Wednesday, January 27, 2010

American cheese and happiness: are they mutually exclusive? Discuss.

When I was in the hospital after having delivered Tommy, the nurses asked if I wanted a snack. I was starving and said I would gladly take the crackers and cheese they were offering. Now, I knew I wouldn't be receiving a gourmet snack. I was at the hospital, after all, so I wasn't expecting Brie on cracked wheat crackers or anything. I would have been satisfied with some Ritz and cheddar. Instead, I was filled with dismay when I beheld my treat: 5 Saltines and a slice of American cheese.

I am not a big fan of American cheese. In fact, I really don't think it merits the title of cheese. Its shiny, smooth exterior and filmy aftertaste literally leave a bad taste in my mouth. The only way it is in the least palatable, in my opinion, is if it is melted on a cheeseburger. And even then, I would far prefer my burger adorned with goat cheese or feta or even a slab of cheddar.

This morning when I arrived at my Meals on Wheels assignment and noticed today's offering featured Saltines, American cheese, some dried out carrot and celery slices, a cup of tomato soup and canned pears, I felt unaccountably sad.

This meal really disheartened me. My first instinct was to round up all the people on my route, herd them back to my house and whip up some hearty stew or coconut curry chicken soup and crusty bread, some warm, comforting food.

After a couple of people made approving remarks about their meals, I came to two conclusions: 1) Food has a disproportionately big influence on my mood and 2) Not all people share my views on eating (gasp!).

Yes, good food makes me happy, people. And making good food for people makes me even happier, especially if those people are likely to effusively praise my offerings. And when I say "good food" I don't just mean snobby, gourmet food. I appreciate trash as much as the next person. Twinkies? I don't buy them anymore because I devour the whole box in one sitting, and I cannot think of a trashier junk food than Twinkies, can you? I mean, the things don't even disintegrate.

But if I had the choice between Twinkies and something far more decadent and delicious like say, Napoleons from a French bakery, the Napoleons would win hands down. This is also my policy on food like chocolate. I'll eat Hershey's if I have to, but would far prefer Ferrero Rocher or Ghiradelli's. Why settle for mediocre food when you can have superb?

I wonder if I am not a bit obsessed. I just finished reading Julie and Julia and the biggest problem I had with the book was that the author and her husband regularly ate Domino's pizza. They live in NEW YORK and eat Domino's when they have access to so many far superior foods? I can't fathom it.

My philosophy with eating is if you are going to eat it, the food should taste good. Really good. Otherwise, why bother with all the work of masticating and swallowing and digesting? And it should be real (thus my American cheese aversion), not some chemical concoction created in a laboratory. And I'd much rather eat good, authentic food instead of some chain food meal. So, yes, I eschew Panda Express for the little hole in the wall in Chinatown that Bil and I love.

Obviously, there are things in my life that are way more important to me than good food (family and friends come to mind) but feasting on tasty meals is definitely in my top ten list of happiness promoters. What does that say about me? Probably that I am shallow, gluttonous and self-absorbed. I'm not sure, but I don't really care right now. I'm hungry and need to start making dinner: tortellini with pine nuts and prosciutto. Now, that's a happy prospect.

What makes you happy? Check out this week's Spin Cycle for more people's takes on happiness.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Just you wait.....

When I saw that the topic for this week's Spin Cycle is opinions, I knew it wouldn't be hard to come up with a spin. The problem would be narrowing it down. I could write about how difficult I often find it to give my opinions on certain subjects, because I worry if I disagree with someone, I might offend them. Or I could write about how much it bugs me when people develop opinions they won't ever reconsider despite the fact that they are based on misinformation (don't even get me started on all the crazy emails these kinds of opinions generate, especially on the topic of politics).

