Monthly Archives: August 2013

Nothing to Write Home About

A few observations:

1. If you have taken photos of the forlorn toy kitchen and wooden play food and dishes that nobody cares about anymore, and set them by the door and begun to list them on your town’s online yard sale, suddenly everyone in the house can play with nothing else. Wooden watermelon triangles! Tiny metal muffin tins! An itty bitty beeping microwave! That lone plastic cob of corn! It’s Christmas in August, with stuff that has always been around.

2. When Jack begins screaming and crying for no apparent reason, and bangs his head against vacuums and walls and furniture, something is amiss. Today it was a sinus infection. Stickers Doctor did a good job sleuthing with our nonverbal boy to figure it out. I’m still waiting for someone to invent the diagnostic pediatric wand, which parents and pediatricians can wave in front of the nonverbal special needs child to scan and magically intuit what is wrong. Seriously, why can’t somebody invent this?

3. The last days of summer invariably turn us into a house of pirates. And not the jolly kind of pirates, unfortunately. Definitely not eyeliner-wearing, tipsy Johnny Depp/Jack Sparrow type pirates. Just dirty, ill-mannered, boorish salty dogs. We need to drop anchor and get the heck off this nauseating summer cruise ship.

4. When you have been married for sixteen years, you just may spend your wedding anniversary shopping for new carpet to replace the old carpet which has been beaten to death by your progeny. And you might feel resplendent about such a possibility.

Granny Pants, Modern Gal

I spent part of my Saturday afternoon sitting next to my husband watching a show featuring older folks reminiscing about life in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Don’t everyone clamber to hang out with us at once.

My husband has an affinity for listening to old folks, or “duffers” as he affectionately calls them, wax nostalgic about the old days. As he laughed at the stories of boys driving homemade orange crate cars at high speeds down the hilly streets of the Avenues, I looked at the footage of women in heels and dresses, with hats and pantyhose as everyday wear.

It dawned on me that I never would have made it, fashion-wise in the pre-war and WWII years.

I do love the glamorous hair styles of my grandmothers’ generation, and the bold lip colors they wore. But tailored skirts and blouses every day, with stockings and Sunday school shoes? I don’t think so, sister. Everyone thinks Katherine Hepburn was such a rogue of her era for favoring trousers and flat shoes. I think maybe she just wanted to be comfy, and to heck with conventionality.

I wear skirts plenty, especially in the summer when skirts are like wearable air conditioning. But lucky for me and my generation, maxi skirts are pajamas masquerading as actual clothes.

One of the ladies on the show talked about how coal dust used to coat everything. She said that curtains had to be washed once a month, and wallpaper scrubbed to clean off the black dust. “People today don’t know how good they have it, since they don’t have to do these things anymore, ” she said.

I agree with her. And I will add that contemporary women are lucky ducks because we can wear jeans, boots, and cardis every darn day if we please. Or yoga pants with stretchy tees and sneakers, no up-do or pantyhose required.

Woot!

My name is Inigo Montoya

You know that part in The Princess Bride when Wesley is racing to catch up to Buttercup and her captors as they sail toward the Cliffs of Insanity? Remember what is happening all around them, churning up the sea and generally making a giant racket? It’s the shrieking eels, people. They are those loud, scary, toothy, aggressive snake-things that make even the Dread Pirate Roberts quake in his jaunty black boots.

My house was crawling with shrieking eels today.

The guys have gone ballistic, or some of them have anyway. There was screaming, flailing, and tooth-baring over vacuums, water bottles, flip flops, electronic devices, peanut butter m&m’s, GoGurts, and watching Tangled versus Frankenweenie.

Three of the four decided to gang up on me and see how close they can drive me toward the Cliffs of Insanity. Frankly, they pushed me preeeety darned near the edge.

They almost swept their older, less shrieky brother over with me.. He and I were looking at each other like, “What just happened?” and, “Who are these crazy people?”

It didn’t help that the day began at 4:00 AM when one sleep-repellent child started his day. It ended just moments ago, when the last of the three wailers was escorted to his bed. No cause for alarm, though folks. We are simply fulfilling our predestined August behavioral death spiral. We do it every year. It’s a tradition.

We will crash and burn soon enough, and then resiliently enough we will scrape ourselves off the tarmac and hobble onward. School and structured life will rehabilitate us enough that we can call ourselves “functioning,” and even possibly “contributing” sorts of people.

It’s just the way things work, though I really wish that sometimes things were less predictable and less strenuous.

On the bright side of things, our son’s psychologist established for us a moderately complex potty-training plan that should work. It will take lots of energy and consistency and a complicated system of both positive and negative reinforcers. But we will succeed because we can and we will.

