Tag Archives: Family

World Autism Awareness Day

It’s hard to write about this topic because there’s so much I could say. My boys are both teenagers now. One was diagnosed 10 years ago, the other about 4. What a ride it’s been!

Alex, Daniel and Me, a couple Summers ago.
Alex, Daniel and Me, a couple Summers ago.

Daniel’s autism diagnosis came between first and second grades, around the time we discovered he had such a severe ear infection that he’d effectively lost 90% of his hearing in one ear, and 50% in the other. He never said a word. We knew he was quirky. His first grade teacher didn’t like him very much because he didn’t follow directions, and he did “weird” things. For example, if an older kid asked him to eat dirt, he would, just because it was the nice thing to do. He also sat in the back of the class, disoriented and mostly unable to hear, and thus unable to follow instructions. I think Judi and I still haven’t overcome our dislike for the woman who spent 40 hours a week with our son for 40 weeks, and never noticed there might be something different about him.

In first grade, he went from virtually non-literate in September (he knew a few letters here and there, to reading his first Harry Potter novel in December. He has a very good grasp of content, often remembering things literally. Don’t force him to make eye contact. he doesn’t like that. He can’t take notes–his handwriting was an impedement over the years, but we overcame much of this by introducing him to keyboarding skills at around 2nd or 3rd grade. He loves reading, and he’s hilarious! Whether or not he knows it, he’s the king of non-sequiturs, and he often notices peculiar things about the world that nobody else would.

He struggles with his temper, and sometimes forgets it’s not okay to hit. He’s seventeen years old. No, we didn’t beat this out of him, or set him in a corner until he was fourteen. It’s Daniel. I wouldn’t trade his quirks for a “healthy” brain.

Alexander is also smart, and like his brother, much much bigger than most of the people in his class. He’s possibly a math genius. he takes to it at an intuitive level. He wrote his seventh-grade class project on the Laws of Thermodynamics, because he “wanted to teach African kids more about the fundamental principles of science.”

Yet, for years, he struggled with his emotions. If he received too much stimulation, he’d go fetal under his classroom desk, and start bawling (screeching, really). We had to include a self-advocacy clause in his education program in order for him to be allowed to take himself out of the classroom, and get a drink of water or take a walk, when he felt this coming on. It seemed to work well, and he no longer needs the breaks.

He loves video games of all kinds, and his favorite two websites are Wikipedia and YouTube, where he studies gaming strategies with unrivaled intensity. He loves to laugh, and to interact in groups. He took drama in 7th and 8th grade, and particularly enjoyed improv. This is his fourth year in choir, and he loves to sing.

They’re good boys. They have autism. Maybe autism has them. But, oddly, to me it doesn’t really define them. Daniel refuses to accept the label, and Alex takes it in due course but you won’t catch him reading up on it. There was a sci-fi book a few years back, about a world where someone with autism could take a drug regimen and become “normal.” I am certain neither of my boys would take on such a thing. They are both comfortable with themselves, and the autism doesn’t limit them; rather, it defines them. They wouldn’t trade it. Neither would I. They’ve made peace with themselves and I hope others can too.

Growing up in Pistol River

I suppose, now I’ve slept for a night, that I should have considered thinking of an actual topic before I promised a blog yesterday.  Yet, here I am. It’s twenty-till-eight in the morning, and I’m blogging.  This is more blogging than I’ve done in about 45 days. Exhausting. I should go back to bed.

I spent an hour yesterday evening talking to my mother, Continue reading Growing up in Pistol River

This Was the Gift that Was

I’ve never been good at accepting compliments. In fact, this is a skill, I’ve discovered, which people don’t do naturally. You have to practice it, all that stuff involving giving and receiving thanks and graciously sending and accepting gifts. The first time I realized you actually had to learn this was in the late 1980s, when I was studying music. After a particularly painful piano recital, my friend Tammy told me what a great job I did. Okay, I thought. We’re all music students here. I blew chunks. I had to restart the piece twice because it was Bach, and there’s no way you can wind up the Bach clock halfway. Bach is like one of those bad Civil War attempts at machine guns.  If it jams, your only option is to disassemble the whole thing and start again from scratch. That roughly describes how I played it. So, instead of graciously thanking Tammy for her obviously-generous comment, I growled ‘Oh, come on! We both know how much I sucked in there.”

Now, I hadn’t realized then, but probably should have, that it’s sort of like a gift. You wouldn’t throw a gift back in the face of its giver with a snarl. You say thank you, and move on, and dispose of the gift at the next white elephant party you attend. Or, in the case of a “you did well” when you clearly didn’t, just file it away, under “at least she didn’t publicly state that I sucked.

It was years later, at my Senior recital, in fact, when Stacey complimented me after the concert. There I was, in a tux and everything, having done a repertoire  of Copland, Schubert, Gabriel Fauré, and Schumann. I didn’t do badly. When Stacey told me what a good job I did, I immediately went into music critic mode, and started pointing out all the technical errors I made that she, a mere musical novice, had overlooked.  After a minute or so of this, she glared at me and said flatly, “Brian, why can’t you just accept a compliment? Just say thank you, and then move on…” Damn. And I thought I was being clever and self-effacing.

And the evening went on from there. We were good friends, and she wasn’t going to let the moment fester into something angry. I got her back later by trying to unhook her bra strap in front of a Mexican restaurant. Long story. I still laugh when I think of the screech she managed.

