Autoblography Part 2: Preschool

By Shamus
on Aug 26, 2011
Filed under:
Personal

shamus_1972.jpg

When I was a baby, I was a climber. I was slow to walk, eager to climb. I walked by holding onto things long after most kids were comfortable walking freely. I would hand-hold around the edge of a room rather than walk through the big open space in the middle. On the other hand, I was climbing stuff way before it would even be considered normal or reasonable.

I hated my crib. Before I was able to walk, I learned how to pull myself up and (apparently) do some sort of chin-up and get myself over the railing. I would then fall four feet onto the floor below. Mom would hear the thud, then me crying. She’d come up, comfort me, wait for me to nod off, put me back in my crib, and go back downstairs.

Two minutes later: THUD. Whhaaaaaaaa!

I loved Chex cereal. They were “cookies”, my mom told me. “Ck-ck”, in my own parlance. At one point I pushed a chair over, climbed onto the counter, stood, and tried to grab the box. I messed up and fell, cracking my brow on the way down.

I was too young to remember it, but when I scrunch up my forehead I can still see the stitches. I wish I could understand the logic inside my brain that decided: “It’s too dangerous to cross this room, because I might fall. But dive-bombing out of my crib, even though experience has revealed this to be an unoptimal course of action? No problem!”

shamus_1974.jpg

This is the only picture ever taken of me interacting with dogs, and it will probably be the last. Ten or fifteen minutes after this picture was taken, I was on my way to the hospital, deep in the throes of an asthma attack. My face was swollen and I couldn’t breathe properly.

I don’t have a single friend or relative that I can safely visit. Everyone, everyone has dogs. Or cats. Or both. My parents (mom and step-dad) only keep outdoor pets, but the regular practice of snuggling the animals has carried the dander into the house where it infuses the furniture.

This allergy makes the holidays very awkward. Lots of people have some minor allergy, or know someone with allergies, and so they think they understand my problem. It’s hard to make people understand how severe it is. “Oh I know, Shamus! I have allergies, too. Don’t you hate it when it gives you the sniffles? Have you tried shots? Don’t worry, I’ll put the dog outside when you visit.” Uh… no. This problem is actually in another class entirely from regular ‘allergies’. This is a condition that could possibly kill me in the right circumstances, and even a short twenty-minute exposure can make me sick for hours or days. I’m not lazy, it’s not that I don’t like you, and I’m sure your house is wonderful, but if you want to see me you need to come to MY house. No, it doesn’t matter how often you vacuum or that your dog “barely sheds at all”. It’s poison to me, and unless you plan to change the carpets, get new furniture, repaint, and completely purge the duct-work, that isn’t going to change.

If my kids visit someone for any length of time, they have to take a shower and throw their clothes in the laundry, lest their toxic dander slowly infest our own house.

It’s a shame. I really loved those puppies.

shamus_1975_couch.jpg

I was a strange kid. When I was very young, I made some sort of connection between people and their cars. Someone would visit, and I’d look out the window and observe that their car was outside. Certain cars always went with certain people, and I could tell who was knocking on the door just by seeing what car was parked outside.

One day, a friend of the family got a new car, and I freaked the hell out. I refused to speak to him. I hid in the other room, because the car outside wasn’t right.

Of course, it didn’t take much to make me afraid of someone. Grow a beard. Shave off your beard. Wear a great big coat. Show up bare-chested. I was regularly alarmed and confused by the people around me. I know a lot of kids are like this, but I had an unusual level of anxiety about it.

shamus_1975_corner.jpg

It’s 1976, and I do not like changes in routine. Dad is long gone. Mom works all day in Pittsburgh. During the day my brother and I are sent to the children’s’ daycare center at the YMCA. The kids are divided by age. Babies in one room, toddlers in the next, then preschoolers. Each room has maybe a dozen kids and two adults caring for it. There are toys and crafts and various quasi-educational activities to keep us busy.

I generally keep to myself. I like building and drawing more than I like stories or playing with other children. The adults are usually nice, but sometimes they take us for showers. This does not sit right with me.

I’ve never heard of another daycare place that does this. (And I’m sure it’s no longer done today.) I know it probably sounds very strange, and I obviously don’t know the rationale behind it. De-lousing? Did some of the kids smell bad? I have no idea.

I don’t know when or how it’s decided, but every once in a while they line us up and march us off to the showers. I do not like the showers.

It’s not that I don’t like being clean. Or wet. It’s that I don’t like having other people take me places and do things with me without my consent. I don’t like having my routine broken, and I do not like being treated like a piece of laundry to be washed. I take baths at home, and I see no reason for any of this.

shamus_1976_bubbles.jpg

I can tell we’re headed for the showers today. That’s the only reason for them to bring us through this area of the building. The men joke with the women, asking if they need any help, and the women say no. I do not get this, but I do understand we’re going to have a shower. My heart begins beating faster as we get closer to the women’s locker room. My fight-or-flight response kicks in. I begin breathing hard. I know they’re going to drag me in there. They always do. They’re stronger than me. I walk along, wondering when I should make my move.

I draw the line at getting undressed. They insist. I refuse. They scold. I dig in. I am not changing my mind, and no promise of rewards or threats of punishment will ever change this. I belong to me, and I decide when I bathe.

The fight begins. I give them my best. I make them work for it, the whole way. I stand there in the shower, fighting and screaming the whole time. I shove and I elbow and I push the soap away. I get soap in my eyes, but I don’t care. All around me are rows of perfectly happy children, all getting showers without a fuss. I don’t care. If they want to be pushed around that’s their problem.

Finally the adults (sometimes two of them have to work together to get me in there) get sick of the struggle (or maybe they decide I’m clean enough) and leave me. The other kids are done already. I know the shower would be shorter if I didn’t fight, but I don’t care. I rinse off on my own and get dressed. I do not speak to them again for a long time.

I’m starting to figure out who I am as my personality takes shape. I don’t like being made to do things against my will, I don’t care to follow the crowd, and I don’t like interacting with other kids.

Next year I begin school.

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From the Archives:

  1. Xythe says:

    I used to be a lot like that when I was little. I’m doing my thing, and unless you’re one of my parents, you’d damn sure better not try to make me do something else until I’m good and ready.

