The first year we lived on the farm, my son showed pigs. He did okay (and I got one of my favorite posts of all time). But he realized that the county fair is not about pigs, it’s about social skills. You have to be able to guess what traits of a pig the judges will like this year, which requires talking to neighbors and pig feed sales guys who come by the farm. It’s a networking thing: “How’s the weather? How are hogs this year?”
Even crops can be subjective. Should beans be more green or more consistently shaped? Should the cauliflower be presented with or without leaves? The judges change each year and you have to know who you’re dealing with.
The other thing you need to do to win at the county fair is to make eye contact with the judges. Or even chat them up. It’s ironic since a crazy percentage of farmers have Aspergers (think about it: great at logistics and no need to talk with people during the day.) So it’s the kids with great social skills who win at the county fair.
My son figured that out fast and didn’t want to show pigs the next year.
Lesson: We know we have bad social skills. You won’t offend us by saying you know too, just help us to not have to use them.
Instead my son entered the crops part of the fair. He entered his sweet corn. (In the country you say sweet corn so people know you are not talking about feed corn. In fact, so few people grow sweet corn that if it’s feed corn you say just “corn”.)
It was a long wait for the judges to pick a winner among 50 stalks of corn that pretty much all looked the same because the July fair is too early for corn.
Then he had a revelation: he had already made money selling corn, and he was having a hard time seeing why it would be better to show corn at the fair than sell corn at the gas station. (In the city, farmers markets look like a rural gathering. In the country, farmers markets look like a trip to the store.)
He got a blue ribbon.
He announced on the way home that this was the last year of the county fair. Then he said, “Hey, now I can advertise that I have blue-ribbon corn! I can charge more money!”
Lesson: We understand money because it’s black and white and it’s a game with clear rules, no nuance.
The third year of the county fair my son only wanted to go on the rides. This is disturbing to me because I am sure they are unsafe. But I tell myself it’s more dangerous to cross the street so next time I’m in NYC I can have the kids cross one less street for each ride they go on and it’ll be a statistical wash.
The fair has too many people for my son. When he was younger he could bring a chew toy to alleviate stress. Sort of like when an adult bites their nails, but people with Aspergers are biting their nails all the time so there are no nails so they need a substitute.
But since he knows a chew toy is not socially acceptable, he started bringing a book to read. Which is fine for restaurants and intermission at the symphony, but not okay at the county fair. He knows that.
So he was picking his nose.
We have picking rules. No picking if there’s puss. No picking where people can see scars. And no picking if there is blood. I relent on the blood because picking is not that interesting if there is no blood. I think it’s not so much the blood as the sharp pain. It’s a way to focus.
I realize this cutting talk is not socially acceptable. And I convey to my son that most people I know with Aspergers do some sort of socially unacceptable picking, but you can’t really talk about it. Just do it if you need to calm yourself. He understands it’s a fine line between picking enough to stay off OCD medicine and being so OCD that you have to have medicine. We are trying to walk that line.
But it’s super stressful at the fair: Lots of people. Sweat. Noise. Flashing lights. I said, “Your nose is bleeding. Go to the bathroom and get a paper towel.”
He does that. I see him get in a few more picks on his way there.
At the cotton candy stand there was a placard for taking pictures. I tell the kids we can’t pass this up.
I point the camera at the placard and this is what I get:
I show my son and first he says, “Mom! Delete that!” Then we both can’t stop laughing and he says, “Okay. You can keep it.”
Lesson: We have to do some self-soothing in public. We are trying our best to do what’s most socially acceptable even though we know none of it really is.
When my son and I travel, we stay in a hotel. Inside the hotel almost the whole time. The hotel is nice because there is none of our stuff there. It’s empty. No distractions, and nothing that requires transition. Our experience of life is gearing up for transition and recuperating from transition. Vacation is a vacation from transitions.
I have a rule that we have to leave the hotel once a day because people with Aspergers get more flexible in their routines if they take small steps. In Hermosa we went to the beach, in Beverly Hills we did lunch, in Seattle we went to the Chihuly exhibit.
He complained, of course, but I told him to shut up because I hate leaving our room as well. I told him if I complained as much as he did no one would talk to me. I didn’t tell him if he wants to complain he should get a blog. I didn’t tell him I get paid to complain. He can learn all that later. (Although actually, he is learning the ropes of the post on his own.)
In the exhibit we were so happy. It was dark and quiet and nothing moved. I told my son we need a picture because we were having such a good time.
He says, “okay, how about this?” and climbs up a wall next to a sign that says DON’T CLIMB. Then he makes his standard get-me-out-of-here pose.
Lesson: When we are being funny, it means we are happy. Even if the joke’s inappropriate. We’re still trying.