The new normal

When I was a child, I loved looking through a kaleidoscope. I would marvel at the colors and patterns that would form as I would turn the dial both clock and counterclockwise. It was almost like my version of Wonderland or Oz.

Just imagine a sea of colors just for a matter of seconds. It took away any thought or fear that existed.

For me, I could return to the world that existed. I could put the kaleidoscope down and return to color pictures of Clifford. I was game to head outdoors and ride my bike. I would take my GI Joe action figures and create a battle in a sandbox.

That was my story. It was what I considered to be normal. When it came to Sawyer, the term “normal” was something that I couldn’t grasp. I had zero clue. However, I became an expert faking that I knew him.

I would pick him up for school and ask him about his day. All he would do would repeat things that I asked him. Otherwise, it was a line from Frozen.

People would ask me how he was doing. I’d say great. What else would I say? I was only going with what I hoped for.

That was my truth.

Sawyer couldn’t play. He didn’t color things for longer than two minutes. He had zero interest in puzzles. He wasn’t like other kids.

His normal wasn’t mine. His was new. It was on me to find a way to learn it. It wasn’t up to him to teach it.

The Little Family

I will be the first one to admit the the past is a nice place to visit but not to stay. Unfortunately, I was guilty in looking back when it was too little and too late.

We were now a family of five and the jokes about going from a man to man defense to a zone were getting really old. As matter of fact, the world of Autism had zero defense. There was no scheme that could prepare us for what we were embarking on. Rubin island was no picnic.

I remember picking Sawyer up at the after school program that he attended. There were kids his age. They were running around on the playground. I saw the excitement in their eyes that they were outdoors. I heard the laughter of climbing structures. I felt childhood like I expected it to be.

I had it before. I lived it. I breathed it. I lost it.

It was gone as I looked for Sawyer. I just hoped he would be a part of the action. I wanted to walk onto the playground and feel the past in the present. I wanted it for me.

There he was though. All by himself. It was like a hermit in exile. There was no laughter either. All I could see was someone different than the rest. It wasn’t fair.

What was fair? Was it fair that I wanted Sawyer to experience the childhood that his brother and sister had? Was it fair that he was perfectly content swinging while I wasn’t?

Our little family had grown up but it was me who needed to also.

How do I(we) fit in?

Going to school like every other kid wasn’t a promise with Autism. Even with Sawyer’s progress entering the school year in the fall of 2015, we weren’t sure how it would all play out. Yes, he had a back pack, a lunchbox, and got on the bus (short bus!) but was this just the second round of school or was this wishful thinking that he could close some gaps?

Were we delaying the inevitable with another year of preschool? Would he continue to show progress?

It was nerve wracking early on. Knowing that he was at a program that provided him services was certainly comforting but I didn’t know if it would work. I didn’t know if we would get a phone call requesting us to come in nor did I know if he was making the necessary progress that would lead him to kindergarten.

Essentially, we had 10 months. Would he be ready to join his peers?

It was a huge concern of mine. I so badly wanted Sawyer to have a chance. It wasn’t about friends, it wasn’t about learning, it was just about having a chance to grow up in an environment with kids his own age.

Was it wishful thinking? I didn’t think so. For whatever reason, my eyes made me a believer as I was doing everything possible to make myself think that Sawyer was changing.

This was the biggest obstacle of being a parent of a child with special needs. I just wanted Sawyer to belong even though I had zero clue what belonging even meant.

Did I want it for him or did I want it for me? Was my ideas about being accepted my own or what I thought they should be?

I didn’t have a handle how I, he, or we could fit in and how to make sense of it. It was a dark place and my articulation of my thoughts went silent at times.

It was humbling to realize that I was searching for something that I may never see.

Where’s Oscar?

If moving was fun, I would have done it often. I hate it. I hate boxes. I hate calling places to change my billing address. I hate explaining the thought process of articulating why I moved. I also hate the disaster of meeting multiple people at a closing, which might be more painful than watching The Karate Kid reboot. However, there is no bigger hate in me than someone leaving a door open while Oscar is pugging around and I can’t find him.