    In fact, I’m still kinda like that :P

  2. Angie says:

    I don’t like being made to do things against my will, I don’t care to follow the crowd, and I don’t like interacting with other kids.

    Next year I begin school.

    Oh, lordy…. [facepalm]

    Angie

  3. Gravebound says:

    “I don’t like being made to do things against my will, I don’t care to follow the crowd, and I don’t like interacting with other kids.”

    I had this as well. Until I made a friend in first grade and we decided to play under the desks instead of listening to the teacher. And she didn’t want to stop us because it was the first time I had talked to any of the other children. XD

    “The adults are usually nice, but sometimes they take us for showers.”

    Never heard of anything like this, but I’m a child of the Eighties, when things were starting to get really litigious.

    • Klay F. says:

      Actually that shower thing doesn’t surprise me at all, and I’m a child of the late 80s as well. I’ve heard all of the stories from my dad about how it was still okay to smoke cigarettes in hospitals back then.

      Hell nowadays its unheard of for a child to even get spanked in a public school.

      Oh, the times, they are a-changing.

  4. Vlad says:

    I love this. You’re a very good writer, Shamus. You probably know that already, but I just wanted to throw it out there.

    When you finally finish it, please make your book available in Europe as well.

  5. Dovius says:

    Freedom to the Proletoddleriat!
    That’s some really good writing, Shamus. Looking forward to the rest of the posts.

  6. Herrsunk says:

    This forced shower business is not as rare as you’d think. I have vague memories from my preschool that we also had collective shower time. This was in Sweden, in about 1995, mind you. It didn’t happen often, but I recall a few times.

    I remember that while we were accompanied to the showers by adults, you did your thing – shower, wash, rinse, etc – by yourself. So not as bad as being manhandled into being extra clean. Still. Oppressive shower regime!

    • Funny Money Guy says:

      The bad thing about this, which I am sure has occurred to everyone, is how this is one (pretty small, IMHO) step away from some serious mishandling and all of those nasty stories you hear that lead to therapy. Actually this one already sounds like it is therapy-inducing.

  7. SougoXIII says:

    AWW, young Shamus is hilariously adorable, though I suspect those caretakers might disagree.

    Also I’m always amazed with people who have any concrete recollection of their childhood. Childhood conversations with me usually go like this:

    ‘So Huy, how was your childhood like?’

    ‘OH… Urm.. there was this one time… Ahh… I was like… Look!’

    Then I ran off.

    • krellen says:

      I have only the vaguest of recollections about my childhood (though I suspect I know the underlying reason for which, which isn’t something one really discusses in public with strangers), but then again, I also only have the vaguest of recollections about most of my life. My head is full of facts, figures and minutia, and there’s really not a lot of room left for me to remember experiences. I know what happened last week, but I can’t recall a single actual experience of what I was doing last week.

      • I’m the opposite–I have incredibly vivid memories of just about everything. Sometimes I’ll go years without thinking of particular memories, then something will bring it up and I’ll remember it all.

        In some aspects it’s nice: if I’m paying attention, I don’t forget things. However, for a long time it made me lazy about writing things down or taking notes and while my memory is astonishingly vivid it’s sometimes not super-accurate. So I try to remember to go look things up again (if it’s important) rather than just rely on memory, with indifferent success.

        • Soylent Dave says:

          My memory is pretty vivid and accurate (not eidetic, just er, expansive. Let’s use that).

          This comes in handy most of the time, but it does lead to my having (apparently) unrealistic expectations of other people (“What do you mean you don’t remember minor characters from that TV series we watched together 5 years ago!? Weren’t you paying attention?”).

          It also makes it especially disturbing when I do forget things – if I look back at the times I’ve been in shock or whatever, that’s like a black hole in my mind that I don’t like thinking about so I’m going to stop doing that now.

          • Kacky Snorgle says:

            My earliest memories are odd…they’re quite vivid and detailed, but they’re in third-person view: I see myself from across the room or so. I’ve been told that this means they’re not really memories per se, but memories of being told about the event by others. Given the vivid-detailed-ness, though, I doubt this explanation.

            The earliest thing I remember is the handprint. My parents bought one of those little plaques with a cute poem about kids leaving fingerprints all over the place, and a space to record your kid’s handprint. They sat me down at the kitchen table with a saucer full of paint/ink to put a handprint on the plaque.

            I did not like getting my hands dirty.

            Much kicking and screaming ensued.

            Somehow or other, they managed to get the handprint on the plaque, and only slightly blurry. But the event was so deeply traumatic that I remember it in great detail: the old kitchen, with its gold/brown wallpaper and avocado ceiling lamp that I didn’t know were ugly; the old small kitchen table that fit into the room widthwise; the “highchair” I used to sit in that was really a folding stepstool. I haven’t seen most of these things in decades, and I can’t clearly recall them outside of this one memory, but when I dug out some old birthday-party photos a few years ago they looked exactly as I remember.

            The plaque is still on my parents’ bedroom wall, and it has the date on it along with the handprint. Which is how I know that all of this happened when I was 22 months old. I’m actually rather alarmed that I remember it so well; I didn’t realize at the time that it was that traumatic.

          • theLameBrain says:

            I have a photographic memory, but it was never developed.

            bud-um-bum!
            :’P

          • Destrustor says:

            My memory is pretty good, I’d say, but is intensely cluttered by stupid, pointless facts. (where items are in some games, the precise spelling of words, and a lot of “did-you-know?”-esque stuff). So I tend to forget the important stuff like phone numbers, birthdates, and whether or not I’ve had certain conversations with people.
            “did I tell you about X ?
            Yes you did.
            Huh? I did?”
            A great useless memory. I’m so proud.

            • Vipermagi says:

              I still can’t for the life of me remember if my oldest sister’s birthday is the 17th or the 19th of August (so I always congratulate her on the 18th), but I still know almost everything that happens in Dink Smallwood. Truly, that is important knowledge?

      • Jarenth says:

        In a move that will surprise pretty much no-one, my mind works in more or less exactly the same way.

        In conversations with my best friend, he can often recount details of our shared experiences growing up that for all I remember he might be making up. But if I do remember things about that, it’ll most likely be ‘facts, figures and minutia’, to quote a phrase.