Any of these topics could have gotten me writing, but instead I am choosing to blog about one of my biggest pet peeves, what I like to call Maleficent Prophecies of Doom (or MPoD for short). Despite its pompous title, these sorts of opinions are ubiquitous. You have probably been the recipient of an MPoD without even realizing it. Very often they start with the phrase "Just you wait," as in these examples:

"Just you wait. When you have teenagers they will never talk to you and you will know the misery I feel."


"Just wait. You'll see, as soon as your son enters elementary school you'll have to fight tooth and nail to get him services and it will be a complete nightmare."


"When you hit 40, your body will totally fall apart and you will age 20 years in one day and your life will forever be miserable. Just you wait."

I hate MPoDs for so many reasons. The person who bestows such pronouncements seems to find glee in the prospect that you will soon be joining her in the Hell in which she currently resides. These people tend to take delight in other people's misfortunes, and that makes me feel uncomfortable.

Don't get me wrong. I have been known to indulge in a certain amount of schadenfreude. I have on occasion wished that a Smug Mother of Girls would have a seriously rambunctious boy after she gave me a witheringly judgmental glare on the playground. I have also been known to take some satisfaction when people who have been mean to me or to my kids have gotten their comeuppance. But I am not proud of those feelings. I tend to reveal them only to my closest friend because I don't want people to know about my mean streak.

But those who regularly make MPods don't hide their selfish desire for everyone to be as miserable as them. And for some reason when this mean-spiritedness is flanked by a "Just you wait" and an "You'll see" all of a sudden it is socially acceptable to be an ill-tempered shrew.

Let me highlight an example of a particular Maleficent Prophecy of Doom that Bil and I still talk about. One New Year's Eve, right after our first anniversary, Bil and I attended a small party at my brother and sister-in-law's house. While we were playing Taboo with various family members, we noticed major tension between my sister-in-law's brother and his wife, M. It was obvious they were fighting, about what I am not sure, but M was constantly biting her husband's head off. She yelled at him for missing her Taboo clues, for not giving better clues when it was his turn, and she was making everyone feel uncomfortable.

Bil and I sat on the couch minding our own business. We happened to be holding hands, which apparently really ticked off M, because she turned on us suddenly and declared with great vehemence, "Just you wait. When you have been married for 10 years, you won't be holding hands! You'll see."

It shocked me, her absolute antipathy towards Bil and I, two people who did nothing other than appear happily married. Why, I wondered would anyone hope for another to have marital problems?

What is sad about these predictions is that when we use them, we become victims. Victims of fate. We are saying that we have no control over our lives or anything that happens in them, that everyone suffers this way so why bother changing? And that saddens me. I know we don't have complete control over many aspects of our lives, so to relinquish the control we do have (ie: the ability to not fight over a game of Taboo) is so wasteful, in my opinion.

More than that, when we predict another's problems, we are bringing them down with us. We are stealing their hope. We are wishing hard times on them.

Interestingly, for whatever reason, when an acquaintance begins to predict some doom and gloom in my life, I feel determination begin to swell in my chest. I am overcome with a desire to prove them wrong. Maybe that's a good thing.

All I know is that Bil and I have been married for 8+ years and we are still holding hands.

And we never fight over Taboo.

Take that, M.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday Mumbers--back with a vengeance

In honor of Kia's happy return to blogging, I thought I would post a Monday Mumbers this week. So, here goes:

5 pairs of underwear I have thrown out this week.
1 pair of pajama bottoms that have joined the underwear in the trash.
1,237 number of baby wipes we used in one day last week.
1 the number of double dosages of Miralax I gave Danny because I thought it would help clear up his constipation.

In case you're wondering, it worked. (Bill notes: I laughed, I cried, it was more disgusting than "Eraserhead.")

1 number of times Charlotte said to Bil, "Hey, Daddy, I'm going commando today."
You can see I have been busy teaching my daughter really valuable information, right?

0 number of hours I have spent teaching Charlotte something useful like how to spell her name or tie her shoes.

