Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Too honest?

The downer tone of my last few entries has me pondering this blog. What is it's purpose? Is it too negative. Is it too revealing about the nature of life in a house like mine?

This blog isn't a traditional journal, although it possesses elements of a journal. It features journal-like entries, but importantly, it's public. It invites readers to participate in the day-to-day workings of a family with special-needs children. Journals seem inherently private, in my definition.

I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge the therapeutic aspect of writing about my family. It's an inexpensive and wonderful form of release. So there's that, too.

I guess my primary purpose in writing is this:

To tell the truth.

Monday, December 30, 2013

I'm Sorry

A few apologies are in order.

To the people at the car wash who saw me spraying off my salty van in my pink pajama pants (which aptly say "I'm a bear in the morning" and feature surly-looking black bears), and my ratty old hoodie, and those darn comfy orange sneakers that aren't doing my look any favors:

I'm sorry. That was a sight you didn't deserve to see. Sorry also that you couldn't avoid missing my pajama-clad behind as I vacuumed the fry remains and Reese's wrappers from my vehicle for ten minutes straight.

To the folks at the two different drive-through windows who helped me with my orders today, and who managed to look past my third-day hair and my face sans Bare Minerals:

You deserve better. Even people in cars in drive-throughs could make a bit of an effort, right? You ARE right, and I wish I had more personal grooming time today to make our encounters less terrifying. Let me just say that you helped assuage a pox-stricken boy with special needs who needed to get out.

To my husband:

Thanks for taking over so I could finally brush my teeth at 7:00 PM.

To my neighbors, who saw me looking unwashed and irritable in my jammies. My rumpled bear jammies:

Please ignore me. When the viral plague leaves our abode and the boys return to school, a comforting routine will descend on this house and we will no longer be trashing up the neighborhood every time we step outside.

To my children:

I love you. Stop fighting over the Xbox.

To Jack:

We've almost made it through this Christmas crucible. You're going to be better soon, and we are never going to look back.

To the month of January:

It's ridiculous how excited I am for your arrival. Now come hither.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Pox & Stress

Christmas this year was a little weird.

For the first time ever, I patronized McDonald's on Christmas Day. That pretty much sums it all up.

I ate a barbecue cheeseburger from the dollar menu for Christmas lunch, which is essentially a cheeseburger sprinkled with tiny spicy corn chips.

Basically, it just screams, "Festive!" Right? I also had a Coke on the side, so that was fabulous.

I did this because Jack has the chicken pox and is quarantined, yet he needed to get out of the house, even if it was only to a drive-through. Dutch and I took turns this week shepherding the remaining boys to family events, while the other parent stayed home to chill with Jack. And by "chill," I mean giving him frequent baths, copiously applying hydrocortisone, administering benadryl and tylenol regularly, and trying to pacify him against his recurring moods of destruction.                                          

Christmas Day highlights included taking a drive through the frozen Cedar Valley, which was blinding and lovely in the sunlight; sitting by the fire and watching A Christmas Story while Jack played with his new toys; and reading from my beautiful new cookbook, which may inspire me to start cooking again in earnest. We'll see. Don't get your hopes up too high.

I should really stop here. I ought to simply appreciate and enjoy the good points and let the day remain a softly focused, vaguely warm memory.

But that's not really how this blog works. You know me, truly.

It was a hard day, too.

The low points included Jack throwing a toy chainsaw at the ceiling with such force that he gouged out a chunk of drywall, Jack trying to bite me when I put him in time out, Jack flinging himself naked on the couch in an attempt to wipe off the hydrocortisone cream I had just slathered all over him, and Jack changing his clothes 37 times because he was itchy and uncomfortable.

By the time Dutch and the guys returned from visiting Grandma J, Jack and I were Christmased out. I needed to get my sorry Grinchy self hence, so I did something else I have never before done on Christmas Day---I went to a movie.

I dragged my mom along with me, and together we faced the billion other folks who also wanted to visit the cinema. In my attempt to leave behind the stresses of a homebound winter holiday with a child stricken by pox, I found that pretty much everybody was at their stress threshold.

Emotions were running high. Lines were running long. The couple who brought their baby to the theater were adamant about staying even though their child wailed periodically through the entire movie.

(Author's Aside: That sort of thing doesn't bother me as much as it once might have. Now I tend to simply enjoy the fact that I left my children at home, and that I'm not responsible for that little fussy person.)

My sister Kate pointed out to our sis Sarah (whose progeny were causing a serious stink about going to bed Christmas night) "It's Christmas. Everybody is having a horrible night."

Sometimes the truth gleams through the darkness brilliantly, and with clarity.

One more highlight I failed to mention: during the annual Christmas Eve Variety Show Family Predictions, my sister predicted that this year I would "write a book entitled, Pinterest is Annoying, and So Are You."

There it is, gleaming. And sparkling.

I'm so glad Christmas is over.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas List

So the spirit of Christmas returned to my heart, mostly because of one cello/piano duet of O Come, O Come Emmanuel during Sunday's Christmas program. And because of MoTab's rendition of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. 

Thank you Carl, Jennifer, and MoTab for infusing the world with songs of beauty and meaning!

Also, thank you neighbors and friends for dropping by with merry wishes and tasty goodies! It's a joyful time of year, and the dear ones all around me bringing treats make it even more so.

Here are some more joyful things:

A) Somebody's chicken pox spots finally scabbed over and started looking less like bubonic plague and more like they might actually heal and that somebody's skin may actually return to it's milky state.

B) Dutch, for being off work for nine lovely consecutive days.

C) Baby, when Dutch retrieved his toddler basketball hoop that somebody threw off the deck into the snowy backyard.

D) Cleaning a bunch of bathrooms today. This is not an inherently joyful activity, but the feeling I achieved upon completion is.

E) Books in wintertime. Books all the time, anytime, and in any season actually, but particularly in this season of inversion, darkness, and freezing temps.

F) My epiphany that I've reached an age or a state of mind (not sure which) wherein I no longer care what I get for Christmas. Not a whit. All I want is peace and harmony among me and mine. And some peppermint chocolate cake on Christmas Day.

G) Memes involving Buddy the Elf.

H) The pack of children at the neighborhood breakfast with Santa, who followed the big man around in a pack, ablaze with smiles.

I) Powdered mountains in every direction.

J) When two-year-olds sing along with the radio to Jingle Bell Rock.

K) Stories like this one, about memorable Christmases in simpler times.

L) Being grateful in the midst of the season.

M) My fridge doors, which are currently plastered with the faces of people I love.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Week in Review

Let's sum up the last week:

1. Jack took to man-handling everything in sight that wasn't nailed down or locked up. He also took to sprinkling Swiss Miss packets in the washer, the heat vents, and the sinks.

2. Jack developed an itchy mystery rash which has been totally bugging him.

3. The mystery rash = chicken pox. The week before Christmas.

4. Did you know that your kid can get chicken pox even if he has been vaccinated for it? Anyway, he can. And it will drive him so crazy that he will open his car door while you are doing 60 mph at the point of the mountain. We both lived. Seat belts save lives.

5. Jack determined that I didn't really need to keep my new "Jane Eyre" DVD intact---the recent Mia Wasikowska/Michael Fassbender version. The totally perfect one.

6. Charlie was the cutest little Santa-obsessed five-year-old ever, who wore pajamas to school on Friday for Pajama Day, but not before asking me if he could also wear underpants and shoes. For the record, my answer was a resounding YES.

7. I subconsciously decided to bring back the muffin top by way of the nonstop Christmas season dessert-fest.

8. I fulfilled yet another viewing of yet another version of Pride and Predjudice, thus ending a lovely, if obsessive, foray into Austen's masterpiece. I feel complete. I'm ready to part for now with Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Unless somebody cranks out a new film adaptation or an Austen-inspired novel. Then I'll be right back in.

9. Truman's hair grew approximately six inches.

10. I found that when Jack is plagued by a pox, the spirit of Christmas ebbs and flows around here. Mostly, it's been ebbing. The nature of Jack's discontent is to overtake the entire household. Maybe the Christmas spirit will return, like a high tide.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Lowered Expectations

Whenever I caught a glimpse of the Christmas tree today, my body temperature became instantly feverish, and my vision was blurred by the flames shooting out of my eyeballs.

Yesterday Jack went on a tour de abode while we were talking to our home teachers. The upshot of his rampage is that the once-stately Christmas tree lay humiliated on the floor, surrounded by a swath of ornaments and a pool of water into which Jack had apparently been stuffing food for weeks. The throw-down transferred the stinking Petri dish/tree water from the tree stand to the rug.

I woke in the middle of the night yesterday and walked downstairs to see that the top of the tree was dark as some lights had tumbled down in the assault by the nine-year-old. Standing on a chair and re-stringing the lights on the top of the cork bark fir in the very wee hours, I wanted so badly to go upstairs and karate-chop Jack. See how he likes being the recipient of the too-deep sensory pressure. 

Author's Aside: He would probably like being karate chopped, because it would somehow be just the right amount of deep sensory input, as well as being delightfully unexpected. He would probably laugh.

I don't know how to teach Jack to stop trashing things when he is frustrated/mad/bored/sick. 

My inability to change this behavior leaves me fuming with so much natural gas fired heat that the air probably distorts and shimmers around me. Stay back. Be wary of explosion.

Thus, the irrational and consuming anger every time I looked at the Christmas tree today.

I don't have the heart to fix it. Why should I rehang the ornaments and the garlands when they will almost surely be vandalized again?

Because Christmas is almost here, that's why, and it would be nice to have more than two ornaments and one drooping felt chain falling off the tree and dragging on the floor as we gather in the family room on Christmas Day.

I sat by my neighbor, Jennifer, as a Christmas dinner recently. She shared with me a treasured bit of information she has recently gleaned from a mom who she looks up to (and I quote), "Because she has successfully raised seven children, none of whom are serial killers."

