Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Make Believe

We are not really a once-upon-a-time sort of family.

I write non-fiction. The sweet girl reads the dictionary as her bedtime reading. And I can't remember the last time her father read a novel.

And, of course, for the most part, magic potents have not worked out for us. Dragons continue to breathe fire. Damsels in distress are still, much of the time, locked in silent castles. (Okay, forgive the fortress metaphor—I know it's a bit worn from decades of abuse and over use, but we still have many a silent and reclusive day over here at Autism's Edges so it still sometimes seems apt.)

We have worked with potents like Paxil, and magic powders like probiotics. We've had raging meltdowns and fiery words with airport security, medical professionals and special educators, not to mention complete strangers. And we still have a girl who is remote much of the time and with most of the people in her world.

And we're thirteen years into this now. Yes, we're officially thirteen years into this journey as of tomorrow at 6:04 pm when the sweet girl officially becomes a teenager.

Unlike other years, this year, for the first time ever, we are not having a big party. We are not inviting all the kids in her grade. Or our friends and colleagues from New Jersey with their lovely boy Charlie. Or kids from our neighborhood. No bowling alleys, no Mars 2012 theme restaurant, no rock climbing or gymnastics. I have mixed feelings about the change.

These big parties are just a bit too young for a teenager. Now the kids at school are having smaller, exclusive events, sometimes even dates, with their closest friends and sometimes boyfriends.

And that's the hitch. The sweet girl doesn't yet have any close or closest friends. She believes she has friends. She thinks of her classmates as friends. She does not yet seem to understand that friendly and friend are part of a continuum. She is herself increasingly friendly, but she remains locked out of the rush of girlish chatter that marks adolescence and seals the bonds of BFFs. There is just too much talky-talking for the girl.

Yet ironically, in honor of this auspicious birthday, the entry into that portal to adulthood, the sweet girl wants four things: a cell phone, real jewelry, keys to our apartment, and a dog (or a chinchilla, since they have the softest fur ever, an observation she made after petting one at the pet store near her school.) All the kids in her class have cellphones now. One of the girls wears only real gems. Some of them get to walk home on their own and let themselves into their apartments. And most of them have some sort of pet. So these are more than age-appropriate gifts. They feel like marks of arrival.

I was trying to figure out how to swing all of this. I had debated whether to upgrade my phone and give her my hand-me-down. We talked about whether she would want a 3G or a 4G. She could tell I was figuring out how we were going to swing this expense -- something of a stretch for us these days.

Then last Saturday the sweet girl said to me: "Hey M, I have an idea. Why don't we ask Santa for a cellphone for Christmas? Then you won't have to spend any money! Remember he brought you that cool computer writing pad two years ago. Why don't you write him an email right now so he'll have it on his list."

The nearly thirteen-year-old girl truly believes in Santa. And the nearly thirteen-year-old girl has figured out that someone is worrying about something and that there might be a way to fix it and get what you want. Poised on the brink of adolescence, she has magical thinking of an five-year-old and the negotiating savvy of an arbitrager.

We believe in our girl, even if we don't believe in Santa. And she believes in Santa because of thirteen years of garlands and trees, sugar cookies with notes, and magically appearing gifts on cold December mornings.

We'll be finding a way to get that magical phone, some precious gem, and that fluffy pet in the next couple of months.

I guess you could say that our policy about her future can be summed up in two words.




Awd said...

I'm with Sweet M about the girlish chatter thing - teenaged girls have got to be, through no fault of their own, the most irritating creatures on the planet. I thought this even when I was one, so I wasn't exactly the most popular girl in school!

Anyway, I actually wanted to comment on the pets: Have you thought about a ferret at all? If you're looking for something that acts sort of like a dog without actually being one, a ferret is probably your best bet. Chinchillas are soft and look adorable, but they're skittish and not fond of being held or petted - generally not good substitutes for kids who really wanted a dog. A ferret can be walked (well, put on a leash and carried most of the way, but it will still enjoy it), taught to use a litterbox as easily as a cat (and more easily than housebreaking a dog in many cases), and, with a bit of baby-proofing, be permitted to roam about the apartment with minimal supervision (a cage is required at night and when you're out, though). Neutered males in particular are usually very gentle, patient pets, and young adults looking for loving homes can be found in refuges throughout the country, if you want to avoid the nippy stage some go through as youngsters (not proper biting, but it can still be a bit upsetting for kids).