217 number of miles I traveled with the kids to get to Chicago. About an hour outside the city, I heard Danny smacking his lips noisily. I peered into the rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of green construction paper and Froot Loops--the Christmas tree they made in school. I commanded Danny not to eat the Froot Loops.

He said, "Mom, I'm not eating the Froot Loops; they are glued on. (Like, Duh, mom!) I'm just licking them. And they are deeeeeelicious!"

He continued to exclaim over the tastiness of the cereal and then decided to share his treat with me, handing me a sodden mess of green construction paper, sugary starch material, and all manner of artificial flavoring and colors, all the while insisting that I partake of this delicacy.

I'm thinking maybe I should pack more snacks for our road trips.

11 number of times I have laughed to myself over the fact that the OT receptionist referred to Pulaski Day as "Roman Pulaski" day. I'm pretty sure ole Casmir Pulaski--who according to wikipedia, "was a Polish soldier, member of the Polish nobility and politician who has been called 'the father of American cavalry,'" who also saved George Washington's life--might take issue with being confused with Roman Polanski, child rapist and fugitive from law.

But what do I know?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tacky Day

So, tomorrow is Tacky Day at Danny's school. According to the note sent home at the beginning of the week, the kids are supposed to come to school in a "tacky" outfit. For example, mismatched clothes (so basically everyday is Tacky Day in our house, and not just for the kids, either) or clothes you wouldn't normally wear to school. Kids can also sport funny hairstyles, etc. Anything to make them look funny, I guess.

This reminds me of a couple months ago, when they had 50's day for the entire school to commemorate 50 years in service or something like that. They recommended dressing boys in jeans, white t-shirts, leather jackets and greasing their hair back.

I don't even know where to start. OK, well, first off, Danny never wears jeans. He has not donned denim since he was probably 2. Ever since he has been able to say the word "NO!" blue jeans have not touched his body. As for the white t-shirt, well, that might have been ok, but it was October and Danny refused to wear a short-sleeved shirt. And the leather jacket? Even if we were loaded and could afford a pint-sized leather coat, there is no way he would wear it. Danny wears soft fabrics only.

And the hair thing? Danny doesn't even like having his hair stick up after washing it. So, basically, we were totally out of options. I instead chose to send my kid dressed as a 50's kid who time traveled to 2009 and decided to wear clothes appropriate to 2009 (at least clothes appropriate for a 2009 kid who has sensory issues).

Or in other words, he wore a sweat suit. I know Danny didn't care, but I wondered what the teacher and other kids thought. Maybe nothing. Or possibly that I had forgotten. Who knows?

So, I have been trying to talk it up to Danny, to prepare him for the fact that he is supposed to wear something unusual to school tomorrow, but he doesn't seem to be registering what I am saying. Or perhaps he just doesn't care. Who can blame him really? Why I am thinking so much about something so inconsequential is a topic for my next therapy session.

All I know is that now I am stuck trying to create a tacky outfit, which really wouldn't be that hard, but I am assuming they want the kids to wear outfits different from their normal attire. Because, as it happens, Danny is the king of mismatched clothes. They suggested mismatched socks, which you would think would be just his thing, but Danny would never stand for that, because you see, my wonderful kid is a real stickler for rules. You do not break them. Ever.

So, this sort of fun dress-up day is not for kids like Danny. I will try to convince him he can wear his pjs to school, but I don't think he will bite, even though he wore nothing but pajamas during our 4-day weekend last week.

Perhaps, instead, I will have Danny actually wear clothes that are unusual for him to wear to school (as the note instructed). So, for Tacky Day, perhaps I will be able to convince Danny to wear an ensemble that matches and looks really nice together.

That would sure be different.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

autism, acceptance, and anger

A friend of mine posted the following on Facebook:

"Please put this on your status if you know someone (or are related to someone) who has AUTISM. My wish for 2010 is that people will understand that autism is not a disease; people with autism are not looking for a cure but for ACCEPTANCE."