This is the advice from the mom of the seven reasonably law-abiding grown children:

Lower your expectations.

It makes sense. Jennifer has gained a sense of lightness and freedom from this wise gem. I'm mulling over how to apply it effectively in my family.

I'll compose a list of possible ways to lower the expectations:

1. Leave the denuded tree as it is. Let Christmas happen in Whoville with no baubles and garlands.

2. That's all I can come up with at present.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Morning with Charles and Ebenezer

If I write about how I feel so light and airy and free from stress, then it is inevitable that Jack will respond by putting a small child in a headlock at church, getting strep throat, smashing a pretty Christmas plate, and wiping diaper cream all over the chair-and-a-half in my bedroom.

I need to internalize this inevitability.

I stayed really calm tonight when he deuced on the basement carpet, tossed baby's basketball hoop into the Christmas tree, and ate six mini bags of chips. Then he fingerpainted diaper cream all over the upholstery and I lost it.

I called my son a curse word.

Did you know that diaper cream is designed to not be water soluble? It's designed to block water, meaning that if you want to clean it out of fabric, you can keep dreaming.

As long as I'm confessing scandalous things, I put the baby down for an early nap today and spent the morning reading A Christmas Carol by the fire, totally not caring about the Big List of Things That Need Doing. Also, I was inhaling some amazing popcorn at the time, a la the Pioneer Woman. That last bit is an important part of getting a good visual on my tableau of scandal, don't you agree?

I'm not sure how it took me until my middle thirties to recognize that Charles Dickens has one of the best literary voices of anyone, anywhere. I mean, he is so readable. I didn't think so in high school. Or even in college. Now, however, I find him brilliant.

A Christmas Carol is so much more than the abbreviated Disney and Muppet versions they churn out every few years. Dickens invented the trope of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. He painted, with words, Jacob Marley's face as the door knocker and he did it with a deft hand at imagery and dialogue. There is a depth to the unabridged story.

There is some value in reading it as a grown up, when it can effectively resonate with one's own life experience. It's also nice to read it on a cushion by the fire, with some buttered and sugared up popcorn handy, while disregarding one's To Do List.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Happily Behaving Blogs Don't Make History

I've sort of been at a loss recently about the blog. It's like my brain has skipped town and left me idling on autopilot. I completely lack the capacity for creative thinking.

Maybe my problem is that I've been reading too many books (if there were such a thing as too many books, which there isn't). I've been devouring books. And I've been loving it. I'm so wrapped up in fiction that I don't have time for my own neuroses. Just time for books.

Maybe the sticking point is that I feel unnaturally calm and relaxed. When I am this peaceful, I swear I have nothing to write about because it's all rainbows and snowflakes and unicorns. When the conflict is gone, what is there to say? Isn't this the crux of novels? Of all writing?

Nobody wants to hear a saccharin love letter to how great one's life is. And if they do, there are plenty of blogs out there which would serve that purpose nicely. We want reality, right peeps? We want honest and funny and interesting. And we only want it whenever we demand it, instantaneously. Is it too much to ask? Srsly.

So here is a bit of reality. Yesterday morning, Jack's pre-church tally of mischief included:
1. Peeing on the couch.
2. Squirting craft paint into the heat vent.
3. Smearing glitter paint onto an armchair.
4. Tossing the TV remote off the deck and into the undisturbed snow field which was the backyard.
5. Shredding some Doritos packaging and cramming it into the slats above and below the fireplace.
6. Changing outfits five times.

And yet, I feel like I am swimming in a pool of bliss. I have no idea why. Often, when Jack goes rampaging, I can find the humor in it and laugh it off. Occasionally, I want to tie a bandana filled with  Dino nuggets and Cheetos onto a hobo stick and hand it Jack as I send him off to find a new house to dismantle.

Something great happened after church on Sunday, and ever since then I've felt like the old guy in Up when he kicks his house loose from it's footings and lets fly the balloons that carry his house to Paradise Falls.

We had a little conversation with someone which left Jeff and I shaking our heads in happy, stunned amazement. It was something unexpected and simple and refreshing. After this brief exchange, I felt like a giant, heavy backpack on my shoulders had poof! just disappeared.

I'm intentionally being vague, and I'm sorry.

Just know that I feel a little like a painted Victorian attached to a balloon bouquet, sailing over the tops of things.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

So This is Christmas

Now that Andy Williams is singing about how it's the most wonderful time of the year, I've been hearing the inevitable talk about the stress of the season.

This sort of discussion isn't always overt. It can be wrapped up discreetly in a conversation, for instance, between those who adore the Elf on the Shelf tradition in their homes, and those who think the Elf is an over-the-top energy-suck brought to us by the Pinterest Generation.

The pressures of holiday expectations can be hidden in a lament about not having one's Christmas tree up yet, or a whine about needing to send out greeting cards. It can be stressing about shopping, or cooking a big holiday dinner, or figuring out gifts for the neighbors/teachers/bus drivers/friends.

In years past, I was the one of the stress cases. Christmas was busy and anxiety-producing for me. I felt I had to keep up with the Ambiguous Standards of Christmastime, which is really dumb because the whole point of Christmas is peace and joy, which is by definition the opposite of stress and anxiety.

I've been evolving recently to a place of :
1) Not caring what people think about the way I keep the season.
2) Not kowtowing to outside pressures to be busy! and amazing! and Pinterest-worthy!
3) Not wondering if the way we do Christmas is good enough.

May I just say that the path to not caring about expectations is so completely fabulous? Because it is. It's like jumping on a tube and flying down a snowy hill with icy powder invigorating your face. Not stressing is beautiful!

What (you may be asking yourself) was the reason for my switcheroo? I'll tell you.

In the twelve months leading up to this Christmas, my third son was diagnosed with Autism and anxiety.

We went from a family with one special-needs son, to a family where half the children have special needs. During the past two years, my son's behavior went from normal and unremarkable to worrisome and extremely difficult to manage.

We have two boys on the spectrum now.

Both boys have other diagnoses as well. It's nothing that I haven't discussed on the blog before; it's our reality. We have come to terms with these challenges and begun to move forward. We also still face a lot of daily difficulties.

It's both the big picture of what our family is and the daily challenges that we have that have changed Christmas for me.

This week I dropped off dinner to a neighbor with terminal cancer. Her Christmas tree was up, but only partially adorned because she lacks the energy to finish it. She had had a rough day---on a string of many other rough days. Seeing her hardship and her gratitude amplified for me the lessons I've started to learn this year.

The behaviors and the diagnoses--they have been God's gift to me this year. It might seem counterintuitive but it's not. In the learning and accepting and adjusting to difficult things, I figured something out:

Christmas is remembering that Jesus was born and lived and died.

That's it.

That's all it is.

And it actually is everything.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Book Review and a Hubs Who's Better Than Mr. Darcy

I'm reading Longbourn by Jo Baker. It's right up my alley---a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of the Bennett servants at Longbourn.

I'm pretty certain that had I lived in Regency-era pastoral England, I would have lived downstairs, baking the puddings and scrubbing the linen of the gentry upstairs. Some of Dutch's real-life ancestors came from outside Cambridge, where one William G. was a gardner at a great house. We descend from the honest working class.

This book has gorgeous imagery and historical astuteness rivaling a Geraldine Brooks novel. Reading about the ins and outs of the invisible characters who made life possible for the gentlefolk has got me appreciating indoor plumbing, washers and dryers, paved roads, automobiles, modern medicine, and the fact that now we have employment and education possibilities beyond the limits of our birth.

I move that we all give thanks for the option of mobility through social strata. Seriously though.

This book has me mulling over what daily drudgery is. For the Bennetts, the Bingleys, the Darcys, and their ilk, a life of pleasure happened above while a bevy of workers handled the distasteful tasks below.

Though I identify with Sarah, the Bennetts' housemaid, I found myself today wishing  I had a helpful housemaid below stairs. I wished I could summon her to clean up the "hippo-sized poo" (according to Henry) that Jack planted on the living room rug. I would've let her handle the handprint deuce streaks on the bathroom door, and the piles of laundry created by two boys who can't ever keep their pants on. Literally. I would've outfitted her with the shop vac and asked her to remove all traces of Cap'n Crunch from the floor, along with all the other crushed remains of mealtime.

Meanwhile, I would've dozed by the fire like Mr. Bennett, or played the pianoforte like Mary.

But the only people below stairs here are the boys playing Xbox.

It's okay. There is something to be said for cleaning one's own house and handling one's own hippo-sized kid poo disasters.

There is also definitely something to be said for the husband who handles shop-vac duty and kitchen cleanup, and who brings you dinner in bed, where you sit beneath an electric blanket while reading about servants in an Austen-era country house.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wild Geese that Fly With the Moon on Their Wings

These are a few of my favorite things:

A) Children, mine and others'.

They are weird and funny, sweet and opinionated small people.

I like that I get to watch them grow and help shepherd them along the path to adulthood.

I like seeing my toddler pick up my phone and say to me, "No sir. I call China."

I like being privy to sights like Jack fleeing when Grandpa fires up a chainsaw to trim the bottom of the fresh Christmas tree, and then turning around and running back with a smile plastered to his face to watch the excitement.

I like tucking them into flannel owl blankets.

I like baking them bran applesauce muffins and brownies.

I like watching from the kitchen window as they bounce like popcorn kernels on the trampoline and pump their legs higher on the swings and let the tetherball fly in wild arcs.

I like combing their thick damp hair after a bath, and putting them in their jammies.

I like when we are all in the same room together, or in the car together. All together.

B) Friends, close by and far away.

One of the beauties of being a grownup is being a central player in an ever-growing circle of people you love. Friends aren't limited to school chums and neighbor kids and cousins. Proximity is no longer the main requirement for friendship, as it might have been in childhood.

