I don't get it. Where's the button to make it talk?

I'm absolutely serious about putting a moratorium on toys in our house. This Christmas is going to be different. They're still young enough that spending time with their parents isn't an eye-roll-inducing exercise and I want to focus on experiences this year, instead of stuff.

Maybe we'll create some new traditions – at least one or two – that we'll keep up. At the very least, no more EVIL toys will lurk, hidden, in my home and as soon as the batteries wear out on all the talking toys we own, they're going mute. If anybody wants a doll or train to talk in this house, they're going to have to develop some mad ventriloquism skills.

Besides, few of the toys we've spent good money on even get played with; most are lying around in piles or lurking in the dark, waiting for me to step on them and develop weird lower-case-z-shaped bruises on the bottom of my foot.

No, my kids favorite playthings are the following:

1. The box in which any one of their thousands of toys was once packed – as well as all the other empty boxes and plastic containers in the recycling bin.

2. Our yard full of colorful dry, crispy leaves.

3. Actual pots and pans – so much better than their cute plastic ones that FIT the play kitchen. We keep having to rescue actual kitchen utensils from the sand box. Who knew what a good digging tool a potato masher could be? Actually, until Dave told me, I didn't even know what a potato masher was.

4. Bugs. Willow lies on her stomach next to them, waves and says, “Hi, bug!” to every single one.

5. Sand. Any place. Any time.

6. Water. Ditto. Bath time in our house is part rave, part badger fight.

7. The expensive shutter blinds that used to beautifully adorn each window (installed by previous owner; we're not that stupid) -- until Billy played “Window Circus” (you'll have to ask him) and tried to ride them.


This doll smells funny.

8. Squirrels. Luckily, they can't catch them. We have, though, had a few close calls.

9. Each other.

10. My bras. (??!!)

One big gift we're going to give ourselves is a back yard makeover by our incredibly talented friend Meghan Mick at Design From The Ground Up. Meghan, who blogs at Play of the Land, designs natural play spaces -- for individuals, preschools, churches, community parks, you name it. She uses natural materials and local plant life to create play spaces that inspire imaginations -- and don't require batteries. Check out her gallery of creations; it's breathtaking!

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Hi Amanda:

I love that you're putting the garden in...will satisfy Willow's bug fascination (I have that myself), and their love of water and dirt. It will also give them a feeling of accomplishment if they're allowed to grow their own stuff!


Baby steps in the yard

Dave said I should probably let everyone know that we aren't having a world-renowned playground installed in our back yard. We don't really have that kind of dough to throw around. But the great thing about Meghan's company is that she can do something as simple as design the layout/plantings so that you can do a lot of the work yourself -- all the way up to the whole kit-and-kaboodle.

We're going to start with a few introductory steps: Rain barrel, butterfly garden, vegetable garden, some pathways with native plants. And slowly add elements as/when we can.

Her whole philosophy is something I really believe in -- the idea that kids NEED to interact with their natural surroundings. It has an amazing calming effect on kids with all kinds of issues.

We could do sand and water over here all day all the time and the blinds are the main attraction in our new house.
I'm excited for you over your new yard, her designs are amazing!

Oh I hear you on this list! My daughter was, and still is (at age 9) a lover of boxes. One of her favourite activities as a toddler was to unpack the drawer where I kept towel, cloths and flannels - those cloths used to become everything from hats to dolls. Just lovely to watch :)


Goodness! ... from the ground up is designing your back yard! I 'm so jealous. I have no doubt it will look amazing, I love their work :)

Great Playthings

My daughter likes a lot of those playthings too! Maybe I should forgo shopping for toys and just bring in a bunch of bugs! She'd like that more!

Nah, I don't like that idea.

Enjoy your backyard makeover! That should be awesome!

I hear ya!

Its nice to know I not the only parent with kids that have it out for our blinds. We are currently down to 4 blinds out of 11.

What no iPad?

I can't believe you missed another excuse to showoff! At least I don't think it should qualify as a toy per se. Audrey is with you on the sand, water, and squirrels. Bras? Hmmm...only if they're on me.

Total 12 comments

This is what I discovered in Willow's play kitchen after giving her (oh, the thrills!) a REAL pan from the cabinet with which to play house:


A pony in every pot?

I'm not sure if this indicates an imaginative brain or a sociopathic one. So in honor of Wordless Wednesday, give me your words: What's going on here?

Reader Comments

Our new band name

Dave and I are putting a band together again with some other friends, and we've been thinking about band names. I think both Unicorn Stew and Pan-Fried Star Catcher sound like viable options.

@Mary: LOVE the story of little you "cooking" the family poodle! Our long-suffering kitty cat (god rest her soul) endured many an imaginative role before she went on to the Playskool kitchen in the sky :-)

People people people...everyone knows that is NOT a unicorn but Star Catcher. And everyone knows that Star Catcher is delicious when lightly pan fried.


