#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation Doodles ‘n’ Scribbles, no. 14: Being an Autistic Parent (PART 2)

A comic strip of three panels, laid out in portrait orientation, and drawn digitally in black and white. PANEL 1: IMAGE: Silhouette of a mother and two children (the elder one long hired wearing a floaty dress; the younger one with short hair, t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms). All are barefoot, and jumping/dancing. They are surrounded by musical notes, stars and flowers. TEXT: “But there’s so much joy we share.” PANEL 2: IMAGE: Composition of a child’s drawing featuring two people and the crudely written words “I love you”, a child’s hand holding a heart-shaped object, another child’s hand holding a flower, and an iPad screen containing various emoji and the words “My Mum is the best!” TEXT: “I know they love me, from all the little ways they show me.” PANEL 3: IMAGE: Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person with mid-length hair, hugging two small children, whose faces are turned away from the viewer. TEXT: “And the love I have for them is the biggest, scariest, most beautiful feeling I’ve ever had.”

A continuation of yesterday’s little comic strip. One day I might expand this into a longer piece about autistic parenting, but I don’t have the spare time or executive function to commit to producing a regular web comic at the moment…


Text description:

A comic strip of three panels, laid out in portrait orientation, and drawn digitally in black and white.

PANEL 1:
IMAGE: Silhouette of a mother and two children (the elder one long hired wearing a floaty dress; the younger one with short hair, t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms). All are barefoot, and jumping/dancing. They are surrounded by musical notes, stars and flowers.
TEXT: “But there’s so much joy we share.”

PANEL 2:
IMAGE: Composition of a child’s drawing featuring two people and the crudely written words “I love you”, a child’s hand holding a heart-shaped object, another child’s hand holding a flower, and an iPad screen containing various emoji and the words “My Mum is the best!”
TEXT: “I know they love me, from all the little ways they show me.”

PANEL 3:
IMAGE: Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person with mid-length hair, hugging two small children, whose faces are turned away from the viewer. Small love hearts radiate outwards from the group.
TEXT: “And the love I have for them is the biggest, scariest, most beautiful feeling I’ve ever had.

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#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation doodles ‘n’ scribbles no. 10: La la la!

Cartoon black and white digital cartoon portrait of Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person with mid-length hair. She has her hands up to her face and appears to be singing loudly with her eyes closed.

Singing is such a release. I struggle to resist the urge to sing – it’s one of my most powerful, useful, emotionally-nourishing stims, and also, more simply, one of the most enjoyable.


[Image description: Cartoon black and white digital portrait of Mama Pineapple, a white female-presenting person with mid-length hair. She has her hands up to her face and appears to be singing loudly with her eyes closed.]

Sweet abandon

Three silhouette figures, one adult and two children, dancing, surrounded by swirling colours and musical notation.

[Trigger warning: mental illness; self-injurious stimming (as well as the good stims that are hard exercise and dancing).]

The Saturday just gone:

So it’s happened. I’ve finally realised that I am definitely properly depressed at the moment.

I’ve thought I was, then thought I wasn’t; thought I was, thought I wasn’t. For a while now. I kept thinking my quick bouts of misery were a symptom of autistic burnout, or simply an acute pang of painful response to the occasional sudden rise in the immediacy of The Problems I Am Dealing With Right Now; something unexpectedly looming large on the horizon that sees my legs crumpling beneath me as I tumble to the ground.

But actually, these acutely painful moments have been mere spikes in overall negative emotional noise level. The low-level hum of depression, sometimes infrasonic, has been gently oscillating along in a line beneath the crashing noise of all of my day-to-day experiences for a fair while, without me properly registering it. But now I have. The pitch and the volume have risen, and it’s too loud to ignore. Is it a moan, a whine, a whistle, a hiss, or a wail? I’m not quite sure. But it’s sustained, and it’s loud.

Saturday morning. My daughter is watching a film in the living room downstairs. My husband is sleeping in. My son and I are in the big bedroom, playing with Lego. I watch him, I interact with him, and all the while I feel simultaneously both utterly nothing and utter despair.

I’m not quite fully there.

Later, my daughter joins us. The two of them both at work with the Lego; absorbed, building; each doing so in their own age-specific, personality-specific way. I interact with these two beings whom I love more than anything in the world, but I am removed. I am exhausted.

