Wednesday, February 26, 2014

True & Absurd

I'm in the middle of a very smart crime novel which contains this line:

"Most things are both true and absurd." (Norwegian by Night, Derek B. Miller)

Do you agree? Discuss.

I think that most of life feels very solidly real, even when one wishes it weren't quite so solid. And I agree that it can be truly ridiculous at times.

This book makes me want to live in Norway. But only in the summer months, just like Roald Dahl in his childhood. And without the crime drama. Just the fjords in summertime.

On an unrelated note, last week I participated in a writing exercise of choosing five words that describe me. It was completely painful. Try it, see how it stings. I could only think of my flaws, my ugliest qualities. My list looked like a summary of my worst traits. So shameful.

As I've mulled my list of self-descriptors, I've decided that I need more than five. I am angry, emotional, short-tempered, irritated, irrational, and impatient. I'm also creative, honest, snarky, compassionate, forgiving, and drawn to funny, strange things.

I like the way keeping a blog allows me to be hyper aware of little moments: happy, funny, lovely, and bittersweet.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What NOT to Say to Special-Needs Parents

In the spirit of full disclosure, this post gets a little angry. It's pretty heavy on the snark too. 

You have either decided to stop reading now, or you are curiously waiting for the rant to begin.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

I often leave conversations with other special-needs parents with a bunch of new stories about weird/unfortunate/insensitive things that people have said to us. And continue to say to us. 

And while I totally know the feeling of sticking one's foot in one's mouth and saying something really dumb that just comes out wrong, I couldn't resist making this list. It might sound angry, but it's origin lies mostly in weariness.

Okay, here it is:

Things NOT to say to parents of a special-needs child

There must be a lesson you need to learn in all this.

My jaw actually fell open when a fellow mom told me she hears this all the time. She and I agreed that the people offering this gem probably need to learn a lesson themselves. This statement is arrogant and super lame.

I would never be able to handle it.

Frankly, we never thought we could handle it either. Nor did we want to. But when things happen to your child, you don't honestly have any other choice. We're not superheroes. We are normal people struggling with big challenges. Also, you're making my challenge about you. Stop it.

I would never want to raise a special-needs kid.

Someone said this to me a few years back and I blinked my eyes in stunned silence before opting to back away slowly from the conversation before my head started spinning around in circles. What do you even say in response to this? I honestly don't have a clue. Thankfully, I've only encountered this one just once.

Do you ever wish your child didn't have special needs?

This is like asking a puppy if it wished it were a turtle instead. It's a totally pointless exercise in futility. We have children. They have disabilities. The question assumes we would rather live in a dream-like state of wistfulness than face reality.

I heard about a study that shows ___________ (insert chemical of choice--pitocin, B12, Tylenol---whatever) causes autism.

Mothers who took especial care of their pregnant selves for nine hard months and who now spend their entire lives in the service of their children with disabling 
conditions do not wish to be told they and they alone are solely to blame for their child's issues. Let's all make a pact to stop blaming the people whose very lives are dedicated to caring for special children for unwittingly causing (in some people's opinion) the conditions that God sent these valiant children to earth with.

Do you think your younger child will have special needs that crop up?

I have been asked this question a truckload of times, and yet it still baffles me. It assumes that my family has imperfect genes or really back luck or something---that we're destined to birth disabled people, while the people asking the question apparently have nothing to worry about in their gene pool. So what if my youngest were to develop a disabling condition? Why do people think it's okay to ask me this? Also, FYI, parents like me are already completely aware that disabilities aren't just vague possibilities that happen to other families. We know it could happen again. We don't even need anyone to point this out to us.

Sometimes we all need to slap a filter on the thoughts leaving our mouths more than 
on our Instagram pics. I'm guilty of this too sometimes. The truth is that I really do appreciate when people engage me in conversation about my life and my kids' issues. 

Let's talk. And let's do it with sensitivity, and a genuine desire to understand. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

"It Folds Up Into a Spear"

Jack's bedroom has become a wasteland. It's the tundra of our home, at the top of the house, with nothing there except a mattress. And the Jack Cam taking it all in.

There is no bed in his room because Jack has taken to using his bed frame as a battering ram. When he gets mad, he slams it into the walls. So currently, he simply has a mattress on the floor.