Surprisingly, this has brought up a lot of emotions for me, not the least of which is guilt. More than anything, I want people to accept and love Danny for who he is. I want people to try to understand him, rather than merely judging and then dismissing him. I want him not to be pitied, but valued for who he is, and I want his strengths to be acknowledged, not just his weaknesses.

But, I also want him cured.

I am so hesitant to say this, because I know it is not politically correct. It implies that I don't accept my son for who he is; it says that I want to change him, that perhaps my love for him is conditional. But I don't think that is true. I don't want to change who he is, but I do want to make life easier for him, and if I am to be perfectly honest here, I want to make life easier for me too.

Because watching a child struggle with seemingly easy tasks? Yeah, that sucks.

Being unable to really communicate effectively with your kid is so frustrating.

Watching your son have difficulty making friends is heartbreaking.

And worrying that this may always be the case, that he may have some really lonely times in his life, that he may not be able to connect with others or that he will be ostracized or bullied--well, that's the stuff that keeps me awake at night.

So, if someone were to come along and say they could fix all of that? Well, I don't think I would hesitate to accept their offer.

Bil disagrees. He thinks that to take away the autism and SPD would change who Danny is. It would make him a completely different person, and he is sure we would miss the "old" Danny. Perhaps he is right. But right now, I just can't let go of how much I don't want him to have autism. I just can't seem to see past that. Maybe someday I will reach acceptance, but for the time being, I am angry.

Apparently, those shrinks who came up with the stages of grieving were onto something. I am in the anger stage, and have a feeling I may be here for a while. A long, long while.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Spring cleaning--the Spin Cycle

As those of you who have visited my house may have deduced, cleaning is not my pastime of choice. When I saw this week's spin cycle topic, I almost had to google the term "spring cleaning" before I had a vague recollection of hearing the term from my mom when I was a kid. Let's just say the closest I typically get to official spring cleaning is in October when my mom usually visits us for a week.

We ALWAYS clean my picture windows in the living room, because frankly? My mom cannot handle seeing all the finger prints. There is an audible sigh of relief from her when we are done, and she spends the day pointing out to me how much sunnier it is in my living room now that the inch of grime has been cleaned away. And she's right. Once she is done cleaning, I no longer have to use three lamps in broad daylight.

It really helps to have my mom around to assist me with this task. First of all, I have to stop periodically to get the kids a snack or keep them from killing each other, but she is still there reminding me to finish the task. Were I on my own, I probably would quit halfway because I got distracted by a pretty butterfly or something.

Oh, who am I kidding? If she weren't there, I wouldn't be cleaning the windows in the first place.

Also, it is good to have my mom's perspective because I get so used to the accumulation of sticky handprints on the windows that I become inured to it. I need her to point out how bad it is so I will realize that glass is typically clear, transparent, see-through, even.

I don't think I am a total slob, though my sister (who was forced to share a room with me throughout childhood) might disagree. I do try to keep the house clean. Truly, I do. For example, I just now finished mopping the kitchen floor. I did a load of laundry, cleaned and vacuumed the living room and am at this moment making turkey broth. I am not completely lazy. So, why is my house more cluttered than I would like?

I blame the kids. And Bil. But mostly the kids.

What other possible answer could there be? I don't play with toy cars or eat lollipops or bleed all over the kitchen floor when I bash my head in while jumping on the bed. No, it is not I who trails Cheerios throughout the house or who wipes dirty hands on mirrors, windows, walls, and other people. And I most certainly do not spit my bubble gum out wherever I feel like.

I do not leave stray socks, coats, shoes and underwear in odd places. I do not shave and leave tiny little hairs all over the sink and floor. And I never, no never, miss the toilet. Ever. I alwaysget my waste products into the commode, not on the toilet seat or the floor around the toilet or even the wall near the toilet. Nope. Always in the toilet. Miraculous, right?

