July 29, 2011
I noisily slurp my deceptively delicious frozen strawberry lemonade, a new concoction from McDonald’s (who knew the golden arches could corner the market on this summer’s most fabulous non-alcoholic beverage?), and take in the scene before me. It’s a familiar seasonal tableau, as my family of four often comes here to “dine” when on a Great Adventure outing, and I think the familiarity of the routine keeps everyone peaceful and calm. Zach is ignoring the ham we brought with us in deference to his GF/CF diet, and is playing seriously with Justin’s happy meal toy. My husband is scarfing down what actually looks like a fairly edible chicken sandwich, and Justin is contentedly watching Cars on his CD player while eating the fries I’m surreptitiously stealing from him. All is right, and “normal” for us, in the kingdom.
And then, my oldest boy points.
There was a time when my heart would have leapt into my throat with joy, along with the alluring thread of hope that this common way to communicate needs was leading up to a “breakthrough” for my son, a transition from his world, to mine. When he was diagnosed with autism at seventeen months, and had barely made the switch from infancy to the realm of toddlerhood, the necessity of teaching him how to point was drummed into me over and over by the vast majority of the professionals comprising Justin’s therapy team. Again and again I would hold his tiny hand, elongate his sweet pointer finger, carefully fold the remaining four into a gentle fist, and aim. He was supposed to be demonstrating this integral skill not only to convey his needs, but in order to share something of interest to his parents, his grandma, or just his babysitter.
The latter concept was called “joint attention”, a pivotal requirement for typical development in early childhood. I shaped those five digits frequently during those first years in the hope the desire to show us anything would “catch on”, but honestly, it rarely did. I do have one such encounter relegated forever to the digital world. It is a slightly shaky few minutes of film in which I recorded Justin sitting on Jeff’s lap pointing to the vibrantly portrayed animals in Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, my son laughing gleefully as my husband recited each mammal’s name no matter how many times Justin referred to said animal in a row. Soon, even the desire to engage in that game dissipated too, and my son began to rectify his needs through PECS, his Springboard, and ultimately, his iPad. He found a way to engage us in his joy as well by simply using his eyes, not his finger, to showcase his discoveries. All in all, these methods have worked for him, and for us.
But today, he is pointing. It is a gesture preceded by a downward glance of disgust at his chicken nuggets, followed by a look of undeniable longing toward my husband’s poultry selection, and capped off with a “finger chaser” in case there are any doubts as to his desires. His emotions are so unusually readable on his face that Jeff and I have to laugh, as there is no confusion as to what he desires, and I know my spouse will be heading back to that frenzied food counter momentarily to repurchase his own lunch. In good father form he breaks off a bite-size piece, and my son is eager in his acquisition, almost inhaling the slice before Jeff can change his mind. He swallows, and we watch the mere hint of a smile cross his face as he imperiously extends that pointer finger again.
And I have to laugh once more, because this interchange is just so damn “normal”.
There have been a number of these moments in the last few weeks as I’ve entertained the two kids on their summer school/camp hiatus, and they are wonderful to see. One morning, well before my other two boys surfaced from slumber, me and my eldest constructed an Elmo fire station from Legos, mommy pointing at the photo on the box, and son locating the plastic piece and constructing the building from scratch. Two evenings later, Justin grabbed my youngest as he enacted his nightly bedtime ritual of hugging his big brother goodnight, pulled both boy and book into his bed, and regarded me with a look that left no doubt they’d be receiving their bedtime story together.
Fortunately, Velveteen Rabbit was a crowd-pleaser.
To tell you the truth, I’m pretty exhausted on this “time-out” from routine, and I’m only two-thirds of the way through. But I’m glad I’m witness to these fleeting moments, happy to participate in this minute foray into typical. Justin’s truly beginning to interact more with the world, his teachers, his sibling, even strangers who grace his path. It’s not earth-shattering progress, but it makes life so much easier for us all.
And that’s a concept I’ll take with me until that glorious first day of summer school.
June 1, 2011
Recently I had the pleasure of venturing to NY with a dear friend to see an hilarious play, “You’ve Got Hate Mail”, co-written by playwrights Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore. It was pretty much a miracle that we both made it there and back given our combined geographical illiteracies (yes, my friend actually brought her GPS), but we did manage to see the performance and return home in one piece. Of course, the hours leading up to our departure were fraught with intrigue, as generally nothing is simple in autismland. I planned this particular evening long before I knew my son’s field day was also scheduled, and subsequently spent a good part of that day making wholly unreasonable deals with God to hold off the rain and any delays, pleas which if answered would enable us to make that coveted 3:30 train. Cindy and I nearly stroked out when confronted with purchasing our train tickets from a MACHINE, not a MAN, but we managed to successfully book passage to New York, not Newark. There were a few testy moments when we thought we’d be walking the forty blocks uptown to the theatre, but eventually a cabbie stopped for us, and delivered us there safely. We were fairly pitiful travelers, but we did it.
