Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Daughter of Imagination: A Fiona Story

In the children’s classic, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Laura’s very first doll was nothing but a corncob wrapped in a handkerchief. Later in the story, for Christmas she received a more human-looking—indeed, a more doll-looking—rag doll she named Charlotte.

Our daughter Fiona had something of a reverse experience with a toy collection of characters from the Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast. (I hereby confess: Every time I watch it, I get all teary-eyed at the end.)

For Christmas 1994, Santa Claus brought five year old Fiona the plastic figures of Mrs. Potts the Teapot, Chip the Chipped Teacup, Cogsworth the Clock, and Lumiere the Candelabrum. She was delighted with them, and I still remember when it was her bedtime Christmas night, how she scooped all of them up and took them to bed with her, even though they weren’t as soft and cuddly as the stuffed animals favored by her older brother.

All was well until several months later, when for reasons that will always remain a mystery to us, she put all the characters save Mrs. Potts (whom we can only surmise was granted clemency due to her generous girth) into the microwave and cooked them.

As far as I can recall, that was the first and last time Fiona ever operated the microwave.

Oddly enough, she did it while Mr. Lucky and I were in the family room watching the movie Mrs. Doubtfire, not too long after the scene where Robin Williams accidentally set his fake boobs ablaze.

Flames danced inside the microwave, smoke wafted throughout the kitchen, and black soot dusted the kitchen cabinets, which we planned to replace anyway. Fortunately Fiona was not hurt; in fact, she behaved with amazing aplomb throughout the entire episode—as if this were just another ordinary day chez Lingefelt. (Hmm, now that I think of it . . .)

If one good thing came out of what could have been a disaster on many fronts, it was the discovery that our smoke alarm was kaput. (The ones in our newest home work almost too well. They shriek in horror every time Mr. Lucky broils or even fries something.)

Alas, nothing could be done for Chip, Cogsworth, or Lumiere, and by that time, they were no longer available at The Disney Store, and this was back in the days before we might have been able to find them online.

But Fiona figured out how to deal with it. The next time she played with Mrs. Potts, she substituted a regular Corelle coffee cup for Chip, and stole my alarm clock to take the place of Cogsworth.

The part of Lumiere, meanwhile, was now played by my old breast pump.

Somehow I think that roguish candelabrum would have approved—and maybe wished the curse of the beautiful sorceress had turned him into a breast pump instead.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then improvisation is the daughter of imagination.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

It's Hurricane Time!

According to the current projected track as of this writing, Tropical Storm Fay is following a path eerily similar to Hurricane Charley in August 2004. If it holds, we could be seeing some exceedingly nasty weather Tuesday night.

One area where Mr. Lucky and I have never seen eye to eye is the gas tank. I like to fill it up once it gets down to half a tank. He prefers to wait until he has to get out and push. He claims it’s a holdover from when he was an impoverished 19 year old who could only afford a couple bucks’ worth of gas at a time. Funny how this seems to be the only aspect of his youth he still clings to.

When we went out for Sunday donuts this morning, I noticed the fuel gauge showed half a tank, and told Mr. Lucky we should top it off. He disagreed. Half a tank, he said, was plenty.

“You say that now,” I replied, “but after all the driving you’ll be doing between now and Tuesday morning, you’ll be down to ‘E’ in no time. And in the meantime, Fay will strengthen to Category 1 and there’ll be a mass stampede to all the gas stations. You’ll be waiting in line for hours to get gas, and that’s assuming they don’t run out before you finally pull up to the pump. Then the storm will come and knock out all the power. Without power, the gas pumps won’t work. We’ll be stuck with no gas. And I’ll have something new to hold over your head till death do us part. I’ll bring it up every time we have an argument. Do you really want that?”

“You and your melodramatics. You’re caught up in everyone else’s mass hysteria,” he grumbled. “You’ve bought into all the media hype. And I know what you’re about to say, because it's what you always say--that if I’d been here for Hurricane Charley, we’d still be waiting in line for gas.”

