with other humans unless they speak 'autism'." Awesome!

It doesn't feel like we're doing anything that bad at the time. It just feels like we're having a pleasant evening. The kids are happy; we're happy; sure, the food situation is dreadful but just this once it won't kill anybody to have, let's see, whatever this is…because it's fast and gets me back to my documentary so much faster than actually making dinner would…

So as we were getting into Homer the Odyssey at the train station, I cleared my throat and proposed that we extend the ban to all the computers, all television, all video games. Even if homework is done. Even if he's being a royal pain. Even if there's a show we really want to watch. Even if we're tired. Even if I do need to pay a bill or my email inbox is bursting at the seams.

None of it goes on until the kids are all in bed…so that we're forced to focus on taking care of family business, forced to engage with Captain Adventure even if he's being a pill on a Thursday night when we're tired and there's an awesome show about the great Wyoming wildebeest migration on, and to actually look at the girls' schoolwork, to do chores together, to actually make dinner instead of being perpetually about to get around to that at the next commercial…

And we agreed to it. Just like that. Both of us.

The regrets didn't start kicking for almost twenty minutes.

I'm not kidding: I think I'm taking it the hardest. Even Captain Adventure seems to be adjusting better than me…especially when the kids are in bed and technically I could be flipping on the switches, but if I thought I was tired before? Ha. Yeah. Astonishingly, it is a lot more, um, draining to spend the two hours between getting home and bedtime alternating fending off a feisty Captain Adventure and chasing him around the house trying to stop him from doing whatever inappropriate thing he's decided to do instead of playing with, I dunno, how about…toys?!

Pffffft, toys. Please. There are so many better things to do with your time than play with the $42,000 worth of toys-as-such he owns! There's dragging all the bedding off all the beds and piling it up on the stairs. Finding things he can pry batteries out of, and then sucking on the batteries. Getting an onion out of the fridge and sitting on the couch to carefully peel all the skin off it, then crushing and scattering the skin all over the room. Opening up the gallon-sized refill of liquid hand soap and pouring ALL of it in the sink.

The possibilities are endless. Every room a playroom! Every object a fun-source! Every shriek from his parents boundlessly amusing!! And it only takes having your parents' eyeballs off you for 0.0003 seconds to get the party started…which isn't hard to do when there are three other kids competing for their attention while you're trying to sneak away from it…

Yeah, for some reason? I'm a lot more tired this week than usual…way too tired to sit down at the end of the day to turn on a laptop or even the TV…yes, please, I'd like to just go to bed now, thank you…

But it's OK. It's better for all of us, and furthermore I'm almost probably certain that I likely won't actually die from the abrupt withdrawal of incessant technology. (Probably.) (Although I think I read on the Internet once about this guy? Who had an iPhone? And it broke? And he died, I swear! Hang on, let me see if I can find that link… {click-click-click-click-click-click-six-hours-and-several-million-funny-pictures-of-cats-later}…nope, can't find it…)


(It never gets old.)


Nancy FP in Ferndale said...

I admire what you are doing with your life and your family. Hang in there! And the knitting? You are not wasting time by knitting because you have something practical when you are done. When you watch TV or answer emails, what do you have? A scrambled brain! So keep up the good work!

Marty52 said...

Such a hard thing to do... being involved totally with the kids is very wearing but very worth it in the end... and just think, in only 20 odd years it will be just the two of you again! Good luck getting everyone turned around and on the straight and narrow.

Science PhD Mom said...

It is hard to keep your eye on the prize sometimes. And you know Captain Adventure will get beyond this phase too. Hang in there!