Social Skills for Neurotypicals

Steve is at a conference in Miami this week. He was promoted this winter and will be doing more of this. Putting on a tie and schmoozing with people in the industry is not his strong suit, so I gave him some pointers for conversation starters.

When you’re at a business conference, you don’t want to talk too much about work, so what do you talk about? You look for commonalities and ask for advice. For example, you can say that we want to get a spot by a lake this year, but you don’t know where to go. Where would they suggest? If they have a kid in college, you can compare stories. You store little details about the person in a mental folder – their partner’s name, the age of their kids, some story they shared about their parent’s illness — and then ask about it.  You ask questions, even if you don’t care about their answers, just to keep the conversation going.

When you’re married for a long time, each person develops their strong suits and lets the other person carry their weaknesses. Because Steve’s sense of direction is so good, he drives everywhere and I can’t get anywhere on my own anymore. And because I’m good at the chit-chat stuff, I’m the talker when we go to cocktail parties. But he’s at the conference on his own now, so he’s got to work on this skills that he never had to develop.

Ian’s last remaining autism challenge is social skills. He’s outgrown just about every other issue, but he still can’t maintain a conversation and is often inappropriate. Yesterday, when we were at the podiatrist to get new orthotics for his flat feet, he insisted on calling the doctor by his first name. He was having a little trouble with a bully the week before and he couldn’t understand why the kid was purposely saying things to annoy him.

So, Ian goes to social skills therapy on Wednesdays and will attend a social skills camp over the summer. He has an aide at school that makes sure that he’s saying the right things. Even with all this help, he has no friends and will probably struggle his whole life with interacting with other people.

And I’ve learned a ton by taking him to all this therapy over the years. One thing that I’ve learned is that a whole of neurotypical people suck at social skills, too. It’s one thing to say the wrong thing occasionally. We all do that. But lots of people struggle with more basic skills, like putting themselves in another person’s shoes to understand their motivations. Or knowing how to make another person more comfortable and relax to tell you their secrets. Lots of people don’t know how to do that.

I sometimes think about writing a book for non-autistic people about the art of chit-chat.

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The Gen-X Midlife Crisis

Because it’s relevent to our recent discussion about unhappy UMC-ers and stress, I’m linking to an article that it is being widely disseminated on my Facebook page. I know a lot of stressed out UMC-ers, I guess. From Oprah magazine:

The complaints of well-educated, middle- and upper-middle class women are easy to dismiss as temporary, or not really a crisis, or #FirstWorldProblems. America, in the grand scheme of things, is still a rich, relatively safe country. (Syrian refugees do not have the luxury of waking up in the middle of the night worried about credit card bills.) Although many women are trying to make it on minimum-wage, split-shift jobs (and arguably don’t have so much a midlife crisis as an ongoing crisis), women overall are closing the wage gap. Men do more at home. We deal with less sexism than our mothers and grandmothers, and have far more opportunities. Insert your Reason Why We Don’t Deserve to Feel Lousy here.

Fine. Let’s agree that this particular slice of Generation X women shouldn’t feel bad. And yet, many do: Nearly 60 percent of Gen Xers describe themselves as stressed out. A 2009 analysis of General Social Survey data showed that women’s happiness “declined both absolutely and relative to men” from the early ’70s to the mid-2000s. More than one in five women are on antidepressants. An awful lot of middle-aged women are furious and overwhelmed. What we don’t talk about enough is how the deck is stacked against them feeling any other way.

Modern Madness

I went to a community presentation last night about “mindful parenting”. (Combine two trendy words and make a better trendy word!) The speaker began with information about how stress was bad for you. (Shocking, I know.) She included lots of big words about brain parts. (It’s science, I tell you!) Then she gave lots of tips and tricks for calming down (deep breathing, being grateful) for people whose lives are nutso, but don’t want to make any serious changes in their lives. She posted lots of pictures of the book that she was selling and her website where she was selling other stuff. She’s paid to give a talk and then uses the talk to make more money.

It’s a good gig. I want in.

But I suppose people are looking for answers in a world where 31-year olds work themselves to death.

We’ve kept our marbles by arranging the family with one real job and one flex job. For years, our parenting responsibilities were so extreme that it wasn’t possible to manage everything with two real jobs. Maybe if we had a full time housekeeper/babysitter, we could have done it. Things are getting easier now, but we’re still not ready for me to get a real job with a real commute. Ian needs someone to take him to all of his therapy, band practices, and doctor appointments. And his bus didn’t show up twice this week, so I made the 1-1/2 hour round trip with him. We can handle emergencies with the flex job.

But this system doesn’t work for a lot of families. So, they are breathing and looking for quick fixes.

Suburban Elegy

Yesterday afternoon was my first block of free time in weeks, so I brushed off the dust of Hillbilly Elegy, which has been sitting in my pile of books-that-should-be-read for months. I read it in one big gulp; it was that good. As soon as Jonah wakes up, I’m going to demand that he reads it.

