October 31, 2010
I admit, I’m not at ease asking people to give up things (mostly because I suck at it).
But tomorrow, November 1st, in a show of support for all individuals on the autism spectrum who try so diligently to communicate, I will be ignoring my Facebook account, and if I “tweeted” (hah!) I’d be giving that up too.
Twenty-four hours of “social silence”. A drop in the bucket compared to a lifetime.
Please join me if you can.
It won’t hurt. Not even a little bit.
October 28, 2010
So, I loved high school, AND I enjoy public speaking. I know, I’m finding myself just a wee bit insufferable too. Readers, please bear with me.
Early this week I made my annual trek back to Washington, DC, in part to reconnect with friends I’ve had for almost twenty years now, and in part to test out my blatant “self-promotion speech” on a group of Maryland teachers. I was fortunate in that my first boss from Virginia is now a principal of an elementary school across the state line, and she was kind enough to give me the opportunity to speak to her faculty about my blog and manuscript. I ended up with an audience of about thirty educators, which is amazing considering they weren’t required to attend, and also that it took place on a Monday afternoon at 4:00. Yes, there was food, and yes I brought the good chocolate, but still, it was an excellent turn-out, and I am deeply appreciative of their participation as well as to my former principal for having me there.
I haven’t really spoken to anyone older than the pre-school set in about seven years, so to say I was a bit nervous about the event would be a slight understatement. I wasn’t as anxious about the delivery or the content as I was about the likely prospect I’d start bawling in the middle of it, but fortunately my friend Jess at www.diaryofamom helped me out on that end. Prior to leaving Jersey she thankfully reminded me that no, it was not okay to deliver my speech while simultaneously conjuring up next week’s grocery list, that in fact it would be okay if I got a little bit emotional considering the content of my talk. I did in fact end up keeping it together, but I think that particular counsel helped me a great deal. In the end, my gravest concern during delivery was the onset of the worst attack of dry mouth ever in the history of speech-giving, an affliction which will most certainly require a beverage of some kind to accompany me at my next gig.
No, sadly, it will not be a nice glass of pinot grigio. I am speaking in schools, people.
While there weren’t any waterworks, I admit the butterflies however were in abundance before I approached the podium, and as I turned one ear to the lovely introduction my former boss gave me I tried to quell those little bastards with my own inner voice. I ranged from admonishing myself to “just do it”, which seemed a little trite, to picturing Clooney from his Out of Sight days (which was much too distracting), to finally summoning up the faces of my sweet boys.
This, it turns out, is about as bright an idea as conjuring up the deathbed scene in Terms of Endearment prior to giving a wedding toast. I quickly moved on.
No, when the preliminaries were concluded I just decided to get up there and go for it, and with camera rolling so I could critique myself later (I’m a glutton for punishment) I approached the podium, laid down my carefully organized speech, and was just about to begin when that little voice piped up one more time with yet another of its bossy demands. This time, it simply said this: “Kim, just have fun”.
And despite my need to conquer the Sahara residing in my mouth, that’s exactly what I did. Much to my surprise, I can’t wait to do it again.
There were a few other commensurate highlights of my trip. My first night in town I got to indulge my Indian food fetish with one of my dearest friends in the world, and the lovely young man who served us thought it necessary to card me despite the fact I could easily have given birth to a twenty-year-old (trust me, the lighting was VERY dim). I spent another evening with former co-workers discussing Waiting for Superman, which sounds so good I might potentially leave my couch and darken the doors of a movie theater if it plays around here. Finally, after indulging yet another fetish of mine and devouring an entire bowl of shrimp pad tai, I had the opportunity to plead unsuccessfully with the young shopkeepers at Georgetown Cupcake not to throw away their wares at five minutes past closing (we were in the NATION’S CAPITOL after all, what closes at 9:00 PM?), and despite telling them I’d commuted from Jersey for this specific carb, found myself resoundingly ignored. Clearly, the blonde thing doesn’t work as well anymore.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip, and one I hope to make more frequently in the future, as I believe I’ll one day be able to return with Zachary without losing my sanity permanently.
