Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A trip to Tuva, via the Antarctic & Japan (an uncommonly common day)

Yesterday began with B booting up his new-to-him pc (I will relate this story later) at 6:45 am to play a game until wake-up time, & us both discovering to our dismay that the headphones weren't over-riding the speakers (his room is right next to ours...). After mucking about with the equipment, I went back to bed for 3 minutes (seems loony, I know, but it sometimes puts me in a better frame of mind) & then got up at my real wake-up time to get out his clothes for school & start the day. I was rummaging around in my closet for my own clothes when the lights went out. At just past 7:00 am, it was pitch black in the house... I stood there & waited for the power to click back on... & waited... Then it occurred to me that I hadn't heard peep from B's room, so called to him to see if he was ok. He was! His only concern was that his computer hadn't been shut-down properly. I found the emergency flashlight, which I used to find B's misplaced (he thought) flashlight, & then checked the neighbours on either side to see if they had lights, which they didn't. Ok, it wasn't just us... We got dressed, each in our flashlit rooms, then headed down for breakfast. Ok, no toast, no microwave to reheat anything, luckily B usually has cherry yoghurt for breakfast. We sped in & out of the dead, dark fridge to get milk & yoghurt (but did I notice his lunch...?). I managed to find enough still-hot water in my Japanese electric water-boiler to manage a pot of tea. Then I realised that it was Tuesday, which is our friend Darryl's day to come & clean the house for us. When he arrived at 7:45 am, he decided to do what he could by daylight & maybe the power would come back on while he was there. B & I went to the car to drive to school & I was struck by the light in the car coming on when I opened the door (less than an hour without electricity & I already missed the little things...).

On the way to school there was one intersection with a dead traffic light, & it was clear that the surrounding businesses (including a small medical centre) were without electricity. Although B was worried, school was fine, power-wise. However, we soon discovered that he had no lunch (it was still in the dark fridge), so I told B I'd bring it to him mid-morning. He went to his locker & I was in the special ed. resource room telling the teachers (including a neighbour) all about our morning excitement when B came tearing into the room, tic-ing like mad. Cherie sat him down & gently asked about the triggers (most of B's tics are triggered by OCD thoughts) & talked him into a calmer state. The three of us talked about strategies for making the triggers less intense & also the time, in the future, when they wouldn't trigger him at all (this seems to give him a sense of perspective on it & help with the frustration). When B was calm enough, Cherie asked him to show me the story he was writing on his Alphasmart, an hommage to Daniel Pinkwater, & it was a riot. Soon, B was smiling & chatting with Cherie as he began his morning work- what a blessing! When B is in the middle of a trauma I find it incredibly uncomfortable to just leave him, even if I can't really do anything for him. I was so grateful to be able to leave him in a happy state of mind. I headed downstairs to Paula's room where she was setting out a long piece of paper from a big roll for the semi-annual marker check. The kids usually love this- make a squiggle on the paper to see if the marker still had ink, if so- it went in the basket, if not- it got chucked into the wastebasket. The usual crowd of free-time drawers/colourers was in another room engaged with another project, so Paula & I did it. It was so relaxing to make squiggles on paper & chat. I asked for the paper to take home so I can make origami paper out of it.

