Monthly Archives: May 2013

Banish the Banshee

It has been just slightly more than 24 hours since summer “break” began. The boys carried out their end-of-school-year tradition of shrieking like banshees and generally behaving like crazy people. I suppose this is a thing now—-this manic transition from basically decent students to bloodthirsty hounds as we enter the summer months.

By 3:50 yesterday afternoon, I had that moment: the one where I considered driving them back to their sundry schools and dropping them off before I started sounding like a banshee myself, wailing and darkly foreshadowing somebody’s doom.

It has gotten better since then. At 4:00 PM yesterday I cracked 20 eggs in a big red bowl and whipped up a batch of Texas-sized French toast with bacon, and calmed those mangy hounds. Dinner at 4:15? With breakfast foods? This is how we do it.

After all the wigging out subsided, two shopping runs were complete, and the three youngest fell asleep, I had a niggling recollection from the afternoon chaos. At one point as I barked out orders and angrily fought for a return to peace (the irony!), Charlie scowled at me and said, “You stop shouting.”

Touché, little boy.

Later at the store, Henry asked me why I seemed so mad and impatient as he chose a new swimsuit.

Essentially, I was wrecking our outing in my own crazed summer adjustment period. And I’m the grown up.

So this morning as I cooked hash browns, administered meds, moved laundry, and supervised chores, I did a sanity-saving thing. I bagged the planned zoo outing that nobody except me seemed remotely interested in.

We went to Grandma’s house instead where we ate sandwiches and Henry mowed. Baby toddled around Grandpa’s garden and Jack pretended to give himself shots in the stomach with a toy syringe from a now-scattered play doctor’s kit.

And I acknowledged that while it often feels like no one is listening to me, they’re actually paying attention because, by default, I set the tone around here. Honestly speaking, the guys take their social cues from me.

So stop yelling mom, and enjoy summer so everyone else will too.

Hopping Fences & Bunnies

Charlie has a hankering these days for hopping the fence of our neighbors to the south.

He will jump the fence if the neighbors’ four-year-old is bouncing on his trampoline and urging Chach to climb over and join him.

But he really doesn’t need even that much coaxing. He’ll hop that tall, solid wood privacy fence (obediently stained Monterey Grey in HOA compliance—we’re lawful like that) at the drop of a hat.

Like on Mother’s Day, for instance: the much-celebrated mom (me) couldn’t find Chachi and went outside hollering his name. Not to worry! Charlie, wearing too-small tractor jammies and a pull-up, had hopped the fence and joined in the neighbors’ lovely and dignified Mother’s Day brunch on the patio.

The neighbor to the south is very kind and understanding, considering that on any given day, she may wake to find a pajama-clad, barefoot Charlie standing in her hallway, telling her that he got new feet.

Just last Sunday as we dressed and combed and shod the boys, we realized we hadn’t seen Charlie for awhile. It won’t take long to guess to whence he disappeared.

I looked out Charlie’s little round south-facing bedroom window and saw him on the neighbors’ patio, sitting by his four-year-old friend, enjoying a plate of French toast.

While at times he can be a ball of nerves, Charlie doesn’t seem to mind the menagerie of pets in the neighbors’ yard. Unless they unexpectedly leave their yard and venture into ours.

Then it’s Armageddon.

Just last Saturday, we were aware that the four-year-old neighbor’s bunny had escaped. All the neighbors were on the prowl for him.

Charlie was the first to notice the tiny black and white bunny in the driveway. Jeff figured this out when Charlie went ballistic, losing all his capacity for speech, as he spun wildly off into the stratosphere, like a screaming Sputnik.

My husband calmly and logically explained (he is an engineer, see) that the next several minutes of watching the bunny gently hop under our car felt exactly like that scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail where King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table crouch warily, watching for the deadly cave monster.

Is it behind the rabbit? Asks one.

It IS the rabbit!” Warns another.

We all know what happens next. Even Charlie seemed to know, though he has yet to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Run away! Run Away! 

He stayed on our side of the fence this time, but only because crossing it would have meant running toward the bunny.

