Friday, February 26, 2010

Naming Names

My son's teacher wanted to speak to my husband about a few issues this morning on the playground.

For one thing, she said that another mother had let her know that she'd been hearing things about our Rooster. Her daughter had complained that he got up in her face, got too close. This other mother said she felt she would need to talk to her daughter about Rooster about his diagnosis. The teacher responded by asking her to choose her words carefully, because the rooster has not yet learned the word "autism."

Also, the teacher wanted us to know that my boy has been responding to corrections (like, "Stay in line," or "Keep your hands to yourself,") by saying, "I can't help it." She feels like we need to keep him from buying into this line, because if he says it often enough, he might come to believe it.
I really respect this teacher. She has the boy's best interests at heart. Part of me wishes he could repeat kinder with her, but she believes strongly that he should go to first grade, which all of us assume he will repeat.
Of course, transitioning a boy like mine comes with heavy doses of fear, as I worry that he will have a teacher who won't advocate for him bravely as she does.

We want that mother in the class to talk to her daughter about our Rooster, we are glad she was planning to do that. We appreciate that the teacher offered that mom language to use like this: "Tell you daughter that she has trouble with reading, but Rooster has trouble with things like playing with friends. Everybody has stuff that they have to learn to do, that is hard for them." We appreciate that the kindergarten teacher doesn't want Roo to believe there are things he "can't" do, that she doesn't want that word to figure prominently in his impressive vocabulary, that she believes in tough love.

Soon, if not this very weekend, we plan to try to introduce our guy to the word for his diagnosis. Goodfountain wrote a beautiful post today about her relationship with that word, and if you haven't read it you should; it's a word that requires getting used to for sure. I don't know what Roo will make of it. What I hope, though, is that we will help him use it for finding community, as we try to do, and that he won't use it as a reason for why he "can't."

I expect this will be a weekend in which I'll be coming back to this blog again, to process not only my evolving relationship with the word autism, but my son's as well.

Wish us luck.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Notable and Quotable 14

Me: Peaches, why does it get harder every day to get you dressed? When you were two, you were such a good girl getting ready in the morning. Every day you take longer and longer and change more times. It's making me a little bit crazy.
Peaches: Well, it's hard to be a teenager.
Me: You are three!
Peaches: Well, it's hard to be three, then! It's hard to be a kid! You don't know!

Rooster: Can I watch Rat-a-tat-touille?
Me: You already watched it, babe. Why do you want to watch it again?Rooster: It's off the chain insane, dawg!

Peaches: I am going to be a princess and live in a castle.
Me: Can I be a princess?
Peaches: No.
Me: Why not?
Peaches: You have too many lines. Your face has a little bit of lines. And your feet...
Me: My feet?
Peaches: Your feet are OLD.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Tonight, I am pretty sure I was stoned on Sudafed.

I say pretty sure, because I've never done drugs, but I certainly felt an altered state of consciousness as I zoned out, stared into space, left sentences unfinished, and could not for the life of me find the organic macaroni and cheese kit in the cabinet.

Sadly, I liked how I felt. Not just because my headache went away and I could breathe again, either.

So, no more Sudafed for me! I will tough it out through this horrible sinus business, but I am not a fan of altered states of consciousness because, as enjoyable as I find them, they scare me. Call me a control freak. My father was an addict, and when I like something too much that makes me lose control, I take it off the table for good. (Well, my husband excepted, of course.) (See, I still don't have it all out of my system!)

So, as I sat dreamily staring at nothing an unable to make conversation, I had the following medicated Big Thoughts:
1. It is amazing that two teeny tiny itty bitty little red dots I got from an elementary school nurse can make me feel completely unlike myself.
2. I like to feel unlike myself.
3. Drugs are scary.
4. Things we ingest can have a big power over us.
5. You are what you eat.
6. I hope my kids stay the hell away from drugs. Sudafed, fine, but really.
7. It's no damn wonder we have a huge drug problem in our country.
8. When does my Rooster feel like my Rooster? And when doesn't he?
9. If Sudafed feels like that, what must real drugs feel like?
10. There was more, but I've been staring at the screen for 8 minutes now trying to remember what it was, and I think I'm just going to call it a blog and go sleep it off....
Good night

Sunday, February 21, 2010

You Do the Math

Today my husband cleaned out a bunch of junk from the garage. One piece of detritus he found? A rental agreement dated exactly 12 years ago today, with one of my previous names on it. I stood looking at it, absorbing the serendipity of the date, trying to calculate many things, some of which remain incalculable.