I was granted one last gift upon leaving, as I rounded the beltway sandwiched between the patchwork quilt of fall foliage that signifies the best month of the year in the District. I thought back to my last four trips since I’d left the area, from the weekend celebrating the birth of my dear friend’s beautiful daughter, to the trip I’d made last year, twelve months after my youngest regressed into autism, a few months after he’d begun to make his journey back to us. I realized all of these trips upon departure had been tinged with sadness, as some part of me when leaving this town always feels as if I’m leaving my youth behind once again.
And while that regret remained my companion, another one appeared to take up residence in my child-worn SUV as well. My new friend was hope, a figure eager to appreciate both what I was leaving behind, and what I was approaching as my GPS helpfully navigated me north. The truth is, both of my sons are productive, and happy. Most days my husband is as well. When I manage to get enough sleep between those pre-menopausal hot flashes, I must admit I am too. I realized, this is the first trip I’ve made since we relocated from DC that I can honestly say my melancholy at leaving is in equal measure to my desire to return home.
And that, my friends, constitutes a good vacation.
October 24, 2010
The weather was lovely this past Sunday, as it often is in early October, and in an effort to get two stir-crazy boys (and two equally stir-crazy parents) out of the house, Jeff and I decided to make the drive down to the Seaside Heights boardwalk, the infamous home of the Jersey Shore crew. We’ve found if we’re willing to walk to both piers we can appease both boys with the ride selection (they’re discriminating customers), and everyone is ultimately happy. It was while walking back from the farthest pier, wondering whether or not we could chance the next one and escape the rain, that I looked up and saw the sign, nestled between yet another Kohr’s custard stand and the fifth millionth “Best Pizza Place” ever. It was a giant placard, as very little in this town is subtle, and it declared its message in huge, red capital letters, a combination of words that were difficult to miss. It read:
“SNOOKI SANDWICH SOLD HERE!”
I took a few more steps, felt the bile rise in my throat and tried to get to my “happy place”, which was conveniently located at the Kohr’s next door. There’s not much custard can’t solve for me.
After purchasing my usual vanilla with chocolate sprinkles concoction (I am so predictable), I walked back over to my husband and my boys. Jeff looked at me, took a slight step backwards, and said “Honey, there’s something I saw on Comcast this morning that I forgot to tell you about. Snooki has a book coming out in January.”
I looked up at him, asked him if he was messing with me, and if so, he should really rethink this choice if he ever wanted to be intimate with me again. He returned my gaze, took a deep breath, and said “Nope, it’s true. It’s called A Shore Thing. She’s writing it with a collaborator.”
Of course she is.
All of us locals from central Jersey have been dodging the fallout from Jersey Shore, but I think this is the one outcome of this show, and reality shows in general, that has finally put me over the edge. I understand that life is not fair. I accept that “The Situation” is now worth five million, will through his burgeoning fame be able to launch his album/clothing line/gym simply by throwing up occasionally, sharing some pithy commentary, and showing off his six-pack (or so I’ve heard). When I was ill this past spring I will come clean and share that I willingly watched a few episodes of the Bachelorette, and I grudgingly admit that I admired her obvious charm and wit. I also admit I was secretly hoping the plot twist would be she was a lesbian with no intention of searching for heterosexual love, instead was simply hoping to use the show as a vehicle for her own perfume/clothing line/book deal. Ultimately I was disappointed, but at least she didn’t end up with that creepy guy with the glasses. I’m hoping for his sake he already has a good day job.
I can rise above and stomach all of this “faux fame” because I know this is how the world works, that you don’t actually have to possess a talent to become well-known and reap the often dubious rewards that notoriety brings. I have to draw the line somewhere however, and I have chosen to make my mark in the sand at a book deal. Hell, let’s face it, even if my manuscript gets published and I have a wardrobe malfunction on David Letterman, more people will ultimately read Snooki’s anyway (even if it’s on my good side).
The truth is, that despite the odd rules of our society, I’ve decided I can’t let Snooki show me up. My ambitions are quite paltry compared to hers, as I’m not really expecting our President to know my name, or frankly anyone outside of central Jersey. I’m not looking to make writing my new career, have my book be the autistic version of Eat, Pray, Love, or have it made into a movie, although I’ve already decided who would play us. Coach Taylor from FNL is a ringer for Jeff, and when I use my imagination, Reese Witherspoon for me . Apparently she’s anal in real life, and by the time the film hit theaters she might actually look old enough to play me ten years ago. Finding a child actor to play Justin would be a bit challenging however, so we’ll have to hope the Fannings push out another kid down the road.
