Monthly Archives: January 2014

Going Snape

I believe I have crossed an invisible threshold and have become an old mom. Not old in terms of my actual chronological age, but crone-ish in my attitude and perspective.

Old mom doesn’t care what people think about her parenting. She doesn’t give a rodent’s patootie about people-pleasing. Old mom dares you to cast judgment.

This became abundantly clear during a recent IEP meeting for one of the boys. It was all going swimmingly, with a beautiful sense of cohesion among all members of my kid’s team. The adaptive PE teacher and the speech/language pathologist actually combed the school for a basketball and little hoop, and carried them to the conference room to entertain my hoops-obsessed toddler. Seriously, rainbows and butterflies, all the way around.

Until….the team denied something that my son has always had access to, and which he absolutely needs. And I became a hybrid of Severus Snape and a brown bear.

I’ll spare you a reenactment, which still sends angry-hot pulses of fury coursing through my veins. The upshot is that the boy still has access to the service he requires. At least for one more year.

And I realized that the previous me, with the penchant for avoiding confrontation blew away like a dead leaf in a wind gust a long time ago. Current me, old me—the crone if you will—is instinctively a survivalist. She’s also the resident authority on the children who live here, and their esoteric needs.

And Old Crone Mom is perfectly happy to engage in a battle of wills.

Storm Season

It’s hurricane season in my household.

Never mind that we are land-locked and decidedly not coastal-dwelling. It totally feels like a cat 5 is barreling down on us. Not literally, of course. We are only metaphorically facing crazy strong wind gusts and an over abundance of water flying around and slapping us all in the face.
It merely feels like a vortex of difficulty is spinning around us and threatening to pick us up and scatter us somewhere in the next county. Or rather, maybe we are the vortex, inexplicably whirling while the rest of the world carries on outside our storm funnel.
It may be a little dramatic, this comparison, but the image fits the way things have been operating at our house. It’s kind of a wild ride.
Within the past couple of years, we’ve experienced a difficult pregnancy, a premature delivery, a NICU stay, multiple ENT surgeries, several behavioral death spirals, aggression, potty regression, destruction of property, sleep disturbances, children prone to wandering off, and the official diagnosis of a second child with a second set of special needs. 
I do not outline all of this as some sort of martyr exercise. Martyrdom doesn’t interest me.
It’s simply an inventory of the true things that have come flying through the air and landed on top of us in recent months, not unlike Dorothy’s house atop the Wicked Witch of the West’s sister.
Interestingly, when I give myself permission to lay it all on the table, I feel validated. It’s like, no wonder I feel like we’re stuck in a vortex. Everything is crazy. And it’s okay to acknowledge that fact. It would be foolhardy to ignore an actual hurricane coming our way. Why is it any different to pretend that a vortex of difficulty isn’t battering us around?
The key to our surviving a storm of this severity is to hunker down and hold on while the wind and water whip all around us, finding refuge in the power of the rock to which we cling. 
“And now, my sons, remember, 
remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemder, 
who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your
foundation; that when the devil shall send
forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind,
yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you,
it shall have no power over you to drag you down
to the gulf of misery and endless wo,
because of the rock upon which ye are built,
which is a sure foundation,
a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”
Helaman 5:12

Hairy Scary

I had my hair done yesterday. As my lovely platinum-blonde stylist Jessica basted my head with a concoction of creams, I told her that I daydream about having a pixie cut. All the starlets are doing it. Jennifer Lawrence. Emma Watson. Michelle Williams. Anne Hathaway. A bunch of others that I can’t remember right now.

It looks so carefree, a pixie cut.

While it seems dreamy, I did not tell Jessica to chop my hair off. Here’s why:

1. I inherited my dad’s ears. They are pointy and stick out rather dramatically from my head, not unlike the ears on the elves in The Hobbit. Except I am not lithe and graceful and perfect like Legolas and Tauriel, so pointy elfin ears don’t really do anything for my look.