As my friend so aptly put it, it was the blond leading the blind.
I will share with you that despite living fairly close by, my trips to the Big Apple are few and far between. Most days making it to the end of the driveway and back to get the mail is enough of an adventure for me, as often I am surprised by what I find when I return to the house, and not in a good way. If I’m going to schlep to the city it had better be for a really exciting reason- either I’ll be consuming a fabulous meal, or I’ll be fabulously entertained. In this instance, I managed to do both. The only thing that would have made the night better was to have a driver deliver us door to door with someone reading “Go the F*** to Sleep” to me, and have the Triad Theater allow us to consume our two-drink minimum on the way home so we wouldn’t get tired by 8:00 PM.
I’m allowed to dream.
The play itself is conducted with the entire cast seated in front of their computer screens, the themes are marriage and adultery, and it is told in its entirety through texting and emails. Richard (Billy Van Zandt) performs as the cheating husband caught in a web of internet intrigue, when an email meant for his mistress Wanda (Fran Solgan) is mistakenly diverted to his wife Stephanie (Jane Milmore). As Richard digs himself deeper and deeper into a morass of immorality, the married couple’s friends get involved, also played brilliantly by Bonnie Deroski as Peg, and Glenn Jones as George.
Anything that captures my attention past 7:00 PM is a winner by me, and this play certainly fit the bill. The dialogue is funny and fast-paced, and each character in the ensemble is equally strong. One of the best parts of the performance is watching the cast’s hilarious facial expressions as each moment of the well-contrived plot unfolds, so I recommend getting there early to sit as close to the stage as possible. Perhaps you don’t need to get there at 5:00 as we did and run into the cast prior to the show (who knew intimate theaters don’t have box offices?), but getting there a little in advance will be worth it, I promise.
Van Zandt and Milmore have written countless plays and television scripts over the span of their several-decade career, and I’ve been fortunate to see a few of their productions. All of them, no matter what was transpiring in my life at the time, have made me laugh (and for those of you who also dwell in the world of autism, you know that’s no mean feat). The two of them are hugely successful, and clearly do not need Autism Mommy-Therapist to give them a good review.
But it’s my damn blog, and this play made me happy, so here we are.
I am aware of how difficult it is for some of my readers to get out of their houses for pleasure, but since most of you seem to be located in New Jersey and New York (except for my one international reader in Irleland, “Erin Go Bragh!”), I urge you to consider giving it a go. I laughed my ass off, didn’t think about autism for over an hour, and I’m not too proud to admit I snorted within the first ten minutes. As my readers know, I don’t put my name behind anything I can’t recommend unequivocally, and “You’ve Got Hate Mail” falls into this category. As an added bonus the Triad Theater is an extremely cool venue, and if you live in the area, you can be in bed by 11:00.
If your son is your 5:00 AM wake-up call too, that’s key. I have my priorities.
Those of you who read me also know I like promoting good people, and although I’ve only met two of the cast members, I can vouch for the playwrights themselves. Jane Milmore is the sister of the famous romance novelist Kaitlin O’Riley, a talented girl with whom I go back to our days at Rumson-Fair Haven High School. Jane and Billy themselves have always been lovely to me throughout the years. And since I’m increasingly convinced my four self-defense classes my mother made me take in 1978 would not protect me from a number of celebrities these days, the fact that they remain such good people after such a long span in Hollywood counts for a lot.
Truly, they’re just like us, except extremely talented.
Anyway, if you’ve got some free time (hah!) and are looking for a really funny play, I highly recommend you spend those limited moments at the Triad. Other than pageant moms, I can’t think of a group of people who deserve a fun night out more than parents of autistic children.
So Jane and Billy, continue to “break a leg” (a term I’ve never understood, which is only one of a thousand reasons I would make a sucky actress), and here’s wishing “You’ve Got Hate Mail” a long and illustrious run.
And once again, thanks for giving this tired girl the good seats, and some great laughs.