That looks like Sunday night dinner at my house!

Bob and the Unicorn

Is that the chick from Bob the Builder in that pot with the unicorn? I'm not sure what's happening, but I think that would be an excellent Bob episode. Would beat the crap out of what passes for a plot in Bob the Builder episodes.

Not a caption, but related: my mother loves regaling boyfriends with stories of how at the age of 3, I stuffed the family poodle in the Playskool kitchenette oven. And how I failed to remove the shelf within the oven, which would have provided more comfort for said pooch.
At least Willow had enough sense to cook with inanimate animals.

Unicorn Stew

This is one of my favorite dishes although I have hard time finding a place that makes traditional Unicorn Stew like my Grandma did. The key is cooking the hind quarters first and adding a dash of fairy dust at the very end. As a serving suggestion, try it poured over susquatch corn bread with a side of loch ness monster liver pate. My mouth is watering already.

Tastes like chicken!

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There was a time when I despaired that by the time my son was 3 or 4, he would abandon me in favor of his dad. Because he was a boy, I imagined that eventually, sports would start to infect his brain and he would come to pity me and my sad lack of any kind of ball-playing skills.

He turns four this summer, and Billy's ball games are still very inclusive of those with special needs like myself. "Billy Ball Tag," one of the games he invented, involves me throwing a ball in his general direction and missing, so that he can shout, "You missed!" I got serious skills in Billy Ball Tag.

Then there's "It's a fumble!" which requires one of us to pick up the football (an American football for those of you Brits who still insist on calling the round black-and-white one by the wrong name), running to the other side of the yard and screaming either, "Touchdown!" or dropping it and yelling, "It's a fumble!" When we fumble, we also have to fall to the ground and pretend to cry. It turns out that Billy's understanding of the rules of football are pretty much on par with my own.

Floortime therapy has taught us to follow Billy's lead when it comes to play. He has better ideas for games than anything put out by Parker Brothers. After he gets comfortable with playing a simple game, we try to add a little complication to it that will encourage his desire to communicate.

Dave is really good at this. He invented "Yummy and Yucky" bubbles. Billy dearly loves to have one of us blow bubbles. I've practically hyperventilated trying to keep up with his bubble jones some afternoons. One day, Dave watched Billy pretending to eat the bubbles. He copied him and Billy laughed. So they spent several minutes trying to catch bubbles in their mouths.

Then he started asking Billy, "Is it a yummy bubble or a yucky bubble?" And after Dave "ate" one and declared it "Mmm-mmm, YUMMY!" Billy tasted one, made a face, and said, "Yucky!" and a game was born. Eventually, another layer was added, as we declared bubbles "hot" or "cold," "scary" or "funny," and so on. Beware Billy if he gets hold of an "angry" bubble; he's like the Incredible Hulk.

Sometimes, when we add a complication to a game -- or a "playful obstruction," as Dr. Stanley Greenspan calls it -- we lose him. He just turns his back and moves on to something else. That's the sign that he's not ready to move up the communication ladder any further that day. Or it could just be a sign that our game isn't fun.

Case in point: "Three Little Pigs." Billy loves to act out certain parts of the fairy tale. He likes the part where he hides in his playhouse and I pretend to the wolf banging on the door. He likes the part where he escapes out the window and the wolf has to run after him. He likes the part where the pig jumps into the swing and flies to the moon to get away (a plot twist Billy added to the story). He does not like any attempt on my part to get him to sit down at the picnic table and do a craft in which we build a stick, straw and brick house.

"Stinky Broadfoot," however, is a game that gets more complicated every morning. It started when he climbed into my bed one morning and I told him that he needed to go to the potty with Daddy first and then he could get into "Mama's bed," as he calls it (I'm not sure he knows that Dave also sleeps in that bed). When he resisted, we explained that if he didn't get a new Pull-up, people would call him "Stinky" when he got to school.

Well, there is nothing in this world funnier to Billy than bad smells. He decided his name was "Stinky" and we all three rolled around the bed making faces and complaining about the smell. The next day, Dave adopted the name "Smelly Daddy" and I was "Malodorous Mama." And every day we have to come up with new names for "stinky." Billy has even developed some sort of dance where he holds his nose and waves his other hand back-and-forth in the air around him. God forbid any child at school should ever have some unfortunate gas incident. My child cannot be counted on for any sense of discretion where stink is involved.

As we were rolling around on my bed this morning, contorting ourselves with fits of laughter, I thought to myself that if this is therapy, it sure beats those months when we had him on the gluten-free diet and I spent all my time cooking. Now I can concentrate on developing my skills in "Billy Ball Tag." I'm our team's starting forward this season.