I really ought to gather the guys for a staff meeting and introduce this new motto I’m thinking we should adopt:

 “Be nutty. Really, just be your little nut self. But also be potty trained.”

With this addendum: “And cool it with the shrieking.”

Things I Just Don’t Do

We took a trip to see Stickers Doctor recently because Jack was knocking his head against the wall and also hitting the baby. This is Jackspeak for “I’m sick.”

It wasn’t the ears this time, or strep, although we tested for it. We always test for it, because holding Jack as Holly the nurse gags him while she swabs his throat is an unparalleled joy.

It was an ambiguous virus making Jack crabby. We left with stickers.

Jack doesn’t verbalize how he feels, but he is pretty transparent with his emotions. During his swimming lesson this week, when his teacher asked him to to kick while floating, Jack BELLOWED in a big, dramatic way. It was a theatrical version of “no.”

I, on the other hand, am totally verbal. I speak all the time. (Really? said my husband in his best mock horror voice). But like Jack, I too have my things I just don’t do. For those visual learners, let’s list them.

Things I Just Don’t Do:

1) Make my bed on a daily basis. Used to happen regularly; not anymore. Totally. Don’t. Care.

2) Give up desserts in the name of healthier living. Nope. I choose happiness.

3) Dust the house much. Polished furniture is for photo shoots of homes featured in fancy blogs. Isn’t it lovely to have a house that isn’t featured in a blog and doesn’t need to be perfectly polished all the time? I think so too.

4) Worry about how people perceive me and mine. This one excites me. It’s been an ongoing endeavor with my not-so-ordinary children—a journey which makes me feel a) grown up and b) like a boss.

5) Read multiple books concurrently. My brain doesn’t work that way. I not smart enough.

The Grumpy Troll Guarding the Door

A riddle:

What is full of food, bundled with clothes, and hums all the time?

Answer:

My laundry room.

The room designed for laundering linens has undergone a transformation around here. It now houses the nine-year-old’s and the five-year-old’s entire wardrobes, as well as our groceries. You might be asking yourself why anyone hasn’t conceived of such a brilliant storage idea before.

Here is my response to Why? In list form:

A) It has a door.

B) The door has a lock.

C) It is a moderately spacious laundry room, meaning it can handle a whole bunch of extra stuff.

D) Who doesn’t want to lock up their children’s shorts, tees, and undies, along with the family’s food staples?

The food in our home has been on lockdown for years, because that is the preferred alternative to a crunchy floor, covered in crushed goldfish crackers and Fruit Loops. We are accustomed to this method of storing food. Even our little neighbor pals know when they visit to ask for a key if they fancy a granola bar. In my home, open food access equals shredded carb house.

But clothing—-this is something new.

After spending the summer as an overworked, under appreciated laundress, I got smart and moved the duds. No more can the two culprits with sensory issues change their outfits because a drop of water landed on their shorts, a piece of French toast touched their shirt, or because the wind shifted outside and thus everything is different now!

No more Duggar-sized laundry projects for this gal.

I am the new bailiff of the heart of the house. All who wish to eat or clothe themselves must go through me.

I may require them to answer me a riddle before they pass through into the butler’s pantry/closet/cellar place to retrieve their sandals and their Honey Nut Cheerios. We shall see.

A Boring List

Today I scraped up the gelatinous remains of 13 Swedish fish from the table, floor, and leather armchair.

Today I picked up 37 Pull-ups that the baby tossed from the closet upstairs over the landing and into the entryway.

Today I went hunting in the neighborhood for my son who went missing. I found him in a neighbor’s backyard and coaxed him home to eat dinner.

I took two of my boys to a swimming lesson for children with special needs, part of a week-long series of lessons organized by the son of a friend for his Eagle Scout project.

I drove the guys to Target where a certain child got to choose a prize for doing a deuce in the toilet (awwww yeeeeeeah), because this was a big deal and the reward needed to be memorable.

I broke up several loud skirmishes between my children. In these waning summer days, our house is more and more Lord of the Flies-ish.

Every time I sat down today, a big, jolly, sensory-seeking son sat on my lap and asked for “tickles.” He is 85 pounds of elbows, knees, and boney bum. A real meat-tenderizer.

Today I spent way too much time online, because it’s easy to do on a smartphone and because sometimes the brain starts to wither from too many sticky Swedish fish and shrieking people.

I cleaned up a Code Brown from a different son who didn’t get the memo about potty = Target prizes.

I opened an envelope this afternoon containing a packet of forms to fill out for Jack’s school, which commences less than two weeks from today.

I considered how each August I find hope in the signs of school resuming and our lives turning less heathen. I also pondered how we must always first descend into a canyon of misery that is the end of summer.

