Category Archives: parenting

Teens throwing chairs at B104 Night, Mayfair

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The crowd sang along to Chiddy Bang’s “Mind Your Manners”

B104 night at Mayfair every Memorial Day weekend in Allentown is a great bargain:  $5 entrance fee for nationally known acts.    It’s usually a bit crowded, but where else can you can get $5 seats where you can see the stage? A few years ago we waited a couple of hours and got in the front section to see Jesse McCartney.

This year was Chris Rene from X factor, Chiddy Bang, and Boys like Girls.  My husband and I thought it would be fun to go, and we particularly wanted to see Chris Rene from the X factor. We arrived to a mostly full tent after a rainstorm, and found 3 empty chairs in the middle of a sea of teenagers. As we sat, I saw a ripple of reaction from the teens around us: adults don’t belong here. Girls with long straight hair wearing tiny jeans shorts and crop tanks, smart phones in backpockets visible as they scan the crowd to see who’s here, who is arriving.

President Obama knows the right gestures to use when singing Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe”, despite several dubbed viral videos which make him him look pretty… nerdy.  Start by teaching kids gestures that go with songs from preschool like the Itsy-Bitsy Spider and the Chicken Dance. By about 4th grade sleepovers,  girls learn to lock eyes while singing a key phrase, often accompanied by a gesture. but :      “ you can’t keep singing at the same person, that would be awkward, you only like sing a line or two”. For call me maybe, make your telephone at “call me” and shrug at “maybe”.

I see clues that these kids know each other, that they must be from the same school. Open mouthed smiling girls with braces check their phones, and look at each other and laugh.  Girls sit in rows, a few braiding each other’s hair, wet after being caught in the rain. Boys sit behind in groups,  a brave girl or two sitting with a date in the boundary. Finally, Capcee starts the warm-up music: “Teach Me How to Dougie”.  A couple of  teens stand up and try out a couple of dance moves, scanning faces and gauging reactions to each movement. Everyone knows words of the songs , they know which parts to sing aloud, locking eyes briefly and singing phrases at each other. Girls ignore the  boys, until more dominant boys show up at the last minute, striding right to the  most popular girls.

By the time the DJ Capcee gets to “Low”, by Flo Rida, the kids are all up: lines of carefully set chairs block their forward surge.  My daughter gets up to dance, but I caution her to stay  back, sensing her danger in not belonging. While my daughter is standing,  a girl brazenly comes and sits in her seat next to me – I pull my daughter back down into her seat to re-claim the space, and the girl hops over into a boy’s lap.  There are fleeting touches, and a couple who might be graduating middle school risk a first kiss.   Someone starts throwing  chairs into a pile, helter skelter, to make room for the arriving kids, who snake forward.   They never look at us, but their bodies tell us we are invaders in their territory: they  wall us off with the chair pile.   I freeze when someone taps my shoulder from behind, knowing that we are  blocking the path, and parents eyes don’t belong here . The crowd shouting:  “Sex Sex sex sex” , along with a song that I have never heard before, but that they all know well.

After the concert, I did the research…….my sources tell me that  probably they weren’t actually shouting “Sex” it was probably “Shots”, by LMFAO featuring lil Jon,  a song I hadn’t heard before. It sure sounded like sex.

Girls turn to each other and make eye contact, singing phrases, imitating gestures:  Applebottom jeans, boots with the fur…lowlowlowlowlowlowlow.  One girl is suddenly  spit out from the group, and connects with friends on the edge  explaining  with animated gestures. As the chair barrier piles up, my invisible family is a rock in the stream, as teens file around us to join with the larger group. Kids slip and slide, climbing over the chair pile to get  past , and  suddenly the prettiest, best dressed  girl throws a chair in our direction with barely restrained viciousness.

Concert riots are nothing new. This picture of thrown chairs is from a 1980 riot at a Black Sabbath concert. In 1980, fights and thrown chairs resulted in the cancellation of a free Drake concert at South Street Seaport.

We finally give up and head for safety in the periphery.  We excuse ourselves to pass through a group of teens dressed in black: we make eye contact and smile. They smile back with gentle understanding, and suddenly  we are visible again. After we move, the crowd continues to heat up, bumping each other, standing on chairs, pumping fists, pushing forward. I take a tour around the crowd, and I see piles of chairs all the way across the crowd.  It wasn’t personal.

Rob Harvey and Vose. I took my daughter to see my favorite local band, Vose, at Crocodile Rock in Allentown. We had to listen to a heavy metal band before Vose went on. I hadn’t seen live moshing before, and I wasn’t quite sure of the etiquette. It wasn’t that hard for me to figure out to move back away from the circle pit, but  a teenager  with autism might need a cue to figure out where to stand. My older daughter is in college — she’s a much better teacher for this kind of situation.