May 15, 2011
Last week, I had the profound and fortunate pleasure to escape to Mexico with my husband to celebrate our fifteenth anniversary. Due to the grace of my mother, my father-in-law, and our babysitter, Jeff and I were able to loll around in the sun for five consecutive days, where my most difficult decision daily was when I could start imbibing the “pretty drinks” and not fall asleep by 8 PM. We happily divided our time between beach and pool, napped, and people-watched for hours. I ignored my emails, and the only time I thought about the words “Face” or “Book” was when searching for the lovely countenance of the man bringing me my next “Mango Loco”, or while reading Bossypants by Tina Fey, our comedic national treasure.
For almost a whole week I was technologically Amish. It was bliss.
We planned every detail of the trip for months, remembering to clear our schedules several days prior to boarding that godsend of a plane because we’ve noticed over the years that something, or several somethings, always conspires to occur just before we leave. One time just days before one of our fairly frequent trips to Vegas to stay with friends, Jeff took a tumble down the stairs and broke his foot, which put a severe damper on our disco nights. The following year, Justin came down with a severe rash all over his body that turned out to be “hand, foot and mouth” disease (I actually looked at his pediatrician and asked her if she was making the diagnosis up just to mess with me), and for the next seventy-two hours we watched anxiously to see if several hundred red bumps would do us the honor of disappearing.
Ironically, this time around everyone was healthy, but it seemed as if the gods were conspiring against us anyway. Jeff got a flat tire while trying to cram in food shopping the day before our departure. We finally realized that funny odor in the pantry was mouse droppings, and my brave husband dedicated four hours on Sunday trying desperately to eradicate that succulent smell before we left. I went to bed before the glorious news of Osama bin Laden’s death, but my husband spent most of the night wondering if we would still be able to depart. We were, and we did.
And I admit, it was fabulous.
Of course, not every moment of the trip was perfect. I burned a quarter of a boob when my suit apparently “shifted” in direct sunlight (the only time I’ve gone topless was for five minutes in Greece in 1988, after which my Puritan ancestry kicked in and started screaming for me to “remember decency!”). The night we ate in the “French” restaurant our waiter proudly proclaimed our aperitif to be “chicken fingers with sauce”, and while my husband beamed with anticipation I heard the strangled cry of a million Frenchmen as they screamed “Non, c’est pas vrai!!!” Sadly, we once experienced three entire drops of rain one day as my groom and I walked along the mostly deserted beach together.
Yes, I’m just kidding with that last one.
I could tell you that this vacation we try to make every five years, as we attempt to celebrate the “fives” and “zeros” of our union, is important because we desperately need the time together away from our children just so we can breathe, and that would be true. I could impart to you my adamance this type of trip occurs at least twice a decade for us because I’m neither sure how long I’ll have the generosity of my mother’s help, nor certain if there will come a day before Jeff and I turn eighty that Justin will not be solely under our care. I could share with you that I simply appreciate the opportunity to sleep four nights a year.
Hell, I could tell you that sometimes, I just like some silence.
All of the above is true. But the real reason this vacation is so crucial to us is because it’s the one time of year we feel like we actually have choices in our daily routine, because with two children on the autism spectrum, our lives don’t leave us much opportunity for wiggle room. Honestly, for several days, we simply reveled in the welcome absence of rules, the constraints that autism often insinuates into our everyday existence. I didn’t have to plan seventy steps ahead of an outing to anticipate what might strip my chances of success while bringing Justin out into the community. I wasn’t forced to recall which spot on Zach’s favorite plate always welcomes the ketchup, or be faced with a tantrum of such inappropriate proportions I’d rue the day the condiment was invented. I didn’t have to think about how autism ordains Justin’s life, how it will ultimately result in his requiring lifetime care, half of which will transpire without me.
Frankly, for five days, the only rule was that I didn’t have to think.
I realize how lucky we were to have this opportunity. I am fortunate to have the luxury of a stable partner, the understanding of my father-in-law, the stamina of my mother. The word “gratitude” does not begin to convey how grateful I am for this confluence of circumstances, this perfect storm of luck that conspired to enable us this break from an often extremely stressful life. Trust me, most of the year my “downtime” is spent sitting in the car reading for fifteen minutes while I wait for one of my kids to get off his bus. It’s not always happy hour around here.
But for 120 blissful hours (not that I counted), it was. I just want to say thanks to everyone who made it happen, and for all who wished us well prior to departure. I’ve traveled to a number of countries at this point, and I have to say I’ve never encountered a people as genuinely warm as the residents of the Yucatan Peninsula, and I certainly hope to see them all again (especially the reincarnated Michael Jackson who performed for us, who knew the legend is actually alive, just living in Mexico?).
I’d like to add one final note to my husband, a man with whom despite the oft-insanity of our lives, I still enjoy spending time.
Love you, hon. See you in five years.