On the way home I noticed that the traffic light & surrounding businesses were still dark... it did not bode well. At home, I found my neighbours manually opening their garage doors (electric opener) & they told me that the power company planned to have the electricity back on by 10:30 am. We had a nice, if chilly, backyard visit & I got in the house just as Daryl was finishing all but the vacuuming. I was amazed by how cold the floors were & scurried for my slippers. Daryl offered to come back at the end of his work day to finish the job & I finally agreed when he said he wouldn't feel right not doing it (we are so lucky to have him as a housecleaner & friend!). After he left I packed B's lunch & headed back to school (this time I noticed not only the light in the car, but the heat!). I poked my head into the classroom door & waved at B's teacher to tell her his lunch had arrived, then headed off to Starbucks for an emergency venti decaf latte & a cinnamon doughnut. I was home by 10:00 & when I went to unbutton my coat, it was so cold I had to leave it on. I held the latte in my hands to warm them. After wandering around the house considering all of the things I usually do when I get home from dropping B off at school: checking the email, checking the HP forums that I help moderate, checking the blog, then headed up to my sewing/fibre/craft room to cut fabric- something that did not need electricity. I had purchased the most recent book by my favourite fibre artist, Kumiko Sudo, called Kokoro no Te, before the holidays, but had barely looked through it. I had showed it to our Japanese teacher & she became very nostolgic when she saw the pattern for otedama, which are little beanbags used for juggling balls or paperweights. Tomoko told me that this is one of the first sewing projects that a little girl in Japan does with her mother, so I decided that I wanted to make some as my first foray into the new book. I collect scraps of kimono fabrics to use for these projects, & I was happily (fully coated & scarved against the cold) cutting bright fabrics when I heard a hummmm... & realised that the electricity was back on (10:20 am- not bad!). I finished what I was cutting & then scurried around the house resetting clocks. I was soon able to shed the coat & scarf & got down to the business of my interrupted life- computer life, mostly. By the time I was done & had eaten lunch, it was time to pick B up at school.

It was swimming day for B's class, & they get back to school right before dismissal, so things are sometimes chaotic. I got the daily report from Cherie, which was good, & collected B's pieces parts to go home. We were driving in the car when we discovered that he didn't have his homework. B said he was disappointed, but relieved (he has come to consider homework a necessary evil, but does not like it) & I said that the disappointment was a good sign- that he was internalising the responsibility- but that he could do it tomorrow at school because we were not going back! On the drive home I noticed that the dead-traffic light intersection was still dead, & dotted with electric company trucks. The lack of homework made things feel out of whack at home, though it was nice to be greeted by a vacuuming Daryl. B grabbed a granola bar & headed off to the new computer. I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself. Over the past couple of weeks B has regressed a bit independance-wise. He has been needing me to be on the same floor as he is, & sometimes we have to be in the same room, which leaves tv & playing games together as the main post-homework activities. Dinner-making has been very difficult too, since B wants my attention while I need to cook & we have been having some difficult pre-dinner times (which is never the best time of day for either of us anyway). The new computer arrived last Sunday & seemed to work a behavioural miracle, as B has been perfectly happy to be playing in his room for as much time as he could get the past couple of days... but he occasionally needs frustration/OCD thought intervention (B starts moaning or screaming & needs someone to talk him past the the OCD moment) so I decided it would not be a good idea to get too involved in any projects. A perfect afternoon for otedama. I put the fabric in a little sewing box with silk thread & sewing needles, found some beans, & sat at the kitchen table sewing. Daryl finished the vacuuming & I gave him an origami box full of Japanese sweets as a thank-you, since I really couldn't let him leave without showing how much I appreciated his help. When I intermittently heard B yelling I went upstairs & intervened, then came back down & stitched. I thought about the little girls in Japan, learning to sew by making these otedama. It's a tricky pattern that involves sewing the fabric around right-angles of other fabric (not like western-style quilting at all) & I wondered if they became discouraged or if it was so interesting that they'd get hooked on sewing- another thing to ask Tomoko... Later, B came bopping downstairs & asked to go online to play some games (only the downstairs computers are internet-connected). I said sure, & soon heard a whoop from him- the long-awaited game at the Lego site was finally online! The phone rang at 5:30 & it was C saying that we should eat dinner without him because he was going to stay at work late & do his paperwork there, rather than bring it home, because of the concert...