Today I spoke to my mother on the phone, who asked me how things were going today with the guys. When I sneered “fine,” she knew better.

I looked up all the upcoming movies to see what there is to look forward to, and the answer is: nothing. At least until November, when a bunch a good stuff rolls out. One bright spot later this month—Austenland, based on a funny book by Shannon Hale.

I mopped up 8 puddles created by the littlest boy, who thinks he should drink from a big-person cup like everybody else. One-year-olds have such sass.

I cracked open the box of road trip car kits which we assembled for the boys prior to our family vacation in June, and which we promptly left behind in the garage. Jack was mighty pleased with his crinkly packages and crappy dollar-store toys.

Today happened, and then it ended, which is sometimes the nicest part of a day.

Fillerup

This summer, we have become regulars at the gas station near our house. The Chevron is to us what Cheers was to Norm and Clif. We go there like clockwork in the late morning where we follow a routine which includes a) peanut butter cups, b) bubble gum, c) 32 ounces of happy bubbly (mine, keep away).

This daily sugar and sugar substitute run serves several purposes, including rewarding one behavior-challenged kid for listening and obeying, giving mom her raison d’être, and giving another bored son an outing to look forward to. 
My Summer of Suffering has compelled me to find the little things which bring me happiness and rejoice in them. I heart the Chevron.
I noticed this week that they now have all the fixings for a dirty Diet Coke, or dirty Dr. Pepper. This is reason enough to stop, even without the guys in tow. But stop with the guys we always do. We’re gas station people. We can’t help ourselves.
When I was young, my family got one thing at the gas station, and it went in the gas tank. There was no snacking, people! After I married Jeff, he always stopped for snacks on fishing trips with my dad, where he learned that while my dad scorns stopping for junk food, he will happily take over and polish off someone else’s bag of corn nuts or salt and vinegar chips. Easy enough for a savvy son-in-law to handle: he simply bought extra snacks so there was always plenty to go around.
But our family’s most memorable gas station trip took place about twelve years ago at a bustling Flying J in a rural town. Jeff stood in line with his purchases when a guy came charging in the convenience store and loudly said, “Um, is there supposed to be a horse galloping around the gas pumps? Because there is. It’s running all over the parking lot and it almost jumped on top of my girlfriend’s Camaro.”
At this point, everyone in the joint swiveled and looked out the window, where indeed! a horse was totally galloping around, inadvertently threatening to stomp on some woman’s bad-boy car.
Jeff left that day with a big drink and an irrepressible urge to see a horse leap a Camaro. He also won for Best Gas Station Story, hands down.
We also heart random.

Oxygen Masks

I started a new book last night. While I’m only a few pages in, it holds promise. I’m already attached. Its about a 1970’s rock star who travels through time to fin de sicle Vienna, because what 1970’s rock star doesn’t dream of doing this?

It’s a thrill to find a delicious book, particularly when my reading time (which is to say, my sanity) is severely squashed by the demands of summer “vacation.”

The last weeks of summer are traditionally the most ragged time of the whole year for my family. It’s an annual endurance test, perhaps not unlike a Ragnar race, but one that I do not recall signing up for. Sadly, mine is an event that does not yield a race shirt or even a Ragnar-type sticker for the back window of my car.

I would rather fancy a Ragnar-type sticker for the back of my car, come to think of it. It would definitely hold street cred with parents in similar situations. Maybe something along the lines of “Summer inferno: 2 special-needs kids, 2 typicals, and 1 mom on the edge.”

Other parents of kids like mine could see it on my car and instantly get it. There would be an immediate kinship, an understanding of the endless days, the exhaustion, the regression in behavior, the ocean of poop. We could pull up next to each other at traffic lights and nod solemnly to each other, our silent gaze an acknowledgement that “I feel your pain” and also “wow, the last days of summertime really suck” and maybe even “my kid is screaming and shredding wrappers and tossing them all around my car too; and he also just wet his pants.”

So anyhoo, this is why it is really terrific to find an engaging book and a few minutes to read before bed. It’s a literary hit for my addiction.

The older and more harried I get, the pickier I am about what types of books I will read. I’m a book snob, not in the sense that I will only go for Pulitzer winners and the classics, but snobbish in that I only read what I wanna read. Deal with it. This condition may be common among English major types; it could be a reaction to spending years being made to read all sorts of stuff. Now we choose. And we are opinionated about it, so very very much.

These are my current criteria for books:

1. A brisk pace that clips nicely along.

2. Some humor, somewhere, even if its not overt. Just a hint of funny will do.

3. A story which sucks me in and pulls me through with the force of Jack’s shop vac.

Fit these conditions, and I will be your reading audience. Happily. Because reading is like breathing: I must do it to live. And as the airlines caution us, if you don’t put the oxygen mask on yourself first, you won’t be able to then pin down your anxiety-ridden screaming five year old to force the mask on him, or something like that.

