Monthly Archives: July 2013

Baby It’s Hot Outside

This is the difference between summertime and the other seasons:

1. Daylight arrives early and stays late, which means…

2. Bedtime is moot. This is hard on a mom who needs just a bit of breathing room.

3. The children never leave. Thanks for not telling me how one day when they do leave, I will miss them and yearn for the days when they were little.

4. The house enters an eternal state of messes, despite constant cleaning.

5. Dinner is MIA. There is no savory crock pot dish or simmering soup. There is only hummus, tortilla chips, blueberries, watermelon, cheese, and crackers. And Oreos. And dark chocolate coconut almonds, eaten compulsively. Forage for your dinner.

6. Lots of swimming happens, in an outdoor pool over which shimmers one hundred degree waves of heat.

7. There is no time for books. No books makes me crabby.

8. There is time for a few family excursions to the mountains, which are lovely.

9. Walking outside barefoot is a valid option.

10. The guys need random car outings and a change of scenery, as do I.

11. My birthday happens.

12. My short-term memory goes out to lunch.

Muddling Through

Is there a word or a phrase that you just can’t stand hearing? You know how that is, just wanting to cringe when you hear a word that irritates you? 

Maybe this is an English major problem.

Or maybe you’re like my sister, who cringes whenever she hears the word moist because she thinks it sounds so very gross, especially when my other sisters realize how much she hates the word and make a point to use it repeatedly on a family vacation in a moist subtropical place.

Perhaps it’s something like the phrase “couldn’t care less,” which people constantly misquote without realizing that it completely changes the meaning without that n’t at the end.

It could be something like the oft-repeated, “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it,” often attributed to Jesus, but which (my husband likes to point out) Jesus never actually said, people.  It’s a made-up quote and it’s misrepresented origin makes Jeff crazy. This, from my hubs, who intentionally mispronounces place names, making Evanston into Evingston just to annoy people.

Like I said, maybe these are English major problems. Or problems faced when one is married to an English major type.

Well either way, the other day at church I heard someone use the word amazing to describe the parents of a special-needs child. The word amazing is frequently assigned to such parents, who can find it difficult to swallow because it feels a little lofty and frankly untrue. It’s a word which applies pressure, even as it attempts to indicate respect.

It’s a word that makes me cringe.

I get that when people say it, they are being kind. They mean it honestly. But I wish to respectfully disagree.

Amazing is a Vera Wang wedding gown on a glowing bride. It’s a lemon raspberry cupcake. It’s a cool dip in the swimming pool on a July afternoon. It is the view from the top of Mountair into Parley’s Canyon. It is a summer morning when children sleep late and wake up happy.

Amazing is harder to swallow when you’re angry plenty of the time, and frustrated, and ready to knock the block off the next person who drops a deuce on the rug. Amazing should move on to the next house, because the mom at this house gets snippy and sharp when everyone is pestering her with their sensory input needs and their communication delays, and she often feels furious about the omnipresent messes. Amazing needs to go away.

As someone who is mostly just muddling through, I think we should bring things down a notch. 

So anyway, back to church. There I sat in Gospel Doctrine, listening to this person tell a couple of my neighbors that they are amazing parents as they journey to raise their son with special needs. I listened and cringed a little.

Mostly because the person using the word amazing was me.

It was me. I said it, and immediately regretted it—not because it was untrue, but because I know how I feel about amazing. 

I wish I had said this instead: bless you.

Or this: that must be hard.

Or this: tell me about your son.

Because amazing is for sunsets and frocks and luscious desserts. Not so much for a real, wacky life.

Dog Days

I’m that mom: that mean witch-woman who is so rude because she will not let her children have a dog. 

It seems practically un-American, as my dad likes to tell me. 

When the boys beg for a dog, I always respond the same way. I tell them I will consider it when
every last one of them is 100% potty-trained. In this nutty house where three boys of four do their two-sies in all the wrong places, this means we may begin dog negotiation talks in roughly five to seven years.

I’m a real battle-axe, I know.

I haven’t always been this way. I used to adore dogs. I grew up with our overweight sheltie, Theodore, sleeping on the floor by my bed for years. We put up with his food-begging ways and his constant tendency to herd children into tidy groups.

The first dog my family owned was a spastic black lab named Meatball. He ran away after just a few days.

Our next dog was a hyperactive white husky named Jake, who appeared in our house one Christmas morning. Our delight with the puppy who shredded the wrapping paper and wet on the presents later turned to irritation. Turns out our wild Christmas dog had a penchant for chewing everything. He gnawed holes in our gloves and snowpants. He ate the brown and yellow floral banana seat off my sister’s bike. He bit our fingers. His palate did not discriminate.

We hit the jackpot with our third dog, Bijou, who was a royal queen among collies. She was gentle and perfect, dignified and lovely.

My memories of Bijou and Theo, and later Sally (oh sweet, sassy Sal!) are blessed. I loved them.

But here’s the thing: the people who want me to approve this notion of getting a dog are not the people who clean up after three boys who won’t do their daily constitutionals in the potty.