So while the manuscript is edited and the blog is going strong I’ve realized I still need to ramp things up a bit, and since I’ve already ruled out reality TV despite the blessings of my liberal husband, I have one option left to me.
I’m going on tour.
Unlike my little brother I will not be darkening the doors of the Wachovia center. Instead, I’m taking my words to my peers, speaking to teachers and parents of special needs children, and we’ll see what happens next. The irony of my choosing to do this is that I’m fairly shy in large groups, was the student who always volunteered to do her oral report first just to get it over with, although during spelling bees I was completely confident.
Bring it, “ubiquitous”.
No, I have fairly pedestrian goals. I would eventually like to see my book grace the shelves of someone I’m not related to, as well as add to the coffers of Parents of Autistic Children by donating a portion of any profits made. Down the road, in my wildest fantasies, I’d also enjoy landing a part-time job in our education-ravaged state more interesting than that of hallway monitor. Wish me luck. Trust me, I’ll let you know how it goes.
I know, I dream big, but I figure if a girl from Brooklyn can get a carb named after her AND a book deal, a real Jersey girl might realize her dreams one day too.
October 19, 2010
I know, some of you are quietly retching into your hands right now, or reliving your own glory days when you’re supposed to be working or keeping your kids alive, but I must tell my readers the truth. And no, I wasn’t popular/a cheerleader/voted class flirt, as that well-deserved honor goes to one of my vivacious and incredibly deserving best friends. I was actually a bit quiet, under-the-radar, a good girl, perhaps a tad overshadowed by my on-again-off-again-on-again-off-again high school sweetheart.
My, how things have changed.
And even though high school was a long time ago (okay, this was my 25th reunion, now it’s a REALLY long time ago), I admit, I had a smattering of butterflies as I ascended the stairs of the lovely chichi restaurant our class officers-plus-one did such a beautiful job arranging for our evening. Most of us attend sans spouse (not that I wouldn’t mind showing mine off, but he’d know exactly four people there who would be running all over the venue as much as I do, it’s not really a great deal for him), which allows for a certain flexibility for the class of ‘85 to work the room. Despite the fact that only about a third of our 218 graduates actually attend, it still took me three hours to wend my way through everyone and finally reach the buffet. Anyone who knows me understands I’m not coughing up $85 and leaving without ingesting some food and dessert. I have my standards.
There were some lovely surprises during the course of the evening. I was reunited with a friend from our “crew” who’s been MIA so long I swore he was in witness protection. I got to meet the hilarious wife of the boy who made me laugh the most in high school, and had the gratification of knowing she’ll keep him on his toes. I was able to enact the traditional “swapping of the name tags” with one of my favorite boys of ’85 (I know, there’s a boy theme going on here, but remember the ex, no time to be a slut). I managed to work the room well, and according to the pictures I’ve seen I feel I pretty much hit everyone with those brief but informative conversations (hell, reunions are just a less awkward version of speed dating). Four hours in however and the lights came on, then they REALLY came on, and the magic was concluded. The eighties, although they never really die, were put back to sleep once more.
I look forward to this event every half decade, enjoy that first moment when I’m thrilled I not only recognize someone but don’t have to stare at their cleavage and pretend I’m not trying to read their name tag. I’ve known some of these people and their families since I had my first set of teeth, and it’s amazing how the memories resurface. I have close ties with my college friends, teacher buddies, autism mommies, and my Washington posse, but I confess there’s no other group in my life that can make me remember both how it feels to be young again, as well as remind me who I was, while simultaneously letting me acknowledge who I am now. It’s a hit every few years of pure, unadulterated, childless freedom, usually with a bit of gossip mixed in to boot.
In a word, simply delicious.
