March 30, 2017

Put a Smile On Your Face #lifewithautism

After the ordeal, we stood up and noticed the plaque that stood across from the bench honoring a former volunteer.


How fitting. Looking back at that bench, at us, at the boys laughing good-naturedly, would anyone ever know our struggle here?


Let me set the scene here: A morning at the Phoenix zoo. When loading up the car, we had remembered to bring plenty of snacks and a cooler filled with cold drinks, but, alas, we left the stroller behind. It was a warm day, but we stayed cool with our drinks and made sure to take breaks in the shade. I carried Perry in my arms for awhile when his legs were getting tired. About an hour into our zoo visit, we were watching the Orangutans. They were just a few feet away from us and putting on quite a show--swinging from the ropes, climbing down, and we even saw a waterfall when one of them used the bathroom from her perch up high.

Then came the trigger: We had all been watching the orangutans with interest for a good long time. So Kacin politely asked, "Are you guys ready to go to the next animal?"

Nobody had planned for the aftermath: Apparently, that question didn't sit right with Perry. He walked right up to Kacin and got into his face and asked, "Do you want me to kill you?" I quickly moved my body to block his fist and redirect him back to the orangutans, reassuring him we could stay awhile longer if he wanted to. He moved away from Kacin, but continued to shout that Kacin was a bad guy. He still had a glare on his face, but a minute later he walked off on his own, still mumbling mean things about Kacin. Eric took the other kids down a different path out of the exhibit as I worked hard at distracting Perry with talk of animals and offerings of juice and snacks.

We made our way to a nearby bench in the outdoor courtyard between both sides of the orangutan exhibit. We found a bench to sit on and I deliberately positioned Perry right next to me on my left with Kyler and then Kacin on my right. Layla and Eric sat across from us. I passed out juice boxes and sandwiches to everyone. It seemed as though Perry had moved on and was feeling better.

Suddenly, he held up his juice box and threatened to squirt it at Kacin. When I didn't allow that one, he quickly began to squirt it into a puddle on the ground near his feet. I took the juice box away from him and offered him his cheeze-its and other snacks. That's when he began to point at Kacin and then gesture to the juice puddle while demanding that Kacin go get into that puddle (clearly as punishment for his wrongdoing).    

Kacin has a sense of humor and enjoys being a little bit snarky so he laughed and jumped up to dance in the puddle. I shooed Kacin back to his seat and while Perry still mumbled death threats and punch in the eyeball threats at Kacin, I tried to get everyone back to focusing on their lunch. I passed out go-gurts to everyone. Perry seemed a bit calmer, but when I went to give him his go-gurt he told me he was going to squirt it on Kacin. Well, I told him if that was the case he did not get a go-gurt. With a mischievous grin he told me he wouldn't, "I promise, mom." It's not like I believed that one, but after he pleaded a little more I conceded, as long as I was holding on to the package as he ate it. He took some yogurt into his mouth. He seemed calm and collected and I hoped he had moved on. He took more yogurt. And then I noticed he wasn't swallowing it.

All at once, before I could grab him, he jumped up and dashed to the other side of the bench where Kacin was sitting and proceeded to spit that mouthful of yogurt out aiming directly at Kacin. Luckily, he is not much of spitter, and the yogurt pretty much plopped straight down to the ground.

Enough was enough. Eric escorted Perry across the zoo to the exit while I let the other kids finish their lunch. When Perry and Eric were out of sight, Kacin and Kyler could not contain their laughter anymore. Soon we were all busting up laughing at the whole thing. "Get in the juice, Kacin! How dare you ask to see another animal!" The older boys kept cracking up about it during our entire walk back to the car.

And, of course, by the time we made it back to the car, Perry was all settled and didn't bring it up again for the rest of the day. (Though, we did make sure Kacin didn't sit in the back next to Perry.) But just as quickly as it starts, it eventually ends.

I don't know many families that have to endure death threats and attempted attacks from their sibling. But I'm so grateful that my kids have learned to have a good sense of humor, to forgive quickly, and to be understanding of their brother. It's not always an easy life for Perry and it's not easy for the rest of us, but we are Team Allred and we stick together.

So when I saw that plaque and the wise words of that dedicated volunteer, I was comforted by her words that yes, things will go wrong sometimes--unexpected and challenging things happen to all of us, especially with autism in your life--but we can put a smile on our faces because it's ok. It will be just fine.