I think we were a legit 10 minutes into the moving truck loading and I couldn’t find my pug. Sawyer laying on an empty living room floor and chomping on his raisins. I was praying he didn’t know that Oscar was gonzo because it would add to the chaos.

Hearing Sawyer speak was and is a blessing. Hearing Sawyer repeat the same line over and over again in a stressful block of time is quite the opposite. So I did my best Ace Ventura and went on the lookout for him.

I should explain that my detective skills are horrendous. I couldn’t find an ice cube in a tray of ice. Ask my wife or friends this. They will agree.

I digress.

Sure enough the, “where’s Oscar?” was in full loop mode. Sawyer knew that he was gone. I let it slip and there was no turning back. So Sawyer came with me next door.

I would love to tell you that we found Oscar next door. Or that we found him 3 doors down. Or that we found him in 15 minutes. Or when we got in my Jeep and drove around the neighborhood. However, we did not.

I will openly admit that I cried pulling in the driveway. My daughter was hysterical and I attempted to reassure her that he would be back.

All I could do was watch boxes be moved and a truck being being loaded. I had Sawyer asking for Oscar non stop and all I could say was he went for a walk. Sawyer took that as he went to go see his mom. Quite frankly, his association that Oscar was looking for his mom was a silver lining. It was a heartwarming connection.

As I looked out into the distance, I wasn’t feeling confident. I went inside in hope that the door would knock and Oscar would be back.

I paced back and forth with tears being wiped away. Sawyer was asking me why Oscar went to find his mommy? Box by box was getting moved.

Then it happened. From a distance I saw a neighbor walking. There was pug who was pugging. And there was a family who was smiling. Oscar came home.

It was that moment that home was those around me and not the place.

Once again and even back with us there was a Sawyer, “where’s Oscar?”

He was back where he belonged.

Moving day

I'm a creature of habit. I eat the same breakfast. I prefer to wear the style of polo shirts. I tend to seek out shoes that have a bit of a heel so I can say I'm 5 ft 7. I also hate change. If this is my perspective, you can imagine my concern for uprooting Sawyer into a new house after 4 years of seeking some sort of normalcy.

Leaving our neighborhood was a concern across the board. It was very community driven that embraced our family. The kids made some great friends that they could literally have play dates without notice. Quite frankly, it was a desired location and Sawyer was finally coming around to being comfortable in this element.

So why move? We just wanted a home with some more charm and felt like we needed a home that fit our family better. Trust me, I avoided moving for years. Just the thought of packing made me cringe.

Fortunately for us, the market was on an upswing, we had a phenomenal real estate agent, and we were able to connect the dots on selling and purchasing a home that we fell in love with.

Out of nowhere, the day had come to exit one address and head to a new one. We had arranged to move all of our belongings into our new house though we wouldn't close on the property for another week. So we would be hotel bound for that time. Kudos to the family who allowed us to store our things as they were preparing their departure.

All of this seemed simple. The moving truck arrived at 730am. Everything was packed. Sawyer had his breakfast. We took our usual walk with Oscar. Zero hiccups.

It took about 15 minutes before things turned into utter chaos. Doors were open all over the place. Sawyer was going around the house like mad. Thank god Oscar was accounted for.

Actually Oscar was missing in action. Between all of the people in and out, Oscar decided to go AWOL.

He couldn't have picked a worse time. Kellie had to go to work. I had all 3 kids. The house was getting emptied. None of this was good.

Evelyn was crying. Cobe was looking. Sawyer said "Oscar looking for his mommy."

In hindsight, it was Sawyer's best verbal connection that I ever heard from him. On the flip slide, Oscar was missing and moving day was only beginning.

What if there was a cure?