Summer Wicked This Way Comes

It’s a long weekend, and it isn’t over yet. Here are a few things which happened:

A) Jack and I rode a train together. It was a peaceful drive through a lovely canyon to get to the Day Out With Thomas event. It was the last train trip of the evening, and things were perfectly low-key. We were by far the oldest mom and son duo there.

Jack was a peach. Trains thrill him.

B) We went to a rodeo, where Henry explained all the comings and goings of a PRCA rodeo to his younger cousins, and where Jack danced gleefully in his seat. The wind blew like nobody’s business.

A saddle bronc rider fell from his bucking horse and lay completely still for fifteen minutes in the dirt while paramedics strapped him to a board and drove him away. This is the trouble with rodeos: death and catastrophic injury lurk too closely. The announcer said the injured cowboy was moving his arms and talking, so I’m praying he simply got his bell rung and has now recovered.

Jack fell apart in a big loud way long before the barrel-racing and bull-riding commenced. We made a grand, noisy, early exit.

C) During church, we noticed that Jack’s left ear had something in it. In hushed whispers during sacrament meeting we brainstormed what it could be. It looked like crumpled wads of paper. Then it resembled pea gravel. Next time we looked, it was gone. I worry he pushed whatever it was farther into his ear. Jeff thinks it fell out.

That blasted left ear: it’s the gift that keeps on giving (giving crappy wads of fungus and infected pus, that is).

D) People have been asking me about my summer strategy. Will I focus on creating a super-structured daily framework for the boys? Will I employ yet more helpers? Will I have a core meltdown? (Please note, I am not referring to my core muscles; they melted down for good three pregnancies ago).

Want to know my summer strategy? This is it: survival and simplicity. Alliterative summer mottoes are good for the forgetful mommy brain.

Just keep it simple, and stay alive, baby. That is my M.O.

E) I had a chat with my friend Becky, who dreads summer “break” as only a mom of a kid with special needs can. She said that she used to be Super Fun Summer Mom Extraordinaire, but that the new limitations in her family have blown that out of the water. I said that I have a hard time comparing our über-restricted summer days with the fun summer schedules so many other families seem to experience. Most of the parents in the special needs Facebook group I follow feel guilt about focusing so much of their energy on their child with disabilities, while their other children get less of their attention.

It’s a season so many people love for the weather and the freedom and the relaxation. For me, summer equates to exhaustion.

Tired doesn’t necessarily have to mean bad. We will survive. We will pare down, relax, and just chill, (pronounces the mom, with some trepidation).

Simplicity, boys. Breathe it in and get used to it.

If nothing else, I’m going to teach the guys the meaning of the term siesta.

The Bus Stops Here

It is the debut of summertime this weekend. But my thoughts are pondering three months from now, when my three elementary school-aged children will attend three different schools: one just around the corner, one a few blocks to the east, and one in a neighboring town.

I am not doing this to complicate my life. It’s too late for that, snort! This situation arises from the reality of my boys’ vastly different needs.

Charlie has qualified for small-group kindergarten, which I think is the perfect fit for him to begin his school years successfully. Enduring the nightmare that was the school district’s Early Childhood Assessment Center paid off in spades when their cumbersome testing resulted in a positive, happy, spot-on placement for Chachi.

Jack attends a small-group autism class at his dream boat of a special needs school not too far away. It’s essentially perfect. I hope they let him stay there until he’s 30.

This year will be the first wherein Henry will walk to his charter school a stone’s throw from home, while his nine and five-year-old brothers will ride two different busses which will pluck them from our porch each morning, and hand-deliver them back home every afternoon.

The sum total of two different busses making two daily appearances at our home, five days a week, results in twenty weekly front-yard bus pick-ups/drop-offs. If you weren’t aware that we aren’t your typical family, this might be a substantial, yellow, diesel-fueled clue.

The whole situation makes me laugh. It’s funny. It’s us.

Once at a toddler music class, one of the other moms asked which school my kids attended. I explained that while my eldest went to one school, his younger brother had attended five different nearby schools from preschool to third grade, moving wherever the right special-needs placement happened to be.  A couple of the moms quipped that they would hate that. I was pregnant and miserable and simply didn’t have the heart or the energy to cobble together a soapbox and explain that I am deeply grateful for the fabulously helpful resources available to a family like ours, where the kids aren’t all formed from the same cookie cutter and can’t conveniently attend the same neighborhood school. I ignored them and went back to swallowing the churning, nauseating bile while my three-year-old and I pounded on bongo drums.