I suggested to Dutch that we get a Hollywood frame for the mattress and forget about fancy headboards and such.

Me: "Let's keep it simple and just get a Hollywood frame."

Dutch: "When you take the mattress off a Hollywood frame, it folds up into a spear. Jack will put it through the window."

Me: "Let's just leave the mattress on the floor."

And so, Jack's mattress remains on the floor, except when he decides to stand it up against the wall for kicks when he is having a time out in his room.

His bed frame sits in the upstairs hallway, leaning up against the linen closets whose doors Jack broke, and whose contents are now exposed to the world.

It's a wee bit of ghetto in the tundra.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dinner Time Without Footmen

A Rare Jewel: Eating Together

The past two Sunday evenings, we have seen the miracle of the entire family sitting at the table to eat dinner together. It's something that practically never happens here, not because we don't believe in family meals together or because we don't eat home-cooked food. We are believers in dinner-table culture. We do cook at home.

The rare tableau of my family sitting down to eat together has more to do with everybody's food aversions and their dislike of being in close proximity to their brothers. Two of my children might enjoy family dinners better if our dining room looked like a diner, with everybody sitting at his own booth, eating his own plate of French fries.

But we have just one table, and for Sunday dinner we'd rather eat beef roast and mashed potatoes.

The Rest of It

It hasn't been all potatoes and gravy. Jack continues down his backwards behavior slide. Today he tried to throw the iPad off the deck; when Jeff stopped him, Jack attacked Charlie.

Jack is speaking more, which is marvelous and wonderful. He is also restless, aggressive, and destructive.

School days go well, at least most of the time. Jack has a teacher and two classroom aides, a bus driver and bus aide, an occupational therapy team, the speech and language pathologist, and an adaptive PE teacher all working together to help him make progress. Saturdays and Sundays and weekday evenings though, I am the team. Jeff and Henry help whenever they are around.

I wouldn't mind if I had a team of helpers waiting below stairs to pick up the slack when Jack needs more sensory input or more one-on-one time than I am able to give. If this were Downton Abbey, I would simply ring the bell and summon the staff.

It's not.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

No Comment

Whenever I read the comments attached to one of my articles, I think to myself "Stop reading the comments attached to your article, dummy!"

Also, "You know this won't end well sister."

And I would be wise to listen to my inner warning bell. But I pretty much always read the comments anyway.

I read them because, like several of my children, I'm lacking in the impulse control department. 

I read them because sometimes there are comments from people with nutty families like mine, who write that my words resonate with their experience. How can I pass up hearing that?

I read them because I'm a curious little monkey.

Sometimes it's like watching a train wreck. But I can't look away. I already know that haters gonna hate and trolls live in the interwebs and there is so much meanness in the world, it's ridiculous.

Trolls and mean people aside, there is always that one comment that comes from left field and is practically nonsensical in it's cluelessness. Those are actually the ones I like to read aloud to the hubs.

We laugh. 

I wrote a silly little fluffy piece about how the last days of summer are like living in a fire swamp. It contained an abundance of Princess Bride allusions. Someone commented, asking if Utah has fire swamps in it's geography. ?????

The comments section got a little raucous following my article on baby name trends. Creative baby-namers got defensive and traditionalists went on the attack. It was a hot spanky mess.

The better comments are those left by people who follow the link from an article to my blog. They are real and thoughtful and decidedly anti-troll. They pop up in my email notifications like buttered popcorn in the red melamine bowl at my side while I watch Downton "Days of our Lives" Abbey with Dutch.

Please feel free to comment. Or to back away slowly from the comment section. It's your call.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Can We Stop With the "Amazing"?

How apt that on a day filled with sedation dentistry, a doozy of a code brown, a Charlie meltdown, and mom's precarious mental health, this article was published.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Best quote I encountered this week: "Boredom is what happens to people who have no control over their minds."  (Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead)

Most satisfying recent conversation: Explaining to our bishop about Jack's disastrous church behavior and having him just get it.

Tastiest part of Valentine's Day: Vast quantities of Reese's chocolate and peanut butter hearts, unequivocally.