Yikes!! I had forgotten about the concert. We rarely do anything on a weeknight other than Wednesday (C's day off). After a full day of coping on my own with B, home, etc, going out at night feels like starting the day all over again. But C had read a notice about a group of throat-singers from Tuva (south of Mongolia but for many years part of the Soviet Union) coming to town & had gotten tickets. We had asked Paula to come to the concert & her son to kid-sit for B. After such a day, my first reaction to the concert reminder was "arrgh!" but I really was intrigued by the idea of hearing throat-singing live (I'd heard recordings). The venue was the well-respected music conservatory in our town & I like the theatre there very much. I was awakened from my shifting of mental gears by meltdown sounds from the downstairs computer area... I should mention here that we have Macintosh computers (except for B's new pc) & that the Mac/Lego interface is shaky at best. Some of the Lego site games work fine, some crash intermittently, some don't work at all. I was mentally kicking myself for not preparing B better for the possibility that the game wouldn't work as I went to pick up the pieces of my kid. He was in tears, angry & frustrated & sad. The game had taken forever to load & now it was frozen. He was furious that the Lego people don't make their products to interface with with Macs. I just hugged him & agreed with everything he said, because it's true, dammit! I was proud of myself for not getting too sucked into B's grief & anger, & for only raising my voice once, when it was clear that he was not hearing me. After validating his feelings for a while, I quit the game & got him into the kitchen for some dinner, which really helped. It was such a relief- in the back of my head was concern for Paula's son (who's been sitting for B for nearly 4 years & has Aspergers himself) trying to cope with a post-meltdown B, plus the possibility that he'd be in such rough shape that we couldn't go to the concert... but B was in a much better place after all the hugging & pizza in his belly. He greeted dad cheerfully when he got home with nary a mention of the Lego site disaster (I filled C in privately). When Paula & her son (also a "C") arrived, B was ready to show him the new computer & what he could do.

There was quite a crush when we arrived at the concert hall. The show was sold-out & we saw a colleague of C's who said someone had tried to buy her tickets! We were struck by the diversity of the people there. We saw people from church, school, patients & colleagues of C's; there were families, music students, older people... a rainbow of faces & hair (literally :). We found our seats, in the middle of the hall with a great view of the stage, & were so busy chatting that I barely glanced at the programme. The group was called "Huun Huur Tu" ( & the four men took the stage wearing the most gorgeous silk over-robes. Then they sat down... and sang. It was transporting. The vibrations of the tones they sang vibrated inside my gut & sternum & made me literally a part of the music. It was unearthly. The four of them sang full-volume, taking turns producing the amazing high, flute-like harmonics that float above the low, guttaral tones. It was tuneful, but very different, like a chant put to music. That was just the first piece... Over the 1 1/2 hours of the performance I got a deep sense of the Tuvan people- what they value (horses, nature), where they came from (originally China), & how far they had come to share their music with us- just from the music, since the performer who announced the songs had a heavy accent that was difficult to understand. Every man on that stage was a virtuoso. The percussionist was not just keeping the rhythm- he was an integral part of the sound-pictures thay painted, from the clopping of horses to low rumblings that seemed to float under the songs. They had amazing bowed instruments that made an incredible range of sounds. One of the performers played a long flute and sang at the same time. C & Paula & I just kept looking at each other in amazement. I felt like a child in the best way possible- open & awed by newness. It wasn't until the second set that I noticed that many of their instruments had horses heads carved as finials. I kept waiting for one of them to break a sweat or take a drink of water, the sounds they were making were so intense, but they serenely performed for us & made it look effortless. The second set was crowned by a piece they described as "Spiritual Home". They created a place populated by birds & insects & even an Elk bugling, & I was literally not in the theatre for most of this piece, carried away to Tuva. After they were finished, we brought them back for 2 encores & then had mercy & let them go, reluctantly. They were clearly moved by our enthusiasm & appreciation. All the way home I kept thinking how lucky I was to be alive & to have witnessed/experienced this music. It was so big & so beautiful that it made me feel that what I live with day-to-day, raising an autistic child, dealing with the joys & frustrations of life, was part of the beauty that they had created. I thanked C for getting us out on a cold, Tuesday evening, after such a wacky day, for this jewel of an experience. May the memory give me the deeper strength & patience I need so often; may my well be well topped-off by this gift from Tuva...


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