Clothes Make the Man?
So, I had to run to Target (again) this weekend, which was probably my third trip there this week. I swear, I feel like Norm from Cheers when I walk in to the place where everybody knows my name. The employees all greet me with a "What could she possibly need now?" smile and treat me like Norm, minus the beer. Suffice it to say, I'm a frequent Target shopper, so a Sunday morning trip to the store that has everything, was not really a big deal, except, Ryan wanted to go with me...on a Sunday....the day that comes after Saturday and since Saturdays are Ryan's "day off", I was torn with what to do. When some folks take a day off, they may spend it doing chores around the house, or sitting poolside with friends, or perhaps taking a little holiday with family, not Ryan. Ryan's idea of a "day off" each and every Saturday is no homework, no reading, no piano practice, no changing clothes, no brushing hair and unfortunately, no shower. This use to be no big deal, until puberty hit and with the rush of hormones, came the rush of greasy hair, oily skin and the stench of teenage boy. This stench tends to linger when said boy wears the same clothes for 36 hours. The weekends are a bit sketchy around here especially if a Target trip is planned following the "day off".
I know what you are thinking, if Ryan wants to go to Target on a Sunday then he needs to shower and change his clothes before I take him out in public right? Wrong. Showering Sunday morning or afternoon prior to a trip to Target, which ironically was for soap and laundry detergent, would not hold off the boy stench until Monday after school and asking Ryan to shower and change his clothes Sunday morning and Sunday night....twice in one day is AWEnestly the funniest thing I have ever heard. Ever. I promise you, Ryan will never be a believer in the old adage "clothes make the man".
Mark Twain is the chap we owe the "Clothes make the man" quote, but, did you know the entire quote is, "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little to no influence on society."? Ha! That's the second funniest thing I have ever heard. Poor Mark would have to revamp the second half of his quote if he spent ten minutes in front of a television or computer screen and saw our nearly naked influential society now. Good ole Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens (you're welcome), believed that people will judge you based on the way you dress, and I'm afraid that part of his 100 plus year belief still holds true today. I'm sure my Target employee friends were judging Ryan's rumpled clothes and uncombed hair on Sunday, but, I bet they were grateful for worn out fleece pants versus no pants at all.
Time for some naked AWEnesty my friends. Prior to having a child with an ASD, a so called, "special needs child" (Isn't every child's needs "special"?), when I would see kids with different abilities looking disheveled with unkempt hair, clothes that didn't match, weren't in season, or in style, or in the proper size, I would think to myself, "Even though their child may have special needs, why in the world do the parents dress them like they do?". Clueless, who stood right next to me, with her impeccably dressed kids, agreed wholeheartedly. Oh how naive and ignorant I was then, succumbing to Mark Twain's belief that clothes, do indeed, make the man.
It's difficult enough when you have a neurotypical child and you want to dress them just "so", and your idea of "so" and their idea of "so" is not even close. Well, throw in a dash of autism, and it kind of makes you want to resurrect Mark Twain so you can kick him in the head. I'm betting Mark Twain never had to dress a child with an ASD, so he didn't have to take into account the way clothes feel, sound or even smell (yes, smell). Many kids with an ASD are so sensitive to how things feel that they would prefer an old cotton pajama top, worn 24/7, that is so small it cuts off the circulation at their armpits, rather than wear a fits just right, hasn't been washed 85 times, new shirt. Face it, if you didn't worry about people like Mark Twain judging you, you'd wear your cozy fleece jammies to the the office, to the grocery store, and to the symphony. Fleece jammies are much more comfortable than a stiff, pressed shirt, wedgie inducing tights, or a scratchy wool sweater, but, many of us believe Mark Twain, so we save our comfy clothes for curling up on the couch at home alone...where no one will see us or judge us.