Then the wooden train set comes out.

Somehow, most of it ends up not on the floor of the bedroom, but outside the bedroom door, on the landing. Right where it’s a large, jumbled collection of small wooden trip hazards at the top of a very steep staircase.

I repeatedly ask my children to tidy the pieces up, or at least to carry them through the doorway and into the room, away from the stairs. They can be pretty good at tidying up. Sometimes. And I need them to understand why leaving toys on the stairs isn’t the best of ideas.

But they’re too intent on what they are doing. They don’t even hear me.

My requests get louder and more urgent.

(I still remember to use the word “please”, however.)

Still they are oblivious.

Eventually I lose it.

I scream and shout. I disappear into another room to smack my own head repeatedly for 30 seconds or so, before returning.

Afterwards, my husband finds me sitting at the top of the stairs, glum, despondent, detached. I burst into tears, and struggle to stop.

***

We agree that although I’ve promised our daughter I’d take her to the school Christmas Fayre (and it has to be me who takes her), afterwards I can go off and do my own thing for a few hours. I plan a trip to the gym.

Husband takes our son with him on an extended shopping trip. The girl and I do the Christmas Fayre thing.

She does a few messy crafts, a find-the-word treasure hunt, and eats too much sugary stuff. I try not to get too exasperated with the busyness and loudness of it all, but she loves it. And I love that she loves it. She has fun, and comes home with me, happy.

And I disappear off to the gym. I exercise with sweet abandon.

60 minutes of “Around the World”: a random-generated programme of hard hills and sprint intervals on the stationary bike. I sweat. My heart thumps. I breathe. I focus. And although I never exercise wearing headphones or earbuds, the hi-NRG dance music on the gym stereo this afternoon works well to keep my legs pounding. On the hills, I push down the pedals in time to the beat. During the sprints, I do my best to beat the beat, spinning my legs faster and faster. I lose myself in movement, beats, vocal samples, distance log, timer, calorie counter, and revolutions-per-minute.

Core work, stretches, home. Food on the table.

And then, the thing that I need perhaps even more than the gym.

It’s Saturday night, and my daughter wants to dance.

***

I’m glad that we’ve resurrected our living room discos. When I was pregnant with her brother and got too big, too much in pain, and too uncomfortable, we stopped. And for a long while afterwards we didn’t do it. But over the past few months, we’ve started dancing again.

And tonight, I dance with sweet abandon.

We always start with the same sequence of four tracks: ‘Nice Weather for Ducks’ (Lemon Jelly); ‘Treachery’ (Kirsty McColl); ‘Brimful of Asha’ (Cornershop – Norman Cook Extended Remix); ‘Squance’ (Plaid).

Whatever else we play in the middle (eclectic, but still very much the playlist of a ’90s indie kid), we always slow down and end with ‘Cole’s Corner’ (Richard Hawley). My daughter likes it that way.

For a while this unvarying start and end to our playlist used to grate (and I’m sure it still does with our neighbours). I have so much music. There’s so much of it my children haven’t yet heard. So much more variety than they’re ever willing to hear. I want them to enjoy it all.

But really, I don’t mind the repetition. It’s comforting to my daughter, and after all, I was the one who introduced these songs to her.

Tonight, I’m relieved to hear them, in the specific order we always play them. And whatever else is lurking in my collection, the songs we tend to play are the types of song that make my kids happy.

My “style” is a flailing mix of mangled Street Dance, distorted Twist, skewed Salsa, and a whole lot of jumping, hopping, twirling and swaying.

Sometimes I pogo. Sometimes I waltz. Sometimes I bring in body-weight training moves from the gym. Sometimes my daughter and I join hands. She grins. My little boy weaves between our legs, spins around, stomps his feet, and giggles. During ‘One Step Beyond’ we all run repeatedly around the room in a big circle. My children laugh and smile.

The physicality is all. My very being craves it.

I was already sweaty from my gym exertions. And now I sweat again. I don’t stop. There’s no point, until all of us are ready for it to stop.

Sometimes, I let my body fall from side to side, catching myself by engaging my core or gripping a piece of furniture before I land. Everything moves. Everything must move.

My body loses itself in sweet abandon to the music.