Speaking of The Hobbit, we saw The Desolation of Smaug yesterday. Though you did not solicit it, here is my review: The giant spider scene was about eighteen minutes too long. The effects and costumes were good. It’s super violent, but apparently that’s okay for a family movie if only Orcs and monster arachnids are biting the dust? In my view, the entire movie should have been absorbed into the first Hobbit, and into the next and last one coming out later this year. But I suspect I’m not in Peter Jackson’s target demographic, so what do I know.

I digress.

2. Starlets with pixie cuts are gorgeous. They would look great bald, or in stocking caps, or in rainbow Afro wigs. When they pare down their hair, their beautiful features are the main attraction. The rest of us might just look like regular folks with regular faces, and a really short haircut, amirite?

3. I have this feeling that as I age, my hair will get shorter and plainer in direct correlation to my will to style it. I’d better make the best of it now, before it’s uber short, frizzy, and battleship gray. And framed with a pair of elf ears.

When I reach the short/frizzy/battleship gray stage of my hair’s life, I wonder if it will be uninhibiting. Will a bad head of neglected hair unencumber me? Will I embrace my unconventional ears?

Let’s start a campaign to bring back the cloche hat from the 1920’s.

Let It Go

My husband, who doesn’t believe in setting New Year’s resolutions, has given up soda. Effective January 1.

I wished him happy trails on his journey of drinking more water from the orange Camelbak water bottle he got for Christmas. I’m happy for him, but I’m not willing to give up Cherry Cokes. Sorry Charlie (by which I mean the hubs and not our son who is actually named Charlie).

The trouble with traditional New Year’s resolutions for me is that they create all kinds of work. In the interest of improving ourselves, we add various new items to our list of daily responsibilities. This is where I lose interest in resolutions. I already have way too much to do, peeps. I need simplicity, not added pressure.

Snarky types might pipe in at this point and inform me that I should make a resolution to simplify my life, which is sort of like telling someone who is up to her armpits midstream crossing a big swift river, to use the footbridge several miles downstream instead. I am in the middle of navigating life, snarky types, and currently it’s intense. I am already in a constant state of trying to simplify. So, to the geniuses who may suggest it, I respond with slow sarcastic clapping. That’s brilliant guys. Thanks so much for the suggestion.

Anyway, I realized that a resolution doesn’t have to be the acquisition of a new habit, like juicing all your food from fresh produce, or making a ninety-minute workout the first part of your day. No thank you to both those propositions, btw. Like Dutch with his switch from soda to water, I could simply let something go.

Letting go, giving up, jettisoning—this concept holds much more appeal for someone like me. I am willing to give something up. In fact, I’m totally into going all Elsa from Frozen for the new year and I will Let. It. Go. People.

The thing I’m relinquishing is a burden that I have unwittingly allowed to weigh me down for some time. And really, it’s the dumbest thing.

It’s comparison.

Namely, the act of comparing my family to other families who do not have a Jack and a Charlie in their midst.

It’s ridiculous, I know. And now I’m not going to do it anymore. No more feeling inadequate that my family can’t do all the things that lots of other families can. It simply is what it is. We do not claim to be “normal.” No need to “keep up with” anyone.

I let that thing go, and I’m pleased with the sense of weightlessness.

Reading List

We have now reached that point in January when my instincts to climb into bed and stay there until mid-March are threatening to overpower me. Daily responsibilities? The raising of children? Fiddlesticks. All that matters is my bed. And my down comforter. And my electric blanket. And my quilt.

Please leave me alone. I’m trying to crawl through the rest of winter. It’s avoidance behavior at its best (i.e. worst). I can’t take the inversion, the grayness.

It’s so bleak.

I am using books as a sort of lifeline to happier times and less-arduous months of the year. Here are some self-centered reviews (simply my gut reactions, without wasting time here summarizing plot and characters) of books I’ve recently read:

The Rosie Project: Delightful, hilarious, fun, refreshing. It was a glimpse into the mind of an Aspergian, which made me think author Graeme Simsion is a complete genius. Is he on the spectrum himself? Is a family member? Read this book if you need something happy and so funny that you find yourself mentally recreating the funniest scenes throughout the day and smiling foolishly. I love how real this book felt.

