A Bump in the Night

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My twins have been opposites their whole lives. She likes soup; he likes sandwiches. She likes hot showers; he prefers lukewarm. And even though their sleep habits are also opposite (Richie’s an early riser who falls asleep within minutes of getting into bed; Jillian’s a night owl who would read until the wee hours), they insisted on sharing a bedroom until they were ten years old.

Part of what made the room sharing so fun was the bunk beds: Jillian up top, Richie down below. And the arrangement worked for my husband and I, too, because if Jillian kept her reading light on too late, Richie would tell her to turn it off. And of course, if she didn’t, he would come tell us. The rules must be followed!

At age five, the kids’ bedtime was 8:15, but it was a pretty common occurrence for Jillian to wander back out of their bedroom after 9:00 PM. She would ask to use the bathroom, describe a scary noise she heard, or insist that she ABSOLUTELY HAD BEEN asleep, but the television/dogs barking/changing barometric pressure woke her up.

One night around 9:30, she made her second post-bedtime appearance in the living room (her first trip out had been for a drink of water). Seeing her reappear, I kept my nose in my book and gave her only about 10% of my attention; refusing to engage in conversation was my way of not rewarding her for getting out of bed.

“Mom, I really was asleep this time, but I heard kind of a bamming noise,” she said.

“Um-hmm.”

“Mom, it was kind of loud and it scared me.”

“Well, Jillian, it was probably just a car door slamming outside, or one of your books falling off the bed. Please go back to bed.” (Note how beautifully my No Talking plan is working here.)

“Well, I really was asleep but then I heard that noise and I thought I was dreaming,” she continued. “But I wasn’t dreaming; it was a real noise. Then I thought it might be a monster, but you always say there are no monsters. So I was scared but I kept trying to figure out what that noise was.”

“Ok, Jillian,” I told her in my most bored-sounding monotone, “go back to bed now.”

“Well, I counted all my animals and they were all still up in the bed with me. So it wasn’t them. Plus, they are too light to make much noise if they fall down. And it was a LOUD NOISE, Mom! And all my library books were still with me, too. So it wasn’t them.”

She paused, so I told her again, “Go back to bed, Jillian.”

“Well, then I looked down and Richie wasn’t in his bed.”

“WHAT?!? Richie fell out of bed?!?”

“Yes, that’s what I told you! He made kind of a bamming noise.”

How Not To: Start a Conversation

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“I would like to watch someone in our family fall off a tall building.”

“Excuse me?”

“I would like to watch someone in our family fall off a tall building. And then when they got really close to the ground, I would swoop in and save them.”

“Like Superman?”

“Yes, like Superman.”

Shoe Shopping

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I took Richie shoe shopping yesterday.  This is always a guilt-laden activity for me, because it’s always precipitated by me suddenly remembering, weeks or months too late, that he has feet. And that they grow. And that shoes don’t.

(Confession: I can get so caught up in the “keeping my children alive” thing that I forget they have needs beyond food, shelter, and Minecraft.)

Yesterday Richie walked through the kitchen, and it occurred to me that it had been a long time since he’d  had new sneakers. I bent over to feel the front of his shoe, to feel how much “room to grow” he still had.  But I never even touched his shoe, because as soon as I looked, I could see that the front of his shoes were deformed.  As in, the child had been wearing too-small sneakers for so long that his big toes had built some nice little condos out the front.  I straightened up and muttered the four words most appropriate for moments like this: Mother of the Year.

Part of Richie’s Autism is that he can’t feel his own body the way the rest of us do. He rarely tells us that he is hungry or thirsty; it’s like he just doesn’t recognize what these feel like. He eats regular meals – big ones – but I can only remember one time in his almost 12 years when he came to me and asked for food. Feeling cold is difficult for him, too; the school he used to attend let him go outside to recess once in 30-degree, wet weather without his coat. I happened to be in the classroom when he came inside, and although he was tremendously pale with a red nose and ears and could barely move his fingers, it never occurred to him that he was extremely cold.

Looking back at his infancy, I realize that the earliest indication of Richie’s lack of body awareness happened before he was even a year old. His twin sister, Jillian, was extremely fussy and was touching her right ear repeatedly. We made a Saturday morning emergency appointment with our pediatrician and walked in with both babies in their car seats. The doctor examined Jillian and determined that she did not have an ear infection. Seeing Richie sitting peacefully in his car seat, the doctor decided to check his ears as well (I have no idea why).  Turned out it was the quiet baby giving no indication of pain who had a raging ear infection.

You might think that the mother of a child like this would be able to keep such information in the front of her mind.  Not me. Mother of the Year.

Off to the shoe store we went. A salesgirl measured Richie’s feet and brought us a few pairs of sneakers in his size.  As she sat down to open the boxes, she casually mentioned that now that his feet were a size 4, he no longer had the option of shoes with Velcro closures.

She might as well have told us that he’d have to wear his underpants on his head. He sucked in his breath and put his hands over his ears. I stayed outwardly calm but was just as panicked on the inside.

My dear, one-in-a-million son, the one who charms me daily and touches my soul with the things he says, takes FOREVER to get his shoes on.  His shoes with the quick Velcro closures! 

Fine motor tasks are difficult for him. I’ve heard Autism advocates say that to empathize, I should try putting my shoes on while wearing oven mitts. And when I imagine doing that, it makes me want to slow down and be the most patient mother in the universe each time we leave the house. However…I am me, Type A and impatient, and we need to be at baseball practice in 20 minutes!