  8. Lanthanide says:

    You sound mildly autistic.

    • Shamus says:

      I was thinking the same thing when I wrote this up. It all seemed normal until I put it all down and considered it as a whole.

      • Vipermagi says:

        I was going to make a comment about how eerily familiar most of this feels/reads to me. I was apparently even more stubborn about showering though. My own memory isn’t quite up to par, but my mom says I’ve taken two showers while in school; once when they wrangled me as a small child, once in my early teens. Only remember the last one.
        The first shower was allegedly taken sitting on the floor.
        Found my second shower awkward as all heck and never took a towel with anymore. If we had PE at the beginning of the day, I simply refused to put effort into it so I wouldn’t need a shower; problem solved.

        I was initially diagnosed with Asperger’s, but a second opinion found PDD-NOS (Not Otherwise Specified; catch-all group) more applicable.

        Showering adventures are one of two strong memories I have of my first five years. The other being I was pretty silent and… Didn’t do much (now that explains a whole lot!). Mom likes to tell me how noisy I got ever since I learned to talk. Apparently I never really cried unless something was really wrong. Often cited example: an inguinal hernia before turning one year old. “Ever been in surgery?” “Yeah, when I was about three months old.”

        EDIT: Also note that autism is insanely hard to diagnose at an early age, because kids just work that way (ccesarano mentions this, a number of comments down). It’s usually properly diagnosable at around the age of 16.

        • Kacky Snorgle says:

          As to showers:

          We never took showers after PE in school, even though there were showers in the locker room.

          It wasn’t until years later that I realized the explanation: I always had PE the last class of the day, so afterward everyone just ran for the bus. All the earlier PE classes were of course required to shower.

          And it was later still that I realized that I’d almost surely been given that schedule deliberately, because somebody knew how I’d react if told to shower at school…. :)

          • Mari says:

            We weren’t ALLOWED to use the showers in our locker room. The school deemed us all hooligans and vandals who would deliberately block up the shower drains if given even a remote chance. Ergo, no showers allowed.

            Even more fun is my 13-year-old who has PE first class of the day and isn’t allowed to use the locker room because she’s just in PE instead of playing a team sport. So all these kids are wandering around the school having worked up a nice sweat in their school clothes first thing in the morning.

            • Lanthanide says:

              American schools seem to be full of complete idiocy that would just never happen in this country.

            • ccesarano says:

              My school had showers, but they weren’t required. I don’t think anyone ever really used them. Maybe my generation is a bit more homophobic than previous or something, but no one wanted to see anyone else’s willy.

              We still changed into gym clothes, though…and they had to be school colored.

              God high school is stupid.

        • Jarenth says:

          With regards to your edit:

          As a kid, I was very nearly diagnosed with autism. My parents were really worried about me, and even sent me to a psychiatrist, who (after a while) determined that I was probably just weird.

          The reason for this worrying was that as a kid, I had some strange ways of interaction with the outside world. When outside (on, say, a class trip, or at a theme park), I would always wear a hoodie. I would stare at my feet, act skittish, and stick very close to either adults or buildings or overhangs in the vicinity. Once, I voluntarily stayed in the car while the rest of my family went to see a bird show.

          I have agoraphobia, you see.

      • Alex the Elder says:

        My son and I are both on the autism spectrum, and these sound exactly like the general sorts of hangups that he has and that I had to work tremendously hard to get over. My son’s temperament, practically his whole personality, can change drastically if major changes to his routine happen unexpectedly. My issues are clustered more around the “can’t read/understand other people” domain of autism symptoms.

        • Bryan says:

          That’s an issue for me too. I rarely interpret body language correctly. Except rage, since my mother tended to assume I was just being obstinant to make her life hard. She always did have a short temper with a microscopic fuse…

      • SolkaTruesilver says:

        I was thinking the same thing when I read “People would not be the same because they changed their car”. Oh well, it made you who you are, and if you weren’t, you wouldn’t be my favourite blogger.

        Nice pen you have, by the way. If you manage to transform your GM skill into proper storytelling, I really look forward reading your novel.

        (P.S.: Tried Dwarf Fortress yet? ;-)

      • Drew says:

        Yeah, plus one to this. Reading your bolg for a while I’ve thought you might be ‘Aspys’ or something similar… check out ‘The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood’ as it has the picture throughout development. If you’ve got it, this book will let you know for sure*.

        * of course only a qualified professional can let you know “for certain”.

        • Another_Scott says:

          I’ve also figured Shamus falls somewhere on the Autism Spectrum, but then being Asperger’s myself (until something else fits better/sounds cooler) I’m prone to think that of a lot of people I identify with are similar.

          It’s never easy or clear to determine what brain chemestry one has, or how their quirks resemble certain “catagories” because everyone has different personalities shaped by our experiances…

          The bottom line is that it doesn’t really matter “what” we are, because in the end we are who we are. :)

      • Dragomok says:

        I have a similiar problem: the more I think about my past actions, the more I feel I’m completely retarded. And I think a lot.

        Hearing that I am not the only one who gets similiar feeling from auto reflection is relieving, yet sad at the same time.

    • Mephane says:

      I second that, mainly because I can make very similar observations about myself, even today. I am nearing 30, and I still freak out at changes in the way I am used to things like a child. For example in video games, there are a number of UI settings and key bindings that MUST BE THE WAY I WANT THEM, usually just because one of my first games made me used to it. The funny thing is, I am not very much about order around me, the apartment is always in a state of half-chaos, but there are certain bits that have to fit or it’s like the sky falling.

      Did I mention I am not good with people at all? Heh…

  9. Chuck Henebry says:

    Nice punch line there. You’re definitely going to enjoy school.

  10. Lalaland says:

    I always enjoy people with ‘allergies’ talking to people who have actual serious anaphylactic shock inducing allergies.

    ‘Allergy’ sufferer: “Oh I can’t eat wheat it makes me gassy”
    Allergy sufferer: “I carry adrenaline with me so I don’t die when encounter peanuts”

    • Newbie says:

      I have a severe allergy to certain types of Penicillin. I am very lucky that penicillin is not as common to ingest as nuts but I have 3 times had to stop a doctor from injecting me with a type of penicillin I am allergic to. Being sick already is not a great way to encounter an allergy.

