Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Incivility of Yardwork

[Bil here: guest posting]
I had an unexpected thought today as I was weed eating the front lawn:

I am ready to relinquish my right to own a front yard.

Just look at this picture of Pemberley; see this yard? Two words: Grounds keeper. Something I'll never be able to afford. Granted, this immaculate green vision is probably the result of a riding lawn mover that's 12 feet wide with a cup holder; I can't even begin to imagine what maintaining this place was like back in the day before mechanical mowing machines. I picture a rowdy, boisterous crew with shears and scythes crawing back and forth, back and forth...some cynical motley mess with green teeth (from times the scythe was too dull)... a truly miserable manifestation to behold... an embodiment of the phrase "our work is never done."

As much as I would love to have a beautiful yard, though it is much smaller than Pemberly, it would take a grounds keeper to get it looking like it doesn't need any more work. Maybe a small grounds keeper would do nicely.

On second thought, maybe it's high time I invented the Roomba for the front yard. That would be a lot more fun than actually doing the yard work itself. Hey, don't laugh, if I was a grad student, that would be a viable doctorate project. Seriously! Check out this graduate project, I'm sure it cost a small fortune (Maybe $50k by my guess just looking at the high quality robotics in the arms) and what does it do?

It folds laundry.

It doesn't even do it very quickly.

Something for the truly lazy college student who happens to be well funded.

Now what would I call my yardwork wonder? Don't say it: "Yardba" stinks. So does "Lawnba." Maybe something to evoke the true man-machine relationship in the face of mind-numbing servility. How about, "HeyYou"?

OK, back to my original point. My yard can just be so unsatisfying to work on...I feel like I work for hours, and I get absolutely nowhere with it. I just want to burn it and start all over. Let's up that, I want to wake up to a beep, beep, beep that isn't my alarm clock, but a cement mixer backing up ready to pour its payload and turn the whole thing into a basketball court.

Oh no, even in my reverie, I turned my back for a second, and weeds are already sprouting up through the cracks in the cement. [Arggh!]

Here's a thought: we'll move to Chicago/New York/Los Angeles. Some big city where I couldn't possibly expect to find a front yard any bigger than a postage stamp. And when I see urbanites who are all stressed out, irately punching away at their blackberries on the public transportation, I'll be all primed to bellow like a subway preacher-- "You have no greenery, you fools! You should be as laid back as Haight-Ashbury! Look at these knees!! (etc.)"

Yes, many things are more satisfying than peering over my wasted morning in the front yard. Maybe I could lease it out for political signage. Heck, plant corn, even. It would be nice to have something that would grow taller than the weeds. Maybe if I get started now, I'll get "HeyYou" built and debugged before next Mother's Day. With a beautiful stretch of effortless front yard before us, with all the time I'll be saving, and all of the stress I'll not stressing about, maybe there'll be more time for some good old fashioned Pemberly role-playing with the wife, (you got me)?

Send the children to their governess!

Don some frilly shirts and hold impromptu harpsichord recitals for two!

Say frilly things like " not general incivility the very essense of love, Darling?" over bubbling libations and fruit-laden angel food cakes.

As I peer over the top of the glass with a come-hither look, I see it returned.

...Incivility indeed.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

it just figures

For some reason that Alanis Morissette song "Isn't it Ironic?" has been cycling through my mind the last few days. Even though I am well aware that Morissette's song does a terrible job of illustrating irony, the tune is catchy, and has come in handy. I have actually used this song in high school writing classes to point out what is not ironic. If you happen to be a nerd who likes this sort of thing, click here for a great outline of the song and how Morissette went wrong.