Wow, that was much longer than intended! Hope you can find the perfect pet for your girl, in any case!

Awd said...

And it has just occurred to me after submitting my last post that ferrets as pets are illegal in New York. Sorry, I always forget the pet restrictions in the US - over here, as long as your pet is relatively unlikely to kill anyone, you're pretty much good to go.

In that case, how about rats? Or a big, floppy cat that would be well-suited to apartment-living (e.g. a Ragdoll or Persian-type)?

MothersVox said...

Hi Annika. Thanks for all of your ideas about this! You know we thought about a pet rabbit as an alternative, but it didn't seem safe since I'm told they bite a lot. We never thought about ferrets -- that's interesting. But I guess illegal for us!

We'd go for a cat, but I am too allergic. In fact for the dog breeds we're looking at, we need to find a hypoallergenic type -- one with hair rather than fur. Right now we're thinking of coton de tulear, and I've ask the animal shelters to keep an eye out for one. (Our animal shelter has an email notification system for this, which I think is really cool.) We are in a really small apartment, so we need a very small dog. A toy poodle is another option, but the coton's are beautiful and so cute. Cute is a must. I have a theory that cuteness ups people's oxytocin (babies up people's oxytocin production) and apparently social functioning increases with increased levels of oxytocin. Maybe this is part of how canine-therapy works with autistic kids. Just a theory. Anyway, thanks for writing.

The sweet girl had a great birthday yesterday -- she got her phone and a semi-precious gem -- her birthstone the topaz -- and so we'll be working on the apartment keys and the dog shortly!

Liz Ditz said...

From one November birthday woman to another -- Happy Birthday!

How about a guinea pig? Don't need walking, tolerates cage life, tend to have a five or six year life-span, sociable but undemanding for first-time pet owners, and some are really, really soft.

I still have the topaz ring my dad gave me for my 13th birthday -- but it doesn't fit even on my littlest finger. Danged joints.

Awd said...

Rabbits can be bitey, yeah, and they have a whole host of potential health issues. Rats are awesome if you aren't squicked by them - highly intelligent and tons of fun to watch and play with, and can be trained to come to their name and many other things, if you have the patience. Short lifespans, though (2-3 years) and absolutely have to be kept in groups.

Guinea pigs are great rabbit-alternatives. It's very rare to find a biter, and they will put up with almost anything (doesn't mean you should put them through almost anything, of course). Since they don't jump and don't need a lot of sawdust or hay to burrow in, their housing can be a lot of fun, too. You can skip the cage and get creative, like this: http://www.rodentswithattitude.co.uk/housing10.jpg or a long narrow run along a wall, or whatever best fits in your space. Also pretty much odourless, unlike rats and ferrets.

Okay, I'm done now, I just started remembering the guinea pigs I had as a kid and got carried away. Good luck with your hunt!

Niksmom said...

I'm not quite sure why but this made me kind of leaky around my eyes. Perhaps it is the love which oozes from every word you write about your daughter. I am glad her birthday was a happy one.

Have you considered a Bichon-Poodle mix? They are hypoallergenic and awfully cute!

MothersVox said...

Thanks Liz! It's great to know another November gal! We have thought about guinea pigs, but I'm thinking that something that she'll need to walk would be good in a lot of ways - exercise and all that. There's a lot to think about here!

And hi NiksMom! A Bichon mix is a great idea. We are thinking about a Coton de Tulear, but are trying to get one from the shelter, which may be a challenge. A Bichon might also work! I think they have hair coats rather than fur. It's that fur that gets me sneezing! And you're right, I do love the girl. She's so amazing - so dazzling in her own peculiar way.

MothersVox said...

And Annika, thanks for the link to the guinea pig site! That's really helpful!