A few years ago I read humorist Bob Tarte’s strange, funny book Enslaved by Ducks. He and his wife are these city folks who move to rural Michigan and start compulsively buying, adopting, and rehabilitating any down-on-it’s-luck duck, chicken, goose, or tropical house bird which comes their way. Tarte does something which made me want to throw my copy of Enslaved by Ducks at him. He whines about how their ever-burgeoning bird brood must be forced to drink antibiotics to overcome various illnesses.

As I read, I had a few things I wanted to say to this funny man, which included but were not limited to:

1) Get a grip.

2) We are talking about ducks here, ducks that you admit to loathing much of the time. 

3) If you’re going to complain about administering meds to a barnyard pet, you picked the wrong reader to whine to. 

4) A frazzled mom of special-needs kids, who has totally had to force-feed her kid anti-nausea meds among other things, can’t make herself care about your duck drug woes. 

Anyhow, some people think I’m mean because I’ve adopted a pragmatic stance about potty-pooping trumping “family pet.”

But I value the shreds of my sanity more than I care about being seen as a harpy.

Got Exigence?

This evening Jack said a new word. Actually it was a phrase. And it was quite wonderfully intelligible and situation-specific.

We were a loaded van returning from the football chalk talk, and when we turned right toward home, instead of left (toward French fries),  Jack started bellowing.

It got a little raucous. Henry had to switch places with his pal to sit next to Jack and thwart the angry flailing.

When Henry “shushed” Jack, Jack responded with a clear, “Shut up.”

We all dissolved into laughter and then congratulatory comments directed at our surprise talker.

Parents don’t typically applaud the first usage of this particular phrase, but it was so exciting to hear Jack use new words, and to use them appropriately. Well, as “appropriate” as the words shut up can be.

In graduate school, my thesis advisor Keith Grant-Davie was a British ex-pat who thrilled in masterful uses of written and spoken language. His famous refrain about any paper or idea was this question: does it contain exigence?

His point was that without a tangible sense of current and vital relevance, any idea we floated was dead in the water. Got Exigence? he cheekily commented on our paper drafts. In other words, whatever you’re saying had better matter to the larger discussion of the topic, particularly at this moment in time.

Tonight when he debuted his first verbal shut up, Jacky nailed Keith Grant-Davie’s number one requirement for self-expression. Did it fulfill the exigency requisite? Indeed, it did.

I wanted to roll down my window and shout joyously to the world, “My son just told his brother to shut up!”

But it would have lacked exigence for any random cyclists or pedestrians.

This Is 36

Ten years ago I was the perfect mom. I mean, not to be a Braggy Braggerton but I really had the parenting business buttoned up.

I was a twenty-five-year old stay-at-home mom doing just what I had always wanted. I had done my time in college and graduate school and now after five years of married life, I was getting down to business in the field of my dreams. I lived in a little World War II-era bungalow near Sugarhouse Park where Jeff worked out of his office in the basement and I spent my days caring for our darling one-year-old son.
Every morning I brisk-walked to the park with a group of my friends. We pushed our toddlers in jogging strollers while discussing baby milestones, post-pregnancy recovery, and adjusting to one income. I started a play group and a book club. I canned my own strawberry jam. I volunteered at the church cannery and got abnormally excited about creating a home food storage plan. I handmade our family’s Christmas cards. I learned to piece a patchwork quilt and hand-quilted a small masterpiece for Henry. I cleaned my tiny house every Monday, took my child to the zoo every Wednesday, and visited story time at the library every Friday. I was the president of the Young Women’s organization at church. I hiked nearby trails with my friend Angie, with my baby on my back. I took a thirty-minute power nap every afternoon while Henry slept.
It seemed every time I left the house with my precocious, curly, strawberry-blond son, friends and strangers alike complimented me on my adorable little boy.
I mean seriously. When it came to motherhood, I had nailed it.

A lot can happen in ten years.
We now live in a much bigger house and I drive a much bigger car. We have four sons instead of one. I no longer can jam or hand-stitch quilts or hand-craft cards. And I certainly do not take a nap every afternoon. But it’s not just the trappings that have changed in my life.
Inwardly and outwardly, everything feels different.
With Jack’s birth nine years ago, my family’s trajectory changed in a big way. Beginning then, we entered the realm of different. We learned about developmental delay. We aligned ourselves with Early Intervention and a support group. We stopped going out in public much because of our second child’s meltdowns. Everything became harder.
In recent months we learned that our third child also has special-needs, albeit in a very different manifestation than his big brother. This turn of events has not been easier than the last diagnosis because we have done it before. If anything, it feels more traumatic because we have done it before. And now there are two.
But with Charlie’s diagnoses (he has four), my clan has become more of what we started to become when Jack joined the family. We are less apt to judge people who look or act differently. We are vastly more tolerant of messes because they are our constant companions, no matter how hard we try to eradicate them. We understand that “destruction of property” takes on a whole new meaning when special-needs children are around. We (meaning me) are way less smug. In fact, we (me) acknowledge that most of the time, we don’t know what the heck we are doing. We’ve learned to say no when people ask us to do stuff because it usually takes us past the tipping point. We are kinder. We are more patient. We feel genuine empathy for someone else’s hardship. We aren’t anywhere near perfect. We don’t even care about perfect. We think perfect should be drop-kicked down the street.
This isn’t the family I envisioned as a newly-wed or even as a young know-it-all mom of one kid. But it’s my family. And they are making me into somebody better.