Unintentionally funniest kid quote: Truman, looking at my shadow the lamp was casting on the ceiling, "It's a giant, Mommy."

Most extravagant feeling: Beginning a new book. In hard cover. Not on a tablet.

Best way to feel like you're trying on swimsuits in front of an audience: Participate in a memoir-writing workshop and read your crappy first-drafts aloud to a bunch of strangers.

Quickest way to feel like an aged mother in a time warp: Watch your sixth-grader participate in his first school dance, doing the foxtrot and the merengue while looking dapper in his suit.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What Motivates Us To Begin?

"Work finally begins when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly." Alain de Botton

I found this quote yesterday in an Atlantic article. Apparently Monsieur de Botton knows a thing or two about writing, procrastination, and the psychology of genius vs. work and failure as key components of creativity.

He nailed it.

The blank page or the blank screen glaring back at you can squash the creative process. At least it can if the creative process is about greatness and perfection. But AdB's quotable idea suggests that laying down some crappy text is part of the process.

It's a freeing concept.

I've been applying the same idea as I watch the Olympic competitions. Are the athletes born with a tremendous amount of athletic prowess? Or is more of their success attributable to practice, tenacity, and determination.

At what point does the mental component outweigh the natural grace and strength of an athlete? How much is talent, how much is sheer doggedness?

I suspect both are at play.

I think I prefer to focus on the hard work aspect of creativity. It seems more equal-opportunity. It feels more real-life applicable. It makes the creation of something seem more accessible.

It is essentially the point of a blog, right? Daily, imperfect blathering about whatever---it's the antithesis of polished perfection. Blog = writer's notebook or artist's sketchbook. Unless you're a big-time blogger with plenty of minions to make the daily "whatever" appear amazing.

I do think it's kind of funny (and maybe kind of sad) that all work is the result of fear. At least according to AdB. Fear, not passion or love. Maybe it's the fear of not saying whatever burns inside you to be said.

I suppose I'm down with that.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Jack Speaks

Last week Jack's daily note from Ms. Sue described the following situation from school during which Jack uttered a complete sentence:

During Smartboard time, Jack said, "Kayla?" (the name of one of the classroom aides)
Kayla said, "What?" 
Jack replied (clear as day), "I'll kick you."
Kayla asked, "Do you need a break?"
Jack responded by picking up his card that says "I need a break" and handing it to Kayla.
Jack and Kayla left the classroom for a short walk and Jack did not kick anyone.

Mind. Blown.

I am utterly blown away. That he spoke a three-word sentence. That he thought about a need and communicated it before throwing feet and books. That he refrained from tantrumming. That words trumped acting out. That he tried. That it worked.

I'm rosy and glowing with pride.

It's one of these victories that seems very small to those unfamiliar with Jack, and yet reveals a staggering degree of growth and progress of our nine-year-old redhead.

Jacky did it. He said those words he had in his head. He articulated so we could understand them. He spoke.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Whineypants Snaps Out of It

When I walked downstairs this morning, I spied a pearly sky with wispy layers of pink clouds hovering above Mount Timpanogos. It was an auspicious start to a Tuesday that bloomed with blue skies (at least for a few hours) and temps in the low 40's.

That was the first lovely thing.

The second lovely thing was a link that appeared in my fb news feed after I completed (and should've medaled in) the intense event of Getting Everyone on Their Busses. 

While not technically a competition, I am racing against the clock when I do this. I'm also trying to jump start Charlie, who is as slow as molasses in January, first thing in the morning.

Today though I mostly battled Jack, who decided to whack Charlie on the head with a broom and then remove his clothes and shoes, minutes before the bus arrived. Dude. Srsly tho.

But the second lovely thing--the link--appeared just as the guys got on their respective busses. It was a mother's eulogy for her eleven-year-old son with special needs and it snapped me out of the state of weary sadness that has descended over me. 

The entire thing was beautiful because it revealed the source of this woman's strength and the well from which her hope springs. 

And I drew from it. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

We Are the Red Olympic Ring

This has been the sort of week when I'm feeling like my family is that red Olympic ring. You know, the one in the Sochi opening ceremonies that didn't open. The one that is already on a clever t-shirt available for purchase online.