Twelve years ago today, I rented my very first all-alone apartment. Twelve years ago, I walked away from a bad relationship, moved into a studio apartment, and thereby proclaimed I would NOT settle for less than what I wanted for my life. If I couldn't have a meaningful, truthful, passionate, satisfying relationship, I would rather be alone. The risk scared me. It scared me often, and in waves, and cyclically, hormonally, on full moons, and whenever I had a bad date, or no date at all on a Saturday night. But some of the time, I had an inkling better days would come, and I knew that I had to believe in myself, be true to myself.

My very favorite memory from my little studio apartment -- and I made MANY happy memories during my two years calling it home -- came the night I first spoke on the phone with a guy I had met online. I had one cordless phone then, just before I got a cell in 2000, and we talked so long that the battery simply gave out. That had never happened to me before. I distinctly remember the butterflies in my stomach as the phone began its warning beep and I told J how much fun it had been to talk, but we'd have to catch up again tomorrow, if he would give me another call then. Then, I waited five minutes, staring at the clock, for my battery to recharge enough to call my best local girlfriend and blurt out hurriedly, "My phone is dying but I just had to call you and tell you that I just had the best date of my whole life... on the phone! I have not even met him! It's crazy! He's probably an axe murderer or something I am sure so I will NOT get my hopes up but we (waving arms to keep away the motes) talked for TWO HOURS like we were in high school or something but it was all real stuff and interesting and ... OH! There goes my stupid phone! I gotta go!" By that time, I had already started looking for a bigger apartment, so by the time we were officially dating -- the live, face-to-face kind, J -- who I married in 2002 -- never saw inside that studio apartment that I came to love before I outgrew it.

Among the calculations I toyed with today, I wondered how many times you could fit my tiny apartment into our small house. Several, to be sure. I also figured that our mortgage costs nearly five times my old rent - Yikes!

And, of course, because I tend to spend a lot more time worrying about the future than I do mulling over the past, I pretty quickly turned to future calculations. I wondered, if I make it through another 12 years, how different will my life be from now? I will mark my half century, my daughter will be almost old enough to drive, and my son will be just shy of 18.

That kind of froze me in my wondering tracks.

A lot can change in 12 years. I know from personal experience, for example, that if a girl proclaims to the universe, deities and all, "I will NOT accept abuse or mediocrity, I choose to pursue my dreams," that good things CAN happen even after a series of bad breaks. In the 12 years since I signed that faded rental contract, a whole heck of a lot more than just my small life has changed monumentally. When I moved to my studio, Bill Clinton was president, the World Trade Center thrived, and I hoped in my lifetime America would elect a woman or a person of color to the presidency, but I never would have believed for a second that I'd so soon see an election between one of each.

After a few minutes of standing speechless in the garage, I tossed the contract into the trash, and went on to spent much of the afternoon bribing the Rooster to work on bits of academics here and there. Hundreds Day is coming up at school, and so we had a display to make out of 100 Skittles. My boy has no concept of numbers, and our next diagnosis is sure to be dyscalculia. He can mostly count out the 100 candies okay, if you correct him here and there along the way (like when he always skips 21), but if you tell him you have 20 red candies and he has two orange, and you ask which one is greater (more, or a bigger number), he will simply guess in the hopes of avoiding the zillionth explanation of greater than and less than. Quantity simply means nothing to him. Lately I've been fearing that he will never get math due to his dyscalculia, never get reading due to his Irlen's Syndrome, never get school due to his ADHD, never get socialization due to his autism... That's a lot of nevers to worry about. If you buy into them, if you believe those nagging nevers, you have to give up the hope that this bright and loving boy will find a way to thrive, that he'll have friends, that he'll succeed at school, that he'll learn to drive, graduate, get a job. The fears nag at me often, late at night, and early in the morning, and when I'm at work and see a class of kindergartners writing addition and subtraction facts... But most of the time I do realize that my Rooster is right now just a kindergarten boy with a lot on his plate and some wonderful resources to help him navigate his challenges. And I know, more importantly, that a whole heck of a lot can improve in twelve years if we all stay true to ourselves, believe in our possibilities, and refuse to settle for less than we deserve.

