Monday, February 22, 2010

The Farmer's Market Biathalon

Love the way Bari Weiss wrote this piece in the Wall Street Journal about revered Temple Grandin. It's a challenge to capture something new for those of us who've been around the block, heard Temple speak at conferences, read her books, and now seen the HBO special, but Weiss does.

My new twist is to recommend A Thorn in My Pocket, the book by Temple's mother, Eustacia Cutler, which tells the back story of her success. Her husband refused to see any potential in their daughter and in fact, sought to commit them both for being overly optimistic, if not delusional. I still get goosebumps remembering the Jewish, Holocaust-survivor therapist who told her in no uncertain terms to get out of the marriage. With dramatic flair, Cutler loves to tell, "he understood the importance of a quick getaway."

For those of us who are moms swimming up the streams of discouragement and doubt even today, this curly girl offers hope and an inspiring true story of resilience and fortitude.

"I'd be in an institution if it wasn't for her," Ms. Grandin credits her mother for insisting that she engage with society. That was a generation ago, on the east coast...and could not have been easy, forgiving, merciful or smooth. Imagine the stares.

Just this weekend, I can report real-life examples of both victory and defeat in this equivalent of an Olympic-level sport. Saturday, we aborted an attempt to eat at a new hipster restaurant, The Mission. The 30 minute wait, cable box on the sidewalk in front of the place, and a Verizon van parked nearby got the better of us. The excursion ended in bail-out mode and "to go" containers.

I count it progress nonetheless for as Stephen Kwagga said, "Try and fail, but don't fail to try." Soon, and very soon, we will return to that very Mission restaurant, wait on the patio, sit, order and eat the newfangled, "chino latino" fare and be very proud of ourselves and Reid. We never do anything just once, in this family. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

Case in point: Sunday's outing was victorious. About a month ago I decided to tackle our local Farmer's Market with Reid. Sounds simple enough but, woe to you who treat it thus. The tight alley-like setting, the throngs of shoulder-bumping patrons, the seemingly free buffet, and melange of smells actually make it a sensory disaster waiting to happen in public view. (Who's with me, on this?) At the same time, it is an opportunity for countless goals to be mastered.

Our Sunday ritual had been Allie and I making a rushed pass at it, grabbing tamales and flowers while Reid and Jim waited (sometimes circled) in the Eurovan. We'd hop in Little Miss Sunshine style, bags in hand, Allie still hankering for a crepe and me wondering why we hadn't made it a girls-only trip.

For several weeks we did just that, Allie and I leisurely sampled everything from jalapeno goat cheese to blood oranges. We made fast friends with "Frenchie," the crepe vendor and dreamed of a trip to Paris in April.

Call me a glutton for punishment, call me brave, call me a woman after Eustacia Cutler's own heart! I just couldn't stomach the idea that this couldn't be a family activity. That stubborn refusal, in my opinion, is the core of what Temple's mother possessed. It is also what Tony Attwood refers to when asked what single factor dictates a successful prognosis for a youngster on the spectrum: a determined mother with conviction.

So the past two weeks, we have set out--all four of us--with some simple parameters and pre-corrected expectations:

+ "You have $10 each to spend as you choose."
+ "Walk slowly all the way down to the flower stall, then back."
+ "Stay together."
+ "Hands stay at our side."

Third time's a charm. Yesterday, Allie and Jim were predisposed as it turned out, so Reid and I went with an out-of-town guest I hadn't seen in 12 years. Talk about challenging the system! She had actual groceries to buy for her timeshare and no prior experience with our Reid-centric machinations. Can I tell you, it went really well! We are not perfect, but we are becoming mighty flexible.

I think I broke the $10 limit, but the Sprite, cinnamon roll, cheese crepe, jalapeno bread, and balloon sword-on-a-belt were well worth it. Dolly couldn't possibly have put it in perspective, but I was impressed at how Reid waited for her at each vendor, negotiated the new variables, kept his hands to himself (other than to hug her halfway through saying, "I'm so glad you came to visit"), and noticed things we'd missed in the past. Who knew, they pipe in Frank Sinatra tunes at speakers mounted between the French linens and Philippines salt?

Each week is progressively more fun as our rapport grows with the apple man, the Sprite man at the sausage booth, the balloon man who shared, "God's given me favor with kids with autism," the Bread & Cie vendor, and of course, Frenchie, whose photo and proper name I promise to provide soon. We are now regulars and (almost) everybody knows Reid's name!

I do want a medal for this--not gold, platinum, please. And guess Who has one waiting for me?

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown
that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 1 Corinthians 9:24-26

Now there is in store for me the crown
of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-9

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18


  1. your statement up there, "Repetition, repetition, repetition.." reminds me of the Henry Rollins book, "1000 WAYS TO DIE" which are 1000 small statements, almost haiku, of his experiences. No more than 4 or 5 lines each, they could have been written on sticky notes. One in particular was inspirational to me, over a dozen years ago, at a job that was particularly stressful: SUPPLICATION, SUPPLICATION, ENDLESS SUPPLICATION. Written in block letters. I used a sticky note, and put it above my desk. I never knew I would need that carved on my heart after marrying my Aspie husband and having two autistic kids. The repeated themes are what teach us, I hear. Thanks for the reminder--I needed it!

  2. woohoo!!!!!! oh you just don't know, this does my heart good. so much wisdom here, so much encouragement, and HUGE success! andrea and reid, in the words of nichole nordeman, you make me wanna be brave.