      Added benefit doctors can give me whatever I need to fix the problem quickly.

      • Jeff says:

        Penicillin is thus far the strongest trigger for my asthma that I’ve discovered. The doctor was like “Well, you’re not going to die from it and you need to finish the regime, so have this inhaler.”

        (That’s when I first got an inhaler, in fact.)

        • Aldowyn says:

          Umm. That’s odd. Allergies often inflame the throat, causing asthma-like symptoms, but I didn’t think that was actually asthma. I think that’s separate. Inhalers would work anyway cause they treat symptoms.

          I may be wrong, and I apologize if I am, but that just doesn’t sound right to me :/

    • Meredith says:

      There is an in-between realm of people with actual allergies, who need medicine, but don’t have it as severe as Shamus. I’m one of them. It’s miserable enough, I can’t imagine having worse and actually needing epi-pens and the ER. I do agree, though, that people who don’t suffer from even this level just do not get it and that can be frustrating.

    • StranaMente says:

      A friend of my dad has severe allergies to multiple things. He developed most of them living in contact with the allergenes, luckly for him, his allergies are not at the same level as yours, as he can stay in a room where a cat was as long as it’s been properly ventilated and pillows and carpets have been shaken.
      On the other hand my brother and his wife are both mildly allergic to cats, but she can’t resist to have one anyway, so she takes a lot of medicines and live with the cat. I don’t think this may be the wiser solution…

      • I was moderately allergic to cats (and dogs, and numerous other things) for years, to the point where I couldn’t stay in a house with animals for more than an hour or so. Now, it doesn’t bother me. Don’t ask me why. The allergies just sort of went away over time. From what I understand this pattern is actually fairly common with men but really unusual with women.

        • Timelady says:

          I’m kind of the same way (and, oddly enough, also named Jennifer). I probably ended up in the ER once a week as a kid (mainly because of my dust allergy. Animals and pollen were more easily avoidable)…and now I live with six cats and have a runny nose sometimes. Of course, a lot of my problems were probably caused by going to the elementary school from Hell–fiberglass in the ceiling and asbestos under the carpets, as it turned out (or was it the other way round? I can never remember).

          • Funny Money Guy says:

            We’re being assaulted by The Allergic Jennifers!
            Actually… that sounds like a (decent) name for a band…

            And now playing on center stage: “The Allergic Jennifers”!

        • Destrustor says:

          My father was allergic to EVERYTHING when he was a kid. Nothing truly dangerous, but simply going outside would make his face swell to the size of a melon. He sometimes missed school when it was so bad that he was physically unable to see through his swollen face and his breathing disturbed the teacher. most of it went away as he got older.

    • decius says:

      Yeah, I’ve had to explain the difference between food intolerance and allergy a few times. As in “He can’t have onions in the dish, but you can’t have nuts in the kitchen when you make it.”

    • uberfail says:

      I have have both. I’m ‘allergic’ to my cat, but give me some sulfur and I’ll see you in hell…

    • theLameBrain says:

      I am a sufferer of mild allergies and asthma.
      I try to keep a very clear distinction between the inconveniences that I suffer, and the life-threatening condition that some people have when encountering peanuts, shellfish, strawberries, etc…

      I am all for seperating these conditions in order that the people who actually suffer to receive the respect they need, and people like me who are only inconvenienced are forced to suck it up.

    • Aldowyn says:

      Or you can be like me where you have seasonal allergies.

      I actually have no clue what all I’m allergic to, but certain things just set me off on sneezing fits, and I get stuffy sometimes during the year, and it’s not a cold.

      I often say “I’m glad I’m not allergic to anything other than the world.” My type of allergy can be fixed by having plenty of tissues in the house.

      It also leads me to wonder HOW someone can live without tissues in their house. Tissues are as much a staple to me as paper towels or TP.

    • Mari says:

      I’m apparently in a whole other realm. I have food “cross reactions” which means certain types of proteins and enzymes in certain foods trigger symptoms because of an allergy to a whole other plant. For instance, bananas cause my mouth to break out in blisters and go numb because I’m allergic to ragweed. Cucumbers actually cause red welts, mild swelling, and skin peeling for the same reason.

      I carry an epi-pen because bee, wasp, scorpion, and certain ant stings cause anaphylaxis.

      But I also have “seasonal allergies” to – pretty much my environment. No, seriously, I’m allergic to the three main native trees in this area, most of the native weeds (ragweed, goldenrod, pigweed, thistle, etc.) and dust. I live in a desert – and I’m allergic to dust. My favorite is my mesquite allergy. It’s bad enough living in the middle of one vast mesquite scrubland but the past decade or so every food company in North America has become sold on the concept of adding “mesquite flavor” to their food by smoking it over a tree that makes my eyes swell shut. In the summer, neighbors on both sides of us fire up the grill with – yep, mesquite wood. In the winter, they fuel their fireplaces with it.

      And then there’s the sulfa allergy. Good ol’ sulfonamides. Doctors are still quite fond of that stuff, you know. And no matter how many times it’s written in my medical charts with red sharpie and highlighted and entered into pharmacy databases that promise to look out for cross reactions and medicines you’re allergic to, I still keep narrowly avoiding exposure. I was first exposed to it when I was 3. They thought for nearly 3 weeks that I had German measles. Then I started to swell up like a balloon and it finally occurred to someone to take me off the sulfa. When I was 10 I had it again because it somehow slipped by the doctor, the pharmacy, and my parents. No mistaking it for measles that time because the swelling started fast. Two days on the stuff and it was nearly a month before the last of the swelling and rash cleared up. Three years later a doctor put an ointment on some burns I got – then had to scrape it back off with a tongue depressor because it was sulfonamide and he forgot. I’ve had two other docs try to prescribe it since but I’m vigilant now.

      • Rick says:

        I had some like this as a child… Foods that I could eat separately with no ill-happenings, but couldn’t eat in the same day. Eg oranges and luncheon. I’ve grown in and out of various allergies since childhood. As a child I had an allergy to horses similar to that of yours to pets. My babysitter would have to ditch her clothes outside her bathroom, have a shower and get into freshly washed (and tumble dried) clothes that her mum brought her, before she could come see me.