I love my dear, dear friends from all the phases of my life: my youth, college, graduate school, the neighborhood where we bought our first home, our time in Early Intervention, our current neighborhood. They are people who knew me when I was young and stupid, and those who met me when I was older and still kinda dumb.

True friends are a gift, and I have been given so many. On a related note, I'm also grateful for Instagram. And blogs. And FB. And the invention of the text message.

C) The Hubs

Because we are a team, like Katniss and Peeta, but without the conflicted parts to the love story. And also, I am not taller than Dutch. And we are not good at archery and cake decorating, respectively.

I'm grateful for someone who gets me.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


This afternoon was memorable with my eldest son's priesthood ordination, and then a celebratory lunch afterward.

Here are a few snippets of the day prior to and during the events:

1. Jack threw my large glass vase filled with water and the flowers I bought for the big day across the vestibule. Ten million shards of glass covered a surprisingly large swath of the house. Also, sticky flower water was everywhere, along with glass shards.

2. Jack flushed a ball down the toilet. Jeff had to remove said toilet from it's fittings to extract it (slightly bigger than a tennis ball). Jeff had to go out for a new wax ring and caulk so he could reseat the toilet before our guests came.

3. Jeff found that Jack had also packed the drain of the bathroom sink with a) string, b) Kleenex, and c) paper, and d) a straw. Unclogging that was a separate project.

4. Jack tipped over the Christmas tree.

5. While in time-out for toppling the tree, Jack tipped his bed on its side and removed the mattress.

6. Jack removed his church clothes after getting dressed and threw them at me. I'll admit---an effective way to communicate "church ain't happening for me today."

7. Jack pooped in the corner of the living room, behind the armchair because, well why not?

8. Jack shredded various important forms and papers and then stuffed them in the grill on the deck.

9. Charlie and I had a showdown over pants. He only will wear one pair of his pants. None of the others will do. He also likes to change clothes 6-8 times per day. You can see how this could be a problem. But it's my problem. He hounds me about pants until I'm ready to throw a chair through a window and scream, "Do what you want, pant-wise, but leave me out of it!"

10. I had a meltdown.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Boy Who Is So Much Fun

Twelve years ago tomorrow, I felt like someone had attached a vice to my lower back and was crushing my will to live. Apparently, they call this "back labor."

My firstborn was prepping to make his debut. Jeff took the day off work. He listened to me moan and groan. He rented me seven videos from Blockbuster (ha!), none of which we watched. My sister stopped by to visit and remembers me barking at her for leaving a glass in the sink after getting a drink. Laboring women are such a drag.

After infinite hours of the back vice, we left for the hospital and found that all the pregnant women everywhere had also decided to show up at that very moment to deliver their babies.

Dutch's famous quote of that evening (he turned and said this to me in a stressed-out huff as we walked into labor and delivery; I was walking slowly and breathing deeply through a contraction): "Hurry up! You can do that when we get inside."

A few dicey hours later our strawberry-blonde boy arrived.

Here are a few things I did not know about Henry on that Eve of Thanksgiving when he was first born, and swaddled in the shape of a kidney bean:

* that he would spend his preschool years with the preferred name of "Mr. Horse."

* that he would coin much of our family's lexicon with his exuberant sayings. ("When I say 'Grandma's house,' you say 'yay!'). When it's cold we wear glubs. For breakfast we eat mawffles. When our arms are full, we have "too many hands," and when something ends "it's ozer."

* that he would be a source of So Much Fun in our family. He's the little-brother-magnet, the instigator of hide & seek, the organizer of walks to the ice cream shop. 

* that every night he craves popcorn, and he has a major affinity for Dunford chocolate doughnuts.

* that he would be sporty and athletic, even though his parents are not. 

* that he would be kind and empathetic to his younger brothers with disabilities; that he would treat people who are different with kindness.

* that he would be at my side through great difficulty. Many times when Jeff has been at work and I've been in the swampy hinterlands of raising children with behavioral problems, communication problems, and potty-training problems, Henry has stood by me. 

* that he would be wise beyond his years in understanding what it means to care for someone who can't care for themselves.

* that he would be a special helper in our family.

* that he would go before his brothers, being an example of "what boys should do." 

It's a milestone birthday for my eldest son. I felt grateful that Thanksgiving Eve of his birth; but I am more grateful now.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Horse.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Open Letter to a New Mom of a Special-Needs Newborn

Dear New Mom of a Newborn with a Syndrome,

I don't know you personally, but because your sister is a friend of my sister, I saw on social media that you gave birth to a special little baby this week.

Congratulations, momma. Your son is beautiful. He is perfect. He is strong and valiant.

I'm writing this not because I think you need to hear it, but because seeing snatches of you and your baby have washed a wave of memories over me. I'm writing because my own experience delivering a special baby has all bubbled to the surface and I need to put it down.

Looking at your beautiful, weary face reminded me of the stress and uncertainty that ate at me when my own son was born with a rare syndrome nearly ten years ago. The anxiety of not knowing what the future held for my cherished baby was like a thief, stealing away much of the joy accompanying his birth. If I could, I would tell ten-years-ago me to hold onto the joy anyway---to be less afraid and more ardently, tenaciously hopeful.

Seeing you gaze at your tiny baby in your arms was a spiritual experience for me. It was a visual portrayal of something very sacred: a special little soul has joined your family, and you will never be the same again. Your special baby will make your whole family special.

Thinking back on the springtime birth of my second son, I remember feeling guilty--like I was to blame because I was his mother and had clearly done something wrong. I also felt the need to explain to anyone who called or visited that something was up with my baby. He was different. I realize now that I was unwittingly progressing through the stages of grief. I was grieving the "perfect" infant I thought I would deliver.

The clarity of hindsight afforded me by the last ten years helps me see clearly now what was cloudy and murky back then. Your baby's condition, whatever it entails, doesn't have to be tragic. He is beginning his own story, apart from you physically, yet intrinsically connected to you in other ways.

His journey may not look like yours, or his siblings' or cousins'. My advice is to resist the urge to be heartbroken by this. His path may look different, but it is his.

My own trek through the wilderness of raising special children has distilled in me something I wouldn't have believed ten years ago, but which I now know to be completely true: things will be okay. 

Life as you know it may change; you will change. But with faith and a great deal of effort, it's going to work out.

Here's why:

I believe that God sent you your valiant, special son. His birth in your family was not accidental, but a gift.

I know this is true of my family, with my two special sons. They aren't a mistake. They are evidence of God's goodness. Their spirits are perfect, though their bodies and minds are not.

I can't tell the old me this, because she is long gone, but I can say it to you, beautiful, tired new mom: your little gift, your little boy, is going to make you strong and wise and happy because he is yours.

You can do it.

God will help.

Lots of Love,
A kindred parent

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Back in the Kirkland Signature Saddle

A few months ago, I packed up my two little boys and went to Costco for milk, etc. As we walked through the parking lot, Charlie was like a pinball slamming this way and that at high speeds. He asked, shouting, if we could buy chocolate raisins. I assured him that if he could be a) quiet, and b) good that we would indeed buy the large container of chocolate raisins.

But I should've realized that Charlie had already launched through the stratosphere and was now orbiting the earth. When we walked through those big open doors and he caught a panoramic view of the entire warehouse, Charlie wigged, hard core. Shrieking and writhing, he was desperate to leave.

So we left.

No biggie. I'm accustomed to Costco patrons staring when one of us loses control. Once when I was extremely pregnant with Littlest, Charlie flipped out in the shopping cart and stepped on my slice of combo pizza. Large, frustrated, pregnant, and perpetually hungry me looked at Charlie and my smashed, ruined pizza. Then I swore. Audibly. A swath of patrons in the food court line looked at me in slack-jawed shock. Apparently, nobody swears at Costco. Except for the giant woman with a giant belly and swollen ankles, pushing a giant cart piled with groceries and a screaming preschooler.

I'm down with people at Costco thinking we are nuts.

Anyhoo, I recount this story because today I packed up my two little boys and decided the time had come to put Charlie back on the Costco pony, figuratively speaking. We needed to return a sweater. Easy, fast, simple.

As we walked through the parking lot, Charlie asked me repeatedly if Costco has doors. He was fretting, but functional. We went inside, waited in line, and made our return. Charlie asked if we could get pizza.

You betcha.

Two quiet boys chowed on pizza and drinks and suckers from the bank all the way home.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's Curtains for Us: A Little Household Purgatory

Some people have described hell as a state of being acutely disappointed in oneself. Aron Ralston described hell as being trapped for days in the bottom of a cold dark canyon, alone.

But I discovered today that hell is actually ironing a bunch of enormous curtains.

If I do not live well, when I die, I believe I will be made to forever launder giant applesauce and Dorito-stained drapery panels and then spend an eternity trying with heat and starch to make them look crisp (it's impossible, btw).

I loathe ironing, which didn't help this cause.

So much effort, so much time devoted to a fruitless task. My boys don't give a Fig Newton that I have spent the better part of two days undoing the damage they have done to the window treatments. I have a feeling that unless I turn into an anthropomorphic female Great Wall blocking their access, they will be right back at wrapping themselves in the curtains, while wiping their hands and faces thereon.

It's such a first-world problem, it's ridiculous. As I cursed to myself while wielding the hot iron, I deep-down thanked heaven that I had a house free from typhoon damage in which to hang some curtains.

Cursing while giving thanks is one of those delectable ironies which is not lost on me.

I'm tremendously grateful for the boys who live in this house, and for the house that is taking a beating from the boys. There's a destructive symbiotic relationship happening with our abode and it's hard-livin' occupants. The guys are wrecking the floors, the walls, the mouldings, the toilets, the sinks, the light fixtures, and the window coverings (obvs).

