I spent Thanksgiving dinner as usual with my father’s family, since they are within driving distance and my mother’s isn’t. Both of his parents are alive and well, and he has two older sisters with no children. They both had took the banned pain reliever in the late 70s, and as a result were afraid of having a child like me, or worse. One’s married, and he was at the dinner as well, so there were a total of eight when you include my mother and me. With no cousins on this side of the family, I was the only person there born after 1977. And except for my mother, everyone was different from me. This is probably how Paul feels every day at school.
Being the only young person is only one of the challenges of Thanksgiving. Since they never had a child like me, they sometimes forget how traditional things can stress me. I enter the door, and it’s a bunch of people saying hello, and more importantly expecting you to say hello so I comply, then asking lots of inane questions about how and what you’re doing, and they expect you to do that too but I have my limits. Then we eventually sit down to eat the meal. Usually, they’ve learned that I react badly to the textures of certain foods like celery or onions, and leave them out of my portions of the meal. However, occasionally they forget or there is an accident, which happened this year. I was eating my portion of the stuffing when I hit a piece of, well, something, and it immediately triggered a gag reflex since I was not expecting it. I managed to hold it down so nobody noticed, and left the stuffing at the end of the meal after saying I was full. I know that it is difficult to change your entire cooking method for two people out of eight, so I understand how it happened and I don’t blame them for it.
After dinner, the family breaks off and discusses issues that don’t concern me. My mother and my older aunt were discussing retirement plans with my grandparents. They’re worried about when they’ll be able to retire since Social Security benefits were pushed back so my grandfather won’t be eligible for another three years at 75, and my grandmother not for another five. And luckily they’re scheduled to get those benefits, since there are plans to gradually extend the age to 80 in the future. My father and my younger aunt and her husband talked about old friends from high school and college that I’ve never met. I was completely bored and unable to leave, but honestly, after all the small talk before and during dinner this was the best part of the trip for me. Eventually, the talk died down and we said our goodbyes, took our part of the leftovers, and went home. We’ll be seeing them all again at Christmas. Overall, it was pretty typical of any holiday gathering of my father’s family.
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It has gotten way too cold for Mark to keep wearing shorts, so you’ve probably noticed that he’s started wearing his snow pants. I mean, you have to have noticed, since they rustle so loudly you can hear him walking from across the school. Every time he moves his legs it’s like someone running their fingers down the chalkboard. I don’t know if it bothers you or anyone else, but for me it’s a terrible irritant. I feel lucky he’s never asked us about what we think of his pants, probably because he’s embarrassed by it. But I don’t know if I can try to lie to him about it if he did, and he would probably not react well to the truth.
It’s kind of the problem with some of our issues causing other people’s issues to be a problem. For example, Mark’s sensitive touch means he’s far more comfortable in snow pants, which in turn bothers me because of my hearing sensitivity. Or some methods of stimming, like when Kat flaps her hands sometimes when she sees Daniel, can cause people sensitive to motion to get anxious. I don’t really stim, but I fiddle with my pencil or tap on the table when bored with a lecture, which could bother another student who is desperately trying to pay attention. And someone sensitive to what everyone is doing is a risk of being overloaded. In rare cases one kid having a meltdown can cause another to overload and meltdown themselves, and you end up hoping that it isn’t a chain reaction causing the entire school to get torn apart. Anxiety producing behaviors that causes sensory difficulties which cause anxiety can be a very dangerous feedback loop.
Paul, naturally, has fewer problems with it than the rest of us. I mean, he thought it was weird that Mark showed up in snow pants on a dry day in November, but he seemed to understand it once we explained it to him. He did comment on the sound a couple days later when Mark was coming over to us at the lunch table, but I didn’t say anything in response. But he doesn’t seem to have many other issues. He’s always attentive to teachers when they lecture; he even takes his own notes instead of relying on the ones you and the other teachers post online or his memory. Some of us have asked him a few times if he noticed sounds that were bothering us, and he said he didn’t notice anything until we pointed it out. I think he has a larger wardrobe than the rest of the lunch table put together; he has button-down shirts, t-shirts, a sweater, jeans, shorts, and khakis. It seems like no type of clothing bothers him. He’s like my father, but even my father wouldn’t wear a button-down shirt unless it was required for work or a special social occasion. On one hand, I envy his ability to tolerate different environments. On the other, I think having his lack of sensory sensitivity would cause me to miss many details in the world.
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My mother went off on her semiannual vacation for a week. She works as a tax accountant in a small local firm, so she takes off for a week right after the end of tax season and another in November to prepare herself for the holidays and the tax season for next year. I’d say she’s lucky to have legally mandated vacation time, but she still has to work fifty hours a week during the first quarter of the year. I can’t even stand six hours of school a day; I don’t know how I could work ten hours straight. At least I wouldn’t have to sit through eight different twenty minute lectures sections, which would be helpful. And if I got to go on a sight-seeing trip by myself twice a year it may be a huge help.