Dreamboat

Last week I dreamed I cut my hair. I looked in the mirror, and tah dah!, I had a sassy little shag cut with lots of layers and straight bangs. My dream self thought, “Well lookee here!” And I was inspired.

My dream about hairdos planted a seed of change in my mind; the ennui of late summer grabbed onto this tiny verdant shoot and apparently decided to go with it.

I went to the salon this week and got my hair chopped into layers, because everyone with fine hair knows that layers are our best friends. I fulfilled the dream, minus the straight bangs, because everyone who has ever had straight bangs knows they are totally annoying to maintain (even if they are super hip, ala Zooey Deschanel).

I like that my dream self inspired my ambulatory self. Generally my dreams tend not to be quite this fantastic.

I have had a recurring dream for years where I am on vacation with my extended family in some fun, touristy place. The location changes, but the central theme of the dream is always this: I am separated from the group, helping Jack. No matter how hard I try, Jack and I cannot catch up to everyone else. Once we were in a coastal town and they were all leaving on a boat—I rushed with Jack to meet them, but the boat had left the dock when we arrived. Another time it was Disneyland: the whole clan jumped on the Monorail, but Jack was falling apart and he and I were left making a scene in Tomorrowland.

There are a bunch of variations on this concept, but they all involve me trying super hard to compel my kid to cooperate so we can join in. They also involve me failing.

You may commence analyzing the subtext of my dreams now. Aaaaaaaaand, go.

Here is the obvious deconstruction: I am frustrated in my attempts to make a couple of my boys interact with the world, or at least “keep up” with the people around them.

I did have a lovely dream earlier this summer, though. It was the anti-stress dream. Truthfully, when I woke from it, a rosy glow enveloped me and lingered all through the morning.

In the dream, I was at an event in my neighborhood, sitting next to a neighbor who I really respect. She leaned over and whispered to me, “You don’t need to worry about what other people think about the struggles you have raising your children. You are doing a good job.”

My neighbor said it, but maybe the words were the voice of my subconscious. Or maybe it was God, nudging me forward and onward.

Either way, it was dreamy.

Boy Town

I just read an article which says that men with sisters and daughters are more charitable in all areas of their lives, and that men with no sisters or daughters are stingier and more self-centered. We can add this to the growing stack of studies which the media likes to print, all explaining that people who do not have daughters are disadvantaged in every way.

One article I read a few months back explained that women with only sons die earlier than women with daughters. Glad to know my sons are killing me slowly. Thanks soooo much for confirming this.

Another article on the challenges faced by an aging population claimed that the only sure way to know you will be cared for in your old age, is to have at least two daughters. Plus lots of money.

Well skippity doo dah, I’ve got neither of those. Jeff and I will have to shake off the dementia as long as possible so we can haul our own creaky bones to doctor appointments and cook up something soft and bland to spoon-feed each other for supper.

I’ve got something to say to the world of social researchers and the media outlets who are airing this stuff: I’m not sure if you are in cahoots with the makers of princess dress-ups, tutu crinolines, and those ubiquitous baby headbands with giant flower embellishments, or if you have some other agenda; but this mom of only boys doesn’t care to hear your reports which declare that families like mine are deficient.

This is not China or India: people in these parts value and cherish their daughters, so I’m not sure if this is the motivation for these studies and this slant in reporting. Is it some sort of ancillary feminist reasoning, to make families without baby girls seem inadequate? No comprendo.

Seriously, if a mom of boys wants to feel marginalized, she need not read these types of articles. All she has to do is walk into a baby boutique and be bombarded with heaps of girly ensembles as she searches for the scant stock of boy clothes. When I was pregnant with my toddler, I entered such a store and, baffled, asked the salesperson where the baby boy clothes were located. She said (I quote), “There is that one rack by the door, and this one rack right here with these little white shirts and ties.”

Well press my laundry. I had the option of blue onesies or crisp dress shirts for my newborn.

Maybe the media isn’t conspiring to attack the all-boy family. Maybe I am merely sensitive to things which point out how girls are superior at caring and are supremely fun to dress, while boys apparently abandon their elderly parents, to whose demise they have heavily contributed.

Whatever.

I love my incredibly complicated posse of small men. They are plenty complex and (once they reach opinionated preschool age) impossible to dress in cute, mom-designed ensembles anyway. They challenge me like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.

But we are a real family too, even if I am the lone girl. And we honestly face enough challenges with cognitive delays and behavior issues without hearing from experts that as parents of “just” boys, we are surely doomed.

This is my all-boy family, and I don’t find us lacking. Except in tutus.