I read a blog post recently by a special-needs mom—a kindred spirit. She simply titled it Disability is Inconvenient, which is the truest understatement ever. It isn’t convenient to have three elementary-aged sons at three different schools. Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day class parties are a logistical nightmare: they always seem to happen at precisely the same time! 

But here is the fabulous part: these educational options exist. They are in schools all around us. While they aren’t always perfect, overall they are pretty great. They are helping me educate my children–my little bright, funny, unique, enigma people. And for this, I am thrilled. 

Future Me

There is a scene in the new Star Trek movie Into Darkness where ***SPOILER ALERT***this happens:

Spock speaks to an older version of himself, coolly played by Leonard Nimoy (obviously). I’m not Trekkie enough to explain how people can speak to themselves forty years in the future while still living, youthful and in the present, but it fascinated me.
Sign me up. I want to go to there.
I get that this is sci-fi. I know it isn’t real. But I really wouldn’t mind talking to myself thirty or forty years hence. 
I’d like to ask myself the following questions:
1. Do Child #2 and Child #3 ever fully potty train? And if so, is it very many light years from now?
2. What are the older years like? Are they any less strenuous? And will I make it there without suffering a complete mental breakdown of the mothership?
That’s pretty much all I want to know. 
Plus, I wouldn’t mind seeing what my elderly self looks like. Would it be shocking, or would I think myself a lovely sight, thick and saggy and wrinkled?
In the movie, Old Spock gives young Spock a few curt answers to questions about how he handles a person who is causing a life-threatening situation to everyone aboard the Enterprise. His words are just enough to give young Spock the courage to carry on.
I mean seriously, how great would that be—hearing from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, about how your own life plays out? 
I’ll just float this little notion in the stratosphere, just in case:  If Old Me somehow manages to bend the space/time continuum and shows up in the flesh, I’m ready with my questions and my willingness to suspend disbelief.

A Mother’s Day Gift

Mother’s Day is purported to be a day of fresh flower bouquets and scrum-diddly-uptious breakfasts in bed. It’s a well-meaning holiday which, like most, has taken a turn toward commercialization.

For many moms, Mother’s Day is kind of a bear. While we all enjoy getting a lovely bouquet and a preschooler’s handcrafted gifts, there is the uglier side to this day which plays out internally in many a mom.

It’s a day of high expectations. A day of self-evaluation and often self-condemnation. It’s a day of introspection, which can yield an array of mothering inadequacies. It’s a day of guilt.

Today at church, I spoke with my neighbors Leanne and Becky about how hard Mother’s Day is. Becky was emotional talking about how this is a day which reminds her of just how difficult motherhood is, and how on many days she feels it’s crushing weight. Leanne said her children have known for years how much she deplores this day and warns them to just ignore it.

For several years when Jack was small, I avoided Sacrament Meeting at church on Mother’s Day because it was too painful for me to listen to the speakers and the singing children paying tribute to idealized motherhood.

Motherhood was kicking my trash.

I wept all through those programs thinking that I couldn’t even teach my special-needs son to point at something he wanted, let alone teach him everything about heaven and earth that a well-rounded child should know to live a decent life. It was a day which emphasized my inadequacy and which made me feel that for me, motherhood was a strange animal, different and definitely not domesticated (ironic, as much of being a mother is domestic).

When the primary children sang sweet songs to their mothers, I pondered sadly how Jack could not participate because of his limitations. I felt that this was a holiday for moms of typical children, who were potty trained and verbal and able to follow directions and perform as a group in front of a large congregation.

As much as I was grateful to be a mom, I didn’t want to be reminded how spectacularly formative and  patient and loving and capable mothers are.

It was all too much.

At church today, I sat by my friend Jenn. She asked me the most intuitive, pointed questions about being a mother to my unique children. Then she listened, and didn’t cut me off with stories of her own (which is probably what I would have done). Talking to someone who genuinely wanted to understand my life and who listened with compassion and without judgement was a sweet Mother’s Day experience for me.