Jeff and I are trying sooooooo hard to keep pace with the boy-caused destruction. We clean things. We repair things. We replace things. But it's difficult to keep up. Just this week, Jeff pulled with his pipe snake an action-figure, a fist-sized beanbag, and three toothbrushes from the toilets of this house. We are a sewer-system catastrophe in waiting.

Also ironic: that we are being undone by things put in toilets which don't belong there, while the poops are landing daily anywhere but toilets. As I bathed the five- and two-year-olds tonight, Jack tagged four areas of the house with his BM.

Maybe Alanis Morrisette should write a song about us.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Holiday Planning Notebook

I'm dying to put up my Christmas tree. I can't do it yet because it's a fresh tree and it has yet to be cut and tied to the top of our car for special delivery at home. But I did fire up the Pandora holiday hits and had a little dance party in the kitchen to Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas is You." Strangely, this is a holiday classic since it's been around since like 1992.

Okay, so it's 1994. I just looked it up. But it's been around long enough that Michael Buble has covered it. Successfully. Jack liked my dancing. He laughed the whole time. Baby stared at me with mild interest. Charlie said, "Stop dancing."

Anyway, I can't put up my tree for another week, but I can start wrapping the few gifts I've picked up. And I can listen to Christmas music nonstop.

The really terrific holiday news, however, is that we have made definitive Thanksgiving plans. At last! We are doing something this year which may not please all the folks, but it will keep us sane. We are staying home and cooking our own dinner.

This is one of those special-needs-driven moments in holiday planning. Our special need for Thanksgiving is to eat it casually, at home, with the illusion for a couple of boys that it's just a regular day. With turkey and pie and football in the background.

The boys really struggle with big groups of people, even when they are relatives. The more we do holidays in a Jack-proof house, the better. I feel pretty elated about this decision. It's the only alternative that offers any possibility of quiet, restful moments for the mom and the dad.

We've also decided that we are preordering pies from Kneaders, so pat me on the back for being a total genius.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Let's Visit the Shrink

This morning I climbed out of my warm bed before my children woke, to the chirping of a smoke detector in need of a new battery. It was too early to get up, but there would be no buses coming to collect my boys for school today. The behavioral health clinic and my boys' psychiatrist were waiting.

The look of that squat, blocky building on the university campus with it's warrens of harshly-lighted hallways and windowless offices, embodies the way I used to feel about going there. It always felt soul-crushing, particularly when our insurance didn't cover it and we were "self-pay." They should've handed me back my debit card with a receipt which read at the bottom, "You are now officially a family who drops a wad for psychiatric appointments, even though you have insurance, which doesn't choose to cover this type of thing."

I'd look around that bland, dated waiting area and think, "No one wants to be here."

I felt differently today. I wasn't depressed walking through those colorless hallways. I watched my two boys, age nine and five, trundle along, happily racing each other to the familiar clinic. We know this place. It has no more destructive power over us, after the initial sledgehammer impact of the diagnoses. It dropped the bomb, and now it's here to help us put the pieces back together and move on.

We adjusted some meds. We talked about positive reinforcement. We discussed how to convince Jack to stop shredding things and then cramming them down the heat vents. As we talked about the shredding and the cramming, Jack casually picked up a puzzle piece from the floor, walked to the vent unit on the wall and stuffed the puzzle piece down.

Cue the demonstration of the "behaviors." Doh!

Dr. M assured me that the only people who would miss that puzzle piece would be her OCD patients, who would be forced to practice flexibility when putting it together.

We left on a buoyant note (yay for insurance which now covers the psychiatrist at the behavioral health clinic!) and had cheeseburgers and chicken strips at Aunt Kate's house, where Littlest spent the morning playing with his cousin.

It's progress.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Give Me Five

I wrote an essay in graduate school about how my four sisters and I resembled the five fingers on a hand. We came from the same place---the same family, but we were stretching into different directions and different lives. We were connected, yet we were going our own way.

The tone of the essay reflected the need the five of us girls had to differentiate ourselves from each other in subtle yet distinct ways. We didn't want to be lumped together. I didn't, anyway. No lumping, people. We needed separate identities, unique life experiences. Our pursuit to be identified as independent people was key as we grew and left home.

As the middle child, apparently I was a self-appointed analyst of the five sister dynamic. I guess I felt uniquely qualified to observe and dissect our sisterly behavior. Middle children have identity issues, amirite?

That was a dozen years ago, before any of us had children. Now we all have children. Between the five of us, we have 13.75 children. We've moved from twenty-somethings with a penchant for self-actualization to thirty- and forty-something's with families and uber-busy lives.

My sisters and I recently spent an entire evening trying to identify a date when we are all available for an overnight girls' getaway downtown during the upcoming holiday season. This task proved essentially impossible because we are all busy as sin, with completely irreconcilable schedules. I daresay that our encroaching responsibilities stand in the way of our connection to each other more than anything else does.

Is it too much to ask to spend a day and a night downtown with my mom and my sisters, eating non-kid food and shopping and not cleaning up after people?! The answer to that question is "probably."

Several days and multiple email conversations later, we are still laboriously figuring out a date that sort of works for everyone. We are soldiering onward, determined to do this thing. I think we can make it work. We want everyone there. My youngest sis said it well: "No sister left behind."

Give us our night away! The five fingers need to stop the jazz hand position and draw close, like a fist.

But not an angry fist. More of a back-off-while-we-hang-out-and-reconnect kind of a fist. Maybe a fist bump kind of a fist.

Or a victory fist raised high.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Baby Turns Two

Tonight at the family dinner, we remembered why winter is the unpopular step-sibling of the other, more gregarious seasons.

Winter family dinners move us from the spacious kid-friendly backyard into the not-as-spacious house where suddenly everybody is shouting to be heard over the din of everybody else shouting to be heard. All twenty-five of us. We love each other, but seriously. We are totally pirates.

My two-year-old ate his mashed potatoes and gravy using only his fingers. My five-year-old put on a dress he found in grandma's basement. Jack accidentally knocked over a can of orange soda and doused his pants in the process, which meant that he decided he needed to go pantless while his sweats were tumble drying.

Basically, just your average Sunday evening.

In other news, my littlest boy turned two today, which makes me glad.

I'm glad that he can walk and talk and be sassy and fun. I'm glad he is not currently riding in an ambulance transport to a bigger hospital with a better NICU. I'm glad he isn't on a ventilator. I'm glad he doesn't have a tube running from his nose to his stomach for gavage feeds. I'm glad I don't have to drive forty-five minutes each direction to visit him. I'm glad he can run and clap and sing songs and be happy.

Basically I'm really glad that he and I (and the other guys) made it through the last two years. When Littlest came along and lived his first month of life in an isolette in the newborn intensive care unit, we began a journey from three children to four. Some people appear to do this effortlessly. I've heard from more than one seasoned parent that once you have three kids, it's all chaos, so adding another is no biggie.


Maybe for them. Maybe they are gifted in the parenting arts. Maybe they have easy offspring. Maybe they like to tell falsehoods.

Adding our fourth son to our already unique family felt rather like adding thirteen additional people into the family dynamic. Jack and Charlie both went berserk what with the hospital stay and then the baby coming home. Jack reacted to his newest sibling by painting the house with poo. Charlie began the downward behavior spiral that prompted us to seek evaluation and diagnosis.

Two years later, I'm really glad it's two years later.

We have come a long way from the baby who couldn't stay awake long enough to drink two ounces of milk, and the big brother who took Code Browns to a dastardly new level. The brother who went off the rails when the baby came home from his sojourn in the NICU? He tantrums less and asks questions more. He says please and thank you, and he flourishes with routines.

I wish I could say that I've forgotten the meaning of the term Code Brown, but today we discovered a petrified poop beneath the TV armoire downstairs.

There is always room for improvement. But there is also reason for thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


What is fear?

Halloween is here, and my kindergartener is terrified. He doesn't care about witches and skeletons and the like. He's afraid of the unknown. The prospect of wearing his costume to school, participating in a costume parade, and joining in a class party are causing him panic attacks. The most highly anticipated day of the entire school year for most children is the scariest day imaginable to my Charlie.

I'm trying to decide if I'm going to force him on the bus in his Captain America getup, essentially throwing him to the elementary school wolves, or if I make my life easier and let him stay home. It would be one less costume parade for me to attend, and since I have three boys in three different parades at three different schools, it sounds pretty tempting.

I've said it before and I'll say it right now: holidays like Halloween are stressful for kids with special needs. At least they are for mine. By association, holidays like Halloween are also stressful for me, the mom.

Let's hear it for the beautiful nothingness of November 1st, everyone!

Speaking of fear...

We saw a terrifying movie on our date last weekend which made me realize that I have a deep-seated fear of outer space. I was so afraid in Sandra Bullock's behalf as we watched Gravity, that I wanted to leave the theater just to make the anxiety stop. Costume parades don't scare me, but the cold, empty, airless, nothingness of space makes my blood ice over.

Spinning into outer darkness with no hope of survival or rescue---stop it, I can't take it! Panicking!

I'm one of these crazy types who secretly enjoys tuning her radio to an easy listening/soft hits station the day after October 31st to find the nonstop Christmas music. Maybe early Halloween morning I should put on my James Taylor holiday album so I can find my happy place. And help Charlie find his.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Therapeutic: adj. curative, restorative, healing

My five-year-old has started daily behavior therapy.

For a couple of hours every afternoon, he works on reading, identifying patterns, following directions, and honing his fine motor skills among other things. We both love it---he, because someone other than me is introducing lots of new toys and games into our home daily while giving him oodles of attention and reinforcement; me, because Charlie is learning and practicing useful skills instead of running away from me and jumping the fence to the neighbors'.

It's a win-win.