Sweet Tooth: A sort of creepy tale of a young woman working for British Intelligence in the early 1970’s. Weird. Smart. It’s by Ian McEwan who wrote Atonement, so I had to read it. Everyone is suspect. I kind of thought the narrator, Serena, was an idiot. For someone who is supposed to be so smart, she seemed awfully clueless. Literary. Unsettling.

The Mistborn Trilogy: A fantasy young adult series that sounded super promising and was really inventive, but which lost me before I finished book one. I kept waiting for this hero Kelsier with the je ne sais quoi to show up and act like a hero. But he wasn’t and I found him disappointing. Maybe I should’ve stuck with it and found the reward in the story’s arc. But honestly, it’s January and I’m simply holding on. Slogging though winter, currently. Can’t slog through meandering stories.

When Women Were Birds: Terry Tempest Williams is haunting and heartbreaking writing about her mother’s empty journals which she left to her only daughter when cancer claimed her life at a young age. There were passages when she seems to enter a trance and sort of chant things that her loss has revealed to her about her mother. Those parts were a little otherworldly for me. However, it made me think deeply about things—my beliefs, my relationships, my priorities. Nonfiction.

The Light Between Oceans: I am in love with this book, but rumor has it, it’s going to tear my heart out and throw it out to sea. It feels like a fable—the way it unfolds, the language by which it comes to life. I’m forty percent through it and I feel a sense of dread about how this book will end. *sniff.

A Red Herring Without Mustard: Alan Bradley’s mystery-solving preteen heroine Flavia de Luce continues her escapades in a crumbling English country house in post-war Britain. It was good. I still love her dysfunctional family so very much. This one made me long for more stories about her departed mother, Harriet. I’ll probably keep coming back to this series because they capture adolescent angst in a funny, puzzle of a package.

The Witch’s Daughter: Time-jumping story of a “real” witch. Sad. At it’s heart, the tale of how people who are different can be vilified and misunderstood. I think I’m approaching capacity on my current phase of witch books. I’ll change my mind, of course, when The Book of Life comes out this summer. I’ve been waiting for it! There’s a Discovery of Witches movie in pre-production!

Bottom line is this: there is a lot of time- and energy-intensive child-rearing happening right now. Books are my natural high, my non-chemical cloud. Sanity. Escapism. Literary addiction. Label it as you wish.

I read to forget it’s January.

I read so that I may be lucid the rest of the time when I am raising the children.

You Say Holland, I Say Hawaii

Dutch and I just returned from a week in Hawaii.

Just kidding. I’m speaking in code. “A week in Hawaii” actually means “a night in a hotel downtown.”

Whatever. The important part is that we got away, albeit briefly, and emotionally filled our inner vessels. While I fervently wish I had been lying on a Hawaiian beach, I was instead enjoying dining out and catching up at the cinema, close to home and at bargain rates, relatively speaking.

Hawaii, someday. Overnight downtown dates, now. And at frequent intervals.

It reminds me of the poem Welcome to Holland, which every mother of a special-needs child everywhere in the world has been given by a thousand well-meaning people when her child is first diagnosed.

That poem is like the unofficial membership card into a club you didn’t realize you were joining for the rest of your life. If you have disabled children, you know exactly what I am talking about.

But in this case, Hawaii is my Italy, and a hotel for a night downtown is my Holland. Except that Holland is also my everyday life. I live in Holland. Except I’m not eating Danishes all the time. Do people in Holland eat Danishes? Am I thinking of Denmark? Remember, my husband’s nickname of Dutch exists for no logical reason. Help.

That poem, seriously. It’s great, and I appreciate the message that there is beauty in an unexpected journey. Yes, I get it.

But enough about Holland already!