        Peanuts are usually an allergy that people take seriously, usually they ask to see my Epi-pen. Penicillin is another one for me that not many people understand though. Lucky most of my allergies are just hives/vomiting. Except for nuts, soy and penicillin. Because gluten-free is such a cool and hip diet it’s much easier to find gluten free products that nut-free (I realise that there are a lot of people with celiacs out there, but most gluten-free people are simply following the trending diet. I lost my epi-pen a while ago and joked that the only thing I could eat was FreeNut Butter while I waited for my new epi-pen to arrive.

        The scary thing is that any kids I have are hugely likely to have a fatal allergy to something. Not necessarily what I’m allergic to.

        The scariest is soy. It’s well known in Europe, but not so much in the USA or Australasia (I’m in NZ). Someone allergic to peanuts can eat soy their whole lives, then one day about 30-90 minutes after having soy they could have what appears to be an asthma attack but is actually slow anaphylaxis. Some people try and sleep off their “asthma attack” and suffocate in their sleep. There’s simply not enough awareness about this soy allergy out there.

        No wonder I never bothered picking up the soy in Deus Ex.

  11. Droid says:

    So… you dropped yourself on your head as a child.

    Things are becoming clearer. :P

    In all seriousness, though, I’m enjoying this series of articles. Looking forward to the next one!

    • Eärlindor says:

      Haha, I was thinking the exact same thing.

      I have also apparently thrown myself onto my head a couple of times when I was a tiny. I had found a way to turn myself over in a grocery cart seat and launch myself out. Head first onto the parking lot. All my mom did was turn her head for two seconds, then she heard a sickening crack.
      She couldn’t figure out how I did it until she caught me trying to do the exact same thing in a high seat at home.

      • Fists says:

        I too am a veteran of bashing my head on things that are far tougher, had stitches at least 5 times before I was 12

      • My baby brother (18 years my junior) did exactly the same thing. At the ER the doctor started to ask her abuse style questions when he launched himself from the table while the doctor’s eyes wer eon my mom. The doctor then decided that he would spend a great deal more time in the ER and left it at that. He was right– James spent more time in the ER than the rest of us and our kids combined.

  12. Silfir says:

    I remember kicking and screaming when my father brought me to kindergarten the first time and tried to leave me behind, and I remember another time kicking and screaming when he tried to pick me up because I didn’t want to leave kindergarten.

    Another time (this I do not remember, but my parents do), there was breakfast time in kindergarten, and one of the kindergardeners (what do you call them anyway? Just teachers?), who was new, put a bowl of Muesli (Wikipedia it; it’s a type of cereal) in front of me. It had icky vegetables and other things I did not approve of, so I refused to eat it. She, however, insisted; I was not allowed to get up and go back to playing until I ate that Muesli. So I sat there, staring at that horrid Muesli with the most defiant glare you could imagine, unbudging. I don’t know how that ended, whether she relented, whether another of the teachers intervened or I sat there all the time until my parents came to pick me up. All I know is that I never ate that Muesli, and that from that point forward the lady who had tried to force me to eat it was persona non grata. As far as I was concerned, she plain didn’t exist. You had to be my father or another person I knew and respected if you wanted to try that shit.

    I can easily imagine Shamus’ shower episode taking place exactly the same way in my life; like him, I could fight tooth and nail if I was asked to do something I had decided I didn’t want to do, never caring if the other kids did it obediently. I’ll be interested to see how similar, or dissimilar, our school lives are going to turn out.

    • Zagzag says:

      How can you not have heard of muesli? This idea is completely incomprehensible to me. It would be like not having heard of bread.

    • Aldowyn says:

      This reminds me of an incident I have been told about when I turned 5. My grandmother served spaghetti, and I absolutely refused to even try it (Spaghetti looks odd. Still not a fan). I ended up not getting any birthday cake because I wouldn’t even eat a bite of my spaghetti.

      I was really picky with food when I was little, obviously.

  13. froogger says:

    I hear your voice loud and clear, literally. In my head, at least. This being some of the most private you’ve ever shared, I suppose it affects the tone, which again triggers my imagination. It just surprised me that your narrative voice would appear so clearcut and welldefined. Maybe it’s only me, but your writing seems to be getting even better.

    Thanks for sharing.

  14. Kdansky says:

    If it wouldn’t be quite embarrassing right now to do so, I’d stand up and shout “FREEDOM!!”

    I hate getting forced to do things. Even if it’s something that’s not actually bad (if that is the case, you may kindly ask and reason with me, and I am very likely to oblige if you make sense). I may be 29, but I can totally relate to you as a small child.

    If you ever visit Switzerland, you can visit me. No animals whatsoever! Having dogs and cats is a very rural tradition, I believe.

    Typo: “drive bombing” should be “dive bombing”, I suppose. Your writing is rather exceptional though.

    As for preschool: When we got home after the first day, I told my mother that I wasn’t going there again. The other kids were behaving stupid and/or jerks, they toys were less interesting than those that I owned (LEGO!) and the adults treated me like an idiot. I did not cry, nor was I afraid. I just found it immensely boring and a waste of my time. Therefore I was done with it. At age 4. I didn’t go again.

  15. thenoob says:

    Don’t recall this being in Australia, and now we have the working with children’s check if your job even remotely requires kids (unless they are an inadvertent part of it, like an ice cream man).

    Surprised Shamus can remember this much of his childhood, I’m less than half his age and I can’t remember most of it.

    I know some people half a decade older than Shamus; in their schools, it was the cane. Except a twisted version of it, if the boys were naughty, the cane, if the girls were naughty, a boy got the cane. And you had to choose, so whoever you chose would be harsh towards you, and if you didn’t choose they’d cane someone you liked. Pretty sadistic now that you think about it. Combined with Shamus’s experiences, I think these are more reminiscient of concentration camps!

    Nowadays it’s just the kids that cruise through on 40%, and the ones who actually get an education, with some bullying in between and the schools doing little about it.

    • Rick says:

      There was a recent story here in NZ where a teacher was taping kids mouths shut. And another that put one kid in the middle of a circle of other kids and told them all to take turns telling the middle child what they didn’t like about them.