Reader Comments

Games as Autism Therapy

EJ is a "typical" boy just like Billy when it comes to his love of flatulent sounds. He is still pretty amused by his own and not so much anyone else's, however, I am sure it is just a matter of time. I am dreading the day when he learns the "F" word and revises his current exclamation of "Mommy, I am a gassy boy!".

We got him a soft T-ball set for Christmas and he seems to finally have some interest in "playing" T-ball after weeks of trying to engage him. I should note, however, that he derives the most pleasure not from hitting the ball on the T, but from demolishing my patio plants with the bat. See? Typical four year old boy!!


Billy Ball Tag

I want to see a video of Billy Ball Tag in action!

From Amanda

First of all, there will be no videos of Billy Ball Tag, as even my ability to laugh at myself has a limit!

Billy does almost exactly the same thing with his T-ball bat. His uncle sent him this awesome kids' pitching machine that pumps a ball out of a shoot a little ways into the air so that you can hit it with the giant bat.

Billy LOVES to watch the balls fly into the air ... and land a few feet away. Again and again.

AND he loves to beat things with the bat. However, we haven't actually got him to put the two together yet :-)

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Total 9 comments

Billy was bawling his eyes out yesterday, faced pressed to the front window as his new play date and his mom pulled out of our driveway. "He's gone! He's not here! EJ, where are you?" The "you" is a long heartbroken wail. "He's not here and it's my birthday!"


It's not Billy's birthday. That line came straight from a book called Little Bear. But the emotion is real. He made a new friend and watching EJ walk away at the end of the play date was devastating.

My heart ached, and I had tears in my own throat. I also recognized that rising panic that I feel when confronted with a parenting problem I'm worried can't handle. I looked at him and it was like staring in helpless horror as an injured baby bird flailed around in the middle of a busy intersection. No amount of organization, careful study or regular therapy will ever protect my baby's heart from being broken.

Most people are more familiar with the unemotional side of autism, and we get that sometimes. It's almost easier to deal with. When I pick Billy up from school some afternoons, he's clearly waiting for me. But when he sees me, his first response might be a blank stare. And then suddenly, his face will break into the most brilliant smile and he'll run at me, arms in the air. And at the last minute, rather than throw himself into my arms, he does what we call "the drive-by:" he breaks away and runs in the other direction. It's almost like the emotion of the moment is too strong. He has to back away, size up the situation and then come at me again. It might take three or four tries before he finally accepts my embrace, but when he does, it's whole-hearted. He feels very deeply and sometimes it's too much for him.

When the anticipation of a moment is too strong -- maybe it's a tense moment in a book or TV show he knows very well -- he'll sometimes put his fingers in his ears. Anything to dull the sensory overload, it seems. Like he'll feel it less if he can't hear or see things as clearly. I think we all have moments like that in our lives, when we'd like to put a hazy filter on things, to tone it down just a bit. Billy's heartbreak over the absence of his new friend was one of those moments for me.

Then I snapped out of it. My son may be autistic, but he's no injured baby bird; he's smart and strong. He can handle this, and so can I. "Find Mama's eyes," I told him, and after a last doleful glance at the empty driveway, he turned his tear-stained face up to me.

"Find Mama's eyes," he repeated and then wailed again, "EJ is gone! He's not here!"

"Yeah, I know," I agreed, giving him a big hug. "But he'll come back. He's coming back on Sunday for Willow's birthday. And you'll see him at school, at lunch and on the playground." EJ goes to the same school, but is in a different pre-K class.

"He's not here. He's gone," he says again, but he's not crying now; he's thinking. "He's not here and it's my birthday." But the gears are working in his brain; you can almost watch them move. "Willow's birthday," he seemed to correct himself, and something clicked. "Where's Willow?"

Good point. Crap, where is Willow? In the midst of the drama, I momentarily forgot all about my one-year-old.

We find her playing happily, as usual, in her play yard. She looks up at her brother, squeals with delight, and holds up her arms. "Up!" she shouts. Instead, Billy climbs in the play yard with her. He wraps his arms around her and squeezes, maybe a little too hard, but she's a robust little thing and loves every minute of it.

I watch them play together, arranging figures and furniture in the doll house, and thank my lucky stars that there is no filter on what I feel.

Reader Comments

Love Hurts

Oh, yes, we saw that sweet boy pining in the window. EJ kept saying, "Biwwy is not happy, he is sad". Looking forward to the party on Sunday; rain, rain go away!!

Thank You!

A mutual friend of ours (Sharon Urquhart) was the one who sent me to your blog and I have been reading steadily for days now. I am amazed at how alike our boys are and when I read about Billy's "drive-by's" I had to comment! You have no idea how wonderful it is to know that you're not alone and that someone else is sharing the same experiences, Reese has done the "drive-by" since he was a year old!! I really wish I had known you when we lived in Panama City, it would have been great to know someone in the same boat. But mostly, I just wanted you to know what a comfort your story has been to me. Thank you!

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