We've been down the in-home behavioral therapy road before. Jack did it for about three years. He went from screaming at the sight of his younger brother, to sitting side by side at a little table with the same brother and driving tiny toy trucks through play-doh. Happily. Together.

Before therapy: we could not sit at a table together for mealtime. Jack got up and wandered off as soon as anyone else sat down. There was no eating, just the throwing of food with a side of shrieking.

After therapy: we can all surround the table at the same time...while eating the separate foods that my morbidly picky eaters find acceptable. Did I say we were perfect? I am just sublimely happy that Jack will sit with us at dinner time and nosh on his Dino nuggets.

Jack came a long way in his years of therapy.

His therapists were a helpful little army of believers in Jack. They were not put off by poo. They knew how to outlast one of Jack's tantrums (which, btw, is the only way to change behavior). They were patient, but they were mostly just fun. They felt a little like family, in that they knew everything about us, yet they kept coming back. They put up with the irritating because they could see the big picture.

I still love them for it.

Our little five-year-old neighbor came to play after therapy today. As he and Charlie sat coloring pictures, our neighbor spied the therapy binder and asked what it was. I explained that it was a folder containing all the information for Charlie's therapy.

"Does Charlie learn to do somersaults during therapy?" Our little friend asked.

"He does letters, and puzzles, and games," I explained.

"Do you think I need therapy?" He wondered aloud.

No, little neighbor boy, you do not need therapy. You are bright, and kind, and focused, and well-mannered. But as for my family, we can really use some curative, restorative, healing therapy.

It's therapeutic.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

What Special-Needs Families Do

I'm going to write about what families with special-needs children do.

But before I get into that, I'm eulogizing the beautiful weather which has filled my home with sunlight and the dappled shadows of the bright yellow cottonwood leaves outside. We've reached the cusp of the lovely fall weather. It's about ready to be blown out by something cold and wet. I'm not ready for this, mainly because I spent the last month being sickly indoors. I didn't get my fill of our temperate October.

The imminent change in weather has me waxing nostalgic for fall. Fall is still here, but it's morphing, so I am already lamenting it. I'm lamenting the end of the season when the boys play happily and at length outside, as I'm also mourning the option of leaving a few windows open for fresh air to cleanse the stinky house.

But I'm not entirely mournful. I sometimes surprise myself by summoning the perspicacity to figure out something meaningful. I did this recently. I figured out what special-needs families do.

You see, I run in some interesting circles where I meet people with disabled children. There's my online support group, my real life support group, plus myriad friends who like me have large families which include a child (or children) with special needs.

As much as a family touched by special-needs may appear basically typical on the surface, said family is actually nothing close to being typical.

They are different. We are different. I've been mentally compiling a list of the differences. I could outline them for you in a tidy list, but there's no need because the whole list boils down to one central factor.

Here it is. Are you ready for it?

Special-needs families are trying to survive.

That's it.

It's one little word and one major concept: survival. Just staying afloat.

It's a stark contrast on social media: there are the moms of special children discussing feeding tubes, seizures, daily meds, oxygen, hospitalizations, appointments with specialists, insurance snafus, and guilt. Or like me, they are discussing behavior death spirals, nonverbal child meltdowns, IEP meetings, and Code Browns.

It's less about vacations and home renovations, and more about therapy and sibling dynamics. Less flourishing; more hanging on by the fingernails.

A recurring theme among many of my online support group friends is the financial devastation which so often accompanies having a special-needs child---it's the elephant in the room for many special-needs families, hiding in plain sight from friends and family who may be unaware it is there.

When special-needs moms tag themselves at a location, it's likely at the children's hospital.

This is not a condemnation of what people put on social media. I peruse it. I consume it. I think most of it is great.

This is just me finally putting my finger on a concept that has alluded me, but which I am beginning to understand.

The difference between my family and so many others is this: we are desperately trying to survive. Non-essentials typically fall by the wayside.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Here's to Good Health

"Mom?" said my eldest, as I retrieved tomato sauce from the cold storage room.

"I've noticed you're starting to cook again. I really love it."

This is what happens when you spend the month of October in a netherworld of perpetual illness. But then you emerge, and make dinner, and a few people notice, and are happy.

Perhaps my rendezvous with October will be better next year.

Meantime, I made it through. Let's eat, peeps.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How to Blow Your Top at Church: A Guide

In case you were wondering how to go completely off the rails at church, I've made some notes:

A) Decide you are fed up! with leaving church because a certain kid is getting loud and screamy, but then later coming back to church because you have a calling. A separate calling, in addition to your life-long parenting gig of your extraordinary child.

B) Decide to stay with said kid in primary, because that is technically where nine-year-olds go during Sunday School. Damn the torpedoes.

C) Watch tiny super-smart three-year-olds perfectly recite their speaking parts in practice for the primary program next week.

D) Gaze at your squirming nine-year-old who is loudly repeating "Shhhh!" without understanding the concept.

E) Realize it was a giant mistake to do this; this awful side-by-side comparison of Jack with all the other children.

F) Take Jack to the senior nursery, where he is warmly welcomed by Susan G., who is an angel person and loves to watch over Jack in the nursery.

G) Watch Jack settle down happily among a roomful of little girls who are half his size, to play with toys.

H) Hold it together through the rest of church......until your neighbors Fred and Shirley stop you in the parking lot and ask you what's wrong.

I) Cue the meltdown (mine, not Jack's). Unload to your friends about the misery of being the mom while being sick for three weeks straight, about being tired of the messes, about not having the energy to care about Halloween, about Jack & church, and Jack & his brothers, about Jack & the shredded house, about Jack & me.

J) Feel a little better, post-rant.

K) Feel grateful that F&S reached across the ravine where I stood with Jack, and snatched us back toward them. And held onto us. And made us feel like we belonged.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Bossy Toddlers Not Allowed: Or, Arby's is Not Burger King

It's been a loooong time since Dutch and I went on a date. Like a real date. With dinner AND a movie, and a stop for some groceries on the way home.

We are super romantic, see.

A real date is not running to get sandwiches at 9:00 pm while the little boys are asleep and the biggest boy is in charge.

A real date involves the cinema.

It is not sneaking away when people are sleeping and you want to be sleeping yourself. It is decidedly before bedtime.

This is the good news: after a lengthy dating dry spell, the hubs and I are back.

I wanted to link arms with my husband and skip, whistling through the theater parking lot, but Dutch isn't cheesy like that. He doesn't care to make a scene.

We talked about things, like the way our toddler bosses everyone around. Kid is such a sass pants.

Dutch reminded me of the road trip when my dad saw a freeway sign for Arby's and asked everyone in the car, "Arby's---that's not Burger King is it?"

The only way to respond to that question, btw, is: "No Dad. Arby's is not Burger King."

We shared a chocolate malt.

We saw a movie.

We stopped for groceries.

We returned home to find that Jack had enjoyed himself a sweet evening treat of a heaping 5 lb. bowl of m&m's. Seriously kid. Save some for the food storage.

We call it our date night, but it's really just couples therapy. (Dinner + cinema) - children = a cleansing of the emotional palate.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Welcome to Our Messy Home

Since I have been under the weather, I have come to terms with living in a messy house. I actually saw this as progress, as Younger Me would have crawled from her sickbed to shine the bathrooms and put away everyone's backpacks anyway.

I am mildly pleased with myself for accepting the squalor.

When Charlie created an art installation from the pumpkins and Jack Be Little gourds in our entryway, I left them as they were---which is to say, underfoot and all over the hall.

When Jack ate a brownie (or three) on the couch, I didn't panic about the crumbs. I left them to get even more crumbly. Then I vacuumed them up a few days later.

When Jack and Charlie spent the end of Fall Break unloading the linen closet all over the upstairs hallway, I rolled my eyes and left it alone. It's a wonder to behold: my upstairs hallway covered in rugs and duffel bags, quilts and a couple of small Christmas trees. Jack's attention to detail is impressive; he wrapped the trees with lights, and then wrapped the lights with extension cords.

While I'm newly messy, I'm not a hoarder.

At my core, I'm really the anti-hoarder. This is because hoarders hate to part with material goods, even if it means that keeping them will result in a kitchen that looks like a landfill.

I'm anti-hoarding because I throw everything away. To a fault. Someone isn't directly using it, but it's on my counter? Get it out of my sight. Trash that pointless junk. Henry has started declaring that it would be really helpful if the half-eaten muffin and the homework on the counter were there when he returned from the bathroom.

Sometimes I dream of employing a house cleaner, who would receive the following instructions:

Please clean the bathrooms, thoroughly, before dusting/mopping/vacuuming etc. Any items (socks, toys, Christmas trees, shredded photographs, suitcases, castoff vacuums, etc.) which impede the cleaning may be tossed in the garbage without a second thought. Proceed with abandon.

The bottom line is that while I appreciate cleanliness, all my children, save one, lack the age or ability to be productive housekeepers. We are NOT a band of happy cleaners, collectively sweeping and polishing our way through the task at hand.

We are a one-woman show (with occasional bursts of help from Dutch, H, and the Chach), not caring overly much about the perpetual piles. Or the dirty floors. Or the furry bathrooms.

What can I say? Sorry not sorry.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Train Wrecks are Part of the Journey

Part I

I am convinced that the beastly illness which turned me into a seasick, shivering automaton for the past 12 days can be largely blamed on the fact that I am run down and weary. And possibly immuno-suppressed.

Being a wreck of a mother for the better part of the past two weeks because of a virus taught me a few things:

1. Don't let yourself become so run down that you become weak and susceptible to any passing bug that desires to ruin your life for a couple weeks.

2. Don't eat Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup when you "think" your upset stomach is improving. It is mighty bad coming back up.

3. Zofran. Where have you been all my life?

4. Mostly, just don't let yourself get so blasted run down and weary, or you really will regret it.

Part II

I've decided that, though I love autumn for a great many reasons, "because it makes my life easier when people go back to school" is not one of them. Life remains very complicated.