So my father and I were by ourselves for the week. He’s middle management at the HR department of a major corporation’s local office, a job that seems about as exciting as it sounds. His job has more steady hours all year round, which provides some stability to our lives. He doesn’t use as much vacation time as my mother, and most of it is used to take me on trips to historical sites or to see family members. Normally, he makes dinner for the family in the first quarter, when he gets home before my mother. She makes it the rest of the year on the nights where we don’t get take out or go out to eat. They split up most of the housekeeping tasks this way, except for the few that I do as chores. I’d say most families have to work the same way, with almost all parents needing to work due to such high income taxes.
Since there were only two of us in the house, my father didn’t really feel like cooking. We had different take-out delivery meals for the week, except for Tuesday when we went to a steakhouse. Four nights after dinner he went to a local bar to visit friends, something which he avoids doing when my mother isn’t out of the house. In addition to my usual dealing with the recycling and trash I had to help with laundry and house cleaning as well. And since it’s fall, I had to rake the remaining leaves off of the lawn. I think the leaves make the lawn look nice, and the trees are almost bare so there won’t be any left soon, but it isn’t my lawn. At least since my father didn’t do much cooking I didn’t have to deal with washing too many dishes too. I do get an allowance for doing these things, with most of the money I don’t end up spending on computer games and Netflix going into my savings account. Eventually I can hopefully afford a car if I can ever get a license. If not, I can spend it once I go to college, assuming I get into a college and don’t fail out of it.
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Kat was doing one of her ruminations about Daniel on Friday, which prompted Paul to ask her why she loved him so much. She replied that she didn’t love him, that it was inappropriate to refer to it as love when she couldn’t even talk to him. Even when unrequited, she felt that any kind of love required a connection between the people involved. In an effort to change the subject, Paul asked Mark and me about our “love lives.” Mark had a girlfriend freshman year, but they broke it off because it was too hard to get to each other after school due to the transportation involved. We have a solid public transportation system, but it’s rather expensive for a teenager without a job to use constantly. And having your parents drive you around for romantic encounters is weird. It’s a large part of the reason why Mark wants to get a job this year, either to pay for public transportation or a used car that can offer near complete freedom when he’s 17. I also said that I was waiting for better transportation options, but that would probably change if anyone I was attracted to felt the same way. A couple girls have said they liked me, I have told several girls I liked them, but no cases were mutual. If that situation changed, then I would probably be more willing to try and deal with any transportation issues that would come up. But for now, it gives me more time to focus on my school work.
But I felt bothered by Paul’s overuse of the word love. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, his old neighborhood apparently even still considered Valentine’s Day a major event. There are many different kinds of love, but they should be the most powerful feeling of their type. I’m not saying you can’t say you love pasta and salad, but you must really, really, really enjoy both of them more than any other type of food. Constantly using the word, no matter what kind of love it is, devalues the concept. If you sign every card with Love, then you’re saying you care as much about your significant other or parent as anyone else you’ve ever given a letter to. And even if you do truly love someone, saying it all the time makes it seem routine and a reflex instead of a genuine expression of emotion. However, it is used so many of ways that cheapen the word. I mean, love life can refer to anything from a guy who does exclusively one night stands, where it’s a euphemism for sex life, to a deeply conservative Christian couple, who may or may not be in love but are together to satisfy their demands of their families. One some websites the only way to show approval for something is to click a button that says “love”. The word has been used in titles of books, movies, and of course about a million or two songs. It’s everywhere, and I think that it cheapens what should be the highest level of praise that we can give.
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Noah became the first person in our grade to turn 16. Technically, he can get his driving learner’s permit, but it would be hard for him to pass the written test since we won’t be done with our driver’s education course until January. It’ll also affect lots of other people, like Mark, and is going to result in a lot of people trying to get appointments at the local driver’s school on the same day in January. At least we have a simulator available where we can practice driving without the risk of anyone getting injured. I’ve tried it a couple of times, getting better each time but I still feel I’m a long way from actually being in control of a vehicle. I’m still focusing on the written test at the moment.
Our course goes into all sorts of minute details and rules about driving. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to remember all of them, and my memory is better than most people with licenses. All of the different signs, what you need to do in a hundred different scenarios from hydroplaning to a broken tire, how many points you get for violating one of the many rules, and even a dozen hand signals. I’ve never actually seen someone do a hand signal from a car, but it’s something we have to learn just in case. Thankfully, despite the fact that I can’t get my permit until I turn 16 in April we all take the test at the end of the course. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be able to remember enough to pass it. Then I have to figure out if I can actually drive a vehicle.
It used to be that almost everyone outside of cities had a driver’s license. But since members of this generation have sensory issues, attention problems, or coordination difficulties less people are able to pass the driving test. We’re lucky that public transportation is bit more viable out here now. Apparently, there was only one taxi service in our town, and it cost $20, in 1970s money, to go to a town less than a half hour away. That’s if you could even get an appointment for a pick-up. Now we have a couple of bus lines and more affordable taxis that can help us get around. But it’s still much better to be able to get a driver’s license of your own. Not having to depend on the buses being there when you need them, assuming they’re even on time, or whether there’s an available taxi makes life much easier. You have to pay for a car, insurance, and gasoline, but at least you don’t have to pay someone to drive anytime you want to go anywhere. And if you’re really good at driving, you can get a job at one of the taxi services. You don’t get as much money as you did per trip in the 70s, but the volume of customers more than makes up for it.
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