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Friday, June 29, 2012

The Shade of my Ancient Branches

Come sit with me under the darkness of my ancient branches.  These long limbs that bend and sway to no master but the Wind.  That which commands me; pushes me absent-mindedly, violently shakes me and twists my limbs in anger.  That which caresses me like a tender lover; my master the wind.

These ancient branches that have warmed to the rays of a hundred year of suns. That have drank from unending torrents of rain and that have been stripped bare by the cruel hands of a merciless killer called Winter.  My branches are unyielding and will offer you solace.  Come sit with me under the shade of my ancient branches.

Take your shoes off as you walk towards your resting place.  Leave behind these trappings of modern man against the curb; against the threshold where man and nature are divided.  Where business and commerce and industry fade to a boorish roar and where the blades of grass bend and bow in your wake.  Where ants tremble at your approaching footsteps and your soles sink ever so softly into the warm earth.  Take off your shoes and feel what your forefathers felt in ageless times before you.  When beast and man collided in a dance of fear and desperation and fire.

Lay your weight against my scarred and sacred pillar; this lifeline that connects earth and sky.  Feel my coarse skin dig unapologetically into your back. Know that I do this without malice. Rather, it serves as a reminder that while the world around you changes, I remain steadfast in my beautiful simplicity.  For while I move and sway when currents blow, I will not move for you.....for man.  I am shelter; I am resolute.

Listen as I whisper to you in the shade of my ancient branches.  Do you hear what I share with you?  Do you understand a language that was spoken millennia before you and will be sung still when the next epoch comes?  It is wisdom I share with you in these whispers.  Whispers of days gone by; of secrets and sins, of a changing landscape that continues to pitch and roll around you as you sit in the shade of my ancient branches; unmoved.

Will you allow yourself to travel farther away from the world you come from? Will your fingers find their way into the rich earth beneath you?  Where death is imminent yet life springs eternal?  Do you feel it?  The pulse of something much older than you.  The movement of things largely unseen; the sliding of bodies, the frantic push of tissue through dirt?  I am a part of all that moves below. Your fingers straddle the threshold of this world underneath yet I plunge into it's ether; into obsidian pitch. Perhaps reaching for a returned touch that I will never truly find.

Our time draws to a close. Perhaps you will carry some of my world back into yours.  As you wish movement back into your limbs, I whisper sage advice down to you from my highest reaches.  I leave you with dirt under your fingernails as a reminder of days gone by when your ancestors worked the lands.  I leave you with furrows in your clothing as a reminder that these lines have been earned not from a hard days work, but from allowing your inhibitions to run rampant for a time.  I leave you.

As you walk back to the sidewalk; to the threshold where man and nature are divided, look back upon this Titan.  Look back upon these ancient branches and know that you may return to the shade when the weight of the world becomes to much to bear.  As time drags on and the call of the world outside your window beckons, come sit with me under the darkness of my ancient branches.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hello. My name is "I have no social skills." Wanna be friends?

So it's been far too long since my last post.  I've been lazy.  I've been unmotivated and quite frankly, I've been a little deflated.  Work has been tough and my mood has been shaky.  But that all started to change last week.  I saw something that snapped me out of my funk and decided to write about it.  So here goes.

My boy has a diagnosed case of Aspergers.  In short, he has little comprehension of the required social skills necessary to make it through most situations that many of us take for granted.  He doesn't pick up on social cues. He barges into conversations. He gets really upset when his routine is thrown out of whack.  He is a challenge. But he's also my boy and he's a great kid!

Yep...that's my boy!
His challenges can; at times, filter across into the playground and classroom.  He has struggled for years to find friends and have them put up with his 'nuances'.  Teachers either love him (as he really is quite endearing) or; as it is in this case, barely tolerate him and treat him as a burden rather than a brilliant mind that should be moulded and crafted.  Unlike many other 'normal' kids, he has the capacity to do amazing intellectual things.  He picks up on small details that many of us would take for granted.  At times, on a microscopic level.  He can be brilliant.  Think,"evil-genius-level" brilliant minus the sharks with laser beams on their heads.  And he doesn't really have a fortress of doom.....yet.