As I wove my way through the room, looking to chat with people I once really connected with and are no longer, through geography, children, and the vagaries of life, actually in touch with, I knew more fun was still to come. With a lot of planning and husband-pleading, I was fortunate enough to get the night “off”. This, of course, means a delightful post-mortem of our reunion will cap off the evening as I chat with two of my dearest, one who’s a gifted writer and grows annoyingly younger every year, and the other who’s the bravest and funniest woman I’ve ever met. In some way, as I walk around and fend off the offer of yet another drink because (sadly) I’ve offered to be designated driver for this (and only this) event, I know despite the stories shared, the adventures remembered, the revival of perhaps the only naughty thing I did in my four-year stint (nope, not sharing), talking with the other two-thirds of my triad deep into the wee hours of the morning will be the best part.
And as I grasp more tightly the drink I’m nursing through the better part of the evening, I listen as my classmates wrap themselves in remember-whens like a warm, familiar cloak, and am happy we’ve been given this chance, however briefly, to return to a time when everything was possible.
Today’s Gratitude Attitude is split (my cup runneth WAY over) between the creators of my 25th high school reunion, and POAC (Parents of Autistic Children). In the former, Kate McMahon Sharkey, Nancy Rose Pearson, and Megan Pezzuti Pelino have done it once again, giving the Class of ’85 a fabulous night out (there are pictures to prove it!), and I truly appreciate the effort. In the latter, I’d like to thank the proprietors of Bluebeard’s Cave in Bayville, NJ, for opening their venue two hours early (and making it free!) to POAC members this past Sunday. Despite being just a wee bit tired from the prior night’s reunion festivities I had a great time, and it was clear all the children around me did so as well. Thanks to everyone for a wonderful weekend!
October 18, 2010
“No Justin, don’t touch!” I yell, perhaps a little more loudly than I intended, but strongly enough that my son heeds my instruction. I watch him as he leans forward in his stroller and replaces the walkie-talkie he’s grabbed from its holster, because unless he’s completely caught in the clutches of OCD, he always complies with my requests. I see a look of slight relief on the face of the teen-age girl to my right guarding the entrance to the beach, and look up to my left to meet the gaze of a woman who is staring straight at me with a look of intensity, and a trace of what I quickly register as slight disdain. She is so focused that at first I think I must know her and she simply doesn’t like me, which is absolutely within the realm of possibility, but as I study her features further I realize she is a stranger to me. I then think she might know Justin, but as she continues to stare and makes no move toward acknowledging him, I realize she doesn’t recognize him either. She, in fact, is simply reacting to my firmly delivered command to my child, of which she clearly does not approve.
Here we go. Face-to-face with “Judgy Lady”.
I decide to ignore her, as I’m really not in the mood for a lecture, what with the 100 degree heat (a slight exaggeration) and the fact that my collective lack of “Kim time” on this late August day has made me slightly crabby (an accurate representation). I turn away from her, and search for the dollar bills I’ve crammed into the side pocket of the stroller. Since I’ve broken eye contact with her I hope she’ll get the hint, pay up her extortionist public beach fee and go away, but I am to have no such luck. She has positioned herself so that I have to look at her when I pay the life guard, and I realize there’s no getting out of this. I offer up my money, our eyes meet again, and with a look of either constipation or righteous indignation, I’m not certain which, my new friend opens her mouth and says “You REALLY told him, didn’t you?” then looks down at my son with a smile, as if to say, “don’t worry, I won’t let mean mommy hurt you”.
I have multiple options here. I can ignore her in true ABA fashion, decline to reinforce her bad choice of butting into my life, complete my transaction, and descend the stairs to the beach with Justin in tow with nary a glance behind me. I can don my autism ambassador suit and explain to her that speaking to him firmly is this pretty teen’s best chance of not watching a several hundred-dollar souped-up communication device being hurled off the boardwalk into a sand dune, never to be seen again. I can also tell her to shut up and mind her own business.
But I don’t have time to choose, because at that moment Justin decides to let out a string of vowel sounds coupled with his almost constant companion, his rhythmic dance of rocking to and fro, and as I glance back at Miss Wonderful I see her entire face change, and literally watch her take a half step backwards. She then looks at me quickly with embarrassment, thrusts her beach fee into the girl’s outstretched hand, and scuttles down the rickety stairs to the sand. It’s over so quickly it takes me a moment to place the emotion that crossed her face when she regarded me after Justin made his vocal debut, but all too soon I identify the look.
