Mommy Sticks

My family jokes that Martin is “momnmy-centric.” Very mommy-centric.

If I am in the vicinity, Martin is all about me. An interaction with another adult might transpire this way:

Adult, to Martin: “Martin, what did you do at school today?”

Martin, to me: “Mommy, did I go to school last Thursday?”

Me: “Martin, [other adult] asked you a question.”

Martin, to me: “We went to gym class.”

Me: “Can you tell that to [other adult]?”

Martin, to me: “No.”

Mommy-centric Martin needs to talk with me constantly, regardless of whether others are present. One particularly annoying derivative of constant talking is Martin’s anxious reliance on saying, “Mommy.” He might attach “Mommy” to continuous questions, related or unrelated, as in—

“Mommy, is today Friday? Mommy, is Freddie in the basement? Mommy, what am I having for dinner? Mommy? Mommy, is Daddy in the office? How do we spell ‘course’? Are we going on vacation next year, Mommy? Mommy, can you talk to me? Mommy?”

Other times there isn’t so much as even a question with the “Mommy.” He just calls “Mommy!” because he wants to know I’m present, or because he’s nervous, or because someone else has spoken to him, or because he needs to be talking but has nothing to say, or because—. If Martin is eating breakfast and I exit the kitchen, “Mommy!”, yelled from the table, will follow me down the hall. If Martin is playing and I go to the bathroom, I can expect at least four or five “Mommy!” cries before I reemerge. If I plead, “Martin, can you please stop saying ‘Mommy’ for a few minutes?”, he responds with something like, “I’m not going to talk at all. That’s it. I’m not going to talk at all! Mommy, should I not talk at all? Mommy?”

The habit is annoying, to be sure. Even more problematic, other children have started to notice and use it as a reason to tease Martin. At a birthday party not long ago (effin’ birthday parties!), Martin called to me non-stop from the table where the children sat to eat. By the time the pizza was cleared and cake arrived, a couple girls near Martin were mockingly yelling, “Mommy-mommy-mommy-mommy-mommy!” Martin’s cousins Luke and Rosie, who are visiting right now, say, “Oh, mommy-mommy” whenever Martin is absent and we mention his name.

Some behaviors demand radical solutions. Introducing: mommy sticks.

Each morning, since Sunday, I place a glass on the kitchen counter and fill it with 25 pipe cleaners, which I call mommy sticks. When Martin says “Mommy,” I remove one pipe cleaner. If, at bedtime, one or more sticks remain in the glass, Martin wins a surprise. Nothing major. An Angry Birds pencil. Stickers. A coin-sized plastic car. The prize isn’t that important; Martin likes to win, so incentive-based systems work well.

I don’t distinguish among uses of “Mommy.” It might, for example, be completely legitimate for Martin to yell, “Mommy! I think the stove is on fire,” or, “Mommy! Is the cat supposed to be eating off my dinner plate?” Still, doing so would cost him a mommy stick, just as much as randomly calling “Mommy” to the wind. My goal is to get Martin to think about why he’s saying “Mommy,” and whether doing so is worth a mommy stick, instead of vocalizing by habit.

So far, I’m giving two thumbs up to mommy sticks. Four days in a row, Martin has won the prize, and Adrian and I have noticed a marked decrease in “Mommy!” floating around the house. Yesterday, Martin snidely tempted fate; when he saw about a dozen sticks left, he looked directly at me and said, “Mommy. Mommy. Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.” I extracted five pipe cleaners. Still he met his goal. That moment notwithstanding, I hope the system continues to function.

And I wish all behaviors could be addressed this easily.

Oranges, bananas, apples, avocados, onions, and mommy sticks. That's the kitchen counter in our ASD household.

Oranges, bananas, apples, avocados, onions, and mommy sticks. That’s the kitchen counter in our ASD household.

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