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>Batteries Required

June 2, 2009

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It storms here in West Texas in the early months of summer. Great bucketloads of rain fall from the sky, flash floods, thunder, hail, and winds that rock the house all come with the territory of living at the edge of the old Dust Bowl. Tonight, we have one of those whoppers of a thunderstorm and the power is off. We see by the lights of my laptop as I type this, candles, and flashlights. No tv, no games, no technological distractions for my three children. We listen to the weather radio so that we’ll be ready to run to my parent’s house next door to the safe closet should we get the alert that a tornado is headed our way. The boy wanders the house, unsure of what to do with himself in the dark, no tv and no games to play, and too dark to read. Too dark to do much for chores, either, so he wanders from room to room now. My daughters sit on the couch, playing with the flashlight, telling ghost stories with their father, their volume drowning out the sound from the weather radio that sits by my side, the speaker directly pointed into my left ear.
My husband sits next to me, looking at me in the dark, wondering what I am doing, and so I tell him, duh, I am writing. What? This. Why would you write about this? Because this is our life, a story ready in every moment.
The boy continues to wander, out of sorts. He’d rather be in his room, his cat with him, lying on his bed watching cartoons, anywhere but out here with his loud and busy sisters. I finally tire of him standing in the dark a few feet behind my back and tell him to sit with his sisters on the couch.
There is much about raising children with ASDs that is just like parenting neurotypical siblings. They squabble, they work to irritate each other, they play with each other, get mad at each other, and work it out.
What is different is the tenor of their conversations, the way they needle each other. They are literal-minded people, overly pedantic. I’m fairly precise in my language, and I’m the first to admit that language matters, that the choice of words and the way they flow are of intense interest to me. But I’m nothing compared to my children and the precision with which they wield words. If I call a sandal a shoe, all three children immediately correct me. Time is also a matter of precision; it’s not good enough to approximate time. My son has no sense of extended time, is untethered, everything happening two years ago, but give him a watch or a clock, tell him a time and he becomes Spock. I’ve told my son many times that I will pick him up at 1:50 from the center, gotten there within a minute or two either side and he has never failed to tell me that I am either early or late. No amount of explaining that there is no way to ensure that I will arrive at the exact precise minute has ever been sufficient to get me off the hook with him. And telling him an approximate time does no good, is beyond his ability to understand.
The boy, having sat on the couch now for thirty minutes with his sisters and tired of their stories, their noise, remembers he has a gameboy and a sega genesis in his closet. Out they come, with new batteries added, and all three now sit on the couch with each other, intently and quietly playing their electronic toys, and I can now again hear the weather radio in my ear, along with my husband who is now using his flashlight to catalog all of the decade old games which have sat on a shelf in a closet. My husband rememebers his Zune out in his car when the littlest one tires of watching her brother, and another electronic device comes out to make the evening calm and peaceful. The rain and the thunder continue in the background, the storm slowly moving past, but the electricity still out. As long as the batteries hold out, we are happy, tethered to our machines and absolved of sitting in the dark with nothing to keep us company but our minds.
It is a good evening for us, despite the unexpected event of the storm; we are all together, all relatively happy, as we wait to see if this storm is the storm that has us making the mad dash across the backyard. Such a good evening, in fact, that the various beeps of our electrical appliances whirring back to life don’t invade our awareness and isn’t until I get up to go to the bathroom that I realize the fan in the bedroom is running and we have been sitting in a dark house for awhile completely unnecessarily.
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