As the last Chiddy Bang song comes to an end, a security guard wades into the vortex of the group of teens, right into the spot we left, and says something to the charged up teens.   Suddenly, the group scatters, quickly leaving the concert as if with one mind. A Mayfair official gets up on stage and tells the audience they must follow rules: no climbing on chairs, no pushing forward.  But the intensity is already diminished, the danger is over now. The crowd settles listening to calm pop music, and  event volunteers come and rearrange the chairs.

Capcee was a master at revving the kids up, but the security guards knew just how much intervention was needed to allow a good time, but prevent a riot.  This wasn’t even a newsworthy  event:  concert review don’t mention any near melee at the concert.   This is just everyday group behavior at a concert.

I have so many questions. How can I possibly teach a  teenager with autism safe concert behavior?  I had been thinking to invite some of the girls from my social skills group to this concert, but I hesitated. Caution…..often a good thing!   I was surprised to see so many young teens without any adults checking on them. Where were those helicopter parents?  If there were any parents of these kid at Mayfair, they were so far away as to be useless.   The security did manage to prevent real harm, but I can’t imagine that the parents of these kids would be okay with this.    I chose to bring my daughter  so that I could teach her — well, I really thought it might be fun for her– but I couldn’t let her move  into such a complex social situation.   We remain more connected to our kids with autism, who, like the kids wearing black,  are vulnerable and have no protection from the pack.

Here’s a list of popular songs that come up at dances and other occasions.  This list is somewhat different than just “what’s in now”- some songs are important in the context of school dances and parties.   I’m sure I’ve missed some.

  • Lady Gaga, Just Dance, Telephone
  •  Beyonce,  All the Single Ladies
  •  Mary J. Blige Family Affair
  • Sarah Bareilles, I’m Not Gonna Write You a Lovesong
  •  Chiddy Bang, Ray Charles
  • Jennifer Lopez   On the floor
  • C&C Music Factory,  Everybody Dance Now
  • OutKast, Hey Ya
  • Pink, Let’s get this Party Started
  • Nelly, Hot in Heere
  • Miley Cyrus, Party in the USA
  •  Taio Cruz Dynomite
  • Bruno Mars, Grenade
  • Ciara, 1 2 step
  • Right said Fred, I’m too sexy
  • Justin Timberlake, Sexyback
  • Rihanna, We found love ,  Birthday, Don’t Stop the Music
  • LMFOA Party Rock Anthem, Shots, I’m Sexy and I know it
  • Flo rida, Low,  Right Round, Club Can’t Handle Me, Good Feeling
  • Cali Swag District, Teach me how to Dougie
  • Cee-Lo,  Forget you (there is another version with F you)
  • YMCA/Cotton Eye Joe/Electric Slide/Chacha slide /Macarena
  • TikTok,  Ke$ha
  • Eiffel65 , Blue
  • Journey, Midnight Train (aka Don’t stop believing)
  • Katy Perry, California Gurls, Firework, Hot ‘n cold
  • Green Day, Time of Your Life
  • Maroon 5, Moves like Jagger
  • Black Eyed Peas, Imma Be, Boom Boom pow, Let’s Get It Started, I  Gotta Feeling
  • Montell Jordon This is How we do it
  • Enrique Iglesias, I like it
  • Justin Bieber, Baby
  • Reel2reel, I like to move it move it
  • Shakira,  Hips Don’t Lie
  • Chris Rene’s Young Homie has grown on me, and I like his peaceful message:     “Hey, young homie what you trippin’ on
    Looking at life, like how did I get it wrong,
    Life’s too short, gotta live it long,
    To my brothers and sisters when will we get along”

     

A Field Trip through Autismland

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When my daughter was diagnosed with autism, someone gave me the essay “Welcome to Holland.  Some people believe that this essay about raising a child with a disability is comforting. I found it annoying.  The author, Emily Perl Kingsley, compares raising a child with a disability to preparing for a trip to Italy, and getting off the plane and finding yourself in Holland. I know that the author had good intentions: she didn’t want people to be so consumed by their child’s disability that they miss the wonderful things about their child. But you just can’t hear that message in the early stages of angry, raging grief.

When I read the essay after my daughter was diagnosed with autism,   I reacted to the part where she said: “they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine, and disease.  It’s just a different place.”  To me, autism has not been just a different place. The first years were terrifying and lonely.

Welcome to  Autismland.                        Toto,  we’re not in Kansas anymore.

The first years of autism are nothing like Holland, with beautiful tulips and windmills and delicious cheese.  When parents step off the airplane of diagnosis into Autismland, it looks pretty barren.  Many families who have a child with autism feel  isolated and separated from the communities of school, church, and recreation. Even with an accepting community, how many would return after their child had a screaming, flailing tantrum? Or even if he just loudly quotes Spongebob in a somber moment?   Parents of typical kids get the group tour with jolly companions, drinking and laughing as they journey from kindergarten registration to college application.  Parents of kids with autism are on their own in a strange inhospitable country.  With a diagnosis of autism,  it wasn’t just about whether my child would talk, but about whether she would have a future:  would she ever be able to work, get married or have a family?  For a parent, this treeless, lonely country looks nothing like Amsterdam or Rome.