It's structured, but it's crazy. It's beautiful outside, but it is so awfully busy all the time. It lures you to the much-too-crowded zoo for an epic meltdown with one boy, and then rewards you with a follow-up death virus.

When we are in the throes of late July/most of August, fall is the mirage that keeps me plodding forward, hopeful. But the fall is challenging in it's own way. This year, it's kicking my can.

I do not wish for this post to be pure whine and discontent. It's simply reality. I don't make stuff up, to write about in this blog. I discuss what's real and what's happening. I used to self-edit these phases, but now I don't. I write them down.

The train wrecks are part of the journey.

Monday, October 7, 2013

I'll Move Past the Crabbiness. Probably.

I've been too much of a Negative Nancy of late.

I'm going to stay crabby (briefly) and blame the unwanted virus that has wiped me out for a solid week. Perhaps I shall speak directly to the disease.

Dear Horrible Stinky Virus,

I don't like you. Here's why:

You have made parenting especially hard for me recently. 

You have no regard for a person's need to SLEEP through the night.

Thanks to you, I lack the energy to get the laundry done or the floors clean. We live in filth. Gracias.

Because of you, I learned all about severe dehydration. I now know that when I can't keep any fluids down for a few days, I also lack the strength to get up off the bathroom floor after.....purging.

You taught me that standing and walking don't work for dehydrated people, and that the room will spin. Oh yes, the room will spin.

You schooled me in paying a visit to the ER, where I was poked and jabbed NINE times (NINE TIMES, Mrs. Beuhler?) including on both sides of my neck (which is very vampirish in a not romantic sort of way) while looking for a vein in which to start an IV. 

I now know the thrill of tossing my cookies into a baggie while sitting in a hospital bed which is surrounded by a doctor, two nurses, my husband, and two of my children. So. Very. Glamorous.

Under your tutelage, I honestly began to appreciate water. Plain, glorious H2O. It makes a person feel human. It's a simple pleasure. Life sustaining, really.

But please don't come back again anytime soon, Virus.


I'll move past the crabbiness. Probably.

Tonight I slurped homemade chicken noodle soup delivered to my doorstep by my friend Chris. Manna!

This morning my toddler contentedly sat next to me on the couch watching Bubble Guppies all morning as I dozed off. Thank you Littlest. You are momma's helper.

After dinner, Dutch cleaned the very messy kitchen. He even wheeled out the shop-vac and suctioned up the garden of discarded food beneath Jack's seat at the table. Yay, Dutch!

I think I will survive.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

I'd Like Some Cheese With My Whine

There is a villain in my house.

Currently, he is lurking in the shadows, creeping from room to room, and leaving havoc in his wake.

It's totally not even a happy, spooky Halloween-type villain either. Dude is a real jerk. A total bully.

Every special-needs family knows the villain called regression.

I seriously can't stand this creep. He has moved in, uninvited, and has stolen my Jack away. He has stripped my son of so many of the skills and positive behaviors which he had mastered. Those happy times, they are gone now.

We forget about regression, or I do anyway. I tend to always think that things are humming along beautifully, and that we will continue to climb to new heights every blessed day. I forget that my children with special needs do not always climb upward and move forward. There is a lot of meandering, backtracking, leaving the trail, and frankly, completely falling off the mountain.

Charlie is no stranger to regression either. For a period of two months last fall, he was completely potty-trained. I scarcely believe it as I write it, but it is true. He is so far from that beautiful autumn of perfect potty-usage. Now at age five and half, he deuces in the backyard or on his bedroom floor most of the time. (I know, it's TMI, but we talk about poop on this blog).

We were getting to the point with Jack where we could take him places, like Costco or out for cheeseburgers, and could reliably expect his good behavior. He was generally happy when he would arrive home from school, and could usually be found swinging in the backyard, or playing on the iPad while curled up on the couch.

But he has slipped backward. He is biting people at school daily. He is throwing things, like his brother's high chair, across the room, when he gets mad about not getting what he wants.

He is a ball of energy. A whirling dervish. He is constantly seeking sensory input, usually in the form of shredding something important and dropping it off the side of the deck. He is all "Give me your documents, your recipes, and your photographs. I'm gonna shred 'em. Then I'm gonna sprinkle them confetti-like in the backyard. Deal with it, mom." Or this is what he would say if he could talk.

I want happy Jack back.

I want Evil Dr. Regression outta here.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A String of Minor Epiphanies

I had a string of minor epiphanies today.

Yay, me!

Here they are:

1. Bruises and bite marks on one's upper arm bloom into an even more dramatic flower of purple, red, and blue the day after they happen. It's like a fascinating rose garden growing before my eyes. An occupational hazard/rose garden.

2. Sometimes all you have to offer at the family dinner is a loaf of crusty Pugliese bread from Costco you pulled from the freezer and stuck in the microwave. And it is enough. And everyone will dive into it with gusto, alongside the other fancier options.

3. We will always be a circus side show at church, and I am so over it. If you go into it knowing someone (or three) will fall apart and act like rodeo clowns then it's no biggie when they actually do. It's how we roll, and it doesn't make me want to scream at the universe or run screaming down the street while pulling out clumps of my hair anymore. One of us sometimes (always) has to leave church with one or two of our boys. We are fulfilling our calling as parents to kids who can't handle church very much. We are simply doing it in sweatpants. With a triple batch of bran applesauce muffins in the oven. And we are doing it without bitterness. Yay for muffins without bitterness!

4. Perspective changes everything. One's circumstances do not change, but the way one sees them can readily change. It's brilliant in it's simplicity. This calls for some subcategories:
         A) If you expect perfection, then reality will always be a disappointment. But if you view every good (or challenging) thing as a gift which contributes to your growth and experience, you will be grateful. Which brings me to...
         B) Gratitude is so much better. It just is.

         C) My new goal is to focus on what we have, rather than what we lack.

5. Knowing that someone else has it harder or worse than you doesn't make your life NOT hard. But it can shake you from your reverie and remind you that in one way or another, we are all suffering together. We all struggle with something, or many things, and we can be empathetic and supportive. We can choose compassion. We can be like my friend Marla who elects to always see the good in people, even when you're acting like a pill. We can decide to be nice. We can try to understand.

And thus concludes my introspective self-help blog post.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Pretty Much Craptastic


To the dad behind us in line today at the zoo playground on the fancy lighthouse-shaped slide: Thank you for being cool and understanding as I hustled my angry, kicking nine-year-old off the stairs and away from the toddlers who apparently were taking way too long for my son's liking.

To my sister: Thank you for trying to help us flee the zoo quickly when the epic meltdown happened, despite your pregnant belly and your two-year-old in your arms.

To the hordes of zoo patrons who stood in our path as we blazed a shrieking trail of tears up that excessively long hill that leads from the arctic animals exhibit to the main gate: I sensed your confusion at the woman plowing like a freight train up the crowded path with her screaming nine-year-old in her grip, and her baby in a little red wagon in her other grip. You were baffled folks, but you mostly just got out of the way.

To Jack: When you get frustrated and overwhelmed by a situation, perhaps we can think of alternative strategies of alerting me to your overwrought state other than sinking your teeth into my upper arm and clamping your jaw down like a vice. Twice.

To the well-coiffed woman in the Audi SUV who asked a woman (who was dragging her tantrumming special-needs son to the car while pulling a baby in a wagon) if she was parked nearby so you could wait for her parking spot: The fact that you rolled down your window and tapped your fingers on your steering wheel impatiently while my son threw his shoes and two cans of soda at my head and then had to be blocked from hitting his baby brother as I loaded the wagon in the car made my day just a tad crappier than it needed to be. You probably didn't pick up on this, so I don't fault you too much.

To myself: Prior to today, you didn't realize that you could successfully navigate Saturday traffic on I15 with a bruised, scraped, and throbbing arm, and a wailing Jack in the front seat because he had to be kept away from attacking the toddler. You probably also never considered that even when you were gasping emotionally for breath so rapidly that it made your extremities go numb, you could still manage steering the car with your unresponsive and lifeless seal-flipper-hands on the wheel.

To Jack, again: I looked at you as I drove us home with my numb seal flippers, and I saw that like me, you were crying. I wished for the billionth time that you could tell me what was wrong so I could know what you need and figure out how to better help you. We were a hot mess today, buddy. But we both eventually calmed down, especially when I rolled down your window and you were in sensory heaven.

To the Classical 89 DJ with the soft, soothing voice: Bet you didn't know that your dulcet tones calmed my PTSD today and turned my attention to a Richard Strauss symphony instead of the disaster behind us. You could put a hyperactive child to sleep, Ms. DJ, and I mean that in the best possible sense.

To the littlest brother: I'm sorry your brother assaulted you, and that we had to leave our outing before we saw the animals (except the elephants and a few monkeys). I'm grateful that you shook it off and slept peacefully the whole way home. Maybe we can try again on a weekday, without the teeming masses. Or the big brother.

To me, again: That sucked. But it's over now. I declare us officially done with what happened back there on Sunnyside Ave. Ain't nobody got time for that.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

There's a new season in town: let's eat candy and be witches

Autumn has returned and all is right with the world, for people like me anyway, who believe as F. Scott Fitzgerald did, that "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall." When the air cools and the leaves change, I swear there is a tangible sense of anticipation in the air.

I realize some folks do not share my enthusiasm for colder, wetter weather which is the harbinger of winter. To them, I say, "I feel your pain." I understand because I feel the same dread and despair for summertime, which for me is the season when my children dismantle the house and my mental health goes walkabout. While other people are holding pep rallies because they are mad with joy for summertime, I'm weeping quietly at the prospect of the sun setting at 10:00 PM and thus ensuring my children will never, ever go to sleep.

