Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Our Own Brand of Photosynthesis

Waiting patiently in line
A couple months ago around the holidays I spoke with a friend and mentioned that, as opposed to other years I hadn't noticed that Maya has gone through a maturity spurt lately.  Usually somewhere during the school year she has what I call a maturity spurt, where there is a noticeable leap forward with her, things that were not on her radar are suddenly things she becomes aware of and talks about and she takes small leaps forward in terms of things she can do by herself.  Sure, she is developing and maturing all the time and here and there, there are little steps forward but usually once or twice a year a whole bunch of little changes add up and she moves forward into a new phase of childhood.  I chalk most of these developments to the affects of maturity, more than any conscious doing on our part although who really knows?

Anyway, I was telling my friend that this year I hadn't really noticed the spurt as in other years and actually while the last months have not been difficult exactly but they've also not been terribly easy either.  Maya is pushing her limits more and more and keeps finding clever little loopholes and she shows and has gotten much more adept in trying to swing a situation her own way.

In other words, she is just your normal, average, run of the mill kid.  You have no idea how good it felt to type that sentence.

With a kid like Maya a lot of (over) thinking and analysis goes into trying to figure her out, try to see where the triggers are and how you can organize her life in such a way where she feels secure, safe and then is more willing to take steps out of her own safety zone and spurn her development forward.  It's a metaphorical testing of the waters all the time.  Of course kids without autism go through this process as well but because each new 'try' doesn't threaten to bring the entire house of cards  down, maybe you don't think about it or notice it that much or even if you do, you probably don't spend weeks figuring out when it will just happen.

Having a child on the autism spectrum is like the difference between a plant which grows unnoticed on a window ledge or one under time elapsed photography, like the ones they used to show on those films we used to watch in science class.  A plant on a window ledge, you see, and sure if it grows a lot or dies or has problems, you will notice it, but if it just grows as it should, you see it but you probably don't think about how many new leaves it has grown since yesterday as long as it gets water food and sunlight and grows, but the one being observed through the marvels of time release photography, you get to document each push through the soil, each new leaf, each new flower.  I only have the experience of having an autistic child, so do forgive me if I make the other side seem less than it actually is, but I do know when you have a child with autism, it is very much a time release photography type of child rearing you are practicing.  You see and analyze every leaf, every berry, every irregularity, every flower, every lack of flower.

Today Leo and I took the day off from work and decided to take Maya to an amusement park.  Maya is on a school vacation this week and we wanted to do something nice with her, just the three of us, so a couple of weeks ago we asked her where she wanted to go.  And she came up with Plopsaland, an amusement park based on some beloved Dutch (actually Belgian) children's characters.  Maya saw a commercial for Plopsaland while watching one of these shows (note to self - throw out TV) and so when we asked her where she wanted to go she very enthusiastically asked if we could go to Plopsaland, which I know sounds more like a bodily function than the name of a park.

Now before I go further I should add that I have ruined amusement parks in Europe for Leo.  His parents never liked amusement parks so he didn't go to all that many as a kid but the first time I took Leo to the US, I took him to Disney World and to Universal Studios in Orlando basically the holy grail of amusement parks.  Plus I have taken him to Kennywood and bunches of other parks and let's just speak plainly-- no one does theme parks better than Americans.

Period.  Exclamation point, bold, double underline.  With a cherry on top.  

Personally I get a perverse sort of pleasure going to European theme parks, for the very same reason that they irritate Leo now. I like seeing these cheap cut out versions of theme parks where the facilities are nice enough and clean enough but the European socialist, you-can't-fire-me-so-I'm-on-a-permanent-coffee-break mentality means that the service is crappy, the staff is not at all knowledgeable about the place (asking where the bathrooms are is a crap shoot, no pun intended) and where the characters, shows, snacks are all about 30 years behind. They have certainly not mastered the science of crowd flow, managing lines or efficient service.

The other thing that cracks me up about Euro theme parks is that the characters and fairy tales they are based on are not all that happy.  Fairy tales in their original form are pretty scary stories, not meant to ilicit shrieks of delight but are meant to scare the crap out of kids.  European characters are not quite as whitewashed, sanitized and happy as their American counterparts, they still retain a little of their old world original fairy tale features.

Today at Plopsaland all the kids went naturally nuts when the characters came around and kids could pose with them.  Of course the most popular character was a Viking warrior.

It's Europe, even their fantasies are realities.

Vikings?  What's next, Atila the Hun?
Last night when I was preparing Maya for Plopsaland by showing her their website and the rides and stuff, Maya and I, in our usual fashion made some agreements (what Maya calls 'deals') about the day.  Trying to keep it simple and head off trouble I told her she needed to make 3 deals:

1.  No stalling (stalling is a huge tactic of hers right now, all I can say is that it is too bad it is not an Olympic event).

2.  When we say it is time to go, the answer is okay (no crying, whining, stomping or throwing herself on the ground).

3.  For listening the whole day she can pick out one present at the gift shop.

Now in all honesty, we usually make similar types of deals before we go on any type of special trip and it usually always starts out fine, but after the travelling, the excitement, the overstimulation, being hopped up on sugar, usually the deal flies right out the window, along with my sanity.

Leo and I invariably fight during these trips, he usually ends up getting supremely irritated with Maya and the crowds and either storms off to leave me to scrape Maya up off the ground and deal with the stares and comments of the crowds or he stomps around miserably the whole day refusing to take part.

Forget my sanity, it's everything I can do to keep the will to live.  

So, this was the backdrop as we left the house early this morning to go to Plopsaland.  I was armed with nothing but my iPhone, an extra change of clothes for Maya,  our flimsy deals and my extra large coffee, preparing myself for the worst knowing that Maya would have fun, we would enjoy seeing her have fun but knowing also that there would be eye rolling, there would be meltdowns and that the chances were great that Maya would cry all the way from the exit to the car and halfway home, that this would ruin Leo's entire day and that I would spend the day fighting the urge to yell.

Alas, though that maturity spurt had been waiting for Plopsaland all this time.

Maya was GREAT.  She listened the whole day, she played nicely, she didn't freak out about having to wait in line, she didn't have a meltdown when things didn't go as planned.

For the first time she went on all the kiddie rides alone and even waited in line alone too.  She went on the big slide completely alone, climbing all 70 stairs to the top by herself, waiting in line and for a change not causing a traffic jam ehind her because it takes her 20 minutes to work up the courage to go.  .

Everything we asked her to do she did and when it was time to go, no drama, only the word OK.

Yes, Maya still has lots of problems, lots of things to figure out and lots of things to work through there will be much more micromanaging, microscoping and photosynthesis in our future.

But TODAY, Maya was just a kid at an amusement park.  And we were just a family, enjoying our daughter's pleasure, her freedom, her soaring to the stars.

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