Any ways, as I was mentioning, his challenges often cause conflict out on the playground as he is a constant source of teasing and ridicule. His ticks making him visibly vulnerable and his mannerisms make him odd.  It's a constant uphill battle.

About 10 Weeks ago we were contacted by a local organization here in town called Children at Risk; they work with kids that fall within the Autism Spectrum helping them adapt to situations and learn how to "be" more effectively in the world.  They wanted to meet with us (including my son) to see if he would be a fit for one of their programs.  8 Weeks ago he started in to a weekly program with 6 other boys that all had some form or mild Autism, Aspergers or ADHD.  The goal was to get them to work together in social situations and learn how to manage their challenges more effectively.

While this was all well and good, we'd read the books before and tried different approaches and met with mixed results.  As this was costing us, I was a little sceptical about the outcome.  "One more cash grab" was the message floating around in the back of my head.  I needed to see some serious results to feel that these classes were working.

Each Wednesday night became routine.  The wife and kids would pick me up after work, we'd go for dinner, drop my son off at class, shop for an hour and a half, go back and get him, get the dog from Doggy Day Jail (Petsmart Day Camp) and then wrestle the kids into bed after an exhausting 15 hour day.  The first few Wednesdays came and went without so much as a whisper about how the sessions were going.  We'd ask my son how the class went and generally were met with one or two words. "Good.  Ok."  Yep, these courses were really paying for themselves......FML.

Then about 4 weeks in I started watching the other parents as they brought their kids to the class and subsequently picked them up later that evening.  I watched how they interacted with their boys.  I watched the look of frustration or apathy melt away from their faces when the door to the classroom closed and they realized they were free for even a minimal amount of time.

Before you judge though and think that we're all terrible parents that hate their kids, hear me out.  As much as I saw these parents go through the motions each Wednesday and systematically cut and run on their kids, I watched their faces when they picked their kids up after each session.  It wasn't exhaustion that showed back up, but joy.  Seeing their boy come bounding out of the class full of energy and smiles brought smiles to their faces; if even for only a few minutes before the weight of life came floating back down.

As the sessions progressed, I had more people mention to me that they had noticed improvement in my son's disposition.  He was calmer, more focussed....happier.  The sessions seemed to be working.  At times it seemed difficult to see the progress.  Sometimes you're too far into the situation to appreciate the changes that are happening.

It wasn't until the second last session that the full weight of it actually hit me.  I was in the classroom getting my son or at least, trying to get him!.  He was fully focused on a game of to-the-death air hockey with the other boys.  It was do or die overtime and the play was fast and frantic.  Tongues hanging out of mouths in concentration, eyes focused on the puck and smiles as wide as the Grand Canyon on all of their faces.  They were having FUN.

As a Dad, you hope that your kids will grow up healthy, happy and yes.....even popular.  For any Parent that has a child that is afflicted by a physical, mental or emotional disorder, you never truly lose site of those hopes, but you learn to adjust your outlook slightly.  You learn to be more realistic.  You learn to accept certain truths even if those truths smudge your ability to live vicariously through your child.   You learn to be a more realistic parent.

Mines the one on the left.
Seeing the boys playing together quickly changed my outlook on things.  Yes my son was not part of that percentage of "normal kids".  He was an anomaly; an outcast; a misfit.  But he wasn't alone.  Here before me  stood 7 lost boys.  The children that couldn't be children because they didn't always understand how to BE a kid.  But over these 8 weeks together, they had come to find out that they weren't alone.  They had brothers-in-arms that would stand beside them in their oddity because to wasn't odd at all.  What we considered anti-social, they considered the norm.  They weren't 7 boys with Autism spectrum.....they were just 7 boys.

Although the group has broken for the Summer the bond formed between these 7 ruffians has not even been bent.  Phone numbers have been exchanged, tips and tricks have been shared and plans have been laid that will carry them through until Fall.  My boy walks with his head a little higher now as does his Dad who now knows that when he meets a new potential friend, it's OK if he says
"Hello.  My name is 'I have no social skills.' Wanna be friends?"

It's OK, because somewhere in this city, there are 6 other boys doing the exact same thing.  And their triumphs and tragedies will fuel their stories for the next time they meet.....and play another killer game of air hockey.