The Long War

You could say that all of life is in a war with entropy. Things break, living organisms die, the sun is slowly dying, and ice cream always melts too fast. 

We had a lovely example of that fact this week. Remember how I said my summer had been boring? Well, my Suburban decided that entropy would win this week and burnt up my 4×4 transfer case. My son was stranded at the high school and I was stranded with the truck for over an hour each, we had to tow it home behind our little Malibu (complete with more entropy in the way of snapping ropes!), and my lovely truck is now up on jacks until we can scrape together the parts to fix it.

Yeah, that wasn’t boring or anything. Thankfully my stepson is loaning me his car for the week and our oldest daughter is loaning us some extra cash for parts. Entropy is expensive.

My biggest battle, however, is usually with my autistic daughter, Indy.

You see, she’s severely autistic. And she’s got her own ideas about how things SHOULD be. And when things aren’t like she thinks they should be, she gets upset. Nervous. Frantic. Sometimes to the point of freaking out in aggressive displays of rage, sometimes to the point of hysterical crying. You have to feel sorry for her, because for HER, the need to control her universe is overwhelming. Change is more than unsettling, it’s horrible for her. I understand– I’ve battled anxiety since childhood. She simply MUST order her universe in a way that makes sense to her.

The problem is, what she thinks is Right, Proper, Appropriate, and Perfect is . . . pretty screwy.

She thinks dishes should be dirty. To the point where she will take clean dishes down, stack dirty dishes between them, and replace all of them in the cabinet. She’ll seed a dishwasher full of clean dishes with strategically-placed dirty ones. She’ll take dirty plates out of the dishwasher and return them to the china cabinet. You don’t even want to imagine what the silverware looks like after she’s been mixing in dirty spoons and knives and forks.

Books, dvds, and cds all belong in special places. If they don’t belong in Any Bag that Has a Zipper, they usually belong on the floor. In certain spots. Usually in someone else’s bedroom or in a much-travelled pathway, like the route from the dining room to the kitchen. Quite often, about three feet away from my bedroom dresser, right where her father walks when he gets out of bed. Or possibly stashed inside our medicine chest. One Harry Potter book belongs on the banister rail near the bongo drums. A baby’s FIsher Price moving gears toy, sans gears, belongs right inside her sister’s doorway. 

The pantry is a particularly bad sore spot– she has certain places for every food item, and insists that the Windex and bird seed and Mean Green all belong on the food shelves. The Nesquik has to teeter in constant danger of falling off the middle shelf. The apples belong on the floor, apparently. EVerything must be mixed up with no sorting into “soups” and “tomato products” and “pastas” and “cereals.” 

Some of her personal rules are simply irritating– her habit of moving one of our water storage bottles just six inches out from the wall, say. Not all three of them, just the third. Don’t ask me why. And it probably won’t kill anyone that she insists the sunflower-painted biscotti jar has to be on the right side of the stove, not the left (which is where I like it.) 

Some of her rules are actively dangerous, like her placing things next to the top of the stairs, or throwing all the shoes off the shoe rack, right next to the bottom of the stairs and the front door. She decided the springs off the broken trampoline belonged in our neighbor’s yard and accidentally conked his daughter on the head with one. Everything belongs over the back fence, apparently, so this is a fairly common risk we’re running. We’ve given up on keeping sports equipment outside, or gardening tools. We kind of hope she’ll throw the dog over next and save us the trouble of rehoming him . . . ahem. Anyway.

Some of her rules of order are just personally offensive to me. I don’t want $8 worth of chocolate powder to get spilled all through the laundry room when someone inevitably knocks it off the darn shelf. I hate having to dig behind the ice cream cones and the olive oil and the egg noodles to find a can of beans. And here’s the bad part– whenever I clean things up, pick things up, sort things, or throw away things, she is unable to stop herself from undoing it.

It’s infuriating at times. She’ll take empty bottles out of the garbage can and replace them on shelves. She’ll throw clean laundry back on the floor in piles. She immediately returns everything in the pantry back to its “ideal” location– HER ideal location– within minutes of me sorting everything. She’ll take rotten FOOD out of the garbage can and put it back into the refrigerator. Because, you know, that cream cheese belongs on that shelf, even if it is black and gray and green with various mounds of mold.

Sometimes, I have to let her win. She’ll get too upset, or I’ll just simply be too tired or too injured to battle her entropy. Sometimes it’s just easier to let it go, let her insist that the Better Homes and Gardens from last month belongs on the floor next to the couch. Sure, it’s a pain to step around things and find Robert Munsch books and Disney dvds next to the Immodium and Tums, but it’s far far easier than putting them back, over and over, pointlessly it seems.

But I don’t want to live in chaos and entropy all the time. I want to be able to find the tomato paste without a five minute hunt. I want to walk down the hall and not worry I’ll slip on our 1st grade religious education book, which she thinks belongs at the top of the stairs. I’d freaking LOVE not to have to open my purse before every trip and remove the inevitable bottle of hydrogen peroxide that she stashes inside every day.

So I keep battling against the mess. I know I can’t win. But I have to fight the good fight. It may please her, somewhere in her mysterious little heart, to strip the sheets and pillowcase off her bed and then wipe her food-covered hands on the mattress and pillow, but there are certain standards one must uphold, if only to keep the adult protective services from thinking we’re TRYING to make her live in squalor.

This is the long war, and every day finds us fighting the same battles, over and over. 

I don’t know which of us is more irritated by the other. I know she’s more stubborn than I am, simply because the war is a huge part of her day. I have to cram time for it in between a million other things. She has all day to reorder the house.

Neither one of us is winning, I suspect. Tonight she became very upset because she’d somehow misplaced her “Stuart Little” dvd. It’s so scratched that it barely plays, mostly due to her tossing it down on surfaces not ideal for dvd preservation. But she really wanted that movie. She’s been playing it on a loop all week. She simply could not go to bed without that dvd.

My oldest son and daughter helped me look around for it, to no avail. Finally, around 1am, I remembered that my 5 year old had picked up the dvds and games from the gameroom floor– sure enough, the disc had fallen to the bottom shelf, upside down. 

Indy was ecstatic when I gave it to her and ran off to her room with a fairly cheerful thank-you. I went to take a bath and feed the baby. An hour later, I went to check on her, figuing she’d be asleep listening to the menu over and over.

She wasn’t asleep– I could hear her echolalia through the door. And the sound of . . . Cartoon Network? Yep. Commercials for the nighttime shows, which I largely hate.

Stuart Little was sitting on the couch table. Exactly where she wanted it.




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