At the time of Hurricane Charley in August 2004, we were living in military housing at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, an installation surrounded on three sides by water. Mr. Lucky, however, was deployed, leaving me with two autistic boys ages 15 and 7. Our Chrysler minivan had half a tank of gas when Charley was over Cuba; I filled it up anyway. It was a Wednesday.

I didn’t go anywhere else until Friday morning, when Charley had entered the Gulf of Mexico and had it sights set on the Tampa Bay area. I’d just put the boys on the school bus when Mr. Lucky’s supervisor called (the people in his office kindly checked up on me while he was deployed) to give me a heads-up: The base commander was expected to issue an evacuation order around noon. Most people would not leave until that order was issued, if at all.

For the next hour I paced around the house, watching the weather map of Florida on the TV with the entire Gulf Coast trapped inside “The Cone of Doom”, debating with myself what to do. I could not take my boys to a designated local shelter where there would be crowds of other people and children. The chaos and unfamiliarity of such a place would agitate both boys (see previous blog entry). Torn from their vital routines, they’d be running amok and screaming all over the place and I’d be constantly chasing them down, trying to keep them from running outside, grabbing other people’s food, wrapping themselves in other people’s bedding. They wouldn’t be able to play the video games or watch the DVD’s that make them sit still for more than a few minutes. They wouldn't sleep, even with their meds. And if they didn't sleep, I wouldn't either; and I'd be in even worse shape to keep them from fleeing the shelter or otherwise terrorizing the other shelterees.

They needed to be in a safe place that was familiar, with familiar people who understood them, where the routines and securities of home could be easily replicated.

That place was their paternal grandparents’ house, 200 miles away in Valdosta, Georgia.

The idea of driving that distance with those boys, without Mr. Lucky, was very daunting, but I had to do it. It was obvious from the Cone of Doom that we couldn’t stay at MacDill. In the end I was so knotted with anxiety and dread that I didn’t want to wait until the base commander issued any order. I figured I might as well pack up and get it over with now.

Around 10:30 am, I loaded up the minivan with the boys’ food and meds; their bedding and clothes, and their favorite toys. I locked up the house and left the base. As I did so, I noticed a long, long line of cars winding from one street to another, all waiting to get into the base gas station where I’d filled up the day before yesterday.

I drove to the boys’ school, pulled them out of their respective classes, and by high noon we were on I-75 headed north. The traffic wasn’t too bad; it was typical of an ordinary early Friday afternoon. Baby Bear rocked in his seat the whole time. All was well until we reached the other side of Gainesville and ran into heavy rains from the outermost bands of Tropical Storm Bonnie, that swept into the Panhandle that same day.

I slowed to a crawl as the road disappeared in a curtain of heavy rain. That’s when Baby Bear decided to do his usual Houdini with the seat belt. He took off his clothes and started slithering all through the minivan, digging and tunneling and burrowing like a giant worm. This was very upsetting to the Crown Prince, who yodeled and thrashed in the front seat next to me.

It was almost like that scene in the movie Jurassic Park, where the guy gets trapped inside a vehicle with a dilophosaurus—also in the midst of a tropical storm. Picture me in that same scene, with the vehicle on a busy interstate and two dilophosauruses—complete with spitting!

This went on until I found the next rest stop. I parked, but left the engine running—which in my frazzled state probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I had this nutty fear that if I turned off the car, it wouldn’t start up again and I’d be stranded with these two boys. I blame it on that ridiculous complex I acquired when our Ford Aerostar broke down in the middle of nowhere in Texas on a Sunday afternoon when everything was closed (again, see previous blog entry).

Do not lock that door, Karen, do not lock that door . . .

After exiting the vehicle, I ran around it in the pouring rain to open the sliding side door, and Baby Bear shot out as if he’d been fired from a cannon. He was nearly naked, wearing only his diaper. I chased him halfway across the parking lot before I finally caught him, and even then I had a hard time keeping a grip on him—he was slippery not only from the rain, but from the perspiration he’d generated from over two hours of rocking. Once I got him back into the minivan, I didn’t even bother putting his clothes back on—I just wanted to get him buckled back in and get the heck back on the road. I strapped him in with two seat belts, wrapping them around him and looping them over and under each other every which way to make him work for another escape. We resumed our journey. He stayed put until we arrived in Valdosta around 4 pm. The evening news showed traffic leaving Tampa and St. Petersburg almost at a standstill.