The memoir is about one kid who managed to escape the culture of poverty thanks to luck, the Marines, and his Mamaw, who saved him from his own bad decisions and his mom’s bad decisions. He talks about the positive aspects of the Appalachian, Scot-Irish culture – loyal, family oriented – as well as the bat-shit crazy parts of the lifestyle, which has resulted in generations of poverty and misery.

I read the book from the comfort of our Crate and Barrel armchair that swivels, so I can put my feet up on the large picture window. I glanced up from the book from time to time to watch the women speed walking in their $100 running pants and the teenagers zooming by in their graduation-gift Cameros. It’s a world apart from the J.D. Vance’s Middletown, Ohio.

Yet, it’s not.

People fuck up here, too. In between the speed walking and the calorie counting on iPhone apps, there is a whole lot of wine drinking, which is somehow a more socially acceptable form of addiction than weed. There are teenagers who screw up in exactly the same ways as teenagers in every other community across the country. There are dubious debts, like second mortgages to pay for private colleges that aren’t worth the $300,000 price tag.

And while our community doesn’t have the divorce rates and rotating boyfriends that plague other parts of the country, we’re the only family that I know that actually eats dinner together every night. Kids spend long periods of time by themselves or with nannies that have no authority to reel them in. Kids work very hard at times, especially in the highly regimented sports programs and tutoring worlds, but other times, they are supremely lazy. They have no expectations for home chores or sibling babysitting. Even though they all go to college, the parents and consultants micomanage the process for them.

There have been lots of recent studies (too lazy to find the link right now) that show that the wealthier families are spending more on educational programs for their children than ever before. And that’s all true. But in between those scheduled activities, there is a parenting vacuum. Parents set up the activities and even drive them from place to place, but don’t talk with their kids or guide them or yell at them when they screw up.

My parents, who were the first generation college attenders and who came from very rough family lives themselves, are appauled at the bad habits that they see around them in their own UMC town and in ours. Entitlement is its own evil culture. Wealth can protect people from bad habits for a short time, but it’s not fool proof.

Ten.

I was always one of those people who was effortlessly thin until about five years ago. Somehow, I blinked, and I was ten pounds too heavy. Well, I was ten pounds heavier than I felt comfortable. If I caught myself at the wrong angle in the mirror, I saw a stranger.

So, I decided to do something about it. I moved the scale from a box in the basement into the bathroom. No more denial. I started counting calories on an app on my iPhone. I also switched my gym schedule.

I used to go to the gym in afternoon after I got some work done. I did a little treadmill action, while watching Kardashian reruns. That wasn’t good enough, so I’m taking morning spin classes instead. I need a professional to kick my ass. I’m not sure I’m losing weight yet, but I’m definitely stronger.

This new routine has thrown me into the gym culture big time. In the afternoons, the gym is pretty much empty. It’s me and one 70-year old woman who reads People magazine on a bike. The mornings are packed. After three weeks, I’m starting to recognize the regulars. I know which guys are the projectile sweat-ers in my spin class. I know which instructors play the best music. I also know who has exercise-anorexia.

There are a few women in my spin class, who after doing ten miles on their bikes, will get on the eliptical machine for an hour, and then come back in the evening for another class. Three hours at the gym per day. That’s a little weird. There are a few hardcore cases that require professional intervention and a brownie sundae.

I need to get to that place in between chubby girl in the mirror and gaunt woman in the spin class. That place is ten pounds.

To lose this weight, I’ve made several tough changes. Pasta and bread are gone — not easy, but necessary. The leasurely Kardashian workouts were tossed. I’m going to give my body another month before I take more drastic steps, but wine and cheese will be the last thing that I’ll fling off this boat.

Too Big To Fail

As Jonah and his friends are entering into junior of high school. This is the year that will determine which college they attend, what kind of jobs they’ll have, whether they’ll have a cushy job at a law firm or whether they’ll be living in the basement in their 20s. Their whole future is boiling down to the next 12 months!

Of course, that’s not true. But that’s what everyone tells me. I’m particular fond of those conversations with other parents, where they subtly brag about their kids and poke to find out tidbits about Jonah. What colleges is he looking at? What honors classes is he in next year? Is he on the varsity cross country team? These comparisons — the weighing of the kids — is all very subtle, but it’s there.

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Would You?

Last year, one of Steve’s work friends decided to walk away from it all. The Wall Street job, the fancy Westchester home, the private schools. He rented out his house and sold some stuff. He bought a large boat. He, his wife, and his two kids sailed across the Atlantic. They are spending the year sailing around the Meditterean Sea with only vague plans about what happens next.

I have a weakness for stories like that. Radical departures from the middle class lifestyle with ADHD medicine, Kumon, nanny cams, mow and blow services, spin classes, salmon colored preppy shorts, lacrosse tryouts, keratin hair treatments, viola lessons, Hardy board siding.

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/374880/living-alone-on-a-sailboat/

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/iframe/374880/