I would like to think that I have a better grasp on irony and here I offer a few recent examples from my own life. I will let you decide if these incidents are actually true displays of irony or just rotten luck.

~~~In anticipation of sumer vacation and knowing I will have less free time now that Danny is home, I planned this month's menus accordingly. I chose meals that would be easy to prepare and wouldn't heat up our kitchen too much, since we are also experiencing an unprecedented and unseasonable heat wave. Yesterday, while the kids were playing and Tommy was napping, I took advantage of the lull to make preparations for tonight's dinner. I chopped all the ingredients and then this morning, I assembled everything in the crockpot. I admit I was rather pleased with myself when, at 9AM, I already had dinner basically taken care of. All I had to do was cook a pot of pasta and turn on the crockpot full of Chicken Tetrazinni.

So you can imagine my chagrin when, at 3:30 in the afternoon (more than an hour after I had put the crockpot on the counter and switched it on) I discovered that I had not actually plugged the thing in. I had, however, flicked the switch that turns on that particular outlet.

Not feeling so smug anymore.

~~~This summer we decided to sign Danny up for baseball. Danny has never played any organized sports, and I thought he might enjoy it. When I heard that our park district has a special needs sports league, I thought, "Hey, why not?" Everyone I have talked to highly recommended it, it only lasts 6 weeks, and is super cheap. What's not to like, right?

I talked it up to Danny, because I wasn't sure if he would be as enthusiastic as I am about the whole idea. Turns out, Danny was thrilled at the thought of playing baseball. All day yesterday, he pestered me to take him to the park. The fact that the baseball game was still hours away did not deter him.

Around 5PM, a full 2 hours before we were to be at the baseball diamond, I heard thunder and my heart sank. I knew Danny would be really upset if he didn't get to play tonight.

Luckily, it turned out that it didn't rain.

At least not at our house.

Apparently, though, it had rained at the park, which is a mere 5 miles from my house, so the game was canceled. I had this vision of a little rain cloud settling over the park and raining only there just to thwart my efforts at socializing my kid.

As we picked up Danny's t-shirt, I worried that he would be angry. There was at least one kid there who was having a major meltdown because of the game cancellation, and I knew Danny was disappointed.

When I turned to Danny to explain, he was bummed, but rather philosophical about the whole thing. He said, "That's alright. Let's go get snow cones instead!"