I don’t know how I did it, but I did it. And I’m glad now that I did it. But I hope I never have to do it again.

Charley made landfall about 24 hours after we arrived in Georgia. Until a couple of hours prior, it was expected to hit Tampa/St. Petersburg, but changed course and hit Port Charlotte instead.

Fast forward to this morning’s donut run. After picking up the donuts, Mr. Lucky turned into the gas station, which was a little more congested than usual. (I wonder why?)

Was he caught up in everyone else’s mass hysteria? Had he bought into all the media hype? No, he just wanted to shut me up, God bless him.

For tranquil is the life of the husband, and wise is he who appeases his wife with the affirmation that she is always right.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Autistic Children in Public

This news article didn’t just hit close to home—it struck me right in the heart:

Autistic Kids’ Outbursts Stir Furor and Guilt

We know our autistic children are disruptive, and we don't like it anymore than anyone else. We don't excuse it, to the extent that we try to avoid putting them in situations where they will disturb other people. But sometimes, we have to take them out--e.g., to the grocery store or doctor's office, where there are other children. I do not relax on any of those occasions, for fear Baby Bear will spit on some unsuspecting person or knock over a smaller child like a bowling ball picking up a spare. In fact, Mr. Lucky thinks I should relax and not be so overvigilant and sensitive to dirty looks.

For the very reasons stated in the above article, we’ve never taken any of our children to church. We trust God understands this, because He’s God. Once upon a time, children like mine were probably thought to be demonically possessed. On the other hand, one might think Baby Bear’s nonsensical babbling is “speaking in tongues” and that he’s full of the Holy Spirit. I do know he’s full of unholy spit, and like the young man described in this article, he deploys it wherever we go. I'm always afraid that one day he'll spit at the wrong person, and suffer violent retaliation.

Baby Bear has never been to the movies, for the same reason he’s never been to church. The Crown Prince, on the other hand, does fairly well at the theater. Even though he’s almost twenty years old, he still likes Mr. Lucky to take him to see the newest Disney/Pixar and Dreamworks cartoons. Not only have they gotten strange looks from people, but once a woman actually approached my husband and son in the theater, and asked if they weren’t a little old for the likes of Finding Nemo. She may have been wary that they were pedophiles on the prowl, and I can understand that concern. Still . . .

Our children are not good travelers. It’s an ongoing struggle to keep Baby Bear buckled in; he liberates himself every time we go out, and we invariably have to pull over and strap him in again. They can handle a drive to their paternal grandparents’ house two hundred miles away, but beyond that, all bets are off. When we moved from California to Florida in December 1993, we drove the whole way on Interstate 10, and the Crown Prince and Fiona all but stopped eating during that week. (Don’t get me started on when the car broke down halfway between El Paso and San Antonio, on a Sunday afternoon when everything in rural Texas is closed. That’s on my Top Ten Worst Moments of My Life list.)

Even without the children, neither Mr. Lucky nor I have ever enjoyed air travel, considering it a necessary evil. We will not board a plane with any of our children unless we absolutely have to. Fortunately, this has only happened once.

When we lived in California, the military doctors at Travis Air Force Base wanted to send the Crown Prince to a specialist at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Right before the military medivac plane took off, the crew insisted on removing him because of the disturbance he created. After being rescheduled for another flight, with doctors’ orders to be sedated, he and Mr. Lucky managed to fly to Texas and back. The consultation, meanwhile, turned out to be a total waste of everything. Mr. Lucky said they could’ve just mailed copies of the child’s medical records to WHMC.

And just like the parents of the kid in the article whose uncle thinks he should be institutionalized, I’ve had to call the police when the Crown Prince, in the absence of his father deployed overseas, became violent toward me and Baby Bear. I didn’t know what the hell else to do. I hated doing it; I hated myself for doing it—so much so that the last time it happened, in May 2006, I let him chase me out of the house and into the driveway in hopes the neighbors might see and call the cops, because I didn’t want to. (It worked. To this day I don’t know who called, but a short while later, two sheriff’s deputies pulled up in front of our house.) He was placed in a group home after that, and fortunately he’s very happy there, but I wish it hadn’t happened that way.

