52: Dressing Up

52: Dressing Up

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Dressing Up

I don’t need easy. I just need possible.

~Bethany Hamilton

“I want to wear my Miranda Lambert costume,” my son River informs me matter-of-factly. His autistic obsession with memorizing the Billboard Pop and Country charts has recently evolved into a passion for dressing up as the stars with top hits. In the world of autism this is a major development — imaginative play! I am thrilled, though unclear about how far to let it go when it leads me to looking for fishnet stockings for a ten-year-old boy who feels this is a must-have accessory for his Lady Gaga and Britney Spears costumes. And today, for the first time, he wants to wear one of his outfits in public.

Oh boy. My mind races ahead to figure out how to navigate this sticky wicket. Don’t push against, be creative, and especially, stay easy . . . I tell myself.

“Okay,” I say cheerily. “We can put on your Miranda Lambert costume for five minutes, and then we’ll change into your clothes for the park.” Yeah right. Like we can really pull that off. But both boys have a physical therapy appointment at the park, and we’ve already missed several because of tantrums and breakdowns, so I am resolute that we’re not going to bail on this helpful professional at the last minute, again.

“No! I want to wear my Miranda Lambert costume to the park!” River protests.

Oh boy. I can’t believe I have to do this. Me, of all people! Ms. Wear Whatever the Heck I Want and I Don’t Care What You Think. Ms. Liberated Mother who’s been encouraging the full and very colorful expression of my boys’ outrageously unique selves for over ten years. My heart just breaks inside. But today I’m Ms. Discerning Mother of Autistic Twins Not Interested in Triggering a Child Protective Services Investigation. I don’t think the soccer moms will find my boys dressed in tight, strapless dresses, four-inch platform heels, and cascading wigs of blond curls parading around the playground as fabulous as I do.

I take a deep breath, knowing we have ten minutes to get out the door, and that if I don’t do this right, River will erupt into a violent tantrum that could last an hour.

Bodhi, his identical twin, best friend, and worst enemy, pops his head in the door. Lucky for me, he’s feeling generous today.

“I recommend you let him do what he wants. He’s gonna get mad if you don’t.”

“Thanks for your advice, Bodhi,” I tell him sweetly, realizing that a strong odor is emanating from his Pull-Ups. There is no way I can pull off the UN-level negotiation needed to get him cleaned up, and also get River out the door in something G-rated — in the next ten minutes.

Triage time.

Okay, I think, no one’s gonna call CPS on me for having an autistic boy in poopy Pull-Ups. His physical therapist won’t be pleased, but tough. We’ll be outside, and the odors will dissipate.

So I keep my attention on River.

“Let’s wear your cowboy costume!” I suggest brightly.

“No! I want to wear my Miranda Lambert costume, and that’s final!”

I can’t figure out a way to do this without saying no, so I go for the direct approach. “No sweetheart, it’s not appropriate to wear such a fancy costume out of the house.”

Damn. Is this me talking? “Appropriate?”

River starts screaming. He shouts. “I’m really angryyyyyy!”

“I hear you, River! Thank you for telling me with your words!” Autism has a way of creating surreal Hallmark moments.

I re-open the cowboy conversation nonchalantly. “So what do you think — Brad Paisley or Jason Aldean?”

“Jason Aldean,” he grumbles, but he’s already starting to brighten. I gather the necessary country-rock-star elements — cowboy shirt, boots and hat, jeans and microphone — in record time and manage to corral both my sweet boys into the car, only ten minutes late. Whew. I breathe a sigh of relief. Only, it’s not over.

“Why didn’t you let River wear the costume he wanted?” Bodhi demands, as we drive away from the house. I can hear in his tone of voice, he wants real answers. I try to be vague but truthful. “Well you see Bodhi, it’s a funny thing about the culture we live in. What is good manners to most people is not wearing really crazy costumes out in public, unless it’s Halloween or you’re going to a costume party.”

“Are you telling me,” Bodhi’s voice is incredulous and suspicious, “that people wouldn’t enjoy seeing River in a colorful costume?” He spits out his final words like a defense attorney delivering his final address to the jury.

I squirm, weighing how much I should say, finally judging that it’s probably important to be a bit more transparent given that this is an issue that is not going away.

“Well, actually, I guess what it really is, now that I think about it more, is that some people would be uncomfortable seeing a boy dressed in a girl’s costume.” There. I said it, or at least more of it. No need to bring in child pornography, pedophiles, CPS, and homophobia at this point. But I’m not sure how my statement is going to land with my boys.

The response is immediate. Disgust. “That’s RIDICULOUS!” Bodhi exclaims. “A boy should be able to dress up like Nicki Minaj if he wants to! That should be a RULE!”

“I agree!” I raise my voice to match his indignation, but Bodhi is not through.

“We’ve got to tell OBAMA about this! He’s got to pass a LAW about this!” He breaks off his rant with an outraged huff.

It’s enough to warm an activist mom’s heart.

~Michele Bissonnette Robbins

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