Every morning, Phil wakes up at the exact same time, takes the exact same freezing cold shower, is greeted by the exact same woman, has the exact same cup of coffee and heads out the door to the exact same place, Gobbler's Knob, to give the exact same weather report over and over and over again. AWEnestly, Bill Murray's got nothing over on me....except maybe some hazy, drug induced memories of the 1970's. For a mom loving my AWEsome son, who craves routine like Punxsutawney Phil craves the privacy and media free seclusion of his groundhog hole and an additional six weeks of winter so he can go back to sleep, Ryan's routines and rituals have become my routines and rituals. Tomato, tomahto.
6:20-I wake Ryan up to groans of "I'm still tired."
6:28-In a hushed, but, yelling voice, I tell/yell for Ryan to hurry up or he will miss the bus (missing the bus is a fear much scarier than a groundhog's shadow).
6:30-Feed Ryan a sugar filled breakfast of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Welch's Grape Juice (only the kind with high fructose corn syrup...I tried the others, he noticed, I got reprimanded) in the same glass and the same bowl, every single morning.
6:32-Pack Ryan's lunch...cheese sandwich (two pieces of Land O' Lakes Cheese, no substitutes acceptable, a light spread of Hellman's Mayonnaise, again, no substitutes allowed) cut into triangles (never, ever, ever rectangles), grapes (not too many, not too few...it's a gamble), Pringles (I have figured out how many by the feel of them in my fingers), Jello Vanilla Pudding (another food where a brand substitute would not be acceptable), a plastic spoon, and a juice bag, one of three choices are acceptable.
6:43-I'm called to "catch" his clothes which he tosses over the two story foyer railing for me to "heat up" in the dryer on high heat, not medium, not low for 3 minutes, not 4, not 5, and especially not 2 (trust me he can tell).
6:46-Deliver warmed up clothes to Ryan which I tuck inside my shirt to retain the heat so as to avoid another 30 second warm up if the clothes are deemed "freezing".
6:48-Untie Ryan's shoes (which are easily a size too small, but, he refuses to wear a new pair), set them at the bottom of the step with lunch bag and gym bag.
6:50-Ryan comes downstairs, backpack in hand, sits on the bottom step, not the second, not the third, puts his lunch box in his backpack, puts his left shoe on (never, ever the right one first, "it doesn't feel right"), I help him tie his shoes even though he can now finally do it himself, but, they just "stay better" when I do it.
6:51-Ryan puts his coat on (the exact same coat all year long regardless of season), if it's too warm, he still gets the coat, covers up with it, while I wrap a towel around his neck and use a wet brush (never, ever a dry brush, even though ironically, once upon a time it could never, ever be a wet brush), and brush his hear.
6:52-Depart for the bus stop, by jumping in the van to drive one block (bugs and inclement weather makes that one block feel like one mile).
6:53-Bus arrives, I am kissed and hugged twice, unless he is mad at me for not fully heating his clothes properly or running out of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and off he goes.
His routine, my routine. Tomato, tomahto.
We all have our routines and rituals. We all have our Groundhog Day days, yet, sometimes, even the most tedious of routines provides us with a sense of comfort. You could probably make it through your day without that must have morning cup of Joe, but, you might be an intolerable bear to all your co-workers who immediately start a central line of coffee for you desk side. For Ryan and kids and adults living with an ASD, that cup of Joe is a necessity to survive Groundhog Day, no matter how tedious and inconsequential it may seem to an outsider looking in.
Denial and Clueless kept me from seeing the importance of routine for Ryan. His routine, my routine, tomato, tomahto, once felt like Groundhog Day to me. There are still moments where I think, "Can you please just eat/wear/do something different?", but, once I see the fear and anxiety cross his beautiful, trusting eyes, I realize that I'm no better than Phil Connors. This is my assignment, one that I have been fortunate enough to cover and report on. Now that I "get it", I do respect Ryan's need for routine, but, if I'm AWEnest, I still try to occasionally switch things up a bit, because sadly, there are a lot of Phil Connors in the world who will not get the importance of a cheese sandwich cut into triangles, so it's just as important that Ryan "gets" that too.
So, no matter how you say it, his routine, my routine, I'm just so grateful that I'm the lucky one who gets to make the cheese sandwich, with two slices of Land O' Lakes White (never, ever orange) American Cheese, a thin layer of Hellman's Mayonnaise (never, ever the light mayo), cut into perfectly symmetrical triangles (never, ever a rectangle, a square, or some weird sandwich cutter shape) and always without fail, no matter what....always, always hold the tomato, tomahto.