As my friend sat, staring at me a bit blankly across the table at lunch today, I had another of those little realizations that pepper your world when autism comes to stay at your place. Yeah, we all know that your normal is not my normal. That’s a given, and I get that I’m the one that’s fallen down the rabbit hole. After a while, things just seem normal to me that would send most people looking for the “Wake Up!” bottle. But I also realized that sharing rooms with autism has made me literal. Very, very literal.
I had made a comment about the locks on my cabinets. Justine looked astonished. She said, “You mean you have actual locks…on your cabinets?”
Uh, yeah. What I said. Now, Justine has known us since before CJ was born. She is a regular reader of this blog. She’s as “in” in terms of understanding as anyone else in my circle. But all this time, when she heard me say “I locked the food up,” she thought I meant that I put it away. You know. On the shelf. In the pantry. Like a normal person.
“No,” said I. “I have bike locks on the cabinet and refrigerator.”
What was really weird was that at the same time I was acknowledging inside my head that having locks like that was strange, I was also thinking of several other people I could name off the top of my head that I know who also have locks at their houses.
The rabbit hole can hold a surprisingly large amount of people.
All this, of course, leads to the next question.
One of the many, many effects of autism is that it can screw with a person’s appetite and digestion. And not necessarily together. A person can be terribly hungry all the time, but have trouble digesting and processing food. Or a person can have little or no interest in eating but digest just fine when they actually do eat. Or any combination or degree of the above.
In our house, autism is HUNGRY. All the time.
When CJ was little, I would get his snacks for him as you would expect. He asked. I gave or withheld as appropriate. Good mommy. As he got older, he was able to get more and more things for himself. I thought, “Independence!” and also a break for Mom. What an excellent job I was doing! Until the day that I bought and put the groceries away, and returned an hour later to discover there was no proof I had ever even left the house. Everything snackable and openable without a tool was gone. I suddenly realized that “self-serve” wasn’t necessarily in anyone’s best interest here because it didn’t come with an “off” button. Despite my best lectures and hair pulling (mine, not his), my groceries kept disappearing, along with my food budget for the week and dinner for the rest of my family. Now we were hungry too.
I started to get creative.
At first I would just put things up higher up in another cabinet. Inconsiderately, CJ grew. I started putting the snacks in my room in the closet. Mom’s room was off limits.
Then I started keeping our food in the trunk of my car. Guess who found the keys to the car?
I have a secretary desk in my room that locks. I shoved the food in there. He broke the lock and forced it open.
Of course, it was never HIM…no no…when the snacks were all gone. He would tell me this standing in the middle of a trail of crumbs on the floor leading to his room with more evidence around his mouth for added emphasis.
We have an old coat closet, between the garage door and the bedroom that has been converted into a pantry. It’s a double door arrangement with two handles. The goal was food in, CJ out. We tried a child lock, but he could work that. So now we have a bike lock wrapped around the handles. If CJ figures out how to crack this one open, no bike or bag of chips in the neighborhood will be safe.
With the pantry problem solved, the refrigerator remained, a cold, vertical, well-lit buffet for the 3 am snacker with no off switch.
If the locks are not tight enough, you can pull the doors open a crack and reach an arm in. If your arm is long enough, you can reach snacks way in the back. Guess who has really long arms? The only problem is that the opening is big enough to get your arm in…but not big enough to get it back out again with your ill-gotten snack booty.
One day, secure in the knowledge that my hunting and gathering were protected by the best that Kryptonite and Masterlock had to offer, I drifted off into an afternoon nap. Not long after, I awakened to screams of terror and pain. Clearly, there was a fire with traumatic burns or an partial amputation or a collapsed wall with crush injuries in the next room. Nothing else could possibly have provoked the roaring din coming through my bedroom wall. I heroically rushed in to save whatever was left of the house and/or my son…to see what had happened.
Nothing had happened. He had cracked the fridge door and put his arm inside to pilfer a goodie and he was stuck. He was stuck because he refused to let go of the lemonade container or the snack in his hand. Yes.
This has happened more than once.
The doors to the pantry are hollow. Hollow doors do not hold handles well when a great deal of force is applied…and I assure you, a great deal of force has been applied. After all, there are Cheetoes or pretzels or “insert your favorite snack here” on the other side of the door. This has led to many, many, many repairs to the doors. We now have long screws that go all the way through the door with bolts to hold it all on. My husband is convinced we will never be able to sell the house now, because it would be too hard to explain.
Everyone except CJ knows to lock the cabinet when done. It is funny that I will go to open it even when he is not here and one of us will have locked it out of habit. We have the combinations written down and CJ knows where they are. He will helpfully tell the respite worker where they are when she visits. Luckily for me and my grocery budget, he hasn’t figured out how to work them.