Which we did.

~~~As I have mentioned, Danny is out of school. I have actually been looking forward to summer vacation for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that I would no longer have to drag Danny out of bed in the morning. All year long, it is a struggle to get my kid up and out the door. It gets worse as the year progresses, and Daylight Savings Time (the bane of my existence) only makes it worse, especially in the Spring.

My friend picks Danny up at about 8 AM to take him and her daughter to school. There have been some mornings when he has still been in bed at 7:40. It was driving me crazy. He was worse than a teenager, refusing to stir and getting annoyed with our efforts to rouse him. Danny would groan and turn over, pulling the covers over his head. Most of our bribes fell on deaf ears. Finally, Bil resorted to picking him up, covers and all, and depositing him at the kitchen table, where Danny would let his annoyance be known.

Now that summer is here, I was so relieved that I could just let the kid sleep in. He could wake when he wanted and hopefully be fully refreshed and happy to greet the morning.

And that has happened; Danny has definitely awoken fully refreshed and chipper the last few days.

At 6:00 in the freaking morning.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

strep, doctor's visits, and a sensory epiphany

Danny had strep throat this week, so he missed school on Monday and Tuesday, which gave me a little taste of what the summer has in store for us. And you know, aside from a doctor's visit, a bit of bickering between Char and Danny, and utter exhaustion on my part, it wasn't so bad.

I had the foresight on Monday to ask a friend to watch the other two, while I took Danny to the doctor. I knew from past experience that Danny doesn't always comply with the doctor's requests, and having Tommy and Charlotte hanging on me makes it really difficult to cajole any cooperation from Danny.

Danny did remarkably well, though, at least on the parts I thought would be most difficult. He gagged a bit on the strep test, but who doesn't, right? And he didn't seem that upset about it at all, which surprised me. After all, I think that strep swab is horrible. He also cooperated with getting his blood pressure taken, but he always does. I think he actually likes the deep pressure from the cuff, even though I always brace myself thinking this will be the time when he notices that it kind of hurts.

When the doctor came in to examine Danny, he had no problem with the throat exam. Even though a nurse had just gagged him with a swab not 10 minutes earlier, Danny was not at all reluctant to open his mouth for the doctor.

It was when Dr. C brought out the ear exam probe-light thingee (or in medical parlance, an otoscope) that it all went south.

Dr. C and I assured Danny that the ear exam wouldn't hurt, but Danny writhed and twisted out of our reach. He covered his ears and whined and complained. He did not want that thing in his ear. Dr. C reiterated that there would be no pain involved and said to me, "We need him to feel it and see that it doesn't hurt."

The thing is, Danny had had an ear infection just last month, when he fought the nurse practitioner for the very same reason. He KNEW exactly what the ear exam felt like. And he didn't care that it supposedly doesn't hurt.

See, the thing with Danny is he doesn't have a problem with pain. He had a swollen throat covered in pus and he still ate all his meals this week. What he has a problem with is tickling. Give him a shot or scrape his sore throat with a swab? Yeah, he can so totally deal with that. But put something near his ear and he freaks like he is being tortured. Which in a way is probably what it feels like to him.

So, why was I holding Danny down repeating to him, "It doesn't hurt, Danny, it won't hurt at all"? Why did I think I could talk him out of his sensitivities? And why was I assuming he was afraid of the possibility of pain?

Because that is what I would be afraid of in a doctor's office. I have a problem with pain, not tickling, so I was reassuring Danny in a way that would be soothing to me, not to Danny.

Which is why it so obviously was not working.

Why is it so easy for me to overlook that my kids are unique individuals and that what I find difficult may be easy for them? Just because I happen to think the swab in the throat is vile, doesn't mean Danny (or Charlotte or Tommy, for that matter) will have a problem with it. On the other hand, a procedure I find totally benign can seem terrible to them, and that is just as valid a reaction as mine is. I find myself at times trying to argue my kids out of their feelings, which is such a waste of time.

And I should definitely quit anticipating what might go wrong. I think it is wise to be prepared, but sometimes I work myself up over something that ends up being a piece of cake. A perfect example of this occurred in March. Danny was really constipated and the doctor told me to give him two enemas in a 24-hour period.

Yes, two enemas.

OK, I will admit here that on the way to the pharmacy, I freaked out a little. How in the world was I going to administer an ENEMA??? I myself had never had one (thank goodness) but I knew people who had and they told ghastly stories about them. Even my mom was shaken when I called to tell her what I had to do.

"You have to give him an enema?" she asked. "Oh, Patty, I wish I was there to help!"

I didn't think it was irrational of me to believe that this procedure was not going to be pretty. What kid cooperates with a syringe being stuck up his bottom? Isn't this why they invented ear thermometers, so moms wouldn't have to take a temp anally?