I cried poor Jenn a river. I told her about Charlie and coming to terms with a second set of different special needs. I told her about my struggle to find the energy and capacity to handle two special children. I told her that the first person who asks me if I think Truman will have deficits or issues of his own will earn a gold star followed by a punch in the face. I told her I am grateful for my family of boys and especially for the tender mercies I experience in my journey to raise them.

And because God loves me and because Jenn is a kindred spirit, this is what she said to me, “This is a day to honor you as a mother of children who are harder to raise.”

This statement validated all my struggles even as it gave credence to my efforts, regardless of their effectiveness. It included me in the ranks of Good Moms Everywhere, despite my strange family dynamic and our crazy methods of functioning.

It was a Mother’s Day gift.

Patchwork

I’m grateful today for:

* My mother-in-law for carrying on a lovely tradition of showing up at our house before Mothers’ Day and planting flowers in the beds in my front yard. Her gifted green thumb sets our garden on a less-shameful trajectory than if it were left solely to me and mine. Today she brought lavender and zinnias and a sweet reminder of just how nice moms can be.

* Jack’s therapy iPad, which didn’t break when Jack threw it across the room in an angry fit. Though it crashed into my grandmother’s china cupboard and then landed face-down on the hardwood, the screen did not shatter and mercifully it still works. Big. Fat. Sigh. I could kiss an Apple product engineer.

* Lilac bushes blossoming in springtime and filling our backyard with their intoxicating smell. (Why can’t the earth smell like this always? And why can’t this same mild temperature stick around for more than two weeks in May and two weeks in September?)

* Our toddler basketball phenom for cracking us all up with his obsessed shooting, swooshing, and pseudo-dribbling. And for an eleven-year-old, who repeatedly reminds us that “we have a little Jimmer on our hands. Baby’s shots are on the money.”

* Indestructible new vinyl floors which stand up to Code Browns. Also a closet full of cleaning supplies which make the CB’s disappear in a timely manner. (On a side note: while I’m thankful for man-made wood-look floors which stand up to constant poop-smearing better than actual wood floors, I’m not overly grateful that I know this from personal experience.)

* Jumping on the tramp with Charlie, who likes to go “fast up” and be chased in circles and curl up on my lap when I need a breather.

* Date night, which shimmers on the horizon. And for Jazmin, a magical babysitter.

* A vintage-y hand-pieced patchwork quilt in yellow, Tiffany blue, and pink from my mom. That she has always taught me about giving and generosity by doing it. For a thing of beauty which a reminds me of her.

* My one functioning vacuum and the locked furnace room where it lives, safely hidden from the death clutches of Jack. It’s no Dyson, (in fact, it’s a $40 Bissel, snort!) but it still has all it’s parts and it can suck. Grateful too for a family-room rug with no cereal, chip crumbs, or ground-in smashed Junior Mints currently underfoot.

* Jeff, who cleans up a pee-pee puddle on the couch while I am dealing with the pee-pee-er.

* Weekends, and their offering of something different than weekday routines.

Garden Party

Yesterday while Jeff fixed all the sprinkler heads in the backyard (broken sprinkler heads brought to you by Jacky), I spent approximately 27 minutes applying sunscreen to everyone, packing snacks, overseeing people getting pottied and shod, and piling them in the car for an outing to the tulip festival at the gardens.

Jack got mad en route for some unknown reason and by the time we pulled into the crazy overflowing parking lot, he was in full shriek mode with a side of kicking and flailing. I like to think of myself as possessing tenacity, which in this situation meant I pressed onward with our outing anyway. I am such an idiot.
I pulled my two little boys in the wagon and held onto screaming Jack’s flailing hand as we navigated our way through a ridiculously zoo-like crowd of people who likewise came to see the tulips and apparently to participate in some princess-themed event. This I deduced from swarms of little girls everywhere dressed as princesses. I’m smart like that. These girls were behaving nicely, as princesses should (obviously).
I persevered toward the garden entrance with my pack of boys. Jack loudly announced our presence with his sobs and screams. Charlie shouted at Jack to stop shouting. Baby kept calm and carried on riding in the wagon (poor innocent child who thinks that we are a normal family).
When Jack went all Gandhi on me and lay down on the blacktop, I finally wheeled the little red wagon around and peeled my kid off the driveway. We retraced our steps to our van amid crying and screaming. We bailed. 
Inside the car, Jack stopped impersonating Gandhi and started kicking Charlie in the back and head. I confiscated Jack’s shoes (projectiles) and water bottle (instrument of torture when poured down the back of an unsuspecting brother), and comforted Chachi. We went home.
The rest of the afternoon post failed garden excursion, the familiar lyrics of The Gambler played in my mind: You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run….