Even for families of high functioning kids who learn side -by-side with typical children in regular education, there is a huge chasm of separation. Once when we were preparing an after-school activity, one mom said to me,”I don’t know what I’d do if I had a child like yours”. Her statement has bounced around in my head for 8 years, and I remember it every time I see her jogging down the road. She was commenting on the deep canyon  that separates her world and mine. I could see her micro-expressions of unconscious disgust and superiority,  that’s what stays with me.

Some of the separation from the mainstream parents reflects my own social awkwardness….even before autism, I never knew how to do the normal mom talk about Longenberger baskets or jewelry parties.  Some autism parents  have the knack of making others feel at ease and fitting in.   For the rest of us,  school events are particularly  stressful.  Autism parents go on more field trips than the other parents, and this time of year I hear the field trip stories from parents every day.  The brave parents of kids with autism tell me about the pain of watching their children who can’t read the social cues.  They tell me about watching when no one chooses their child to be a partner on the bus.  They see the other parents watching the lunch drama, when all of the kids choose where to sit. The other parents don’t want their child to be forced to sit next to ours, and wish we would accept sitting at the unpopular table. During field trips and class parties,  parents are finally granted their foolish wish to be a fly on the school walls– and they see the vast ocean that their child with autism needs to cross to be accepted.

I spent the elementary years helping out in Girl Scouts, backstage, and on field trips.  It would have been easier if I had been one of the moms who was naturally good at the PTA thing, always chipping in to help with the endless fundraisers.  Maybe that would have given me some social capital.  In those years, I thought I had some sort of special dispensation for having a child with a disability, and I just didn’t realize that I didn’t get a free pass at all — rather, I needed to do twice as much, while not talking too much about my other life of therapies and supplements.   Within our own networks, autism parents overlook forgotten phone messages and dropped balls, but the rest of the world is not so forgiving.

When I called up the staff of Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania to ask whether my daughter with autism could be a program aide helping younger children, they said “Sounds great! We have a staff member with Asperger’s who just did a training for us !” Juliette Low, the founder of Girl Scouts, was deaf.

Participating in activities required all of my acting skills, putting on a game face to cover up my intense anxiety. Like the time that an elderly Girl Scout came and showed the Brownie troop her ancient collection of historical uniforms.  I walked my fidgety child around the perimeter of the room, around and around, through the endless presentation, knowing that all the moms were watching us. The very first girl Scout meeting,   I remember my daughter standing on the tables and lying on the floor.  I needed to gather my courage before every meeting. We went on overnights, camping in tents, on a battleship, in a church basement, at the Game Preserve.   The popular clique negotiated who slept next to who, and ran off to the bathroom together to gossip. I comforted the crying girls after lights out.  Girls Scout rules don’t allow adults to sleep in the same platform tent with girls.  Would the lantern outside my door stay lit all night? Would the girls wake up if their tent-mate had to use the latrine? Would anyone get lost in the woods in the dark? I slept fitfully, listening for every noise.   I came home from each experience exhausted from managing other children’s needs while trying as best I could to help my own  kid look normal.  Or less different.

We moved on to other activities in middle school.   We did High School Musical and Aladdin. We went on an overnight band trip .   I kept supporting backstage, finding missing props, and giving cues for entrances.   It was fun,  but still grueling.  The  mommy cliques dwindled as the scornful glances of the  young teenagers began to emerge. For many families with autism, puberty means going deeper into quicksand.    But for us, it was time to start stepping back.

This year in high school, there was an overnight trip with school: 3 long days.   None of the parents went on the trip.  I didn’t see whether anyone sat with her on the bus, but I saw the exuberant Facebook message she sent on her Kindle from the bus: “On my way to Boston, yay!”  I only texted the teacher for reassurance once, but I was still drained by the time we picked her up. The teachers said she had fun, but she doesn’t believe in sharing unnecessary information with adults, so we didn’t hear much detail.

Making the trees dance in The Adventurous Girl, by Ariel Camacho

Stepping back takes different forms. The last three years we’ve been in the Young Playwright’s Festival with Touchstone Theatre. The first year I was a helper, but last year I took the plunge and I auditioned.  I was no longer a spectator and observer, there to give direction to my child –this time I got on stage too.  I was too busy with my own role as a spinning wall and dancing tree  to worry about anyone else.  This year we were mourners in The Sad Story of Mrs. Donut Person, by Biance Acosta.  Making people laugh is great fun.

It’s been a long journey, and as I look back, I am amazed to see the rough terrain that we crossed.  The journey was not what I expected, but not the worst that I feared.  There’s still a ways to go, but now I can stop once in a while to find a flower sprouting up between the rocks.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.  ~Thornton Wilder