      Not cool.

    • Jarenth says:

      How is ‘working with kids’ an inadvertent part of being an ice cream man? Kids are like 80% of your demographic. Selling ice cream to children is the reason ice cream trucks exist.

    • Funny Money Guy says:

      I see a natural (and sad) consequence of this policy: one boy would become a social outcast/pariah, and every girl would choose him to be beaten every time they had the choice.

  16. ccesarano says:

    My niece was a mixture of climber and walker. Well before she was walking in the big wide open she was climbing the couches, or hauling herself up and holding on to make her way around. Sometimes she’d let go so she could kind of stumble to the next handhold a foot away. She was pretty adventurous.

    Though I find it funny that your mother evidently wasn’t bothered at all by you falling out of your crib. Modern cribs are built with something you haul up so they can’t climb over, but I didn’t know it worked that way. So the first day I was baby-sitting (she was about 11 months, so crawling and climbing all over the place) I didn’t realize I needed to lift and lock the side of the crib. It’s not that she had no wall, it was just lower than it needed to be. So after playing Call of Duty 2 for a couple hours downstairs I hear her over the baby monitor. I start to save and then THUD! Everything is suddenly silent. I don’t hear my game, just sitting there, frozen, intent on the baby monitor. And she starts crying. I ran upstairs, but I was so afraid to touch her in case something was broken.

    I’ll tell you what, man, babies are durable.

    As for you being a kid in pre-school, I don’t think that describes being autistic or anything. Different kids act differently based on nature and nurture. I’ve noticed my niece and friends’ toddlers that grew up with a lot of people all the time and two working parents with baby-sitting grandparents are much less likely to cry when being dropped off at a nursery or daycare or something, and are very social. Being around kids that grew up always around at least one of their parents, they cry and are afraid when being dropped off at a nursery or daycare the first few times.

    So, if, up until that point, you were able to choose when to get a bath, or it was determined by your loving mother whom you trusted fully, then it is no surprise that you may not trust any of these other adults.

    I know when I was a little toddler and child my grandmom tried to have me play house and stuff with her like she played with my brother and sister. I was always fine in my own little world, drawing or watching TV or playing with my dinosaurs instead (or, on occasion, playing Godzilla). Years later my 4th Grade teacher would look at my parents during a conference, sigh, exasperated, and say “Whatever is going on in Christopher’s mind is much more interesting than what’s going on in my classroom”.

    • Shamus says:

      If I remember the story right, Mom piled pillows and blankets under the crib so I’d land softly.

      • Jeff says:

        Haha I remember my sister-in-law doing this with my nephew because he loved to jump and would jump off things even though it always ended bad for him. However it sadly backfired and now its one of his favorite things to do.

        • Yeah, when Shamus’ daughters started doing the same thing we took the side off the crib so they had less distance to fall, and finally ave up and put the mattress on the floor.

          • Mari says:

            LOL Our kids spent time in mattresses on the floor too. They were a different kind of jumpers, though. Both of them were inclined to use any and all surfaces as trampolines and literally jumped their cribs to pieces by bouncing up and down while holding onto the side rails. I have watched these children bounce on sofas, chairs, beds, and even while standing flat on the floor. Best investment we ever made was the trampoline in the back yard. My furniture lasts much longer since we got it.

            • Jarenth says:

              Side anecdote: When I was a kid, my younger brother and me had a bunk bed. We (somehow) got into the habit of piling all the pillows, blankets and stuffed animals (no matresses, mind)into an opposite corner of the room, and then jumping off the top bed into this pile.

              Somehow, this has never gone wrong.

    • Rick says:

      After the “inappropriate touching” speech at school, I told my Mum off for washing behind my ears in the bath :p

  17. Mari says:

    This sounds eerily familiar to me. The high levels of anxiety, the associating things with people, the stubbornness, the preference to avoid interacting with others. Why, yes, you’re describing my younger daughter. Except you’re apparently not a hoarder. Oh, and her resistance to change is much more passive. She withdraws and/or cries for hours and hours and hours (or days, in the case of big changes like getting a new car). You must have made your mom’s life very interesting.

    Oh, and the showers? Probably they were because one or more kids stank. I worked in group childcare for quite a few years and yes, if we could have gotten away with it we probably would have forced group showers. You can’t just single out the stinky kids because that would be humiliating for them, so you have to deal with it as a group. We would have little group lectures about things like brushing teeth and how to soap everywhere in the shower or bath and even the importance of wearing clean clothes. Honestly, though, if it were ME and a non-stinky kid had thrown a fit I probably would have just given in and let him not shower. But then I’ve never been good at group-think or conformist mentality which is why I knew I couldn’t survive dealing with kids in a public setting for much longer.

  18. Rayen says:

    they still did that when i was in YMCA daycare. That was… 1992? 91? somewhere in there, early nineties, probably while bush 1.0 was still president. anyway yeah they made us do that… however i think they let us keep like a swimsuit on if we brought one. I don’t remember there being a reason myself.

  19. Jekyll says:

    Jeeze, maybe I’m just a product of these paranoid times but the shower thing sounded really sketchy. In any case these posts are really great and thanks for sharing!

  20. asterismW says:

    How do you remember all this stuff? I barely remember my childhood at all, let alone events that early. I think my earliest memory was when I was 3, and it’s a vague recollection of a bright, sunny day as we drove to our new house. I think my next memory might be when I was bawling my eyes out because I was too sick to go to school and I was afraid I’d fail everything. I was in kindergarten.

    • Destrustor says:

      My earliest memory was when I was about 5, and I barely remember what it was about. Just the faint memory of knowing I was 5, and that I was in the backyard.

    • Raygereio says:

      Stories his parent(s)/older siblings/whatever told Shamus when he was old enough to start remembering them?

      That’s generally how people manage to recall stuff from their earlist childhood without having to resort to having beter-then-normal memory.
      For instance, I don’t recall having knocked out a doctor when I was 5 (We apparently had a disagreement concerning the eyedrops he wanted to put in my eyes) from a first-person memory, but I sure as hell had to hear the story about it countless times.