On the way home from Walgreens (where I forked over a couple bucks for enemas and about $10 for chocolate. I had a feeling I would need some by the time this night was over), I spent our car ride explaining to Danny that he would have to have medicine put in his behind to help him poop. I also told him he could watch whatever video he wanted if he cooperated. He was nonplussed as he said, "Hmmm... mom, that sounds like it will feel weird."

Danny wanted to get started as soon as we got home so he could watch Thomas. So, I had him get on his hands and knees in the bathroom. Excited, Danny noted that it was like the tornado drills at school.

I explained what I would have to do and told him to hold still. Bracing myself for his complaints, cries, anger, and writhing, I started administering the enema.

What was my boy's response?

He giggled.

He giggled and said that it tickled.

Then, it was all done.

The next afternoon, on the way home from school, I informed Danny that we needed to do another enema once we got home. Upon arriving home, Danny disappeared. I assumed it was because he didn't want another enema. I called him to come back so I could give him his "medicine."

Danny yelled from the other room, "Not right now, mommy. I have to go poop!"

And once he was done, he was all set for the next enema. Of course, he didn't need another one, which was a relief to me. Still, I couldn't help but be amazed that my son not only cooperated for one enema, but was willing to undergo another one the next day. It didn't faze him in the least.

If only he could respond to haircuts the same way.

Monday, May 10, 2010

An attitude shift about money

Bil and I have always lived on less than most of our friends and family. When we first got married, he was still in school and we lived on my teaching salary. During that time, we managed to finish paying off my student loan and save a sizable down payment for a house. I am
not a money expert, by any means, but I am used to pinching pennies.

And you know what? I don't really mind that much. Saving money and cutting costs has actually become fun for me, in a way. Don't get me wrong, I have days where I wish I could just buy whatever I fancied, but those days are coming far less often the longer we live the frugal life. What I have realized is that the goals we have set for our family are so much more important than that cute pair of shoes or the dinner out.

I once read a financial column in which the author advised readers not to say things like, "We can't afford such and such." Instead, we should say, "I choose not to spend my money on that." I love this shift in wording because it reflects my values. I could afford to eat out more regularly, but I choose not to, so that I can afford to put some money in the savings account. I have the money to buy books, but I choose to avail myself of all the many services provided by my public library, so I can pay down my mortgage. Though this may seem mere semantics, I think how we say things reflects how we are thinking and feeling. So, if I sound like a victim, I probably feel like one. Conversely, if I sound like I am in charge of my decisions and my finances, it galvanizes me and makes me feel less resentful or deprived.

And you know? I just don't need all that crap. It won't make me happy, especially when the bills come. I am the kind of person who stays awake at night if we don't have 6 months of money tucked away in an account somewhere in case of an emergency. That peace of mind can never be replaced by cute clothes, a fun vacation or some meals in a fast food joint.

Along with peace of mind, I like knowing that my wise decisions impact more than just my credit cards and bank statements.

No, they often also affect the environment and my health.

This may seem something of a stretch, but bear with me. When we buy things, they almost always come in some kind of packaging. This is especially true of processed or prepared food. While I don't think it is reasonable or even possible to completely avoid packaging on food, for example, think of what would happen, if we all cut back a bit.

Instead of buying a cake mix, make it from scratch. You'll avoid both a box and a plastic bag, not to mention a bunch of chemicals and high fructose corn syrup. Also, it's a lot cheaper (typically) to bake from scratch. And really? Whipping up a homemade cake takes probably only minutes more than using a mix. Seriously. Oh, and it tastes so much better, especially the frosting.

When I make my chicken broth from scratch it is seriously cheap, (you already have the carcass. All you have to add is water) it's got a lot less sodium and there are no cans or cartons to throw away. Win-win-win.

I really enjoy knowing that when I hang up my laundry, I not only save money on the energy bill, but I save energy. I am leaving a smaller carbon footprint. When I ride my bike or walk places with the kids, there are no emissions and I get some exercise.

You get the picture.

I know this may come off as super preachy, which I do not mean at all. I don't mean to imply I am some perfectly frugal environmentalist. There are tons of ways I should probably cut back and be better to the environment, but can't seem to squeeze in. And there are other areas in which I consciously choose not to be frugal (chocolate comes to mind. We don't skimp on our chocolate in this house). And I am not saying that you should do the things I am doing. I don't even really mean any of this to be advice on how to save money.