Thank goodness for that.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Two Feelings

On the one hand, joy is one of my favorite words, but on the other, I think relief might be my true favorite feeling.

That says something about a person, I think.

What does it say about me? Maybe I lack endurance. Maybe I have a low pain threshold. Probably I'm just too uptight.

I'm thinking a lot tonight about relief, and how significant it is to me right now. I am honoring relief, and acknowledging how much I value it.

I worked all through college on the campus newspaper. Having imagined for my whole life that I would become a journalist, getting paid to work with my friends in a kind of apprenticeship felt natural and wonderful, but also stressful and draining. My work wasn't just for joy, it was how I paid for books and gas. I didn't volunteer, I held paid staff positions, among many talented people who, unlike me, went on to impressive careers in the field. Being a morning person, I always took 8 a.m. classes, and being a newspaper editor, I tended to work until about 9 p.m. When the paper went to press, I never knew where to put my pent up stress, my leftover adrenaline, and I tended to fret and sweat every last headline and piece of punctuation even when they could no longer be changed. I struggled to figure out how to downshift after work so that I could face the series of long and stressful, though exciting and rewarding, days and weeks of each semester, and still embrace the good times of being a college kid. The sensation that gave me a small measure of relief came when, around 9 or 10, we shut off the office's computers; the room, already quieting by degrees, stopped humming as the last Mac finally let out its sigh, and we each headed off on our separate ways. Whenever someone describes the sound of silence, I think of the news office, and the relief of turning everything off.

I don't get migraines, though since my mother and husband both have, I can appreciate how severe they can get, and that they are in a class by themselves -- they are not your standard issue headache. One time though I did have a vicious headache, brutal in its intensity, severe enough to send me to the emergency room, where doctors and nurses finally medicated me to knock me out and silence my excruciating complaining! It wasn't the most agony I ever felt, because after all I've given birth twice!, but it hurt like hell, and unlike labor it never relented for a single moment before the drugs kicked in a few hours into the abyss. When I woke up, I felt better. Not ready to tackle the world -- I actually still felt bad enough that on a regular day it would have warranted several Advil and probably a trip to the school nurse. But by comparison? I felt such relief, waking up without the agony flattening me, that the relief itself felt precious and worth celebrating. With each passing hour, as I came back to one hundred percent, I acknowledged the growing relief to anyone who would listen. Those who had to put up with my bitter proclamations of my pain then had to tolerate my detailed analysis of my recovery, my comparisons to my college newspaper office, but surely that also, in turn, gave them less of a headache than my moaning and groaning.

As I am sure anyone who knows me would agree, I am one who grieves deeply and keenly when I grieve, and I grieve long and slowly. It is relief from grief that emerges most incrementally, that almost requires time lapse video to trace. The grief is like being swarmed by six million killer bees, and after you kill one at a time, day after day, slowly the buzzing ebbs and the dark swarm shrinks.

Relief... a marked decline in pain... a reduction in tension... a subsiding of stress... edges out joy by a nose for my Olympic gold in the emotions field, even though that makes me much less vibrant and fearless than I'd like to be.

I have been blogging for two years now. My blog began with a quest, many questions, terrible fear, and much grief, as my husband and I began the journey to get our son diagnosed and, more importantly, get the Rooster healthier and happier. My blog began as my grandmother's decline became steadily more insurmountable. My blog began in a place that felt, to me, at the time, bereft of relief.

It has been two long and slow yet fast and furious years. You can look at photos of me then and now and see a map develop of the rough terrain I've traversed. So many lines on my face! The days? How long they have been. The weeks? Full of limping, limping to Friday finishes. The months? Seemed to change in a blur before I got used to writing their number in my checkbook. We have filled two years with passages, with treks, with expeditions. We have worked. Our. Asses. Off. In two years, I cannot imagine how many doctors we have had, let alone estimate the number of visits. The dollar amount would surely draw a gasp. The miles we've logged would choke an environmentalist, but at least we finally bought a hybrid. (Stupid Toyotas, though; don't get me started.) In two years of adjusting to autism in our lives, I have written more first person than I, with my journalism background, ever dreamed I'd write in a lifetime. In two years, I have blogged enough to fill two paperback books of more than 300 pages each.

