As an overgrown man-child, I thought going into fatherhood that I would be able to anticipate the things my kids would go gaga-over. I’m 39 years old, and to this day I’d still rather watch cartoons than news or football, and I have collections of comics and action figures that Mama Angel swears is taking up indispensable real estate in our garage and basement. (She doesn’t fool me. I know she wants to sell my preciouses to finance her new tap-dancing addiction. She’ll pry those 1:6 scale Justice League action figures with authentic cloth costumes out of my cold, dead fingers!)
Sorry. Went a bit off topic, there. The point I was actually trying to get across is that I still embrace the spirit of youth and as such, thought I would have the boys all figured out.
Turns out, I know jack.
Take for example young Master Cray-Cray. He was having one of his rougher days over the weekend. One moment he’d seem to be content, only to get irritable and start acting out the next. I tried everything; tickle traps, funny faces, gloriously horrible and embarrassing renditions of Disney songs, various DVD’s, and offers of up to 70% of all my future net earnings to try and soothe him. None worked. (He’s not stupid. He knows he’ll get 95% anyways).
Then a glimmer of hope! After 10 minutes of what I like to refer to as “The Car Alarm of the Damned”, he finally took a breath, walked over to the DVD cabinet, and brought me a movie: “A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa”. I looked at him and said, “buddy, can we not? It’s only September and I’m gonna have to watch this on replay for at least a month and a half once December comes around. Howzabout some Looney Tunes?”
Cue the car alarm.
As a parent, one of the first things I learned was that practicality isn’t just a way of life, it’s also the only way to maintain your sanity. I had a very simple choice; put in the DVD or spend the next eight hours playing Jekyll and Hyde with the child. Now before pitchforks start getting raised, no, I do not believe in just sitting my kid in front of the television nor just giving him whatever he wants to pacify him. Even with the autism, Papa don’t roll like that. He has to learn consideration for others and that he can’t always have what he wants. Period.
However, he was clearly in a mood and if playing him a damn Christmas DVD could give me a whole 25 minutes of peace and put him back in a more cooperative state of mind, then by God we were going to watch some merry fricking Muppets. All it would cost me was a loosening on my strict “no Christmas until after Thanksgiving” policy. It’s a sacrifice I was willing to make.
So, in goes the movie, on comes the DVD menu, and voila!! The child’s face lit up. As I felt the warm glow of salvation wash over me I smiled and hit the “play” button on the menu.
Cue the car alarm. Louder, this time.
You know that moment in almost every horror movie ever made where the last two survivors think they’ve managed to reach safety only for the masked killer to pop back up out of nowhere to start the carnage all over again? That’s where I was. “Buddy,” I pleaded, the desperation clear on my face, “Daddy doesn’t understand what you want! You gave me the video! The video is in! The movie is playing! Dear God, let the Christmas spirit fill you so this torment might be ended!”.
Well, that worked. Not. Now not only did I have to sit through the merry Muppet madness, I got to do it with an added soundtrack that would have been more appropriate for a Wes Craven movie. I finally decided enough was enough. I tried playing Mister Nice, now it was time be Big Bad Dad. “Buddy, if you don’t stop these tantrums, the Muppets are going off and you won’t be seeing them again until next Christmas!”. Cray-Cray, obviously unimpressed with my hard-line stance, continued his shrieking. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the great game of parenting, never make a promise you don’t intend to keep. “Alright, sir. It’s going off!”. Click, the movie stops and goes back to the menu.
And then the child froze.
It was as if an exorcism had taken place. The room was clean, and Jekyll was watching the screen intently. The screen that was only showing the DVD menu. Sure there was Christmas music playing in the background and letters to Santa were falling like snow, but surely this couldn’t be what he wanted.
“Buddy?”, I asked tentatively, not wanting to wake the beast again, “do you want me to start the movie again since you calmed down?”. No answer, the kid was hypnotized. I inched my finger to the play button…..
“No!”, as a fifty lb. wildcat lunged at my hand. The message was clear. I would turn off the marvelous menu at my own peril. Not the movie. The MENU.
And it’s been happening over and over again.
The child’s favorite part of any DVD has become the menu. I bought him and his brother a copy of the “Angry Birds” movie last night. He wasn’t initially thrilled, as it meant turning off the 75th viewing of “Somewhere Out There” from “An American Tail”, but quite frankly his brother and I needed the break. Menu comes on, he quiets down. Menu keeps repeating, and he starts cackling like a madman at what the birds are doing in the background. I start the movie, BAM!. Instant misery. Oy.
What did I learn from all this? To let my boy enjoy what he enjoys. Every kid has their own unique world view. That’s magnified when your child has autism. He sees and hears the same things I do, but experiences them in a completely different way. So, where I see a boring menu, he sees Oscar-worthy entertainment. It makes sense. The images on the menu are short, easy to digest, and repetitive. It’s Cray-Cray-nip. It’s the same reason why (with a few notable exceptions) that he wants me to constantly replay the songs on his DVD’s or in the car. Short, sweet, and easy gratification. It’s just what he likes.
So here we are. I believe this probably applies to every kid, not just the ones with sensory issues. What moves us may not necessarily move them. As long as it doesn’t hurt them or someone else, so what? You’re a football fan, your boy wants to watch ballet. So what? You love classical music, the girl wants to play bass in a metal band. So what? As long as you still take the time to try to expose them to the things you love and enjoy, who cares? The time you take to share the things you love with each other is what matters. Even more-so, the support you give them when what they like doesn’t match up with what you like. It tells them, “we’re different, and that doesn’t matter one bit. I still love our time together no matter what”.
So, it looks like from time to time, we’ll be having Menu marathons. Not all the time, mind you, but if it helps him center and gets him to a place where I can try him out on new things, then it’s definitely worth it. I’ve got no problem letting the boy enjoy what he enjoys.
Now Roundbottom tying a light blue blanket on and proclaiming, “I Queen Elsa!” is proving a bit more difficult to swallow…….