Thursday, February 25, 2010


Today, we finally got our new washer and dryer. It was supposed to come last week, but with all the snow and the city's refusal to plow our "tertiary" (read: unimportant, unless you're the people living on it) road, the delivery truck refused to come up the hill and deliver our stuff. They managed this refusal from the bottom of the hill. I was steamed, let me tell you... but today the snow held off well enough for them to haul the two big boxes in, cursing at the snow and the large basement step, and set things up. We had to do some last-minute running to get everything in position but now our first load is in and we're happily saving money with a high-efficiency, agitator-less washer.

I've been excited for the washer all week the way a kid is excited for a new toy. For one thing, this means we don't have to drive across the city to use grandma's 70's-era appliances, which have ruined at least 2 of my sweaters by mysteriously shrinking them and take forever to dry heavy loads because the dryer overheats and has a long cooldown cycle. For us, the washer/dryer in the house is a convenience. We could have kept using the ones available at grandma's, but we managed to afford a set of our own. And it got me thinking (what doesn't, these days?).

First thought: poverty. Yeah, yeah. I'm wearing that welcome mat thin. It struck me full-force today just how badly we treat the poor, though... and how even a simple thing like doing laundry can hurt. See, we've been in the position before (when we moved down here, in fact) of having to visit a laundromat and PAY to do our laundry. One huge basket and $10 in quarters later, half my jeans were still damp and we'd run out of money. Keep in mind we weren't even paying for detergent - we brought our own. What do the poor do? They certainly aren't getting much help as far as washing clothes is concerned. I wonder as I look over my own struggles what the people living so far below my income level can possibly do about laundromat fees. Even people with washers in their apartment complex have to pay - often a couple of dollars per washer. How do the poor manage to pay? At college the washers started at $1.10 my freshman year, and by my senior year were up to $1.50. Those who could go home on weekends never used the dorm washers.

Which brings me to kids washing clothes. A good number of people I knew at college didn't know how to separate light and dark clothing, let alone read tags, wash red shirts alone to remove excess dye, or not shrink things in the dryer. Many of the students at my college were there on scholarships; some though had no excuse for not knowing how to do laundry, other than the fact that no one taught them. I don't know about other households, but I was taught how to do the laundry and so were my sisters. But it seems that a lot of kids are missing out on this essential part of life, and it makes me worry. Parents seem to put a lot more emphasis on good grades and lots of sports practice than on good life skills these days.

It also makes for an interesting comparison to autistic kids, many of whose parents can only wish that their child will be able to do his own laundry one day. I see a lot of treatment plans for kids on the spectrum that call for self-help skills like making sandwiches and folding clothes - stuff most of us take for granted. It's interesting that while the rest of us are busy worrying about whether our children will be doctors or lawyers, the parents of autistic kids have it right and are worrying about whether their child will be able to make chicken nuggets without burning the house down. I guess having a kid with a developmental delay really makes you re-think your priorities.

The above is not meant to downplay the frustration that comes with raising kids, especially autistic kids. Parents with kids on the spectrum often do want to be able to dream normal dreams for their children. They want to be able to blithely mention that Timmy's growing up to be really good at math, and might become an engineer, or that Susie won an award for her high school speech competition. For most, autism takes away the opportunity to dream, and replaces it with a daily struggle to complete the most mundane tasks. I've worked with 11 year-old kids still in diapers, with first-graders who couldn't identify the letters of the alphabet. It's not easy to teach those kids how to tie their shoes, let alone read the instructions on a box of macaroni and cheese, follow them properly, feed themselves and clean up after eating. To get a deeply autistic child to that point would be a lifetime effort in many cases.

And speaking of autism: I've been reading a news follow-up on that mother who killed her son in NY earlier this year. To have an 8 year old who can't even tell you he's hungry, let alone that he loves you... what a distressing idea. But it seems to me she was going about things the wrong way. The article quotes friends who describe her as a woman on a crusade - one even goes so far as to suggest that her "devotion" to finding a cure for her son was itself something twisted by her own motivations: "[one friend] believes her obsession was ''a control issue, the feeling that she would be the one to save that child, almost a salvation quest.''" They mention that for all the money she had, she didn't have a secondary caregiver (nanny, babysitter, behavioral therapist). Hmmmm.

I get the impression that this woman really was somewhat insane. Whether she ended up that way or started that way we'll probably never know. She certainly could have used help with her child, but for some reason reconsidered sending him to specialized schools or finding a state which would provide good wraparound care. She spared no expense on strange, cutting-edge treatments but refused to let the child out of her own hands. She seemed so desperate for help... but only if she was the one to give it. And I wonder: are the overbearing/underbearing parents I so often see with kids on the spectrum simply showing normal human behaviors on high alert due to their child's diagnosis, or is a parent with one of those two polar personalities showing gene expressions which in a child may become autism? It certainly seems that some parents show obsessive or otherwise autistic behaviors themselves (but have no diagnosis), but no one has yet studied personality traits of parents in relation to their child's diagnosis, and I doubt it'll happen soon - likely it would be seen as adding insult to injury to claim that our personalities affect our child's abilities.

Well, the washer's caused the basement drain to back up and spill rich, black silt all over the basement floor (third time this year the drain's done that... first two times were due to sudden thaws after long cold snaps). Guess it's time to call a plumber. Still, I'll take a backed-up drain over a laundromat any day. The basement is warm, the washer works beautifully (and quietly!), and sooner or later the snow will melt and give me an excuse to garden while the laundry does its thing. I already have onions and peas and lettuce and mint sprouting. Onward, spring!

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