Sometimes the last thing you want to hear (especially on a day when you can’t seem to get your kid’s anti-psychotic medication at the right dose and he attacks his baby brother before the bus comes in the morning and throws a family portrait across the room—let’s hope this isn’t some sort of a sign—and tries to bite and kick you while you are moving him to a safe location) is about the unexpected loveliness of Holland.

Stop. Just, no.

Perhaps someone can write a poem about the tender mercies which pick you up and push you along when you are strung out on parenting.

Even as I typed this, I realized that someone already did.

Actually, two people.

Bad Cattitude

Let me begin by saying I am not fond of cats.

I tend to be more of a dog person. Cats strike me as smug, superior, and a little bit creepy—all qualities which I do not admire in animals. Or in people either, actually.

I probably just alienated myself with that statement from a number of readers. I’m sorry if this disappoints you. I’m deficient in cat tolerance, what can I say.
I’m totally different than my BIL Tom who likes cats so much that he collects crazy cat-themed t-shirts, like the one my sister had made especially for him, featuring a sassy-looking feline with the caption “I’ve got cattitude.”

No cat shirts for me, my friends.

This information is relevant because this morning as I was brushing my teeth and getting ready for a meeting at Jack’s school, my neighbor Tam sent me a text saying that a cat was stuck high up in one of the trees in my backyard. I could hear another neighbor’s dog barking excitedly at the treed kitty.
My first instinct as a non-cat-caring person was to go about my busy morning and let the cat find it’s way back down the tree. I’m a cold-hearted wench, I know. And yet, I did inform my pet-loving neighbor Tiff about the stuck kitty, thinking it might be one of hers. I’m not overtly cruel.
A few more texts went back and forth about how cats get stuck in trees and how long we should worry about this silly animal. I left for the school with Truman. 
When I returned, Tiff met me at the door with a ladder and a determined will to save that cat. With the staccato barking from the neighbor’s dog punctuating our rescue, we spent the next half hour employing a ladder, a hot dog, a cell phone, and an Ikea curtain rod (still in it’s packaging) trying to get the kitty down.
We totally couldn’t do it.
I finally ordered Tiff off the ladder and told her to steady it as I took my turn with Dumb Gray Cat. I climbed in a huff, bracing myself on the smaller branches of the Cottonwood even as I wielded my curtain rod. “We need something with a broad, flat base so we can lift him off the branches and not just poke at him,” said Tiff.
I reminded her that I:
A) don’t really care for cats because they are aloof and otherworldly and clearly not always the brightest, and
B) am not in the habit of keeping long-handled poles equipped with broad, flat end attachments for the express purpose of freeing cats from trees. 
We followed Tam’s suggestion (by her fire-fighter husband) to call the fire department. She gave us the non-emergency number. I asked the nice fireman on the phone if fire fighters actually rescue cats from trees in real life. He responded with a chuckle and a few recommendations. Somewhere in our conversation I mentioned my address. 
Tiff and I looked out my kitchen window at this point in the Dumb Gray Cat Saga to see Dumb Gray himself start to fall from the tree. He managed to catch himself (feline grace, you know) and, employing his claws, made a slow and safe descent down the tree.
And that was the end of the kitty drama. Tiff left to get her preschooler. Truman and I made lunch and began watching for Charlie’s bus. 
The Fire Department arrived.
This was all very embarrassing as I had called 911 a few months ago for a natural gas scare (which turned out to be a “burned-up vacuum scare” courtesy of Jack). Not my proudest moment. The neighbors were all aflutter with concern the last time as they saw me outside in my pj’s at noon. On a Saturday. So much shame is wrapped up in that little memory.
Now there was a fire engine stopping to check up on the Dumb Gray Cat status. Neighbors in cars stopped to see if we were okay. The firefighters crinkled their eyes when I told them that the cat was now out of the tree, and when I rambled on about the previous natural gas/burned up vacuum incident. Why do I always unintentionally do too much back story?
Anyway, they went on their way to nobler fireman duties. And I had this nagging thought that my annoyed attitude toward treed cats could be similar to some people’s attitudes or reactions to special needs children, particularly in environments which agitate my kids and bring out their more unusual behaviors.
Is it a valid parallel—a scared cat and a boy with autism? Actually, I think it probably is.
I’ve decided I’m going to be nicer to cats.