May 1, 2011
“I’m NOT going to time-out! YOU didn’t go to time-out!” my four-year-old screams at me, enraged I have the audacity to imply it’s been two hours since his last visit to the potty, and he really should try to go. After presenting said request to him, he then proceeded to run gleefully throughout the first floor of our home (and trust me, he’s often faster than me now), screaming my favorite retort, “And you can’t MAKE ME!”.
Hah. You may be four decades younger than me little man, but I will SO win this one.
I scoop up my writhing, wriggling pre-schooler into my arms and carry him to his “naughty chair”, all the while fending off his well-aimed and protesting feet, ignoring his cries of “it’s not FAIR!” (hell, what is?). He slumps into his seat, crosses his arms and delivers his infamous “harrumph!”, and continues his previous diatribe which indicates he’s certain I never went to time-out as a child, so he shouldn’t have to either.
Bad argument, kiddo. I’ve got Grandma on speed dial.
I march back into the kitchen, intensely annoyed at how this afternoon is proceeding (why am I home with him again?), and grab the phone from its cradle. I silently implore my mother to pick up her cell, and thankfully, she does. Without noticing, I’ve somehow traveled back to the living room where my stubborn son awaits me, so I have to hope that my mom will understand the implied message I’m about to impart to her.
She does. Clearly, Grandma’s still got it.
I tell Zach as the phone rings that I’m calling my mom to ask her if she ever put me in time-out, and he grows suddenly still, remembering not only that once his mommy was actually a little girl (a long, long, long, time ago), but that his Grandma is also her mother. He sits up straighter, back pressing into the long black spokes bookended by seat and headrest, and actually unfolds his arms. He remains a non-believer, but at least he is willing to hear this out.
“Hi Grandma”, I say after our connection is made. “I just called to tell you Zachary is not listening today, so I put him in time-out. I told him I used to go to time-out too when I didn’t listen, and he doesn’t believe me. Please tell him it’s true.”
I feel my mother’s pause through the phone wires as she momentarily struggles to remember if she ever actually disciplined me (I was the disgustingly well-behaved oldest child who engaged in more subtle forms of rebellion, the opposite of her younger brother who should have been required to pay rent for the naughty corner). She rallies however and improvises, “Yes Zach, sometimes your mommy didn’t listen when she was a little girl, and I sent her to time-out so she could think about what she did wrong.”
I look down at my son, and see the wheels spinning in his brain. HIS mommy was bad sometimes too? Grandma has just rocked his world.
He asks to speak to her personally (speaker phone just won’t do), repeats my question verbatim, and seems to finally accept the truth. After my mother admonishes him to be a good boy he hands the phone back to me, I thank her, and disengage the call.
Zach looks me in the eyes and says “I’m sorry”, which when coupled with eye contact is the only time I know for certain he really means it. We reenact our traditional accompanying hug and kiss, and I release him from the constraints of his chair, with the reminder he is to head to the bathroom immediately, all of his own accord. Thankfully he does, because I’m certain I’ve strained something from my exertions around the house and I don’t have it in me to chase him again. Once on the potty Nemo is placated (yup, told my youngest that this funny orange fish likes drinking his pee, and I’m proud of it) and Zach’s impending accident is averted. I smile, because despite the fine sheen of sweat permeating the shirt I will now have to replace on my tired body, I’ve won this round. I’ve just been able to employ vocabulary, history, and rational thought to explain to my son he is indeed required to listen to his mama, and eventually, he complied. For once, with one of my kids, we were actually able to work a conflict through together.
And as far as I’m concerned, I’m keeping Grandma on speed dial.
April 24, 2011
If this pronouncement were true I’m certain it would not be met with a great deal of enthusiasm from my husband, but since it’s out of the mouth of our four-year-old, I’m betting we can transcend the problem. I was just informed of this deficit after I attempted to plant a noisy one on my youngest son’s forehead, and was met with such writhing and wriggling away from my puckered lips I figured I must have something in my teeth. As I step away to grimace at Jeff and confirm this isn’t true, Zach rears back up and yells, “You can’t kiss me ever again, you’re OUT of them!” He then happily resumes eating his ham and potatoes, oblivious to the amused looks his parents are trading between them.
Damn. Some days all I have left are chocolate, wine, and kisses. Sucks for me.
Never one to shy away from an issue, Jeff bravely decides to investigate. He leans over the kitchen counter with an authoritarian air, and says to our little imp, “Mommy, didn’t run out, see, she’s going to give me one right now.”
Hah. Jeff is a man never to miss an opportunity.