I wish I could tell you I filled these two years with joy. I did aim to. I believe my children have known their fair share of moments of exquisite joy in this time, and that their childhoods are not lacking it. For me, though, these two revolutions of the earth about the sun have been tinted, I must admit, though with some shame, by my grieving process. I have been slow to let go of the pain it cost me to say goodbye to my grandmother, I have been slow to process what it means to have a child with diagnoses: hypotonia, torticollis, asthma, autism, ADHD, food allergies, strabismus, and the latest, Irlen Syndrome. I have been slow to learn and accept and heal and regroup. I have been quick to cry and moan, to research and read, to learn and try and brainstorm and invent, to wallow, to weep, wonder, to worry.

This is my anniversary post, celebrating if you will two years of Rooster Calls. I've been conquering one killer bee at a time, and I'm ready to celebrate the relief of that today. Before I shut down this humming laptop, I raise my glass to you, my readers, and to this, my blog, and say, "To relief... which I feel emerging, tiny bit by tiny bit. And to joy, which I hope waits in even larger measure for our whole Rooster clan as the sun rises on our new journeys. Thank you for helping us get there, and may you and yours have healthy measures of relief and joy coming your way, too."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Favors Party

I'm a ridiculously compulsive brainstormer.

My favorite line is, "What if?"

And I take rejection pretty well. I've had tons of practice.

So this latest crazy idea came to me today.

What if we (you know... us...) had a little favor exchange? What if, in the manner of all things Craigslisty, Freecyclish, a la Community Bank, we had some kind of site where, uh, we, could post favors we need and favors we could give, and we just, well, swapped? Not like bartered, more like on the pay-it-forward honor system.

I'm imagining posts like this:

- Offer: My kids love the rhymes I make up about them, and they love to make up rhymes, too. Feel free to email me your kids' names and some facts about them. My kids and I will send you our creative verses in about a week or two!

- Needed: My social stories stink. Anyone have a good one I could use with my son about not talking to strangers?

- Offer: World's best Googler here; if you are looking for something and get stuck, give me a holler...

Hmmm.... I'm not sure it's doable, but the concept intrigues me. What's your take?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Made in Oregon

When I met my friend, she already had many amazing stories. We were in a writing class together, and every time she talked, she wrote out loud. She had FUNNY dating stories that I'm not at liberty to share, and she had been to so many weddings that it was epic, but she had not met her own Mr. Right yet. Now, she has, and I can't tell you how much joy that gives me. She deserves it like you can't believe.

HELP my dear, dear friend! Please, go to Scroll down...under Most Votes...until you get to Made in Oregon (around the 120 range) and vote for my friend. SHE DESERVES TO WIN!!! Thanks, friends! Vote for Made in Oregon and give a special day to a special friend, and a fellow writer.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Never Never Land

Today I took my Rooster on a little date, a little mother-son time at the park. Only he had his eye on other girls the whole time. Had he been anyone else, I might have taken offense. Instead, I pretty well enjoyed being thrown over for a cutie named Abbie.

So I park myself on a bench after a while near another mom and a couple as Roo and Abbie and some other new-found friends run, climb, slide. It isn't clear to me which parents go with which children, and I must be just as anonymous, as suddenly all adults look up when they hear a loud five-year-old proclaim, "Come with me! I will take you to Never Never Land where we will never get old!" Off they fly as the "old" audience chuckles, myself included. The nearest mom looks at me, smiling. "That little boy? You heard him? Cute! So cute!" My boy and I don't share much family resemblance; we both have wild curls, but of opposite colors and lengths to be sure. "That's my little boy," I say, beaming. "My Peter Pan!"

I can't remember the last time I spent a substantial chunk of time with my son (or even talking about my son) when the word autism did not come up. We stayed at the park for two and a half hours, though, and I never felt the need to say it, imply it, or really contemplate it much. Sure, he probably stood out in some ways at times, both favorable and not, but he also managed his emotions, enjoyed himself, and socialized. I don't hate the word autism, but I enjoyed a break from needing it in my vocabulary today.

When Abbie's parents told her to say goodbye, she did so reluctantly. She wanted to keep playing. He, however, nearly melted down --- he didn't just want to play, he wanted Abbie. "No! She can't go! She needs to stay!" he told me. "I need to play with Abbie forever!" I knew that this could unravel, but I also knew how far my son has come thanks to his ABA program "When Things Don't Go My Way." I took a deep breath, summoned all my patience, and explained that I understood his sadness, but that I knew he could keep calm and talk to me about it instead of throwing a tantrum.