We walked away. People in fanny packs and tank tops and princess costumes stared at us. The din of Jack melting down filled the parking lot. Sigh.
It was a scene not unlike many others in previous days at the farm, the park, the movies, the rec center, the pool, the grocery store, the dino museum, and the food court. Every time it happens, I existentially ask myself if this is really still happening. Jack turns nine next week and yep, it is.
But here is something terrific: while Saturday afternoon was a bunch of stinky cheese, Sunday afternoon was a pleasant breeze. In a Cinco de Mayo miracle, the entire family made it through all of church! Take that, three-hour-block! We don’t need no stinkin’ Kenny Rogers lyrics to kick your can down the street. 
Jeff and I experienced the thrill of victory when we dropped off Littlest for his first day in the church nursery. Baby of the family is 18-months-old, can I get a heck yeah!? He toddled in happily and promptly found the baby basketball hoop. Out in the hallway, we high-fived and smugly bumped fists. 
Weekend accomplished.

The Not-So-Cohesive Post

A few disconnected (possibly bizarre) free-floating thoughts:

1) I think I need a Lindt 70% dark chocolate section of my food storage, and I need to bulk up on it now, before summer “break” rears it’s big toothy horse head.

2) I’ve noticed that every coming-of-age movie features a mom character who is either a) sad or b) quietly depressed and/or c) vacant-eyed. After our movie date last Saturday, I experienced that moment when I realized that I have become that vacant-eyed mom–the one staring blandly at the messes springing up spontaneously around her. If my family were a movie, Henry would be the charming adolescent star growing up in a quirky family with two special younger brothers, a toddler buddy, and a vacant-eyed mom (me) who floats around in the background. Jeff would undoubtedly have some good scenes as an understanding pop–one who expects a lot of his growing eldest boy, but who also remembers what it’s like to be a kid. (Starring in such a Henry-centric film would really go to somebody’s head, I can confidently predict).

3) In an angry (yet genius) burst of passion, I removed a bunch of fashion bloggers from my Instagram feed yesterday. Go show off your 22-year-old size zero self with your endless array of #anthropologie, #jcrew, #toryburch, #outfitoftheday selfies to somebody who cares. I’ll go back to happily enjoying my sweatsuit and my purple Nikes. Or my Tevas and my stretchy skirt. I’m a mom! Nobody cares how I look, so I mainly dress for comfort and function! (That would be a fashion blog that would go nowhere, snort!)

4) Lifestyle bloggers. Why do they irritate me so? Is it because their lives appear so effortlessly perfect and stylish and stress-free? Is it because their blogs amplify the value of the way things look, how much they cost, how stylish and creative they are, and how exotic their leisure-time recreation appears? When I read them, I feel an intense urge to glare at them and start slowly sarcastic-clapping, while snarking to myself, “Yay for your perfect little revenue-generating, self-congratulatory blog life!”

5) Some of the best inventions ever are the following: ebooks which float magically through the cloud to my Kindle app in less than 60 seconds; closed-circuit Jack Cam technology which thwarts a late-evening Code Brown attempt; and squeaky green pacifiers which are saving our bacon with a certain angry, teething toddler.

6) I am supposed to teach a Mission Prep class to a bunch of pre-missionary young men and women this weekend. I have not yet served a full-time mission. Okey dokey, folks. My strategy is going to be this: approach the material from the perspective of someone who is working with LDS missionaries–perhaps warily, and with some trepidation, but also with a growing conviction and belief in the Savior’s plan. That, and I will serve them lots of cookies. It just might work.