Party On

IMG_0525_crop2It was a party weekend at the Simonses.  Bronwyn brought her art school friends home for a festive summer-like evening Saturday, and Oskar’s soccer team celebrated their winning season on our patio the following night.  All this is excellent inspiration for getting yard work done, and I drew Owen into the clean up process as much as possible.  A guy with his fetish for picking bits should be a great candidate for weeding the patio, right?  Maybe not – but the whole family threw themselves into preparation and he was part of it.IMG_0518_crop

But once in the swing of the party, Owen tends to sink into the background.  Edward and I begin to visit with the guests, and I tend to mentally disconnect from Owen.  I generally hope he’s happy with a plate of food and a spot to sit.  Meanwhile, all kinds of food that he shouldn’t eat are under his nose, and the older Owen is, the less he appreciates that.  The most tempting objects in this weekend’s cornucopia of forbidden fruits were the one liter Coke bottles – though not for the reason you might suspect.  Owen’s brother caught him making off down the hall with one four liter set earlier in the week  — four liters of Coke, taped together, a special purchase from BJs warehouse, something his mom never buys.  Naturally, it was the bottles he longed for, to heck with what was inside of them.  During the party he managed to pour a literful of the nasty contents out into the washtub of ice where the drinks were picturesquely displayed (a la Pintrest), before he was caught by his sister.  By the end of two parties-worth of being marginalized with a plate of food devoid of most of the fascinating new culinary arrivals and no cool bottles to boot, Owen had probably had enough.

Obviously he noticed all those extra plastic bottles and containers that found their way into the kitchen for two party evenings.  Imagine his frustration, Monday morning early, to find that everything was cleaned up, spaces tidy, counters clean, and kitchen locked tight.  It must have been about 6 am when he experienced that frustration.

Because sometime just after 6 am our telephone rang.

“Hullo?” I yawned into the phone.

“Hi this is Sharon,” said my neighbor’s terse voice. “Owen is out on the loose in the neighborhood, at Hyatt’s now.”  She didn’t add til later that “mean old Mrs. Kunkle” had refused to share her trash cans with him already that morning.

I thanked her (at least, I hope I did), groggily yanked my bathrobe around me, and out into the steamy morning air I went.  I noted the back door standing open, and the beautifully tidied patio beyond it empty (why, oh why hadn’t I left a bottle or two out there for him to find?!).  And out front was Owen, in the street, hovering over our next door neighbor’s trash cans.  I don’t know why he needed to look farther than our own driveway, since after two parties ours fairly bristled with cans and containers of all sizes and their riches.  The other pasture is always greener I suppose.  I growled, and Owen moved homeward, waddling to support the dangling nighttime undergarment.  What a start to the day and the week.

In view of all this, it certainly behooves us to deadbolt all the doors, every night, if we can just train all the family members to do it. That works until Owen wants something on the other side enough to figure out how to open the deadbolts.  What then, chains?  What is the long term answer? Ask me in about 20 years, when I am that much wiser.  One thing I do know: you don’t want to seem to care too much, or to turn it into a competition, because the tighter you squeeze the harder he will work to escape.  Human things need to have freedom.  When I think I am clever for inventing a way to control Owen, he tends to foil it.  I guess that (and the expense) is why I haven’t yet invested in one of those wrist devices that Owen could wear 24/7 that would permit me to track him on my cell phone.  I suspect he would hate it, and spend a lot of time trying to pry it off.  We are lucky he’s not a “runner” – an individual who gets huge pleasure from suddenly charging forth into streets, down highways, or wherever, fearless.  Terrifying. Owen only occasionally wanders.

But it would be smart to lay out some decoy objects, if I can just remember to do that.  I listened to a very intelligent presentation once about designing houses and spaces to support those caring for their special needs children.    This designer was an advocate for other ways of managing “runners” besides keeping them locked up, such as a motion sensor that turns on a sprinkler as you go through the door.  If your child is very attracted to water, that sprinkler coming on will have great appeal, and lure them into the yard instead, away from the street for the few moments it takes for their parent to catch up.

There are special needs folks who run away, every chance they get.  There are folks who stuff things into toilets and flush compulsively.  There are folks who eat non-edible objects, like their mattresses.  And there are the parents who love them, the neighbors who help to look out for them and love their parents, and the creative people who think outside the box about how to help it all work better.

And there is Owen, currently in training as connoisseur of recycling bins, specializing in educating his mom.

Weeding the patio…


Trash Pickin’


Owen frequently goes out on trash-pick-up walks during his afternoons with sitter Kathie.  To be accurate, Owen goes out picking up trash all the time, wherever he is.  But Kathie is the only sitter who’s been willing to foster and guide his tendency to grab for any stray plastic cup or fluttering paper scrap, and make it something useful.  She arms him with a plastic bag, and they clean up the trails.  At the end, he gets to choose a piece for himself – the perfect reward!

Walking with Owen through our local Home Depot, me avoiding kiosks of  potted orchids etc. and him wandering away constantly, answering the siren call of tantalizing fragments of broken palette or plastic strapping, I feel certain “trash pick up” is a job he could love.  He has a sharp eye for things he cares about. I see him wearing protective gloves, the orange apron, and picking up every single forgotten bit from forgotten corners of the store and parking lot.  I see him being part of a working team.

I remember expressing to one of Owen’s teachers at St. Coletta School in D.C. my anxieties on the subject of adult employment – what to do after school.  How could anyone ever get Owen to do a job? She said the school had surprising success, that as with anyone else, you look for a job that matches the person’s isms and fetishes. Teaching the guy with a fantastic memorization skills who loves routine to sort mail at the post office.  Or hiring the slightly mentally slow, but very patient and dependable guy to be a live-in caregiver to supervise the dressing of one who is so highly distracted he can’t get dressed.  These two are real-life examples. It just takes time, she assured me.  Owen was easy-going but pretty education-resistant, but I haven’t given up.

Succeed, and our special populations will experience a life of connectedness to the larger world.  When and if we don’t succeed there is that other life, safely stowed in front of a television, out of sight under the fluorescent lights of a daycare program.  While it’s a wonderful thing to be warm and dry and fed — something that even 100 years ago (50?)someone like my Owen would not have experienced courtesy of his government — it is also marvelous to be occupied, to be part of a team with a common goal.

But there are problems with my vision of Owen as Maintenance Man.

Like the fact that he is likely to take a chance on that little brown thing being chocolate, that he isn’t too picky about a grubby piece of popcorn or second hand apple.  The education process would take time and cleverness, finding a reward more potent than the lure of the garbage itself.  I am sure that it can be done.  And Owen’s dad and I are more interested in an active life for him than a risk-free one. But given the safety conscious times we live in, so full of Americans ready to file suit and claim their fortunes, can I convince a program, an aide, or a prospective employer to take a chance?