I stroll over to prove him right, and before I’ve completed two steps I hear “NO!!!! SHE RAN OUT!!! I HAVE TO GO TO THE KISSES STORE FIRST!”, and I turn back to see my second son straining forward from his seat at the table, arms outstretched as he tries to rein me in. “COME BACK MOMMY, COME BACK!”, he cries, and I am compelled to smile at my thwarted spouse and then obey my baby’s command. I return to him, sit down, and ask Zach when he’ll find time in his schedule to make a “kisses run”. He graces me with that benevolent stare that conveys something in between “I’ve got it Mommy” and “what a stupid question”,and replies, “I already go’ed there”.
Reconciling the past tense with the present remains a goal.
I share my delight with him that he’s made this purchase and angle in to deliver my smooch, but am instead met with “the hand” (how this of all things managed to survive the 80’s, I’ll never know). Zach looks at me, and in a calmly chastising tone of voice says, “No Mommy, I have to FEED them to you first”.
Of course you do.
I submit to his demands and bend toward him, and with great gusto he rips the kisses out of his pocket, and rather violently stuffs them into my yawning mouth. He is quite pleased with himself, my little man, and subsequently allows me to communicate my love to him, his brother, and his relieved father in our traditional manner. I deliver my last kiss to him with a flourish, then reach down to embrace him, for I’ve vowed never to take for granted his ventures into the land of imagination, and this trip has been particularly amusing. The little bugger shies away from me again however, regards me with great suspicion, and shouts “NO MOMMY, YOU ARE OUT OF HUGS TOO!”
And I have to admit, for a woman who never fully embraced the single digit crowd, I am entranced by my youngest’s immersion within the land of make-believe.
April 7, 2011
Dearest Picture People,
My name is Kimberlee Rutan McCafferty, and I have been a loyal patron for almost eight years now, a customer who has spanned two states to buy your particular photos. My family’s relationship with your establishment began a few months after the birth of my eldest son in northern Virginia, where I would faithfully schlep him to our local mall at least three or four times a year to capture his cuteness on camera. We’ve since relocated to New Jersey, where I make a longer schlep to take my two sons, both of whom have autism, to your shop. Between Halloween, Christmas, and birthdays, during the last decade my family has frequented Picture People on many, many, many occasions.
Trust me, I could wallpaper an entire room (we’re talking family room, not bath) with the amount of product I’ve purchased from you.
I know this may sound like a nutty obsession on the part of a woman who clearly has her hands full (there was a time I could barely get my first child into a car, much less get him to smile for a photo shoot), but I am a self-professed shutterbug. After my passion for writing (okay, and perhaps scrapbooking, I am THAT cool), I admit I adore photography, and have used up almost every square inch of wall space we possess to project the images of my little boys. Frankly, it’s just one giant photo shoot chez McCafferty.
The truth is there are a multitude of things I could be doing with my children other than running maniacally around a portrait studio as I attempt to make them smile, but I enjoy having those formal photos around the house, and it’s worth the effort to me. Having two children on the autism spectrum has forced me to give up any number of things I took for granted I’d experience when I reproduced (you know, like the eventual return of a full night’s sleep, and a chance at retirement), but having gussied up pictures of my kids is one slice of “normal” I refuse to relinquish.
I’m just that stubborn.
So when I heard from one of my favorite photographers yesterday that not only have you discontinued the practice of emailing these digital memories to customers to peruse at their convenience (a Portrait Club Member perk I adored, since my husband is even pickier than I am), I will share that I did turn my head faintly in the direction of JC Penney’s for a moment. When I was further informed that your store would only be keeping my kids’ photos on file for twenty-four hours now despite my “elite” customer status, I admit I pondered whether my GPS would work indoors to help me find your competitor.
So, I simply have this to say to those in charge. I am one of those annoying people who always says they’re going to write a letter of complaint and never does (the discontinuation of McDonald’s fried apple pie and my desire to abolish “skinny jeans” both come to mind), but today, well, today, I’m venting my wrath in prose. I’m not asking you to light up your studios blue (although I’d appreciate the attempt at added autism awareness, I understand those cerulean filaments might not make for a prime photo opportunity for everyone). I’m not requesting an exception for those of us with children who might not be capable of waiting an hour-and-a half post-shoot to bring home our pictures (hell, I’ve been there when it’s taken thirty minutes just to upload and view our take on a computer screen). Truly, I’m not vying for special treatment.
You’d know it if I was.
I also understand the economy sucks. I completely comprehend the principle of “once they leave the sale is lost”, or whatever far zippier phrase those marketing geniuses have concocted to raise revenue. I get the bottom line here. Despite the furry Easter props, and the admonition to “make special AND unique memories AND have a great day” every time I place a call to your company, the ultimate goal is to make money.