Instead, I want to point out that pinching pennies doesn't have to be about not getting what you want. Instead, it can be about making sound decisions, ones that greatly impact your finances, your health and the environment in beneficial ways. Because I really think the best way to start saving money is to change your attitude. To me, it's about being a wise steward over what we have been entrusted with. And money is just one small piece of that. We need to guard not just our financial resources, but our health and our world.

And doesn't that make the sacrifices feel more worth it?


For more posts about the Almighty dollar, visit the Spin Cycle at Sprite's Keeper.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My Mother's Day gift to you

In honor of the upcoming holiday and to fulfill my Spin Cycle assignment, I am reposting this video as my gift to each of you mothers out there. I know, I know, I shouldn't have, but you are worth it, my friends.

And when this song is cycling through your head for the weeks to come, just think of me and Mr. T and how much we value the role of mothers. Because really, nothing says "respect your momma" like Mr. T in tight short shorts and covered in gold chains, right?

Here are the lyrics in case you can't make them out. They are totally classic and I promise that the chorus will be ringing through your head for days.

Treat her right  
Treat your mother right  
Treat her right  
Treat her right 
Mr. T’s chorus:
There is no other  like Mother  
So treat Her right  
Mother  I always Love Her,  my Mother  
So treat Her right, treat Her right   
M  is for the moan, and the miserable groan  from the pain that she felt when I was born  O is for the oven with it's burnin' heat  where she stood makin' sure I had something to eat  
T is for the time that she stayed up at night  and took my temperature when I wasn't feelin' right  
H is for the hard earned money she spent  to keep clothes on my back and try to pay da' rent  
E is every wrinkle I put on Her face  and every worry that I caused when I stayed out late  
The last letter R is that She taught me Respect and for the room up in Heaven that I know She'll get 
She's a Queen  
Second to none  
Take care of Mother  
You only get one

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

IEP without tears

If you have read my blog in the past, you may know that I loathe IEP meetings. I have never been in an IEP where I received shocking news nor have the teachers ever complained about Danny's behavior. In fact, it has mostly been just the opposite; I almost always receive encouraging and hopeful news of the progress he is making. Yet I invariably end up in tears in my van on the way home, inventorying what sugary, fat-laden treats I can easily get my hands on, in an attempt to self-medicate.

I am not entirely sure why that is. I guess I just feel bad for Danny that he has to struggle so much with so many areas of his life. Plus, really, who likes to sit there and listen to all the ways which her kid doesn't fit in?

Also, to be honest, I think at times I feel sorry for myself. Sorry that I have to work so much harder (or so it often seems to me) than parents of neurotypical kids, angry that parenting a kid with autism can be pretty stressful. And disappointed that he hasn't somehow miraculously outgrown all his challenges and delays.

Rational? No. But when are a person's feelings--especially those dealing with her offspring--rational?

This time it was different.

Friday, I had Danny's last IEP meeting of the year. And you know what? I didn't cry. Not even one tear. I got in my van and was actually smiling. And the idea of eating chocolate cake didn't even occur to me.

Even though we changed Danny's status from learning disabled to autistic, the meeting did not depress me. When the social worker went over a checklist for kids with autism, which included special areas that we should concentrate on in his IEP, there were at least three areas that we all agreed didn't even apply to Danny.

Academically, Danny is thriving, especially in areas where memorization is necessary. Even in abstract areas, though, Dan is progressing and even surprising his teachers. Ms. S, his special ed teacher was worried he would struggle with reading and comprehension. That hasn't really been the case. Later, she was concerned he would have difficulty grasping math concepts since they are so abstract. Yet Danny has excelled in math, and was the only kid in the class who understood the concept of money.

Socially, Danny is improving in obvious ways. His teacher says he talks to the other kids more, and I have noticed a big increase in the number of times he has initiated conversation with other kids. He has even been asking them questions and listening to their answers, which has been so delightful to witness.

While there are still concerns in most areas, Danny has made steady progress and has reached most of the goals his therapists had set for him. There is still much to be done, especially in the areas of social development and focusing his attention, but for some reason, this time, the negatives did not overwhelm me or make me feel defensive in any way.

And I really needed that. I so needed to be reminded of the amazing strides he has made in every area of his life. Just when I was getting discouraged at home (mostly about some setbacks he has had in the potty training arena), this meeting put it all back into perspective for me.

My son is such an amazing boy. Though he has struggled, he maintains the most incredibly contagious exuberance for life; his smile lights up a room and only the most hard-hearted can resist smiling back at him. On top of that, though he has some disabilities, he has always progressed and learned and grown. I need to remember that fact, especially when I am discouraged, because though some things take lots of extra work to help him master, Danny does indeed master them.

And really what more could I ask for?