Richie and I both took a deep breath and resigned ourselves to lace-up sneakers. He tried on two pairs (tied by the sales girl), running around the store in each one.  He is really into The Flash right now, so each time he stopped, he would turn, flatten his hands & fingers, bend his elbows to 90-degree angles, cock one arm behind him, and then flash forward across the store. Except that his running is not exceptionally graceful.  Still, cutest Flash ever.

He chose the black sneakers, and the salesgirl took them to the counter to ring us up. I looked at Richie’s face and saw immediately that he was still thinking about the whole “no Velcro” crisis.

“Richie,” I asked, “are you worried about learning to tie your shoes?”

“Yes….it’s going to take me a long time.” He looked thoughtful for a minute, and I could see the wheels turning in his head.  I realize now that he was imagining an ideal world where they make Velcro-closure shoes in every size, so no man, woman, or child needs to feel stress. Where even his Mom could wear the Velcro shoes he loves so much.

“I know you can do it, Richie,” I said.  “You’ll practice and you’ll learn to tie your shoes.  It’s part of growing up. You’re getting bigger, they don’t make shoes with Velcro in your size, and it’s time to get sneakers with laces.”

He glanced down at my tidily-laced sneakers, then back up at my face. “Is that what happened to you?”

 

P.S. I later found some “hook and loop” (Velcro) closure shoes in Richie’s size on Zappos.com.  But I’m holding off for now.  I really do believe he can do this. And it’s time.

Richie Has a Way with Words, #201

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Yesterday we boarded a plane to fly home.  Richie was next to the window, Jillian had the middle seat, and I was on the aisle.  As we were settling in & buckling up, I heard him breathing strangely. The noises he was making were so subtle that no one around us could have possibly realized anything was wrong, but I could tell he was distressed.

“Richie,” I asked, “are you okay?”

He paused for a beat and then said very, very calmly and evenly, “Yes.  I just go crazy sometimes.”

Vacation by Numbers

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As we wrap up our spring break in St. Pete Beach, Florida & head for the airport, a summary:

  1. New #1 favorite airport code of the Berry family: St. Pete-Clearwater International: it’s PIE!
  2. Hours we were in Florida before Richie declared that he would be moving here when he’s an adult: 0.
  3. Local restaurants recommended to us by our dear friends who used to live in the area: 3.
  4. Of those restaurants, the number we visited: 3.
  5. Of those visits, the number of times we tormented those friends by texting/posting while dining al fresco at their favorite warm-weather eateries while they were stuck up north in the cold: 3.
  6. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being very sure and 10 being not sure at all, how confident we are that we still have those friends: 5.
  7. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being smart and 10 being not smart at all, how Richie judges our friends’ intelligence based on their decision to move from Florida to Pennsylvania: 10.
  8. Sunburns: 0.  Yippee!!
  9. Times I mocked Rich and Jillian while they discussed the pain from their Pina Colada brain-freezes so virulently you’d have thought they were two baby bunnies being waterboarded: 1.
  10. Virgin Pina Coladas consumed by Jillian: 5.
  11. Virgin Pina Coladas consumed by Rich: 0.
  12. Times Richie asked us, while on the beach, what time it was: 742,851.
  13. Number of family members in agreement that we didn’t need to know the time while on vacation, so we would always answer “1:30” when someone asked for the time: 3.
  14. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being not bothered at all and 10 being incredibly pissed off, how annoyed Richie was by this policy: 7.
  15. Dolphin sightings from the beach: 3.
  16. Squeals of delight at seeing dolphins: 3. (From Rich or Richie: 0.)
  17. Times I offered to take another family’s picture so even the mom could be in it: 3.
  18. Moms who took me up on that offer: 3.
  19. Number of U.S. families now able to boast that their Christmas card picture was taken by the palest middle-aged Pennsylvania mom on St. Pete Beach: 1.
  20. Times I ordered a vodka tonic with 2 limes: 3.
  21. Received a vodka tonic with 2 limes: 0.
  22. Received a vodka tonic with 1  lime: 3.
  23. Added the lime from my first vodka tonic to my second vodka tonic in order to pretend that someone thought I deserved 2 limes: 1.
  24. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being a little and 10 being a lot, how much our family needed this vacation: 10.
  25. On the same scale, how grateful I am to my brother & his family for staying at our house and caring for our dogs: 10.
  26.  Loads of laundry I’ll be doing tomorrow: at least 6.
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In training for Spring Break 2026.  Don’t tell Gram.

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This kid is consistent.  The chaise lounge has always been his favorite outdoor play toy.

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Herbie the sea chicken.  He liked us so much that he would find us every time we walked on the beach.

Hilariously Inappropriate

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Today at the beach, Richie and I held hands and started walking into the water to play in the waves.  He asked me something, but between the noise of the waves and the wind in my ears, I couldn’t hear him.  I asked him to repeat himself.

“Will your *@#stss* be okay in the waves?”  I didn’t catch that one word, so I asked him to repeat it again.

“Will your *$#@sses be okay?”

Still not sure I heard him, I asked, “What? My glasses?” It would be like Richie to worry about the sunglasses I was wearing, that maybe they would fall off in the water or even just get some sand or water on them.

This time he spoke loud and clear: “Will your breasts be okay in the waves?”