Monday, November 5, 2007

Of Bowling Balls, Hammers, and Hangers

All three of my children were born with varying degrees of autism. One of the features of this mysterious disorder is a tendency to develop an attachment to a particular object. My daughter never did this, but her brothers are two different stories.

When our firstborn, the Crown Prince, was about six years old, we gave him one of those toy "whack-a-mole" things that came with a plastic red hammer, and a plastic indoor bowling set because he liked bowling. Alas, he wasn't interested in whacking any moles, or in bowling with something that was obviously a cheap imitation of what he'd seen at the bowling alley. But he carried that hammer and bowling ball with him everywhere he went. Even to bed. Even to the table, where he'd shovel food into his mouth while still clinging stubbornly to the bowling ball and hammer. He did figure out how to hook the hammer over his shoulder, giving himself just a bit of freedom, but at least once a day, that bowling ball would go clattering across the floor or counter.

He allowed BB & H to stay home while he went to school. But once he came home in the afternoon, he scooped them up and did not let them go until he fell asleep. He did an excellent job keeping track of them; very rarely did we ever have to search for them.

He and his sister occasionally fought over the only computer in the house, but she figured out how to lure him away from it. One day she snatched the red hammer from his shoulder and took off at a quick, sideways skip--her idea of running.

She skipped into the family room. The Crown Prince, bowling ball in hand, charged after her. She headed straight for the middle of our curved sectional sofa, and hurled the hammer into the space behind the section that curved.

That space! It was the household dump, the Black Hole of Chez Lingefelt, full of toys, socks, crumpled magazines, and old crackers left over from the housewarming party. Sometimes the girl herself would hide back there and rummage. She knew that throwing her brother's plastic hammer in there would buy her plenty of time to usurp the computer.

Sure enough, while he scaled the back of the sofa and dived into the junk pit to retrieve his hammer, she blithely side-skipped back to the computer like one of those maidens who dance and toss rose petals in the path of a victorious returning warrior.

She liked to draw, and whenever she drew pictures of her family, she invariably portrayed her older brother with bowling ball in one hand, hammer in the other, like orb and scepter.

The Crown Prince is now nineteen, and in the past couple of years has managed to abandon the hammer and bowling ball. His much younger brother, meanwhile, has developed an attachment to hangers.

We've managed to eliminate wire hangers in favor of the plastic ones, which I really like--the ones you can buy in bundles of ten from Wal-Mart for only a dollar. Trouble is, Baby Bear also likes them--not to hang clothes, which he thinks belong on the floor, but to dangle and twirl in his hand everywhere he goes, just as the Crown Prince did with his hammer and bowling ball.

The dogs like them, too. Apparently plastic hangers make better chewing than squeak toys, beef strips, or even genuine bones. I've got hangers scattered all over the house because Baby Bear likes to pull out a new one every day, and let the dogs have the one from the previous day.

Every time I open the hall closet, I see one more jacket either draped over the vacuum cleaner or crumpled on the floor. I had to remove all the shirts hanging in Baby Bear's bedroom closet, and move them to the closet where Mr. Lucky has his office--that is, the closet is in his office, not the other way around.

Heaven help me if that child ever makes it past the crocodiles to MY closet.

There's ony one thing to do before he and the dogs go through all the other hangers in the house: Start setting aside a dollar a week to buy him his own bundle of hangers from Wal-Mart.

1 comment:

Erica Ridley said...

A friend of mine's autistic child has a thing for plastic bags, like the sort you get at the grocery store. If we take him out to dinner or to a hockey game, we have to make sure to carry along 2 or 3 of them. He'll twirl them about for an hour or so before nervously plucking them into a hundred fluttering pieces. (At which point we hand over another bag. *g)