Jon, daddy, Mr. Rubin, Jonathan, Rube, and Rubes are all names that I identify with. I hear all of them. I respond to them. It's easy to get my attention despite what my wife may report!
I can make eye contact, I can ask questions, I can have a conversation. These tasks are easy for me. It's not work nor is it a challenge.

I'm fortunate to have friends. I have people who I have always been able to identify with. Regardless of my age, it's never been difficult to connect with others in this realm.
The aforementioned is work for Sawyer. None of it comes easy. It was painful to watch, which made me wonder how painful it was and is for him.
I remember one morning I took all three to the park as we were killing some time as our house was having a showing. Cobe and Evie ran off to play as Sawyer wanted nothing but the swing.
I pushed him for awhile as my eyes searched for the other two. Cobe gave me a big thumbs up and Evie smiled. All was good.
A little girl around Sawyer's age got on the swing next to him. She said hello. Sawyer smiled. She continued to talk and asked him questions. Sawyer began to stim with excitement.

She asked me why he didn't have much to say but he can and could talk. I told her that he has autism and somethings are hard for him.
"What is autism?" She asked. I gave my best 4 year old answer that I had, which explain his struggles.
"So is he sick?" She replied. I tried to explain that it's more of a condition rather than an illness.
"Is there a cure?" She responded. Though I said no and as they continued to swing, I had a few minutes to digest that. I truly never thought of a cure.
The little girl went on her way. I continued to wonder if families with autistic children dream of a cure?
I just couldn't imagine Sawyer taking a pill and waking up one morning and being someone else. If that happened, he wouldn't be Sawyer anymore. It would be someone different.
After 40 minutes of pushing him in the swing, Sawyer told me he was tired and ready to go. Maybe it took all that time to tell me? Maybe he as I suspected was having fun? Regardless, I didn't want a cure. I just wanted Sawyer.

Sense of direction

Time to me was considered constant.  Looking at a clock and watching it tick would only be a waste.  Life had to happen and the world of autism had to go along for the ride.  This was my internal view of things and I finally wasn’t feeling the weight of insecurities that hounded me for a long time.

Getting Oscar brought a breath of fresh air into my life.  I struggled with finding any connection with Sawyer other than pushing him on a swing, giving him goldfish, watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, or going for a drive in a car.  It wasn’t a very fulfilling existence.  I had zero clue on how to connect with him.

However, we had the pug.  He was like a bridge for father and son.

With our house on the market and my older two on constant play dates, Sawyer and I were on our own a lot.  We had to make ourselves scarce as house showings were in full throttle and with my wife working, we went on many adventures during my summer off prior to the school year starting.

It didn’t matter the time of day because the moment of got Oscar’s leash, Sawyer would ask if we could take him for a walk,  It was another routine for autism but one that brought me comfort too.

These walks provided me with many things.  I was blown away on how Sawyer knew are neighborhood based on the color of the houses.  He could recall where to go based on a house color.  He knew what right and left meant due to this.  If I wanted to go a different direction, he would correct me by saying, “the brown house is this way, daddy.”

He could take me around a neighborhood based on house colors.  It opened my eyes to how bright he truly was and how he must be seeing things in a way that I could never understand.

How much was he taking in during our car rides?  Does have an internal grid based just on color?  This was fascinating.

Oscar didn’t seem to mind.  As long as it wasn’t too hot and we didn’t go to far, the pug was loving these expeditions.

Sawyer’s sense of direction was more than understanding where he was, it gave me hope that he could learn.  However, we were learning together.

Oscar, welcome to the neighborhood! 

My late cousin always told me that having a dog to call your own was a right of passage.  He thought every person who didn’t have one was missing out on the bonding experience of a lifetime.  Just the thought of having a dog for our family was such a pipe dream that I couldn’t compare the feeling to anything.  However, the words of my cousin were usually those of the gospel.  He was in fact one of my favorite human beings that ever existed until his unexpected passing.