But our ring fail has taken the form of an epic church meltdown, a corresponding mom meltdown for the ages, and Jack repeatedly doing his potty business...not in the potty.

We are that stuck little snowflake. The one that couldn't get with the program and do what was expected in rehearsal. The one that didn't blossom or join in with the rest of the rings while all the nations of the world watched.

It's not for lack of trying, that's for darn sure. Dutch and I dug in our heels and suffered through a most heinous of sacrament meetings (child behavior-wise), to no avail. Three of the four children behaved like stampeding wildebeests with Jack turning the crowded post-sacrament meeting church hallway into his personal theatrical stage on which he delivered a loud, nonverbal soliloquy along the lines of "Get me hence, ASAP, yo" while kicking me.

Jeff helped me manhandle him to the car, along with Truman, before returning to teach Gospel Doctrine. We hastened hence.

With Jack home and happily dismantling a vacuum, I turned on the Olympic coverage and wanted to jump inside the TV when I saw a Coca-Cola commercial of a cozy little cabin snowed-in, high in the mountain tops. It's the one with a Coke machine just outside the cabin door (bonus!), with prints in the snow from gentle woodland creatures who like to make use of soda vending machines wherever they are available.

I want to go to there.

I want a cabin so remote, so inaccessible, so snowy, and so secluded. I definitely want the Coke machine and the woodland creatures.

Mostly, I want no more situations ever like the one at church on Sunday. Or the less public (still grueling) ones at home throughout the rest of the weekend.

I want to live in that wintry place where no one will come and expect us to behave like regular people. We can simply remain our complicated little tightly-wound snowflake selves.

I want to retreat to this quiet imaginary alpine cottage where the guys and I can make sensory snow angels and mugs of hot cocoa with whipped cream tops. I want to watch the snow fall silently outside and fall asleep before the fireplace hearth. I want to glimpse forest animals frequenting the soda machine.

Is it too much to ask?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Shabby Sweet

Part of my ongoing project of coming to terms with my family's limitations is to embrace our beat-up house.

My home once lacked carpet poop stains, shredded furniture, and literal holes in the walls. In days past it felt pretty clean and fairly attractive.

But my children came in like a wrecking ball.

I told Dutch that we should re-envision the entire house as mid-century modern: spare furnishings, purposeful simplicity, relative emptiness.  Just nothing, anywhere.

The problem with new (read: pricey) clean-lined furniture lies in it's rapid initiation by the wrecking crew.

So we sit on dining chairs whose farmhouse thatched seats have been picked ragged and now sport large gaps and views of the floor. We ignore the spots on the rug and on the drapes. We decide we don't care too awfully much about the hammered paint on the banged-up walls, or the bathroom sink drains whose stoppers have all been pulled out and lost by the nine-year-old.

We just can't. Because if we did, we would be in a permanent state of disappointment.

Trashed house = part of the deal with two sensory-seeking, unintentionally destructive boys with special needs.

Last night as we ordered sweets at the Kneaders bakery counter, I gestured to the display of lovely home accessories behind us and said to Dutch, "Look at these beautiful things Jack would love throw off the deck."

Being honest about what happens to pretty things in our house is one of the steps of my self-imposed twelve-step program. Some of the other steps: banish Pinterest (done and done), avoid purchasing lamps (or, Things Made for Dragging Around by Their Cords), and ultimately stop giving a shiz about what visitors might think of our shabbiness.

Another of the invented 12 steps: context. The reality remains that my beleaguered home could be considered a bastion of beauty and excess in terms of the living standards of much of the world's population.

So I'm one of the lucky ones. I have special boys who live in a raggedy, comfy house with a family that is special by association.

Such luxury.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Pool Protocol

Flyer I Should Have (in Hindsight) Prepared in Advance to Hand Out to Everyone at the Rec Center Pool During My Kids' Swim Lesson:

Good evening fellow pool patrons, swim instructors, life guards, and pool manager! 

You've probably figured out that I am with the lanky boy in the short-shorts wetsuit-type swimsuit--the one with scary looking red spots all over his arms and legs. I sense you are concerned about pool plague. 

Let me take this opportunity to explain that:
A) my son's skin condition is not contagious,
B) it's called Gianatti-Crosti Syndrome. Google it. Also,
C) thanks for staring.