It’s always about money. Sadly, it’s no longer about me.
But I am asking you to consider this. I’ve been at that mall, walked by your store and recognized a customer, then seen her hours later on that same swivel chair with her sobbing infant after I’ve completed half my Christmas shopping and had a manicure. There are plenty of children who do not reside on the autism spectrum who can’t wait around for mommy to bring home their preciousness, “normal” children who risk slipping into a total meltdown that can be heard from the outer limits of the parking lot (trust me, I’ve heard the faint cries as far away as Macy’s). And given that economy I mentioned before, I’m willing to bet any number of those stressed-out moms might actually have jobs they can’t boycott to return the next day and claim those images, particularly within your draconian twenty-four hour limitations.
It was suggested to me I partake of this option. Since we’re usually five minutes from the Apocalypse at my house on any given day, I “politely” declined.
So please, dear Picture People executive-types, kindly consider what I’ve penned. Bring back the opportunity for the “slide show of joy” I can view with my spouse in the relative comfort of my bedroom. Have respect for the fact that our (and I mean the global, Kumbayah, “our”) children might not tolerate the wait/screaming babies/overwhelming crowds/PMS-state mothers every single time they mug for the camera. Take pity on families trying to forge memories of what their kids looked like in this crazy world, and grant them some options.
Give us back the gift of time.
Because I’ll tell you, there are days in my household where the random sight of those grinning cherubs is the only thing saving my sanity, as I deal with the sometimes tragic, and often profoundly irritating consequences of living with autism. Honestly, just glancing at their photos, in those silver frames I’ll never get around to polishing, simply makes me happy. So come on Picture People, have a heart, and make a Jersey girl smile.
I’ll even let you capture it on film.
December 19, 2010
Last week my husband came downstairs, grabbed a diet Dr. Pepper and some GF/CF Swedish fish that are supposed to be Zachary’s, and proclaimed that something momentous had just occurred. No, Bristol Palin didn’t win Dancing with the Stars the night before (NOBODY puts Baby in a corner). No, he hadn’t discovered his impending end-of-year bonus check would cover not only Christmas, but those insanely expensive “sexy boots” I’ve been eyeing online for weeks now. And no, Justin didn’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing “Pants on the Ground” to him before he got on the bus this morning. The truth is, I’m referring to a far more modest miracle, one that has a direct impact on our family.
Mall Santa is in the house.
Due to the fact that my kids have special needs, they will each have approximately 5,000 opportunities to meet and greet with Santa this year. There’s the Challenger party, the Elks bash, and a wonderful little shindig near our local aquarium that includes not only his Jolly Lordship but FREE CANDY (you all SO know I’m going to that one). There will be multiple chances for Justin to look bored and fix me with his infamous “REALLY mom?” stare, and for Zach to let his eyes well up with tears in such dramatic fashion that any soap opera star would be proud. We’ll attend as many sightings as we can, but for me the big kahuna, the “REAL” Santa, will always be the portly dude smelling slightly of nicotine, situated somewhere between Macy’s and Victoria’s Secret, just like when I was a kid.
Hell, I gave birth. It’s my God-given right to use my children to relive some of my childhood, isn’t it?
After Jeff made his pronouncement we both ignored the fact that it was still November, that in Zachary’s terms we hadn’t even “put away” Thanksgiving yet, and whipped out our planners (yes, my husband’s is electronic, and I still use a slate and chalk). I remembered Jeff was taking the day before the holiday as a vacation day, and since both kids had half days then we figured we could get them off the bus, throw on their “pretty” clothes, and drag them to the car before they knew what had hit them.
I assumed Zach would be enthralled with the idea as Santa is all he talks about these days, and Justin would tolerate the trip as long as he got a bagel at Starbucks and a ride on the faux roller coaster our local mall houses. Since both of their parents would be there, we figured one of us could save Santa’s beard if Justin was not excited by our choice of outing (my eldest child is not a big fan of facial hair), and if we had to spirit him away Zach could still regale his idol with his Christmas list (and a long, long, list it is). We finalized our plans, I ripped the remainder of Zach’s treats out of my husband’s hungry hands, and began to anticipate how excited my little guy would be when we told him his Santa sighting would be tomorrow. I also reminded myself to have patience when he asked me 500 times if it was “tomorrow yet”.