Cleanliness helps make the man too, and any mother of a pre-teen or teenage boy will tell you, showers don't rank very high on the "Things I Need To Do Today" chart. For a kid who feels the water is too "stingy", the shampoo too "flowery" and the towel too "scratchy", showers rank even lower on the chart, thus the creation of Shower Free, Day Off, Saturday. Ever since Ryan was little, he hated rubbing a towel over his skin to dry off. There were moans, groans, and accusations of me tearing his skin off while just trying to keep him from dripping all over the place. Heaven help me, and my hearing, if I accidentally scraped his skin with the tag on the towel. It's truly a miracle this boy was ever clean. Just like many things that Ryan has struggled with, he found his own way to cope with the horror of towel drying after a shower....he air drys. Yep, he lays on the floor in a heap with a towel draped over him waiting for his skin to be dry enough to throw on shorts that are too small and a soft fleece Mario blanket that he wears like a shawl. Mark Twain would most certainly tsk, tsk, tsk over such an ensemble. This new found drying method certainly increases shower time two fold, but, the boy is clean, the boy is dressed (sort of), and the boy is happy.
With Ryan's reluctance to have anything touch his head, using a hair dryer to dry his hair is not his preference. This means, most nights, Ryan goes to bed with a wet head, so you can only imagine what his hair looks like upon wakening. Although I try to "fix it" by wrapping a completely dry, take it right out of the drawer, dish towel around his shoulders, then wetting one of two hairbrushes that are acceptable for his delicate head, and pushing gently (never, ever pulling) down on the numerous horns that have sprouted on his head while he was sleeping, to the reprimands of "you are soaking me" and "stop ripping my hair out of my skull". Regardless of my efforts, most days, Ryan still runs to the bus with unruly, dripping wet hair. I worry about how it looks for a second, but, as he runs across the street in a coat two sizes too small and yells, "I love you so much Mommy", the worry quickly fades away. While I watch the bus pull away, I can still see the horns sticking up on Ryan's head and his wrists sticking out of his coat sleeves, as he happily waves goodbye, and I am reminded of that mother I use to be. The mother who once believed that clothes make the man. I smile gratefully as I wave goodbye to my son. Grateful that it took a sensitive little boy to prove how wrong Mark Twain and I both were.
So trust me, when you see a child with a different ability looking a little unkempt, with uncombed hair and clothes that have seen better days, the mother knows and the mother cares. She knows what people are thinking because chances are, she once thought it herself, once when she was a Mark Twain believer. Now, the mother sees past the hair, past the clothes, and past the juice mustache because the mother has seen the progress where once she was told would be none, she has seen the obstacles that were so difficult to overcome, she has seen the achievements that even she once doubted would ever occur. This mother, that holds the hand and the heart of this less than tidy child, and who sees past appearances, knows something Mark Twain did not. Clothes may make the man, but, judging someone by what they wear and how they look, will keep you from discovering the beautiful soul who lies beneath those clothes, regardless if those clothes are clean, dirty, old or new.
Now that Ryan is older, he is beginning to care more about his appearance....if his hair is sticking up, if he has a grape juice mustache and if his clothes feel and fit right...just not on Saturdays, or Sundays for that matter. Ryan understands that there are "make the man" school clothes and comfy home clothes. The school clothes are removed as soon as Ryan's backpack hits the foyer floor and he races to his bedroom to put on his too small, comfy clothes and quickly discards his clothes that make the man into his hamper. Ryan has brand new soft Hollister sweatpants that may make the man, but, he still prefers his one size too small, grey fleece pants that make the boy, the boy who cares little about others' judgement and more about the grade and comfort of the cotton in his clothes. Mark Twain may not have approved of Ryan's Target appearance last weekend, but for those who don't know what goes on behind the clothes, for those who don't know who it is that lies behind the clothes, it's easy to judge based on a disheveled appearance alone. Especially if the person passing judgement doesn't know that each and every Saturday is a very deserving, very necessary, and sometimes very stinky, day off.
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touched by Autism.
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