A few points of interest to you this evening: 

* My lanky son with the short-shorts wetsuit is so clad to prevent him from disrobing in the pool. The wetsuit is hard for him to remove without help. Voilá! No more public nudity.

* My two boys are here for their private swim lesson. This is the expensive alternative for special-needs kids who can't tolerate the cheaper public group swimming lessons. No big deal. All part of Water Safety! Initiative, as well as the Therapeutic Sensory Water Play! Initiative. Also part of the Let's Spend Like Ten Grand Teaching Our Kids To Swim! Initiative. 

* Many of you have noticed that my kids have one volume in public. I have also noticed this. And what's more, I do not know at this time how to turn the volume down.

* I think we should all take a moment to ponder the miracle invention that is the lazy river in the rec center pool. Isn't it majestic? It's a sensory heaven and purgatory wrapped into a single life vest, swirling through a swift channel, in my boys' opinion. It's a little bit scary and a LOT super fun.

* The shrieking and bellowing coming from the family change room is because if a certain someone gets so much as a drop of water on his dry clothes after swimming, he MUST SCREAM HIS RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION. On a related note, poolside change rooms are permanently wet, making the after-swim ritual of getting dressed with inevitable drops of water on our clothes totally Sisyphean.

* Smart people, like my sister Sarah, sometimes think of genius solutions better than shell-shocked automatons like me. Everyone waiting in line for the soaking wet family change room can thank Sarah for the "terry bathrobes" idea that will simplify our future post-lesson departures.

That about covers it. Hope you enjoy your night at the rec center pool, folks. We will see you next week.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


So I am totally NOT a food blogger.


That would be cool if I were Pioneer Woman-ish, but alas, we mainly eat tacos, spaghetti, French toast, and oven fries. And sometimes soup. Particularly on snowy days like this one when I yearn for something warm simmering on the stove all afternoon.

But after reading my article on casseroles and hardship, some people have asked for recipes. From me! Like I'm a casserole authority!

Thus, in the spirit of generosity, I will share a couple of recipes which I use all the time, but for which I can't really take credit. One I commandeered from my sis Amber; the other probably came from a magazine but I can't remember which one.

Here they are. Because they aren't fancy but they are tasty. And because I like people who share their recipes and don't hoard the goodness.

Amber's Red Pepper Chicken Enchiladas

2 cups diced, cooked chicken
6 oz. (1 1/2 cups) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup sliced roasted red bell peppers from 7.25 oz. jar
1 (4.5 oz.) can chopped green chilies
1 cup sour cream
1 (10 oz.) can enchilada sauce
8 (8 inch) flour tortillas
6 oz. (1 1/2 cups) shredded Cheddar cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9x13 inch dish with nonstick cooking spray. In medium bowl, combine chicken, Monterey Jack, peppers, chilies, and sour cream; mix well.

Top each tortilla with a half cup chicken mixture. Roll up tortillas; arrange, seam side down, in baking dish. Top enchiladas with enchilada sauce and sprinkle with Cheddar cheese (if freezing to bake later, I save this step with the enchilada sauce until just before baking---otherwise it can make your enchiladas a wee bit soggy).

Bake at 350 for 45-60 minutes until heated. If the edges are getting too brown, cover with foil sprayed with cooking spray; sprayed side down,

Lasagna with Italian Sausage

3/4 lb. bulk Italian pork sausage
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 (15 oz.) cans Italian-style tomato sauce
2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (15 oz.) container part-skim ricotta
1 cup grated Parmesan
12 oz. (3 cups) shredded mozzarella
12 oz. (12 noodles) uncooked lasagna noodles

In large skillet, cook sausage and onion on medium heat for 6-8 minutes, until cooked. Drain. Add tomato sauce, basil, and salt. Mix well.

In medium bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan, and 2 cups of the mozzarella. Spoon 1/4 of the sausage mixture into a sprayed 9x13 inch pan. Top with noodles. Top with cheese mixture and more sausage. Layer remaining noodles, cheese, and sausage.

Cover and bake 35-45 minutes. Uncover for last few minutes.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


My article on food and comfort is on today. You can find it right here. Kind of makes me want to whip up some enchiladas for emergency standby.