It was pity.
I realize she had no idea Justin was disabled when she made her commentary, although a seven-year-old boy in a stroller at the Jersey shore should probably have been a dead giveaway. No, initially she just felt compelled to let me know that clearly my selection of words, or perhaps my tone of voice towards my son, were out-of-order here, and that truly I should rethink my parenting choices. As soon as Justin “spoke” she knew she was outside of the realm of “normal”, and understood that she’d just dissed the mom of a child with special needs, one who might actually know what she’s doing. As I analyze her reactions I find I can deal with her embarrassment. After all, she should feel badly about criticizing a mom, particularly one she doesn’t know, one who is clearly not soliciting her opinion on any parenting decisions whatsoever.
But I’m enraged at the pity.
I want to run after her and tell her that this entire “conversation” should not have taken place because she doesn’t know my life, I don’t know hers, and we should all keep our judgments to ourselves. I want to shout at her that she should have kept her mouth shut not because my son is different, and she’s just picked on his tired mom, but because as women we need to build each other up, not tear each other down. I want to shake her (just a little bit) and admonish her not to feel sorry for me, that he is my beautiful boy, and we love each other, and most days, it’s enough.
But I do none of that, because leaving Justin up here on the boardwalk alone is annoyingly illegal these days, and because I know it would be a waste of time to confront her. Instead, I slide him over to the railing, affix our trusty combination lock to the stroller, and release the straps keeping my boy safely inside it. He bounds to the top of the stairs, and just for kicks, because this will be the most exciting thing that happens to me all day, I scan the shoreline for Madame Annoying, and actually locate her at water’s edge. I make a conscious choice to steer Justin in the other direction, and another choice to let it all go, move on from my righteous indignation that can do nothing more than steal precious moments away from me and my son. Our feet sink into soft sand, we head toward the surf, and I hurl one last thought up to the universe, purging my irritation as we move forward.
If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t come near me until you do.
October 15, 2010
“No way, the potty is closed!” Zach cries as he runs into the living room, my middle-aged ass trying desperately to catch up to him. “No hon, it’s open for your business” I yell at his retreating back, moments before I finally manage to corner him between the couch and the chair. “BUT I DON’T WANT TO GO ON THE POTTY!!!!” he informs me in no uncertain terms, and I realize if we’re to keep true to our “every half-hour potty training protocol” I’m going to have to carry him bodily to the toilet, kicking and screaming as we go. This is not exactly how I envisioned our two-hour break between pre-school and nap to go today, but since I’ve already been through this once with the other kid, the one who took over a year to train, I find myself oddly unmoved by his pleas. Sadly, for Zach, I used up all of my “potty empathy” on his older brother. He’s just going to have to suck it up.
They say all kids are different, and this adage is certainly holding true when it comes to my sons and their spectrum issues, even down to good old pee pee on the potty. When Jeff and I went through this years ago with Justin he showed no fear of releasing his waste to the porcelain god, just an utter disdain at the thought that he was required to make any kind of effort in the removal of his bodily fluids. Frankly, he would have been perfectly happy to have me wipe his ass for the remainder of his life, and there was a period of time when I thought that was exactly what was going to happen. Justin’s issues with the bathroom centered around pure laziness, an unwillingness to relinquish a toy or a moment with his DVD player that he could never get back. He was simply being stubborn about learning a new skill.
Can’t imagine where he picked that up.
My youngest, on the other hand, seems to be terrified of the entire concept. And yes, we read Elmo Goes on the Potty beforehand. We’ve had him cheer for Justin’s peepees and poopies for the last year, even allowed him to flush them away, a treat which satisfies him to this very day. He has a reward system of his choosing in place, one in which the child only has to sprinkle the pristine surface of the toilet water on three separate occasions to get his coveted prize, a new Halloween book (yup, he’s my son). We’ve already aborted this mission once in the spring when he had just turned three (and his poor pre-school teacher was changing sodden clothes five times a day), and I am determined that this time we will stick it out, AS GOD IS MY WITNESS. So far, he’s emulated his brother completely, staying completely dry at school, urinating once in the toilet just to show off, then returning home.