The Big Picture

There is an art installation somewhere honoring Nelson Mandela. It is made of carved sticks stuck into the ground that together form a likeness of Mandela’s face when viewed from a single spot, some distance away.

When I saw the images online I thought:

A) This is why I am not an artist. Never in a million years would I have thought, “I’m going to carve and arrange some sticks to resemble Nelson Mandela’s face.” Multimedia artists astonish me.

B) Cool idea, with the sticks though. It is an excellent depiction of a great leader. And

C) Does everyone really have to stand in the same spot to see the image come together? I’m having a hard time quantifying why this disappoints me.

I suppose I don’t like being told how I must see something. Actually, I don’t think anyone does.

I don’t mean to be dismissive of artistic achievement. I simply chafe under the idea of there really being only one way to see something, whether it’s a trend, a person, or a concept.

We are all given brains and hearts and eyes with which to evaluate our world. The way we do this affords us perspective.

My life has taught me that our perspectives are different, depending on where we stand and where we’ve been. The way we see things varies based on our vision and our interpretation of events.

So why is it that sometimes we can’t see the things that are the closest to us? It’s like a situation can be under our noses and yet it eludes us.

I think that we can be too close. We can lack perspective, simply because the task at hand is mashed up against our faces and we really can’t get a good look at it. We are living with it, but we grow accustomed to it pressing so close that we forget what we need to do.

This is me and Jack sometimes. Things get crazy incrementally, often over many months, and until I take a step back and get some distance, I’m blind to what I need to do.

Take the “rough patch” (i.e. daily aggression and destructiveness) we are having with Jack. We have simply been coping and managing for so long, it’s like I’ve forgotten to pursue other avenues in dealing with the behavior.

Lack of perspective is my first problem. Lack of focus is my second.

I’ve stepped back to see things more clearly. Now I need to stop scattering my energy and concentrate it’s strength. I need to focus like a laser on my sons and my family (and my own blasted mental well-being) to better address things.

Which means I’m going to be saying ‘no’ to more stuff. I’ll also be saying a hearty ‘yes!’ to other things. Things that don’t outwardly make me look like a noteworthy community helper, but which make all the difference to the people who live in my house.

Time to man the giant laser beam.

I’m giving out stern lectures. Beware.

Captain’s Log: 1.11.14

It was a day of mild victories (every single member of the family helped clean the church this morning— I use the term ‘help’ loosely, but the fact is we all went and did our part and there were no major vacuum-related tantrums).

It was a day of violent meltdowns (Jack attacking Charlie and me in the car, after we bought all manner of treats and crafts for his new Sunday School helpers to employ tomorrow; reason for angry attack currently unknown).

It was a day of wailing (ask Charlie about how he didn’t want to do therapy).

Even so, the day was fine. Honestly, par for the course.

Until.

I had a conversation with someone and emotionally everything became churning and turbid.

That’s when the whirring of the fan met the splat of the crap. And I wanted to pull out a big metal janitor bucket (which I don’t own, but which would come in handy for cleaning up Code Browns), upend it, stand on it, and give the world a loud lecture about the realities of my life that they are not picking up on.

You know, just yell a bunch and lay it all on the table.

I wanted to point to my teeth for emphasis while furrowing my brows as I emphatically reminded folks of the daily battles of special-needs parenting. Battles which never really end, but will always be with us in variations.

Not that anyone wants a lecture.

But I have my virtual soapbox, so step aside if you do not wish to hear this:

Your wanting our family to operate “normally,” doesn’t make us so. 

Then sweet Kirsty showed up and we went on a date. And Walter Mitty made everything right. End of rocky roller coaster day.