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Looney Toon

Today I have major brain drain. Bailey has done nothing since opening her eyes this morning except talk about the Toontown website, humming the theme music, and repeating chat phrases. I have tried in vain to divert the conversation to a different subject, but it is useless. She always returns to telling me about Lollipop (one of her toons) recently buying a new emotion: furious, and that “OMG” it cost her 500 jelly beans; and how the reward for her current “toon task” is being a tiny toon for a day; and let’s not forget the constant repeating “eepy eep eepy” which is the gibberish that pops up in place of an unapproved word, like “poop” which unfortunately is a word Bailey likes to use. She even mimics her toon’s emotions. For example, when she clicks on “angry” Lollipop will crouch down, clinch her fists, and grit her teeth. When Bailey is angry, she will do the same thing. When Lollipop is successful at a game and wins lots of jellybeans, she does a happy dance that involves tapping her feet and doing the 80s “arm wave dance”. Bailey will also do the same dance when she feels happy. It is a little hard not to laugh, even at the angry one.

I don’t know why it’s bothering me so much today. This is how it’s been going for weeks and, except for a sort break from it when she discovered Eden on the iPad, it went on for months and months after she first became a member of Toontown. I guess I’m just becoming increasingly more frustrated at the fact that I can’t hold a conversation with my 8-year-old daughter. When she wakes up in the morning and I ask her if she had any sweet dreams she tells me how she dreamed that a COG (Toontown bad guy) was in her toon’s estate, which apparently is something that cannot happen in “real life”. Or that when I’m reading her a bedtime story she will interrupt me mid-sentence to tell me about how she saved a building in Toontown that had been taken over by COGs and her toon’s picture was now hanging in the building. Or when I pick her up from school and ask her what she did in art class that day, she will respond “oh, I painted a bird. I wonder if the blue shirt I ordered from the cattlelog for Lollipop has arrived” or “I am completely out of gags so I need to go for a ride on the trolley so I can get more to defeat the COGs… can I get on Toontown when I get home?”

I don’t know whether to be sad that her fixation has taken over so much of her life. Or that I should just be thankful that she is engaged in something. There are so many children with Autism Spectrum Disorders who are much lower functioning than she is and their parents struggle for ANY type of communication or display of interest.

I also wonder how much I should encourage or discourage this fixation. We have the rule of 1 hour of computer time on school days and 2 hours on the weekend, and that is pretty much set in stone. But the remaining 22-23 hours in the day she is still so focused on it that any free time she has she spends it doing what she was doing this morning: pacing and spinning around the living room, humming the Toontown theme song and whispering something about setting banana gram traps. I take her to town with me to run some errands, but she talks about Toontown the whole time, telling me what she is going to do the next time she logs on. I take her to the playground, and she bombards potential friends with questions of whether or not they play on Toontown.

All this also makes me wonder if I’ll ever get to experience the heart-to-heart, mother/daughter talks that are supposed to be included in this package. But I have to push that thought far back in my mind. There are things about tomorrow that I must worry over before I can jump that far ahead.

Eight more weeks of school and I’m already thinking how in the world am I going to be able to fill up the summer days so she is kept busy with something other than Toontown… so she is more engaged in the real world. And so I don’t become a looney toon.

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Conversation

Conversation has been a challenge for Bailey as long as I can remember. The kind of back-and-forth, really-getting-to-know-one-another conversation that mothers look forward to having with their daughters seems unreachable to me. Any question I ask about her day is met with answers to what Tulip, her pretend friend, did that day. It sort of goes like this…

Me: “Hey sweetie! How was your day? Did you get to play any instruments in music class today?”

Bailey’s very animated response: “Guess what!?”

Me, hopeful: “What?!”

Bailey, still animated: “You will never believe what happened to Tulip today.”

My heart sinks, but I still manage a pretty enthusiastic “what?”

Bailey: “She was in the cafeteria eating her lunch when someone accidentally spilled milk all over her head. She was so upset she cried.”

Everyday I hear these long elaborate tales of what Tulip did, but nothing that tells me what and how my daughter did the 6 1/2 hours she was away from me. Although I sometimes wonder if these fantasy tales offer a hint as to how she experienced the day. I can’t imagine though… some of the stuff Tulip gets herself into are just so out there. Not too long ago she suffered a broken face.

So when a moment strikes I search my brain for some topic, any topic, to engage her with. Even if it starts off promising it usually ends up with me losing her not too far into it. The other day she took me off guard by asking me how my day was, but then interrupted me as she began repeating the phrase in monotone “Step back. Doors are closing. When boarding move to the center of the car. Step back. Doors are closing. When boarding move to the center of the car.” A phrase she likes to recite often after hearing it on the Metro.

If Bailey isn’t talking about Tulip’s mischief, she’s talking about Toontown, her favorite website. She talks about it at breakfast, while I’m helping her get ready for school, she interrupts her bedtime story to tell me about it… During our weekly movie night she will turn to me 10 minutes into the movie and tell me that Lollipop (one of her toons) ordered glasses from the Cattlelog and she wonders if they’ve arrived yet. Laying next to her as she was drifting off to sleep one night I heard her whispering to herself… “got to get on the Toontown trolley…toontown training video… 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16…. six more to go. Gag, gag, gag, gag, gag, gag, gag. Lollipop, lollipop.” It exhausted me just listening to it, thinking about all that swirling around in her head.

But oh last night! Last night we had such an awesome talk that I’m still walking on air. It started with her asking me how I knew her daddy was “the one”. This is an unprecedented question for her to even think about asking. She never voluntarily bothers with anything that doesn’t have to do with her world. I took a deep breath and dragged out that conversation as long as I possibly could, which was probably a good 10 minutes. She was genuinely interested and engaged in what I was saying and she actually asked questions and waited for responses. And then asked MORE questions. I enjoyed every second of it, making sure I was silly enough to keep her attention but also making sure I explained how important it is to let God lead us. It was such an awesome few minutes, and then…

Bailey: “Nevermind! I have an idea!”

Me: “What’s your idea?”

Bailey: “Nevermind! I have an idea! Nevermind! I have an idea!”

It hits me that she is reciting Spongebob. But I don’t care because it was absolutely, fantastically wonderful while it lasted. I can’t wait for the next time we talk.