And. He. Did. He took my hand, negotiated with me for a cheer-up lemonade, and told me how bad it feels if someone leaves when you want them to stay and play forever. "FOR. EVER," he repeated for emphasis. I told him I understood EXACTLY how he felt, because I've wanted people to stay with me forever too, and sometimes they couldn't. But, I told him, "For now, at least you have me."

I don't know that my boy enjoyed the time he spent with me as much as I enjoyed him, but at least he got my completely undivided attention. Ironically, I think the time he spent checking out younger girls was my favorite part of our little date.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Recall Me

The universe keeps letting me know that safety is an illusion, and that nothing is a sure thing. I turn this idea over and over, and wonder what I am meant to learn beyond this cliche.

About a year ago, my husband and I decided that our two vehicles needed replacing. BOTH -- what an expense! At age 37, I still drove the very first car I ever purchased, still played cassette tapes in it and rolled my windows down by hand. My husband still drove the used car he bought when met him, in spite of the ripped up seats, poor mileage, chronic repairs, swaths of missing paint on the hood, lacking safety features. We needed to buy two cars. We gulped. We spent time researching, reading Consumer Reports, making lists and comparisons. Then, we panicked and decided we could only afford one car. We opted to get one brand new, fuel efficient, family-sized SAFE car for me to use with the kids. Eventually we thought we'd scrape together a little more money for a good used vehicle for my husband. Then Cash for Clunkers happened, and we could not deny the clunkiness of his vehicle, or the lure of shaving $10,000 off a hybrid. We took on a car loan and bought our family its second, oh-so-safe Toyota.

Ironic, isn't it, that our carefully planned purchases meant to last us many years both made the news within the first year for their recalls and their terrifying potential dangers.

Oh, how I see metaphors.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

To You

I am doing my homework. This was my assignment:
"Choose someone you admire. Maybe it’s a blogger you have always wanted to meet or the author of your favorite book. Maybe it’s someone in your community who is making a difference. Maybe it is your grandmother or a dear friend. Write them a letter or an email. Tell them how they are making a difference in your life or how they are inspiring you. Just start. You will know exactly what to say."

Dear Friends,
Do you know why I like you? Because you teach me things. I admit I make a poor student, but I'm a voracious one, and maybe because I learn so slowly, I seek patient, kind, forgiving teachers such as yourself to be my best friends. I want to thank you for making a difference in my life, for inspiring me, for teaching me.
Oh, you thought I was supposed to be the teacher? But no. You -- doctors, parents, architects, researchers, -ists, whatchamacallits by profession -- you model so much that I need to learn, and so I see you as my teachers.
Did you know that you taught me how to exercise? My parents seemed never to have spoken that language, and so you took it upon yourself to kick me into better shape. Now, I jog, and I think about how you taught me how, and I feel better, stronger, healthier. You taught me confidence. That one took you countless, countless hours! Several of you t0ok turns approaching that lesson from various modalities, but it finally sunk in after all these years. Friends, you taught me to travel, to take risks, to broaden my horizons. In doing so, you undid the lessons I thought I'd learned at home: that risk yields failure, that the world is a scary mean place, that who I was going to be was limited by the failures of my lineage. You taught me how to grow up, how to slow down, how to embrace my youth. You have taught me how to parent, and how not to parent. Some of you have taught me without ever showing me your face. I have listened to you in my mind when I needed to, though I might not have ever heard you speak aloud.
Friends, I might not always do you proud in demonstrating what I've learned, but I believe I earn an A for effort, and I want you to know that every single day, whether I mention it or not, and even (especially) when I am sulking, I feel deep gratitude for the many friends who have served as my best teachers. This past weekend, I had a rare opportunity to indulge myself in a little getaway. I loved spending time with one of you, and I had the rest of you on my mind nearly every single minute... I took the time to reflect on you, on your many lessons, on my good fortune to know you. Oh how I thought of you as I explored serene art galleries! I thought of you as I perused countless shops. I thought of you over delicious meals, silly drinks. I thought of you as I read. I tried to follow all your best advice. I came home calmer, more centered, with more room for patience. I came home and saw I had a homework assignment, and immediately I knew it was time to thank you. I hope you hear what I'm saying. Happy Valentine's Day, friends, with love. I am better for knowing you.