Even as my children slow and tire, I carry on (for a while, at least – I’m not so divorced from their needs that I can’t tell when it’s time to bring things to an end).

My little boy watches, content but approaching sleepiness. My girl intently examines the Pete Fowler designs on some Super Furry Animals CD single cases, still listening to what’s on the stereo, still requesting more songs.

And eventually, it is time to stop. We slow things down. ‘Cole’s Corner’ has its spin, and I, the sweating, panting, dishevelled beast that I am, cuddle my children close. They smile again – at each other, at me, to themselves.

It’s story time. And soon it’ll be bedtime. I’ll cuddle them close again before they go to sleep. Later, I’ll shower and crawl into bed myself.

And no matter how desperately sad I was that morning, when I finally lay my own head down later that same night, I go to sleep replenished, nourished, and filled with love.


Last Saturday’s playlist

  1. Lemon Jelly, ‘Nice Weather for Ducks’
  2. Kirsty McColl, ‘Treachery’
  3. Cornershop, ‘Brimful of Asha’ (Norman Cook extended remix)
  4. Plaid, ‘Squance’
  5. The Bees, ‘Chicken Payback’
  6. Beck, ‘The New Pollution’
  7. Belle and Sebastian, ‘I’m a Cuckoo’
  8. Bassment Jaxx, ‘Good Luck’
  9. Madness, ‘One Step Beyond’
  10. Madness, ‘Baggy Trousers’
  11. Super Furry Animals, ‘Golden Retriever’
  12. Super Furry Animals, ‘Northern Lites’
  13. Eels, ‘Last Stop: This Town’
  14. Richard Hawley, ‘Cole’s Corner’

[Featured image description: Three silhouette figures, one adult and two children, dancing, surrounded by swirling colours and musical notation.]

Head Music

I’m always fascinated by how different my speaking voice sounds on recordings, compared to the way I hear it in my own head. I used to cringe in horror at how unlike me it sounded, but I’ve seen or heard enough footage of me speaking over the years to have eventually become resigned to the fact of how others hear me, however much I myself dislike it.

At some point I’d love to read up on the science behind the proximity of the vocal chords, lips and tongue, to the various sound-box features of the skull, and all this to the ear – and the effect of all of these on how we hear own voices ‘live’, in real-time. But for now, my fascination is pretty abstract.

Using my head and its various physical contents to entertain myself sonically is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I hum, and I’m intrigued by how the sound is modulated by circumstances: recently I’ve had a terrible cold, and was struck but an observation that the gloopy stuff clogging my nose, throat and sinuses had turned my hum into a sound somewhat akin to a bassoon or – at the higher end of my register – an oboe.

Since pre-school age my teeth and jaws have provided me with ready access to a miniature internal drumkit. A certain scraping of the teeth produces a snare drum sound; various clenches, bites and taps of the teeth can be made to sound like kick drum, floor and rack toms.

While I’ve added the odd tongue click or tap over the years for more ‘dancey’ beats, cymbals have a fricative quality that strays too close to the voice, and so I avoid them: I’ve always had the instinct that ‘dental drumming’ was something I needed to do discreetly – unlike whistling, humming, or singing a tune (all of which I will happily do in public without embarrassment), it feels just that little bit too eccentric to indulge in too obviously. So I combine the dental drumkit with a ride, crash, and hi-hat played through the speakers of my mind’s ear.

Playing tunes in my head isn’t just about the physicality of the dental drumkit, however. The mind is involved too. The mental one-woman band is more than just the aforementioned filling in of cymbal gaps. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I can often mentally ‘hear’ songs in their entirety, with complete instrumentation, after one listening. And so I’ll combine the physical beats with a full mental musical arrangement.

I do this both with songs I know (Massive Attack’s Inertia Creeps is one of my favourite tunes to “play in my head”) and with new creations. And it’s been a repeated source of frustration throughout my life that I’ve never actually recorded any of the original musical stuff that fills my head.

Lack of confidence, lack of money, lack of space, inability to multitask or play most of the many instruments I wanted to record, executive dysfunction, simple downright fear – these things have all conspired against me over the years. And these days parenthood, work, and a small terraced house perpetuate this difficulty. But I miss making music, and, who knows, perhaps mobile technology might just make it possible for me to overcome some of my previous barriers and limitations.

In the meantime, I keep on drumming.