The next day dawned, and Zach of course remembered our plans for the day, even trying to “reason” with me that Santa would rather see him first thing in the morning, so he should not go to school. I didn’t have the heart to tell him Santa was either asleep or on Stair Master at this hour, so I fibbed and told him Rudolph had a cold, he’d been delayed, and we’d have to wait a few hours.
It turns out lying to your kids is really fun.
After a few more years (hours) of bargaining I finally got both boys off to school, had a taste of a “life”, and packed the eight thousand items necessary for our field trip to shopping mecca. What seemed like five minutes later I heard the “beep,beep,beep” of the bus backing up as it overshot our driveway, and I rushed out with excitement, expecting to see an ecstatic boy launch himself into my arms and yell “it’s tomorrow Mom!” with glee. Instead, I watched as Zach’s exit required the assistance of the aide for the entire length of the bus, culminating in a stand-off at the top of the stairs as he refused to grip the safety handle. When I asked if he’d had a bad day he simply uttered a “HARRUMPH!” complete with crossed arms, proclaimed himself a “BAD BOY!!” without a hint of remorse, and reluctantly lowered himself onto the asphalt and trudged his way back to our home.
After five minutes of witnessing our youngest child engaged in a snit that made my worst PMS episodes look tame, Jeff and I contemplated canceling. I then broached the subject with Zach and was met with a cascade of tears that would have made Niagara Falls proud, and since we’d promised him, we sucked it up and said we’d go. I had a feeling we would deeply regret our decision.
I was right.
We placed both boys in the car, and Jeff quickly found some Christmas carols on Sirius. I relaxed a bit in the driver’s seat, somewhat secure in the knowledge that Zach loves any form of transportation, and whatever tirade he was immersed in would probably disappear within minutes of playing “Look for Christmas Crap” (yes, I leave out the last word when I refer the game to him). The Chipmunk song was just ending (thank God) and Taylor Swift was about to commence a lovely rendition of “Oh Holy Night” when I heard “HARRUMPH!” again from the back seat, and looked back in time to see the crossing of the arms that means that good times are to come.
Here are the transcripts from the next few minutes in our car. Nobody will be subpoenaing them any time soon:
Mom: “Zach, do you want to sing a Christmas song?”
Zach: “NO, NO CHRISTMAS SONGS, THEY’RE TOO SLOW!”
I figure I can beat him at this game. I’ve got forty-plus years of Christmas carols on the little bugger after all.
Mom: “How about Jingle Bells then?”
Zach: “NO, THAT’S TOO FAST!”
Of course it is. Stupid, stupid Mama.
Jeff, trying valiantly to change the subject, chimed in “Zach, are you excited to see Santa?” and was rewarded for his efforts with “NO, I DON’T WANT TO SEE SANTA, I’M A BAD BOY’, which at the moment, is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Because we’re already annoyed with ourselves for trying this trip anyway we decide to play with him a bit, see if we can cajole him out of this foul mood, and amuse ourselves in the process. Since I’m not sure we’re going to make it to Starbucks I realize this might be the highlight of my day.
“Zach, want to see Rudolph?”
“How about Donner, Blitzen and the rest of the reindeer posse?”
“How about Elmo?”
Pause, then “NOOOO!”
“Clooney?” (hint, that one was mine).
“NO,NO,NO!!!!!!!!!! (he may not be my son).
We eventually made it to our destination, and true to form Justin blithely ignored St. Nick and tried to abscond with most of the fake presents surrounding him, and Zach displayed almost as much desire to sit with Santa as he does when confronted with his potty seat. I won’t get my fabulous photos this year, but I’ll leave you with a far more festive group of pictures from “happy Christmas past”.
And to all of you going to see “Mall Santa” this year, please don’t forget to mention I, however, have been a very, very, very good girl.
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.
September 17, 2010
“Mom, I love you” my three-year-old informs me from the back seat of our car, and as the sentiment is completely unprompted, the sting of that truncated “mom” from “mommy” is ameliorated, at least for the moment.
“I love you too, honey” I reply, grateful as ever to have this exchange in words, always ecstatic to hear a full sentence, particularly as it’s coupled with the proper use of a pronoun. While Justin and I understand one another completely, seem to have transcended the need for vocal communication to “speak” with one another, this verbal interplay with my youngest still tickles me. Honestly, it wasn’t that long ago I was contemplating spending an entire lifetime without one proper conversation with either one of my offspring. I continue to herald each word from Zachary, no matter how whiny or bossy, with an accompanying imaginary parade.
“How do you love me, Mom?” he responds, as always, that child who pushes things just a wee bit further. I know that he’s quoting a line from a lovely Baby Einstein video which has poetry as its focus, and since it’s one of Justin’s favorite parts, we’ve all heard it many, many, many times.