Just taking a trip to the grocery store is a subject for a whole other blog entry.

I’m not complaining; I certainly hope that's not how this sounds. I’m just saying that what’s in that article is dead on, and this is how we deal with those issues chez Lingefelt. (If we had a "normal" kid, we probably wouldn't know what to do with him!)
It’s the life we know, and we can’t imagine any other. But we still love our kids for it.

By the way, the article failed to mention how important it is for everyone, on both sides, to keep their sense of humor about it. That, I believe, is the secret ingredient for dealing with this.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Big Boys and Little Boys

Last night I watched the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. I always enjoy watching this event, especially the parade of nations and the lighting of the torch. My favorite torchlighting had to be at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, when an archer fired a flaming arrow in pitch darkness from the bottom of the stadium all the way up to the torch.

Mr. Lucky slept through that. I thought it was very cool. Since then, I've thought they tried too hard to come up with ingenious ways of lighting that torch--I'm still trying to figure out what the one in Atlanta, 1996, was all about. I liked how they did it last night, with the guy flying around the inner rim of the stadium like Tinkerbell, before he finally lit the torch and the flames spiraled upward into the cauldron.

The fireworks were scintillating and amazing, but then the Chinese invented them.

I was glad to see President Bush there in his shirt sleeves, only to don his coat as he and Mrs. Bush stood up to cheer the U.S. athletes.

But what really grabbed my heart was the above image of the 7'6" Yao Ming, a Chinese basketball player who carried his country's flag for the host nation's team, accompanied by a little 9 year old boy named Lin Hao who was a survivor and hero of the recent earthquake in the Sichuan province (he saved a couple of his classmates).

What is it about these two guys that sticks with me and plays havoc with my mushy, sentimental old heart? After sleeping on it, I realized this morning that they remind me of my own two boys--the 19 year old (20 in October) 6'5" Crown Prince, and Baby Bear who used to be dwarfed by his big brother, but now, at 5'8" (and he's only 10 years old, turning 11 next week!) is swiftly closing the gap.

The Crown Prince is fond of saying that he's "a big boy" while Baby Bear "is a little boy."

Too soon they'll both be very big boys. How tall will Baby Bear be at next Summer Olympics, in 2012? He'll be 15 years old. Will he be as tall as his big brother? Or will he become the bigger brother, if still the younger?

Stay tuned.

P.S. This was my first ever attempt at uploading an image all by myself! (Photo from The Official Website of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games)

Monday, August 4, 2008

My Wealthy, Well Connected Family

When I was a single girl in the Air Force, I went out on dates with Air Force guys who had very common last names, like Smith and Harris and Kelley. Yet somehow I ended up falling in love with and marrying an airman with a decidedly uncommon and (for many people) unpronounceable German name.

I never even heard of the name Lingefelt till I met the man who later became my husband. So rare is the name that if you happen to know anyone else named Lingefelt, chances are very good that person is related to me through marriage. I’ve even received a couple of e-mails from strange Lingefelts wondering if perchance they might share DNA with the romance author of that name.

For years I thought most Lingefelts were found in the southeastern United States. Wrong!

Judging from the e-mails that show up in my spam folder, most Lingefelts are, in fact, literally living out their days in Third World countries. I find it absolutely fascinating that among this small, unusually named group of Americans:

--None of them know how to drive, because they’re all getting killed in car accidents in those countries.

--All of them are fabulously wealthy.

--All of them are intimate friends with the royal family of whatever country they’re in.

(Considering their wealth and connections, maybe it’s the Lingefelt chauffeurs who need to find another line of work.)

--And all of them meet their grisly ends intestate.

Meanwhile, I always happen to be the closest next of kin the investigators can find. I might be the most prominent, for what it’s worth, but the closest? Even if there aren’t that many Lingefelts out there to begin with, I should think their bosom bows at the royal palace would have the resources to hire investigators who can dig deeper than just typing “Lingefelt” into their favorite search engine, and settling on the first result.

These are just the little demons I see in the details.