  21. StranaMente says:

    On a biography related note, I was wondering if you’ve already seen the new extra-credits episodes in two parts: http://youtu.be/05fxAOCVeWE .
    It’s pretty moving, so keep a tissue at hand.

  22. Meredith says:

    My brother used to climb/fall out of his crib like that. It doesn’t seem to have damaged him too badly, though I am the smart one. ;)

    That shower thing is really odd, but I think the smelly kid theory is probably the best. In which case, I’d have been inclined to let you sit out like Mari said. Maybe it was just some strange YMCA policy? Either way, you’d never catch today’s parents letting it happen. So much paranoia! Edited to add: Good on you for fighting it. I still hate being told what to do.

    I’m also impressed with your recall of early childhood. I have almost no memories of pre-school times, in fact most of my childhood is a blank (which is a bit scary).

  23. StranaMente says:

    Luckly in my nursery school they didn’t make you take showers. Actually it’s the first time I hear something like this happens.
    You could bet I would have screamed, kicked and bited too.
    How could they dare to undress me?!

  24. Deoxy says:

    Yeah, a lot of those symptoms sound autistic-ish. My son hasn’t been officially diagnosed, but he gets along best (BY FAR) with kids that are, and several people (such as the parents of those kids, among others) have all said he seems likely to have autism/Aspergers/whatever they call it now.

    He also climbed REALLY well long before he walked. Odd.

    It’s not quite in the same league, but my wife has celiac disease… which people half the time remember as a wheat “allergy”. No, it’s actually an auto-immune response merely triggered by the gluten, not an allergy. Once tiny exposure can give her cramps, diarrhea, and other fun symptoms for up to three weeks. It’s really fun.

    As to the bathing, the day-care pedo-witch hunts of the 80s pretty well took care of that. There is still at least one person in prison (actually, I just checked and he was finally released in 2004 – Fells Acres Day Care Center case) over that, in a case that supposedly involved anal penetration WITH A LARGE KNIFE that somehow managed to leave no actual physical evidence of the event, that’s how bad the hysteria was.

    • krellen says:

      Autism and Aspergers are lumped together into a category called ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder.

      If anyone wants information on Autism, I work at a centre for disability with a large program on autism, so I can probably find you some resources.

      • Syal says:

        Do you have a link to that? I still don’t know if I’m mildly autistic or just an asshole.

        • krellen says:

          You’re an asshole. They only diagnose children with ASD.

          • Syal says:

            So you grow out of it?

            • Dragomok says:

              Judging by your reply, no, not really.

              You just have to keep you inner swine in check whenever you can.

              …I am being a bad example here.

              …I am a terrible example. I nearly started a flame war on this very site.

            • krellen says:

              No. They just don’t diagnose adults on the spectrum. The uptick of Autism in recent years is partially due to a relaxation of what qualifies as “autistic”.

              • Von Krieger says:

                Yes, they do actually. I was diagnosed with Aspergers Autism last year, and I’m in my late 20’s.

                • Von Krieger says:

                  And the uptick in autism isn’t quite a relaxation of the diagnostic criteria but the creation of the autism spectrum, the inclusion of Asprgers and the increased awareness of autism and aspergers behaviors and symptoms.

                  For example Aspergers wasn’t added to the diagnostic criteria until I was in high school, well after my parents had given up trying to figure out what it was that explained my behavior.

                  So for my elementary and middle school years I went to a private school where I could get 1 on 1 instruction, since I blew my public school classes out of the water and spent the majority of my time reading books rather than doing schoolwork. Since I was usually the first one done.

                  So I was on ritalin for ADHD for eight years.

                • krellen says:

                  Asperger’s is where they start adult diagnoses; there’s areas on the spectrum higher functioning than Asperger’s that kids do get diagnosed with.

  25. Alexander The 1st says:

    It’s that I don’t like having other people take me places and do things with me without my consent.

    So…the beginning of your hatred for railroading plots? :p

  26. John says:

    I hope you’re able to keep this around long-term, Shamus. Both of my grandmothers got autobiographical at one point, so now we have actual nicely bound books of their memoirs. Where it was really, truly wonderful was when my wife was able to read them. Having never met one grandmother, and barely met the other late in senility, it gave her a great picture for them and thus also to her new father and mother-in-law.

    And you get cool things like “My grandmother won medals in sharpshooting competitions during WWII?” (apparently a number of Army wives took up rifle training, at least where she was)

    So it’d be great if your kid-in-laws and grandkids can read this all decades down the road.

  27. Skyy_High says:

    I’m surprised no one’s called you Brandon Young yet.

    (A Song of Ice and Fire, for those who don’t get it).

    Also: this installment has put a fresh spin on your campaigns against DRM and railroading RPGs. They make a lot more sense now, particularly how personal the issues seem to be with you.

  28. Destrustor says:

    I am also very reluctant to doing things out of my routine. Sure I can understand the rationale for wanting me to do stuff, and I can agree wholeheartedly with it, but I will still always try to worm my way out of it or at least put it off until as late as possible. Even when it is something I want/need to do and nobody else is putting pressure.
    It may just be that I’m lazy, though.

  29. McNutcase says:

    Ah, climbers. It’s amazing how many of us survived. I have scarring from that too; climbed up a fence, fell down onto a rusty pot, and wound up with an inpressive scar that starts on my forehead, bisects my left eyebrow (causing it to not work properly in rain) and continues round towards the temple.

    I honestly can’t imagine not being able to interact with dogs. I’ve always lived in animal-friendly (although you’d probably say animal-infested) households. Heck, there’s a cat on my lap as I type this.

  30. Jeff says:

    “No, it doesn’t matter how often you vacuum or that your dog “barely sheds at all”. It’s poison to me, and unless you plan to change the carpets, get new furniture, repaint, and completely purge the duct-work, that isn’t going to change.”

    I’m not deathly allergic to cats, but this sums up my views succinctly. Generally within 30 minutes I start having trouble breathing, and if it’s long enough I’ll be gasping and wheezing with teary eyes and itchy skin. No matter how “clean” their home supposedly is.

    I also see no value in useless pets. (It’s different for animals with a purpose, like a sheepdog or babysitter.) If I was going to shell out hundreds of dollars on a companion, a human one is a better investment. Imagine asking your significant other “Hon, would you rather I spent this thousand dollars on you, or my dog?”