Different times of year are hard for different people. Let's just agree to disagree on which season of the year is the nicest or the most brutal.

But no matter what your stance on impending January is, who doesn't love to see gorgeous fall leaves, and pile up pumpkins and gourds on the front porch, and eat apples and pumpkin pie? Fall is glorious.

It's the season when Halloween rolls into town in a decrepit old jalopy sounding the ah-ooh-ga! horn, inviting everybody to act silly and spooky because hey, it's sanctioned by an official holiday, people. It's practically a requirement to decorate the house with tinselly black oversized spiders and dress up like the undead. Halloween gives us permission to be weird and funny. It also gives us it's blessing to consume way too many fun-sized candy bars.

What's not to like?

Well there are a few things, actually. If you're a mom with school-aged kids, or if you teach school, you know that while it is heaps of fun, Halloween is way too much work. Between adorning the place with fake cobwebs, prepping each child's costume, and hiding and re-hiding the Costco-sized bag of Halloween candy from certain family members, there is a lot to do before October 31. Henry asks me every year what costume I'm going to wear on Halloween. He can stop asking, though, because I'm always a witch, which he thinks is über boring. What he doesn't realize, however, is that me being a witch doesn't take too much stretching of the imagination.

Basically I believe there are good and bad parts of each season and even each holiday. I love the weather and the autumn activities. I enjoy Halloween, but I am really glad it happens only once a year.

When Halloween actually arrives, it's such a long marathon day of costumes, parties, parades and bingo cards with candy corn game pieces that when it's finally time to trick or treat, I'm ready to curl up in a chair like my Jack. He refuses to parade around in a costume and do all that mind-numbing work of ringing doorbells at the neighbors' houses. If he were verbal, he would tell you that trick-or-treating is for nerds. He prefers pj's, his tablet, and a cozy spot to sit and eat fun-sized candy bars.

I like my son's approach to a holiday which kind of stresses him out: focus on the good parts (like peanut butter cups) and tune out the rest. I'm thinking of applying his method to the upcoming Christmas season, which may include lots of Andy Williams and George Bailey, and absolutely no Elf on the Shelf.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bite-sized Bitter Pills

I'm reading a book about a Lithuanian girl and her family who were taken by the Soviets and shipped to a work camp in Siberia during the Second World War. It is beautifully written, tragic, and heartbreaking. There are moments of great beauty and tenderness, but the story is too painful for me to tolerate all at once. It's a short book that could be read quickly, but I'm slowly chipping away at it in bits and pieces instead. I can only handle a little at a time.

I have started using this tactic in other areas of my life; little bits of bitterness are easier to swallow than a bucketful.

I do it with housework. Clean a toilet here, vacuum a rug there. Occasionally sweep. Forego dusting---who needs it? It makes for a less-than-glorious-to-behold type of house, but eventually the dirty parts will get cleaned. At some point.

I do this with forms and emails from the school and scheduling doctor appointments.  Tiny steps toward progress. I'll get to it, just don't hold your breath.

I definitely use this approach with facing the more unpleasant aspects of parenting. If potty-training two special-needs boys is like eating an elephant, then I figure that after all these years of trying, I may have worked my way through the front feet and am now chewing on the shoulders.

It's a lot of work, eating an elephant. I'm trying not to look so much at the great expanse of wrinkled gray flesh which lies ahead of me. I'm focusing on the serious poundage I've already metaphorically consumed.

Some day, both those boys will do all their business in the potty. When it happens, I will feel 1) like I have gotten a raise (the cash we drop on Code Brown-supplies is nothing to sneeze at), 2) that we have achieved something arduous and stinky, and 3) unspeakable joy.

I'm aware that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but I'm also tuned into the billions of other steps which take place between the first and the last. You have to start somewhere, and then you just have to keep plodding. Baby steps, plodding forward.

It may be a shuffle, but I'm still moving.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark

Sometimes I think my children are hearing from my mouth something other than what I am saying. I'm speaking, but it either does not compute, or it is willfully disregarded and molded into an amalgamation of words which better suits their liking.

Am I talking English? Do you hear what I am saying, people who live in my house?

I'll cite a few examples, because I can be scholarly and stuff.

This Week:

I said: "How was your day at school, Jack? Did you have fun?"
He heard: "Why don't you toss your shoes, socks, jacket, and backpack in a heap on the floor and take a few paper plates into the backyard to shred and sprinkle through the bushes?"

Another time, the I said/he heard went like this:

I said: "It's time to pick up the toys in the family room and put them away."
Jack heard: "Now would be a good time for you to smuggle toys in small groupings into the backyard and heave them from the deck into the mulch pile."

When I recently told Charlie it was quiet time and we were going to sit down together to read books and stare at our devices, he simply heard, "Go ahead and slip outside to your 'secret' spot around the corner of the house for your daily constitutional. I'll be here with cleaning supplies and a happy heart when you get back."

This scrambled communication prickled my brain tonight as I waded into the backyard mulch pile with a trash bag to retrieve toys, cups, and shredded photographs. My children and I need to communicate better. I need to speak in a way that they will listen and understand. They need to listen to me.

We need a mutual understanding because I am not really super jazzed to be unearthing buckets of playthings, dishes, and Doritos packaging like one of the grave diggers in a Danish churchyard. The Hot Wheels cars and the wooden train tracks were the Yorick to my Hamlet. I handled them with gloom. I gazed at them and foretold their imminent return to the grass heap. It's a tragic cycle of playroom to grave.

Looking on the bright side, there isn't a fair, tormented maiden buried in the grass and the leaves and the garbage in my backyard mulch pile.

Just spiders. And a few Bob the Builder toys.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Little Off the Top

One of my children has a deep-seated fascination with the hair clippers. Ditto with Jeff's shaver. Completely obsessed, he is.

We used to keep these things high up on a closet shelf so they were "inaccessible" to Jack (gold star if you guessed the right boy). But he schooled us shortly after that maneuver. He waited one day until I was occupied elsewhere, pushed a chair into the closet, retrieved the clippers, plugged them in, and shaved a portion of his head.

Who's the smartest now, eh momma?

But all this motor-planning and problem-solving on Jack's part made me feel proud. So I didn't get too bothered by his choppy, messed-up haircut. At least, not this time.

As months passed, Jack put any pair of found scissors to immediate good use, by self-barbering a swath of hair right down the center of his scalp. Even when I began hiding all the scissors, Jack demonstrated an uncanny ability to locate spare pairs which seemed to be multiplying like rabbits in random corners of the house. Curse you, stupid rabbit scissors!

Like a moth to the flame, Jack was drawn to the scissors. In the junk drawer? Yes. Old pencil cases? Check. In a laundry room cupboard with art supplies I forgot we had? Absolutely. He even managed to flush out my long-forgotten craft box (from another life, when I cared about such things) and gave himself a ragged trim with the pinking shears.

I told myself that giving oneself a bad haircut is a right of passage in childhood. I decided I could be okay with his recurring bald spot since it meant he was learning and growing. I could deal with it.

It was simply the year of the bad hair.

But it is starting to eat at me, a little. This is probably because we have family pictures scheduled in a couple of weeks, and while I'm fine with Jack traipsing off to school with a crappy haircut, I'm less enthused about recording it in a portrait forever.

I keep fixing it, thinking we still have time for it to grow in partially. And he keeps chopping it. Is this tenacity? Passive aggressiveness? Some reliably fun sensory play? What are you telling me in your nonverbal way, my boy?

It's like a tango. We dance around the haircuts, repairing them and then butchering them anew.

As the photo shoot creeps closer, I'm trying to be very Zen about this.

And I'm thinking it's time to go buy a fedora.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Enter Sandman

I've got bedtime on the brain. This is probably because a) I'm sleep deprived, and b) I don't even know what I was going to say next. Seriously, I'm so tired.

Bedtime at our house is not something we mess around with. We honor it. We fight for it. We believe in it. Bedtime is our sanity. It is that golden period in a parent's day that shimmers in the dusk like a refreshing drop of dew, and is just as fleeting.

The primary reason I yearn for my children's bedtime with such fervor is that it comes on the heels of the witching hour. This refers to the post-dinner exhaustion-frenzy when everybody behaves like banshees, including me. Actually, especially me, considering that in folklore traditions a banshee is feminine: a wailing female spirit darkly foretelling somebody's doom.

Yes, I'm definitely the banshee.

My children have this irrepressible tendency to dig in their heels and resist transitioning from daytime to slumber. But Jeff and I are just as tenacious about making bedtime happen. We are united in our cause and push onward like a freight train. We adhere to a strict routine, for the benefit of a couple of boys who need structure and predictability. We keep it simple: jammies, teeth-brushing, potty, and prayers. And we include a magic melatonin-laced Oreo for the one who otherwise just can't shut it off.

Sometimes it all goes swimmingly. But not yesterday.

Last night I faced bedtime alone as Jeff was working late into the evening. The witching hour was a real doozy, and I had my eye on the prize: a quiet space in which I could read and eat dark chocolate coconut almonds straight out of the freezer. My sons did not share my vision, unfortunately. They threw everything they had at me.

Bedtime was a ruse, a mirage. It was an unfortunate figment of my hopeful imagination. It literally dragged on for hours.

At one point, as I was coaxing the two youngest into a quiet, restful state, Jeff texted me from work saying, "Jack is pooping." My husband, forty-five minutes away in the bowels of some hospital, had checked his phone app which shows live video feed of the Jack Cam, and found Jack laying a brick on his bedroom floor.

By the time I got to the scene of the....incident, Jack had helpfully picked it up and tossed it into the hallway for me to dispose of, which is a creative new take on the Code Brown.

Props to Jack for keeping it fresh and new.

But not fresh and clean.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ode to Mom's Pot Roast

Today I made a huge, ambitious dinner on a regular old Monday night. There was pot roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables---the works. It was your typical Sunday dinner.