I think the problem is that I am horribly outnumbered. How does one lonely woman keep up with the avalanche of debris produced by 4 human beings, three of whom are kids and have an amazing knack to make messes Hazmat might have difficulty cleaning up?

On top of that, once I have cleaned a room, it not only doesn't stay clean for more than 10 minutes, but the other rooms that I have neglected that day look like a tsunami and Hurricane Katrina hit simultaneously.

Regardless, I have made some decluttering goals this month, just like I do every year, but I have also finally faced reality. Which is this: until Bil allows me to rent my own apartment where my kids are not allowed to visit, I will never have the pristine, beautifully decorated abode that I fantasize about. Nor will I get a good night's sleep, in all probability.

And I think I am OK with that. Most of the time. I love my kids (and Bil) even more than a clean house. So, I will put up with the messes and persevere in teaching my kids to clean up after themselves. I will continue to coach Danny in proper aim in the bathroom, and enforce our no-food-outside-the-kitchen policy.

And most importantly, I will beg my mom to come back in October. She couldn't make it this last Fall, so no window cleaning was done. You can imagine the state of my living room picture windows. By next October, we'll be living in complete darkness all day long, like Alaska in the winter.

Unless of course, my mother comes to visit.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Danny does have high-functioning autism.

There, I said it, and it only made me cringe a little. It's getting easier since yesterday. By tomorrow, maybe I will no longer have bile rise in my throat when someone says something stupid like "autism is God's way of showing us how special our children are."

And maybe the platitudes that "everything happens for a reason" and "God gives us our children because we can help them" won't make me want to scream.

Hopefully, I will no longer want to cry when someone says, "Isn't it better now that you know?" or "It doesn't really change anything, does it?" even though I know it's true.

And I am praying that these words of the doctor will stop ringing in my ears, "You have a 1 in 20 chance that your other son could have autism."

We'll see.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Big day tomorrow

So, tomorrow is the big day. The evaluation for Danny. I am not sure what I am expecting Dr. M to tell us, but I suspect the words "high-functioning autism" or "PDD-NOS" might be involved. He is meeting with us for only 45 minutes and I wonder, can he really get a good feel for Danny and what is going on with him in less than an hour? I filled out reams of questionnaires and supplied copies of IEPs and numerous evaluations done by speech therapists, occupational therapists, doctors and teachers. Still, it feels like I might be missing something.

Since Bil just started a new job, he won't be able to come with me. My sister, who happens to be extremely supportive and understanding especially about mothering a special needs kid, offered to come to the appointment in his stead. My mom was going to come, but as luck would have it, the doctor's office scheduled the appointment the week she is out of town. Anyway, so my sister, who works full-time and has two kids, a cat and an African water frog is driving 2 hours to meet me at the doctor's office.

I felt guilty allowing her to do this for me, but now I am so glad I relented. It gives me comfort to know my sister will be there with me. I don't know if the doctor will even give us his diagnosis at the appointment or if I will have to come back for that. I don't know much of anything, really, but I do know it will be easier with B by my side.

I am surprised at my trepidation today. Up until today, I had been so matter-of-fact about this appointment. The doctor very likely won't say much that will surprise me, so what do I have to fear? Still, all of a sudden, I am nervous and I am not sure why. I know there is nothing he can say that will change who Danny is. He will still be my little boy, my exuberant, sweet, stubborn, bright kid who I love with a fierceness that sometimes still surprises me.

Still, I do feel like Dr. M has the potential to change everything for us, just by uttering that one word: "autism." I am already so sensitive to how people perceive Danny. I worry that he will be labeled and judged by others, that he will be treated differently.

I also hate having someone who doesn't know my son tell me what is "wrong" with him. Dr. M can never know who Danny really is. And he is so much more than some diagnosis or disability.

And yet, this disability could be part of who he is, what he struggles with. Will having a diagnosis help Danny? Will it help us help him?

I think I made this appointment hoping for some answers, but I suspect that it will only give me more questions.