Black Friday is just two days away, but this is the time of year I get to slack off. In fact, I’ve been deleting all of the emails from Target, Pottery Barn, The Gap, etc. announcing their super-fantabulous BF sales, sight unseen, and it feels gooood. The reason is simple; like my other charitable donations, I prefer to employ “year-round giving” with my children.
While moms of neurotypical kids are scrambling to fulfill promises made months ago to their children to “wait until Christmas,” I am kicking back and enjoying one of the small benefits of my sons’ autism: they really have no clue about the holidays or their birthday. We still observe all of the holidays, because really, how else will they ever learn about them otherwise; it’s just that we keep it very simple and streamlined, and pick and choose what we (okay, I) want to do.
While you’re wrinkling up your nose at my distasteful methods, let me tell you the other half of this story– the way I do buy the majority of their gifts… I give them anything they ask for. Yes, you heard me right. It’s not as indulgent as you may think, though. My kids can hardly talk at all, so if they can figure out the words to request what they want, when they want it, then by God, I’m giving it to them! Trust me, these hard-won prizes mean far more to them than any random present under a mysterious indoor tree ever would.
Case in point: Carson’s $10 Thomas balloon a few months ago. I went to the grocery store with both of my kids and made the mistake of coming in through the toy department side of the building. I had no choice– it’s where they store all the double-seated carts, the evil bastards. Carson immediately spotted a display of inflated mylar balloons, grabbed my hand, and flung it in their general direction. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?his face clearly asked.
“What?” I asked, feigning obtuseness.
Carson began to frantically sign want, intermingled with the sign for more.
“What do you want?”
He grabbed my hand and flung it again. Cannon quietly watched, maybe waiting to see if this would be a two-for-one deal earned by his brother’s work alone.
“Maybe later,” I said and began to push the cart toward the food side of the store.
“You want what?”
“Ball. Ooh. Nuh.” His eyes were pleading now.
“Okay, but not till the end!” I said, and sped off to do my shopping. He pointed, and grabbed, and flung, and uttered I, want, and balloon in every possible sentence configuration while I reassured him that he would ultimately be rewarded for it. I wasn’t trying to be mean, I just knew what every mom knows about buying balloons: the clock starts ticking the minute you put it in your child’s hands.
We screeched into the closest checkout stand, and I asked a nearby employee to fetch me the Thomas balloon. I knew there was no point in buying one for Cannon– Carson would simply confiscate it for his own, because Cannon would let him (it’s a twins thing, these hierarchies), and then I’d be out $20 instead of $10. I’m indulgent, but not overly indulgent.
The child in line ahead of us turned to his mother after seeing our balloon arrive and said hopefully, “Mommy…”
“No way,” she cut him off. Then, telepathically her eyes said to me, Thanks. Why’d you have to bring that thing to my line?
Sorry. This is the only checkout that doesn’t have candy and Hotwheels at kid-level. I communicated back.
We got the balloon home and then I finally let Carson have at it. Oh, the joy! He hugged it, squealed, and released it just to re-catch it. Over and over. He laid down on the couch so he could hold it with his feet. He licked it and smacked it. He generously let his brother taste it, too.
“This is going to end badly,” my husband announced.
And then… pfffffff. After just ten minutes, the balloon was completely loved out, and Carson was just as deflated as it was. Heartbroken.
“Go get him another one,” my husband instructed.
“I can’t do that! I’m indulgent, but not overly indulgent,” I said self-righteously.
In the end, I left my wailing child in a puddle on the floor and went to buy him Thomas bath squirters, which were more resilient. I picked up a set of Disney Cars for Cannon as well, since this was no longer about rewarding language. Both boys were happy and order was restored to our home.
I realize this sounds like odd, inconsistent parenting. I’m always the first to admit my dubious skills in this department, but I also know I’m not alone in this type of emotionally driven gift-giving. I have shared this story with other autism moms, tentatively at first, but now with confidence, only to hear back how they too will give their children anything they truly express a desire for. (By the way, can you tell I just learned that it’s now acceptable to end sentences with prepositions? )
The truth is, so many kids on the autism spectrum have such limited interests, that they rarely want much of anything. If they actually do desire an item, they often lack the language to convey it, so it’s truly amazing when they find something they like and then proceed to actually ask for it! Who wouldn’t want to reinforce that, right? And I know the NT community actually gets this, ultimately, because they are the ones buying their infants the $25 giraffe teethers! You see, we all indulge our own little splurges to make our kids’ lives a bit happier, it’s just that some of us can’t put off until tomorrow what is asked for today.