Except that it was not Sunday, and my big, amazing dinner wasn't as amazing as my mom's or my MIL's Sunday dinners.

Notably, I didn't make fluffy, warm rolls to round out the meal. Such a disappointment, I know, particularly when you're looking for a vehicle for downing homemade raspberry jam with butter. Also, my roasts are never falling-apart-tender like those prepped by Shirley and Joyce. And my mashed potatoes have lumps, doggone it.

As we ate the meal that took a geologic age to prepare, I noticed these discrepancies. I wanted to call my mother and my husband's mother and shower them with compliments about their perfect comfort-food cooking while begging them for tips on how to do it better.

After dinner I remembered something else about making a big meat-and-potatoes meal: it dirties every pot you own.

It makes me appreciate the generation of women who have gone before, whipping up flawless beef roast with mashed potatoes dinners for me and mine on many a Sunday evening. I honor their sacrifice because seriously, cooking like that takes stamina and know-how. I appreciate their skill in creating something that is reliably delicious (unlike my attempt). I admire their efforts in the worthwhile cause of bringing people together and filling them up with good food and good will.

So basically, while I suck at making traditional roast beef dinners with all the trimmings, I recognize that I come from a tradition of women who could whip out a meal like this in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

I should feel shame, perhaps, but I mostly feel a kind of reverence for what my grandmas and my mothers can do.

I also will add (boast) that I do know how to bake yummy desserts. Dinner may not be perfect, but at least my family is being raised knowing that dessert involves real whipped cream. And homemade caramel sauce. And cake. Oft-times, cookies too.

But never pies, because I haven't yet figured out pie pastry.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Tantrums: Mine & Jack's

Today was one of those Sundays when Jack went ballistic just as the bishop began giving a talk on....something. I don't know the topic, as everything became all shrieky and loud and we were all "abort!"

The things to know about Jack and his church tantrums:

1. They come on fast. One minute he is quietly eating smarties and pulling on Jeff's arm hairs, the next he is bellowing and drowning out the speaker for all the other folks in the overflow section of the chapel/cultural hall.

2. They are unpredictable. Giggling on the way to church does not mean happily giggling through sacrament meeting. The kid can turn on a dime.

3. He usually cannot recover from them. This means he becomes so wildly upset that dropping him off in the nursery with the two-year-olds (his cognitive compatriots) is out of the question.

4. Jeff and I take turns spending lots of Sundays removing an angry, frustrated, mostly nonverbal child from church and taking him home to decompress.

Here's the scoop on what it is like to leave church practically every week with your kid who can't handle it: It sounds dreamy, at first. You know, leaving church early to put on sweatpants and eat lunch is the sort of thing you (meaning me) yearn for while you are at church. It is actually not dreamy when it happens with great regularity. Turns out, when you aren't at church when you wish you were, it's kind of disappointing. I'm starting to feel like Lloyd Newell and MoTab are my best chance at a reliable spiritually uplifting moment of a Sunday morning. And that's just because I can watch them while wearing my jammies and making everybody pancakes.

It's simply the Sunday truth.

I'm finished whining now.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Tonight I took my children to the block party in the pocket park. This is news for the following reasons:

1. I took them by myself, without husband or helper, which is generally accepted foolhardiness.

2. We never attend neighborhood parties. This is because taking my kids to gatherings is like taking Curious George to a museum: you essentially wait for the monkey to climb the Tyrannosaurus Rex bones in the dinosaur exhibit, and then accidentally cause them to smash into a heap. Except I don't bring a monkey, just my progeny.

We struggle to be appropriately sociable for a variety of behavioral factors, but tonight the five-year-old cruised to the party on his bike anyway, and the toddler would not be kept from being in the thick of it, so Jack and I figuratively threw up our hands in defeat and joined in too.

It was nice to be in the almost-cool-enough-for-a-jacket dusk and talk to my neighbors. It sort of makes you feel like an actual human being when you get to participate in basic social niceties.

It was delicious to stand on the cool grass and participate until Jack flew off the handle after some time had passed. We made a hasty exit and then Jack came home and threw my iPad across the kitchen.

Seriously, though.

It lived. So did I.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Joy and a Chore

This week was a rigorous whirlwind of activities which included, but were not limited to, ripping out and dragging away poopy old carpet, keeping little feet from stepping on exposed tack strips, and climbing over all the furniture which was moved to the kitchen.

Getting new carpet is a dream come true, even as it is a nightmare.

While we watched for the bus the other morning and I kept Jack from menacing the myriad tools which littered the floor, the carpet installer watched Jack with curiosity. He spoke to Jack respectfully and asked me where he went to school. After Jack left, the carpet man went to his truck and then handed me a laminated obituary of a lovely woman with special needs who had passed away a couple of years ago in her early fifties.

"That's my little sister," he said. And I began to read.

The summary of this woman's life was clearly written by someone who knew her well, and loved everything about her. Some of my favorite points: she loved Big Red gum, Pepsi, going out to dinner, singing duets with her brother (our carpet guy), and shopping at the dollar store. She had more friends than anyone else in her family, was greeted with fondness by practically everyone, and always had to have two dollars in her purse at any given time.

This woman, her likes and her personality, gleamed from the laminated newsprint. I didn't even know her, but I already liked her.

Later that morning, Truman and I took a walk. He enjoyed the scenery and I pondered the carpet man's sister and her humble list of simple pleasures.

We passed Henry's school where the sixth-graders were wrapping up recess. I tried to casually pick my kid out of the sea of navy and red polo shirts, just wanting a peek of my eldest in his element. Just before I rounded the bend in the path, half of the sixth grade spotted and recognized me, yelling, "Hi Henry's mom!" Henry gave me a wave and a "Hi Mom!"

I decided that that moment was worthy of a laminated obituary. My simple pleasure: being known as my kid's mom, by a happy crowd of sixth graders.

Before the walk and my celebrity moment by the school, when I finished reading that obituary I thanked the carpet man for sharing it with me and handed it back to him. He said, "You know, you understand. She was a joy.......and a chore."

I solemnly nodded my agreement at this person who, in one brief sentence, encapsulated so perfectly the nature of life with a special family member.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Sensible Shoes

Tonight I did the grocery shopping, along with the rest of suburbia. I meandered around the big box, following my stream-of-consciousness list, composed randomly over the past week whenever we ran out of something.

I used to make my shopping lists according to the layout of the grocery store. I also used to shop in heels. I seriously used to wake up über early on Saturday mornings, put on some fashionably uncomfortable high-heeled boots, and hit the store so I could get the shopping done without little children in tow.

Remembering this made me want to wrap my arm around Younger Me and gently say, "Why don't you dial it down a bit, sis. It's okay to untwist those knickers."

At what point does one stop pre-planning her grocery store inter-aisle route? When does one decide to stop wearing pumps while trudging around buying diapers and bananas? When do you say to yourself, "To heck with it. Groceries are not worth sacrificing sleep, or my arches?"

I suppose it happens the closer one gets to forty, or maybe the farther one gets from twenty. Perhaps it's after a bunch of kids have pounded the need (or stamina) for high-heeled boots out of your system.

There comes a day when comfy shoes matter, like a whole lot. They matter more than what complete strangers think of your fashion sense or your footwear. They matter because the groceries aren't going to purchase themselves, and cleaning up after people requires sensible footwear.

When I returned tonight from the swarming grocery store, I cleaned up the remains of a Code Brown and a lake of urine next to the potty (Me, to Jack: Whyyyyyyyy???!!!).

I also carried a too-tired five-year-old in from playing outside, moved laundry, and put away all those groceries, which is why it's purple Nikes for me these days.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dutch Jeff

I've been filling out school forms and registration forms in copious amounts recently. A common question on all these official documents asks what the child's preferred name is, as opposed to his or her given name. All this form-completing got me thinking about the names we call our boys when we aren't calling them by their actual names.

The birth of a nickname often follows a roundabout, nonsensical path, at least it does in my family. While the evolution of a pet name isn't always logical, to a family member it makes heaps of sense. It has a story, or at least years of shared living to inspire it's use.

We call my sons:

H, Mr. Higgins, Hdawg;

Jacky, Jacky Jackerton, Jackmandu, Jackadoodledoo, Jackers crackers, Jack the digger;

Chachi, Chachismo; and...

Baby (you get lazy when you get to the end)

A few points of interest I noticed when mulling our list of nicknames:

1. The mostly nonverbal child has the most pet names. This is probably because he can't tell us to be quiet and call him by his actual name. He just goes with it. And we just keep adding affectionate nicknames.

2. Our youngest may go to kindergarten someday thinking his real name is Baby. It's all we ever call him. He responds to it better than to his real name. He points to his reflection and sweetly peeps, "Baby!"

3. The nicknames really have a way of accurately reflecting the personality of the boy. I mean seriously, Hdawg and Chachismo belong to two of the sassiest boys ever. They own those nicknames.

I don't really have a nickname. The diminutive of my name is Meg, but people rarely call me that. I honestly wouldn't mind if they did, because to me it sounds like the name of a quirky, strident, opinionated old woman, who has crazy bad hair and bakes decadent desserts in her messy, inviting kitchen. I could embrace Meg.

Jeff was called Jefe in high school Spanish, and it stuck for awhile. His parents still occasionally call him Jeffer, but his pet name of choice is one of his own invention, which is Dutch. The irony is that nobody has ever actually called him Dutch. He gave it to himself because he likes the way it sounds. He thinks it makes him seem....what? Rural? Crotchety? Good-natured old guy? I don't really know, and I don't think he cares that the only person who refers to him as Dutch is, well, him.

He tells me he will put it in quotation marks between his first and last names in his obituary. I tell him that I'm not sure an obit is the best venue for introducing one's new nickname.

But I guess at that point, why not?