“I love you all the way around the world and back, sweetheart” I tell him as I slip my sunglasses down the bridge of my nose so I can deliver my answer with eye contact, and am rewarded for my troubles with a satisfied smile. This give and take is a staple in our repertoire, a litany of love I imagine brings him comfort. I swivel back to return my eyes to the road, and decide it’s my turn to push things just a little bit further too.
“Zachy, what does love feel like?” I ask him, and am prepared for silence as I imagine this query will utterly stymie him. I wait two, three, four seconds, prepared to question him once again, then let my whim go. I glance back in my rearview mirror in time to see him gaze back at me, open his mouth, and in a stage whisper utter one word. “Magic”.
Wow. If this isn’t a Kodak moment even though I’m driving to the dentist, I don’t know what is.
I sit with this one for a moment, swept up in the inherent sweetness of his response, knowing it may be a while, if ever, that he answers anything so perfectly again. Of course I want to be certain of what I heard, so I regard him once again, repeat my fanciful question, and say “Sweetie, love feels like magic, right?”
He stares back at me for a full second, sports a devilish grin, and comes back with this.
“No, it doesn’t”.
I know, when I relate this story to my girlfriends, they will gleefully inform me, “hey Kim, welcome to “three”.
And believe me, I’m just happy to be here.
July 28, 2010
My youngest son is pregnant. Yes, you heard me right, and since he’s an overachiever like his parents, he happens to be having twin boys.
Guess what their names are.
My oldest son Justin has had a home program for a long time, and we’ve been fortunate enough not to have scared off most of his therapists even after several years of working with them. One of them, a lovely woman who’s capable of motivating my son in ways I never thought possible, is having a baby this December. Unlike me, who started showing five minutes after conception and looked like I was about to give birth by the beginning of the second trimester, she has finally sported her baby bump about five months into her pregnancy.
I try not to hate her.
Since my youngest is three and a boy, and therefore oblivious to almost anything around him that doesn’t directly affect his life, he hasn’t really noticed the “extra” Nicole has been carrying around with her. Yesterday however, I had to stop him from careening into the next generation as he ran over to show her the latest gift his sitter had spoiled him with recently. As he slid into my outstretched arms he looked at Nicole’s gently protruding tummy, stretched his gaze up to her face and asked quizzically, “What you have?”
Ah, the time-honored “what you have.”
“What you have” is universal for “mommy, you have wet hair, dry it”, “daddy, you are eating your lunch, I want it”, “Justin, I didn’t require that toy all day while you were at school, but I NEED it now”, and several other assorted commands. It also signifies a desire for knowledge, a request to satisfy the curiosity that runs rampant in this particular three-year-old, and I’m certain, in many others. When Nicole and I both respond with laughter at his query he repeats his request, and looks at me seriously, hands on hips, eyes locked intensely on mine. In other words, we’d better tell him “what she has”, or he may not be held responsible for his actions.
I look down at my sweet son and reply “Nicole has a baby in her stomach. When you were a baby, you were in my tummy too.”
Zach freezes, stares straight ahead as he attempts to process this information. I can literally see the wheels turning in his brain. I’m afraid if he tries to think any harder I’ll see smoke next.
He breaks his reverie, lifts up her maternity shirt and places his hand gently on her rounded belly, looks up at Nicole earnestly, and says “get it out”.
Oops honey, not yet.
Over the next few minutes he tries to climb back into my permanently “closed for business” womb, and searches everywhere for the fake baby I bought during my first pregnancy to try to convince his older sibling that the forthcoming interloper wasn’t such a bad idea after all. He then informs us he is having his own baby, two boys in fact, and tries unsuccessfully to shove said infant down his shirt, bottle and all (guess he’s not fond of breastfeeding either). Once he slips his child through his collar with a little help from his mom, he subsequently gives birth in a time-frame of which any peasant in a field would be envious. The baby’s name is Justin, and as we repeat the act, Zachary follows. He’s a pre-schooler after all, and his imagination is a wee bit limited. I comfort myself that at least my grandchildren aren’t named after signs of the zodiac, or fruit.
My friends warned me that having a kid who talks might not be all it’s cracked up to be, but I’ll take the defiance, the occasional tirade, the endless questions any day. It’s just so damn fun not to have to play “guess what he’s thinking” all the time, to not watch him be frustrated by his inability to communicate. Whether it’s dragons in the sky or babies in the belly, those words will always be music to my ears.
And now, a few years earlier than I expected, I have two grandsons. Guess I won’t get that girl after all.