In some ways, I found myself honoring my cousin’s ideas.  Granted he was more of a rated R type of individual so I was excited to have an actual G rated idea that could work for my family.  Having a family pet was as pure of an idea that Jason ever articulated.  I couldn’t believe that it was becoming true in the Rubin home.

There wasn’t very much planning when it came to Oscar’s arrival.  We had less than 10 days before he would join us.  That was 10 days of prepping Sawyer that a living animal would be with us and what that would mean.

This was quite the crazy time for us.  We decided to put our house on the market so that was another layer of transition.  As a family, we wanted a home with more charm and space to fit our family and that decision was made prior to Oscar even being on the radar.  Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.  Easy to say but autism and rolling with punches don’t go hand in hand.

Sawyer had a ton of questions about all of the above but Oscar was the most pressing topic rather than moving.

“What color is Oscar?”

“Does Oscar talk?”

“Where is Oscar?”?

“Does Oscar have shoes?”

“What color is his eyes?”

This was Sawyer’s script the 10 days prior to his arrival.  I would love to say two years later that these questions are a thing of a past but it comes up all the time.  I think that Sawyer gets comfort from the perseverating.  Maybe this was and is autism?  Maybe it is being anxious?  Maybe it is both?  I do know that is very much a constant that requires a ton of patience.

We did make it past those 10 days of waiting.  We had a giddy household waiting by the window for Oscar to arrive.  Sawyer and I were glued to every car just waiting for one to turn in our driveway.

It was like a movie to see that pug’s head sticking out the window that July afternoon.  Sawyer jumped for joy when I said he was here.  Finally, Oscar made it to the neighborhood and I know Cousin Jason would have been proud.

Wait, you think we should get a dog?

As a family, we were staying above water.  Sawyer was in a classroom in which was giving him the opportunities to succeed both socially and academically.  If the months prior were a flood of despair, we somehow were able to climb a mountain of hope.  Was it possible that we were turning some sort of corner?  Could a wave of success be our future?

When you go through rough waters like we were experiencing, it was nearly impossible to enjoy the positive.  It was like a minute by minute routine because raising Sawyer was just that unpredictable.  One moment he would be eating his chocolate raisins while enjoying Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  The next minute he could be screaming because one raisin fell out of his hand.  Those episodes happened often, which made us not want to leave his side.  However, we were watching these moments dissipate.  It was encouraging that he was changing as he was learning.

Out of nowhere, the improbable happened.  We discussed how a dog could be a comfort to Sawyer.  A dog?  A real animal living in the house? How could this dream become true?

Having a dog was a life long wish of mine.  I had fond memories of my friends pets.  My distorted view made me think of all of the positives this could bring to our lives. I couldn’t even think of the layers of the work it would take.  I saw zero downside in this.  Not to mention that this was something I wanted but to read about the calming nature that a dog could bring to a child with autism was an easy sell for me. I wanted to sign on the dotted line.

Kellie and I had some conversations about this.  She had a strong memory of when we first got married and fostered a puppy.  It was a disaster.  I was way over my head and it didn’t work out.  It was noted that Jon Rubin shouldn’t get a puppy that had not been house broken.  As matter of fact, if there was a manual on caring for a puppy, I’d be on the cover chronicling to do everything different from my attempts.

Here was the thing.  Lesson learned.  If a dog could be an asset to Sawyer then I wanted an opportunity to make it work for him.  I knew I could do it.  I knew I could make it a success.  I did know that it was a longshot.

I was losing hope.  Our conversations about a dog dwindled.  It was a battle that I didn’t fight often due to the thought that it had to be a consensus amongst the family.

It seemed like the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs and nobody on base.  We got a call from a friend that their was a 7-year-old pug that needed a home due to the family relocating.  A Pug named Oscar was at a close by softball field if we were interested in meeting him.

I really thought nothing of it.  However, Kellie thought it would be a good idea to take the kids to meet him.  Could this be my one chance to get a dog?  Was it possible that the stars have aligned?  Did the universe want us to get a dog?