But that’s not the point. In 1992, Stacey made me really start thinking about my reactions to the compliments of others. From there I began actually saying thank you, and then moving on. It took getting used to at first. It seemed wrong to take an unsolicited word gift from a person, and just say thank you. But eventually I got better at it. I’m not perfect. I still sometimes catch myself adding more inferior words to my response, but for the most part, I do just what Stacey told me to. I say thank you, and then move on.

Which brings me to my mother-in-law.

Liz Taylor's Passion. Liz Taylor, coincidentally, has been dead for 10 months, but her scent lives on.

She’s a fine woman, really. I don’t mean to pick on her incessantly, but ever since Friday night, when my wife opened her birthday present from Mom K, it’s kind of poked at the back of my head. We immediately recognized the gift: Liz Taylor’s “Passion” – Perfume in a big purple bottle. We also immediately recognized it as the same gift Mom K received 3 weeks earlier, from her husband, on her birthday.

On one hand she complains that “My nieces never like anything I give; they sell whatever I give them, or regift it. They don’t appreciate or understand me.” In the next breath, she’s talking about exchanging something she’s been given (“I asked for medium and they got me large”), or regifting her gifts, to her daughter.

Judi opened the present and said “It’s perfume. Her favorite perfume. She wants me to smell like her and that’s her gift to me?” I kind of chuckled until I realized, that’s what the note said:

Happy birthday!

Hi, Judi. If you don’t want to ‘smell’ like your Mama, we can replace this. We bought it at Walmart and maybe you can exchange it for some other scent. Or we can send you funds to buy something else, then you can hang on to this and give it back to me next time we get together.”

So, essentially, Mom K already assumed (1) Judi would hate the gift and (2) would want to return it to whatever store and (3) maybe even give it back; and possibly (and rudely) (4) ask her parents for money equal to the cost of the gift so she can buy something else that Judi would prefer.

I was shocked. Really. Or I wouldn’t be writing this.

It’s one thing to give a gift, and pre-empt the thank you with a “I hope you like it” or “I hope it’s the right size”; it’s quite another to prejudge the gift as a horrible one and send what’s tantamount to an apology for the gift, including instructions of how to dispose of the gift. Meals go the same way. “Good rolls, Mom K.” “Well…” and she proceeds to tell us all the things that went wrong with the meal.

Yeah. I can see my boys using this to work out. Can't you?

My mind’s still in a bit of a flurry. I’m not angry, you know. Or hurt. It’s funny, but a bit sad. It doesn’t affirm her cooking to make us double down on compliments: “No. Really! Everything is fine. I loved the rolls!” Neither does it exactly make us want to reinforce our thankfulness when we  receive gift disposal instructions, as if it were some sort of Mission Impossible.

One more thing. She tried to send our boys home with one of those “weight-shaker” made-for TV things that makes you look like nothing so much as a person who’s freakishly bad at masturbating, and loves whacking it in public. Supposedly it diminishes arm flab. Six minutes a day, television says. Now, my sons have a lot of worries, but arm flab ain’t one of them. I don’t know how Judi managed to “accidentally” leave that in Missouri. I have a feeling it wouldn’t have got through airport security anyway. And I’m sure they’d have chosen that bag for inspection and had a good laugh at the Branson airport for years to come.

It’s kind of sad. We love her. Honestly. A person doesn’t need to evade compliments by writing rehearsed, sorrowful notes about how much we’ll hate a  gift. We don’t hate her cooking. Quite the opposite, in fact. And, I can’t possibly begin to count the number of ways we don’t want a Weight Shaker in our house. One of the boys would put it through a plate glass window in a freak accident anyhow. Yet, in all this, I wonder how different her life would be if she’d had someone like Stacey, when she was 22, to tell her, “Just say thank you. Then move on.”

[Incidentally: the blog title was unabashedly stolen from, and altered with, a recent collection of Tom Lehrer songs in mind]


Monday night, around 8:30 PM, we arrived in Auburn. We chose Round Table pizza for dinner that night because it had been a few years since any of us had enjoyed it. The one nearest our location is Idaho. They don’t deliver to Washington DC. The whiners.

Continue reading Grandparents


This post is about Alexander. Not Alex: Alexander. He’s quite precise about this. He’s got a touch of Asperger Syndrome himself, does Alexander, but we never diagnosed it until about a year ago. Maybe I didn’t want it to be true. Judi spotted the signs before I did. Little things would frustrate him: his teacher would say Music Class was at 12:45 and the students wouldn’t leave until 1 PM. Or, his brother’s turn on the computer was an hour and three minutes, instead of our proscribed hour.  Continue reading Alexander


I just woke Daniel from his 6AM slumber.  Soon, he’ll be wandering out of his room, make two pieces of toast, and go sit silently in the dark until it’s time to catch the school bus. He does this every morning. He never falls asleep and never misses the bus. Amazing. Continue reading Daniel

Superstition (Pt. 2)

Continuation of a discussion about my “spiritual” heritage. Here are links to Superstition pt. 1 and Superstition Pt. 3.

I often wondered if I came to Christianity only to fill the void left by a broken family. It may be true. I was seven years old at the time; somewhere between my second and third grade year. The summer before, on a hot summer Sacramento day, a number of family members loaded up furniture onto Glenn Hensley’s smelly stock truck and we began the daylong journey to our new home in Oregon. Continue reading Superstition (Pt. 2)