Saturday, September 24, 2011

Because it's odd...

There have been a couple of times this week when my parenting brain has slowed to a snail's pace. This is not unusual, sadly, but it's got me thinking about the pointy end of meaning - the messages we want to pass on to our children.

When I was a kid, I heard strange things on TV ('wait till your father gets home!') and I read confusingly semi-inspirational things on greeting cards ('your potential is guided by angels') and I made up my own mantras ('keep your expectations low, so you'll generally be surprised' was one of my favourites).

Through a sea of nonsense, a bunch of things remained relatively meaningful.

I do think, if you look at the 7 year old, you get a fair idea who the adult will be. I do think finding your passion is a good thing, even better if you can finagle a way to use it to make a career. I suspect drinking a lot of water and eating as many green things as possible also has some benefit.

I looked to my parents, my siblings and my mentors for these gems as I grew up. More often than not, I found them on TV, in magazines and increasingly online.

It makes me wonder what life defining platitudes Billy will take into adulthood.

Last night, at a family dinner, he did a fine performance of a phone company ad. 'Don't just change your phone, change your phone company' is etched in vocally nuanced perfection in his sub-conscious, as are the remaining scripts from the ten other ads in the campaign. Including a rousing rendition of 'Give Me the Simple Life'. I hope that will mean something when he is old enough to actually need a phone.

He has developed the miraculous skill of translating kids' tv shows from one accent to another. So, although he has not left Australian shores (Yet. Give us a month and all that will change!), he can do a perfect Charlie and Lola in both English and American accents. He takes Super Y, and makes it sound like the British Royal Family doing their literacy homework. Should he become a super-spy or a voice over guy (both are clearly on the cards), these things will no doubt be handy.

Billy has also discovered a talent for finding YouTube clips that innocently depict kids video games, but are narrated by bored teenagers with a proclivity for profanity. We are very much enjoying the fact that the presence of Buzz Lightyear or Woody now has the capacity to bring forth a string of F, A and C words. Not. Having said that, I am not averse to a bit of swearing myself (don't tell my mother), so I guess some time in his life, these words will come in somehow useful.

On a slightly more serious note, we had a sobering chat this week. It involved the aforementioned phone ads, other kids and the word 'odd'.

I know we are not alone in scripting world, although I think we may be somewhere in the upper echelons of government. Billy is the king of scripting. He learns and recalls things with remarkable accuracy. It can be TV shows, movies, songs or, most recently, favoured advertisements.

I am cursing one of our major telecommunications companies, for a clever campaign that has been running for a long time featuring African animals. You may recall Billy has a real affinity with African animals. Now he has an affinity with the phone company that makes money out of African animals. He records the ads on TV, he watches them on YouTube, he finds them in newspapers and magazines.  And... he repeats them (like he did last night at our family dinner).

He is charming and cute (and very cheeky, as we have talked a lot about limiting the perseveration a little) as he masters every sound, vocalisation and dramatic beat of these advertisements. He knows it will get a reaction, but more he seems genuinely thrilled by his mastery.

In a safe audience (like family dinner), he gets a round of applause and a few befuzzled faces ('what kind of child recreates TV ads?', the older folk think to themselves). Among his NT peers, the reaction is quite different, and often involves some of the words Billy has only heard on YouTube Toy Story play throughs.

So, what's a mother to do? Well, in a scene reminiscent of 'THE' talk where many parents get themselves all wrapped up in knots trying to explain where babies come from without actually mentioning that it involves sex, which is not yucky, it's quite fun, even though it doesn't seem like it now, but you shouldn't think about that now because you are only a child, aaaah, why did I start this conversation... I tried to explain why it's probably not a good idea to do Optus ads around other kids.

I started with an affirmation of how very clever he is to be able to do such good voices. I extend to mentioning that Voice Over Guy is a very well paid and respected profession. I'm doing quite well, I think to myself, as I start in on the downsides of repeating TV ads.

Do you hear other people repeating Optus ads? I ask. No, Billy replies. As though he actually cares or notices for one nano-second what other people choose to do. Do you think other people want to hear Optus ads repeated a lot? I try again. Billy thinks about this one and replies, Yes. They see them on TV and they like them.

I think about this one. He's got me. That's kind of the point of advertising. I regroup.

When you are around other kids, maybe you should try not to repeat things. OK, says Billy. Then he asks, why? (I waited a long time for this word to be used. I should be happy. I am not.) Why? Um, I say (desperately trying to some up with a good, solid, meaningful answer that will transcend generations and become the title of my next blog entry)... because it's odd.

That's all I've got? That's the best I can do? Tell my son that something as natural to him as choosing his finger over a tissue to clear out nose boogies is 'odd'.

I tried to say 'odd' like it's a good thing, because I genuinely think it is. But I want him to understand that it loses its charm fairly quickly when all the other boys are playing Star Wars and you are singing the theme from a phone ad.

Like most kids, Billy gave me that 'thanks for sharing' half hug and ran off to learn some more swears off the computer.

Which left me wondering.

Some autistic people have a lot of social understanding. Some do not. Billy is somewhere in the middle. He wants to be out in the world, but he does not have a keen sense of curtailing his own activity to suit the goings on around him. Fortuitously, he is generally a calm, observe-y kind of child. It's just that what he is learning from his observation is the subtle nuances of the soundscape, not which fork everyone is choosing to use.

I'd love for him to be able to share his inner 'odd' with confidence, with the hope that it would be received with an open heart. I suspect that hope has as much chance of being met (the older he gets) as my hope that I will drop a tidy ten kilos without exercise or lettuce.

I don't imagine I am helping much with my ham fisted attempts at explaining the social consequences of Optus ad repeating. I may, instead, just join in. The jingle is catchy.

Or I would, if he would let anyone sing around him. That is a whole other story that makes me want to swear like Buzz Lightyear.


Lisa said...

Urgh. I think this one may fall into the category of 'learn the hard way'. The whole thing of learning the 'when' and 'who' of disclosure.
Peforming ads goes down well with family. Good. Then family tell him it's not a good idea? Doesn't make sense.
He may need a bunch of 8 year olds to tease him, followed by the parental lesson 'acting 101-towards acceptance by different social groups'.

Which is followed by(age 40 or so) deciding, 'fuck it, I can't be bothered acting to be socially acceptable to certain groups any more'.
Signed, the eccentric grumpy old woman.

Anonymous said...

I love that you have such an interesting, intriguing and funny (not odd) child. I am sure that your life has been so enriched, with the exception of Mr Poo of course!
Billy can come teach Nick some swears any day! :)

Mama Deb said...

M ALWAYS finds those videos on YouTube too! Agh!
I understand your fumbling for a choice of words to use on how Billy's actions come across to his peers. M has been constantly putting his hands down his pants or grabbing himself again. I thought we'd nipped this in the bud the year we put the poor child in overalls each day, but apparently we did not :)
I was trying my hardest to think of a way to describe how the other students might view M doing that and honestly, I just couldn't sugar coat it. When he does it at school I tell him that I don't want the other kids to make fun of him. It seems callous, but it's all I've got at this point, you know?