    • Syal says:

      Good luck getting your significant other to take the worm medicine though.

    • Alexander The 1st says:

      “Well, actually, I’d prefer you spend this thousand dollars on me, and that thousand dollars on your dog.”

      Just saying. :p

      Also, bit of an extension:

      “But dad, I don’t have a use for a thousand dollars. I want a pony.”

      • Dragomok says:

        “Well, actually, I’d prefer you spend this thousand dollars on me, and that thousand dollars on my dog.”

        The Internet. Giving you the right to “fix” strangers’ comments since THERE IS NO WAY I’M GOING TO LOOK WHEN THAT CUSTOM STARTED

    • Raygereio says:

      I also see no value in useless pets. (It’s different for animals with a purpose, like a sheepdog or babysitter.)

      Good thing that you put that note there at the end, because otherwise I’d have pointed out that my dogs have stoped 2 robberies and one home invasion.
      Then again, I’ll freely admit that my cats are freeloaders.

      • Aldowyn says:

        Are there cats that AREN’T freeloaders?

        It’s just nice to have animals around. I’m more of a cat person, but I can’t deny that dogs are more useful here. (Clarification: Bigger dogs. I suppose a Chihuahua COULD be an early warning system, but… no.) I like cats better because they don’t bug me so much. And they’re cool :D

  31. ZapperDude says:

    Little Shamus sounds so cute! I really like this autobiography. Here’s for the rest! *Salutes*

  32. RichVR says:

    You had the cutest pudgy wittle cheeks. :-)

  33. “I don’t know when or how it’s decided, but every once in a while they line us up and march us off to the showers.”

    Regarding this statement, was the MASSIVELY uncomfortable association with a certain historical atrocity intentional? I shouldn’t say intentional…more accurate to inquire if you were aware that a connection could be made. Cause I made it (I’m like that), and that bumped this story up into the penthouse suite of nightmare fuel.

  34. uberfail says:

    My region has no culture of communal showers, so as i read the forced-shower reminded me more of certain events in the 40’s than anything else.

  35. Zlan says:

    I don’t like having to be forced to do things either. Witch is a reason I don’t like schools or camps. Were gana be here for a while so why can’t I MOVE FIVE FEET ON A CAMP GROUND. I mapped most of the area from the out side and I have a signal so WHY WONT YOU LET ME MOVE.
    I’ve apparently been unnoticed by most of them because I didn’t know I couldn’t leave till I lapped it five times and returned looking for me in the same 5 feet. And Asked to go home since I already have seen all the animals of the area that I wouldn’t see with 5 stomping, loud, annoying kids and an adult ranting on how beautiful it is.

  36. Aldowyn says:

    I don’t remember hardly anything about being a kid. My memory is… odd, in the first place. I don’t remember the way it looked, or even sound. Mostly I just remember what happened – even if it was earlier today. That being said, I forget things a lot faster and easier. I don’t really remember how my days went by until like 9th grade (I’m only in 12th now), just isolated incidents. To be fair, I’ve had a REALLY sketchy background. Public, private, home-schooled, back to public again.

    FACTS, as opposed to events, on the other hand, stick to me WAY after I learn them. Just how I work for some reason.

    As for being a kid… besides the being a techy (using a mouse at the age of 3: Priceless) and being too smart for my own good (I used to regularly finish homework while the teacher was still explaining it and then get in trouble for reading while she was talking. In first grade. :/), I never really listened to ANYONE without a good reason. Even my parents. I asked “Why” I should do things an awful lot. Combined with stubbornness… I’ve had some problems.

    Still do. STILL gets me in trouble.

    • Funny Money Guy says:

      I used to get in trouble for that when I was taking calculus 3 years ahead of schedule… I was sitting in with the 12th graders as a 10th grader, I had already absorbed the lesson about derivatives and second order derivatives, read the lesson in the book, and (successfully) did some practice problems in the book.

      And so, I had my sci fi book out and was reading about blowing up aliens when the teacher (who is normally very nice to me, maybe he was having a bad day) looked at me quite annoyed and asked if there was a problem. I looked up from my book with a confused look and said:
      “Um… no?”
      “Oh really? So perhaps you can tell me the answers to the Qs on the board, then?” (they were similar to the practic problems I had just done in the book)

      “Oh, um, sure. Hold on.”
      {Scanning the whiteboard, it says: Give the second order derivatives for a) 12x^2 + 24x + 12 b) x^3 + 6x^2 + 6x + 3 c) e^x}
      “24. 6x+12. e^x.” {My nose goes back into the book.}

      The teacher left me alone for the rest of that class and any time after that when I was reading sci-fi in class.
      Also, all the 12th graders hated me (well… hated me MORE).

  37. Veloxyll says:

    I did the same thing with kitties. I used to SLEEP on our cat. Funnily enough I was always sick :D. Never murderously allergic, but it still sucks. I still <3 kitty though (and we still have a cat!).
    Bonus points to my mother when she fed me spinach to

    I was never that averse to following orders but.

  38. Aow says:

    Interesting, I find myself in it but I have difficulties to remember that well my past.

    btw, why my rss feed shows me part 3 before part 1 ?

  39. Perseus says:

    It’s too bad you weren’t born later. If a kid refused to take off his clothes for a shower today, could you imagine someone besides their parents actually forcing them to? They’d at /least/ get sued.

  40. Gordon says:

    ooh! you hit your head a lot too? man, from age three to age eight, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have stitches or a lump on my head. my parents called them “Moose Eggs,” and I just sort of assumed that everyone had them. good times. at least the parts where my brother wasn’t dropping shelves and TVs on me…

  41. Jarenth says:

    So, I’m looking at the second black-and-white picture baby Shamus. Now I’m scrolling up and looking at current-day avatar Shamus.

    Those dopey smiles are identical.

  42. Oh..but what about taking a shit?
    When I was young I hated “pre school” cause I didnt clean my own ass yet, so Id avoid take a shit cause having strangers cleaning my ass was fucked up (and I was shy as hell)..I dont have any good memories of pre school >.>
    ( I dont know exactly if its pre school what Im talking about, my english is not so sharp )

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