Yes, home, where for the last week I’ve run through three detergent bottles in as many days. I’m so thrilled to put the children of Tide’s employees through college this fall.
I have to admit, when we did this with Justin we had moments of real despair, knowing that although it’s the exception and not the rule, there are adults with autism still in diapers. Apparently, mastering the art of the potty has nothing to do with how intelligent they are, so the fact that Justin was reading at three was no clear predictor of whether or not he’d require Depends. It took thirteen months (but who’s counting) to get him to a semi-independent place in the bathroom, and I have never been more relieved than when his clean clothes finally began to outnumber his dirty on a daily basis. I believe I actually did a happy dance.
No, you will not see it on YouTube.
The truth is I’m much more inured to Zach’s angst because we’ve been successful once before, he is fairly easy to cajole out of terror, and because I’m pretty certain the allure of a Tyrannosaurus Rex Halloween book will outweigh his fears eventually. That, coupled with the fact that I’m also certain he has a thing for blonds and won’t want to be dating in diapers, gives me hope that this child will conquer this skill too, and hopefully before Halloween 2011. Perhaps I’m being premature, but I swear I saw a slight grin through his tantrum the other day when he thought I wasn’t looking, and the giant smile he sported when he finally did tinkle in the appropriate receptacle could not have been faked. I may be going out on a limb here, but I believe, OH I BELIEVE, my diaper days are numbered.
But if you hear loud screams from central Jersey in the next few months, you’ll know I was wrong
October 13, 2010
“You’re a square, Daddy” says my youngest son from the bathtub, just prior to gleefully pouring a bucket of soapy water on his oldest brother’s already clean head. Jeff and I look at each other in surprise, because really, he’s worked so hard to be cool, and it’s disconcerting to be found out by a three-year-old.
“If Daddy’s a square, what’s Mommy, Zach?” I follow up as I hold my breath, hoping for a nice, thin, elegantly shaped oval, but am immediately disappointed. “Mommy, you are a triangle!” he shouts. An equilateral one I am sure, with a skinny head and, despite my religious adherence to my P90X tapes the last three months (I have an imminent reunion after all), an accompanying broad, wide base. Damn that prematurely purchased Halloween candy.
Jeff, feeling somewhat redeemed, jumps in the game and asks “What are you, Zachy?”, and my soapy gamine responds “A rectangle, Dad!”, with just a touch of annoyance at how obvious this should have been to him. There’s only one family member left to go, so I finish up with “And what’s Justin?”, and am rewarded with silence. I’m not sure if he’s stumped, or is simply three years old and has just run out of shapes.
Zach takes a deep breath, and with impressive authority replies “Justin’s an octagon”, then grabs both wash cloths and vigorously scrubs his brother’s back. Apparently, eight-sided figures are dirty creatures. I can tell my husband is impressed he knows this word, but he’s been singing it out at every stop sign he’s encountered for the past year, so I take it in stride. Any son of mine should at least have a good vocabulary.
Of course, being a former educator, there’s not a chance in hell I can let this teachable moment go, and I am compelled to comment “So Zach, we’re a family, and we’re all different shapes, but that’s okay, right?” He looks at me with what appears to be a greatly diminished level of tolerance and says “Yes Mom, they’re different, it’s okay”, and promptly starts a game that looks like he’s drowning his rubber duck family. Maybe we’re literally not out of the water yet.
And that’s it, in a nutshell. No great treatises on the wonders of diversity needed, no calls for tolerance requested. Just this tiny, brief sentence from the mouth of a pre-schooler, incorrect usage of pronouns and all. If parenting licenses were mandatory before conception (and they should be), my wish would be that instilling this concept in our children at birth would be legally required. It simply says everything.
We’re all different, and it’s okay.
October 12, 2010
Today’s Gratitude Attitude goes to the doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, pain management specialists, and any other personnel who made my son’s surgery at Jersey Shore Hospital this past week both so successful, and so simple. The McCafferty family appreciates your collective kindness and professionalism (and the great selection of tea in the waiting area!). Thank you everyone, Justin is doing beautifully!