Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Thoughts while exercising


"OK, I should be almost done now. Wait. What did she just say? Warm-up? Are you kidding me? That was just the warm-up?"

"It would be so much easier to do these ab exercises if my gut weren't so big."

"I never should have let the kids eat popcorn in the family room last night. This floor is disgusting. Maybe I should go get my yoga mat. Oh, yeah, I forgot, the kids use it now for their tactile activities, so it's covered in dried shaving cream."

"Mmmm...popcorn sounds really good."

"I hate these perky women on this tape."

"I wonder if the popcorn on the floor is super stale....."
"Blech. Yep, it's stale all right."

"Whew, should I be sweating this much? I hope I don't have an aneurysm or something. I wonder what the warning signs of impending aneurysm are."

"Are there women out there who can seriously do more than three real push-ups?"
"Wow, I actually have some cleavage when I am on my hands and knees."

"This Joseph Pilates guy? He is so lucky he is already dead; I want to kill him. I am almost tempted to dig up his body and kill him all over again. What a sadist."

"Wow, my gut seems to actually be getting bigger as I exercise."

"Yes! I'm done! What's for lunch?"

Friday, March 26, 2010

but enough about me

image from a t-shirt on sale at theonion.com (one that I really want my husband to buy me...)


I lived in Hong Kong for 18 months back when I was in college. I worked there as a missionary for my church and taught English. I learned to speak passing Cantonese and loved almost every single minute of my life there. Hong Kong remains one of my favorite places in the world.

One reason I have such fond memories of my time there is because it was in Hong Kong that I learned a lot of surprising details about myself. I learned I can stomach almost anything, even living in an apartment infested with millions of cockroaches, some as big as a business card. (I know this because one day, in a misguided attempt to be funny, I taped one to a business card and mailed it home. Just wanted my parents to share in a slice of my life in HK.)

I learned much bigger lessons there, though, too. Lessons about who I am and what I am capable of. As a child and teen, my siblings and I definitely had our roles in our family. My sister was the funny and rebellious one. My twin brother was the laid-back and popular one. My little brother was the cute, sweet family member. And me? I was the boring, smart, shy, nerdy bookworm.

It wasn't until I went to Hong Kong that I realized that this label I had given myself was limiting and not completely accurate. Yes, I was a bookworm and I am reasonably good at school. But after many months of meeting new friends, having exciting adventures in a new country and laughing a lot, I realized there is so much more to me.

I may not be the life of the party like my sister, but I can be funny. And I have interesting thoughts and hobbies. I can make friends relatively easily and I am definitely not shy, though I do prefer small groups to big parties. Being away from my family and friends helped me to realize that my view of myself had held me back. When I was in Hong Kong, no one knew my sister and how hilariously funny and sometimes outrageous she could be. No one knew that I was painfully shy in grade school or that I was teased a lot by the popular girls in junior high. All they knew was that I had decided to serve like them. They had no preconceived ideas about me, and I found it was easier to be myself.

One day a friend of mine was upset because she felt like she didn't fit in with the other missionaries in Hong Kong. I tried empathizing with her and she said, "You wouldn't understand. It's easy for you to be outgoing and friendly. People like you and you are confident." I was shocked. That was not at all how I saw myself and I couldn't believe that others did.

I told her about grade school and how my mom sat me down one day and encouraged me to reach out to a girl in my class. She was concerned because Sister Winifred (a name that still evokes ire in my mom) had implied that if I didn't get over my shyness, I would turn out to be some sad, lonely old woman who owned 20 cats or something like that. So, my mom took matters into her own hands and counseled me to talk to someone and try to make a friend. It worked and I used my mom's advice each and every time I was in a situation where I knew no one. It turns out, there were many such instances, including high school, all three colleges I attended, and Hong Kong.

After that conversation with my friend, I finally realized I was no longer that little scared 2nd grade kid in Sister Winifred's class. And I was not living in my sister's shadow anymore either. I was a complex person full of contradictions who didn't want to be limited by labels anymore.

I still am, yet lately I have lost sight of the fact that I am so much more than a label. So much more than the stereotypical housewife or mom--if in fact, there really is such a thing. So, here's to me remembering that labels are limiting and can hold me back if I let them. And here's to me being true to myself and not to labels or roles that I think fit me.

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For more self-revelatory posts visit the Spin Cycle.

Friday, March 19, 2010

maybe I AM a superhero


When I got to Danny's class to volunteer the other day, they were about to read a story about jungle animals. Danny sat very close to me as all the girls in his class edged closer. I swear they see an adult, and they all swarm like a bunch of locusts. As Mrs. M was reading her book, Lulu * kept chatting my ear off about her earrings and her pierced ears. The kid would not quit talking. I kept shushing her. I didn't want to get into trouble; that's all I need is to be scolded by a kindergarten teacher. My self-esteem is tenuous at best, I so do not need to be taken down with a chatty kindergartener. I mean, what would I say if I were banned from Danny's class for excessive talking? I mean sheesh kid, shut it already.

When we went to centers, I was assigned to the art center. The kids had to draw a rainbow in the time they were with me. I was busy. I helped kids locate the correct color markers, listened to a girl's tirade about why her mother needs to get her a Facebook account, and gently corrected some bossy girls who were criticizing a little boy's drawing. I foresee a life of husband nagging in their future, but maybe with my guidance I prevented at least one of them from becoming a shrew. If so, it will have all been worth it.

I started to get bored, so I decided to play a bit with the kids. They were surprised that I knew many of their names (it took them a surprisingly long time to remember they were all wearing their name tags), so I maybe sort of led them to believe I was magical. OK, yeah, so I told them I was a "magic reader" who could read anything, which they interpreted to mean I had some kind of special ESP. I chose not to disabuse them of this assumption.

What? Hey, it's not my fault they are super gullible, is it?

One girl started spelling some of their "sight words" which were posted on the board behind my head. She was shocked that I could tell her the word before she had even finished spelling it. The exchange went a little something like this:

Rita Mae: "R-e-d"
Me: "Red"
Rita Mae: "B-l-u..."
Me: "Blue!"
Rita Mae: "O-r-a..."
Me: "Orange! Whoohoo!"
Rita Mae: "P-u..."
Me: "Purple! Yes! I rock! See? I am too magical!"

While praising the kids' haphazardly drawn rainbows (except for my kid's. His was perfect, of course) I noticed a girl sitting at the computers and writhing and wiggling in apparent agony. Attention was being drawn to her, but as she was across the room from the teacher, Mrs. M didn't notice what was going down. I tried to get Gertie's attention, and when I finally did, I asked what was wrong. She said she had to go to the bathroom. I told her to go talk with the teacher, but Gertie was terrified she would get in trouble. They had just had a bathroom break about 20 minutes earlier, so she was convinced Mrs. M would be annoyed.

The kid had a point. Mrs. M does seem to get a bit peeved about such things; of course, she deals with kindergarteners all day long, so who can really blame her?

I motioned for Gertie to talk to the teacher. No dice.

I whispered furtively trying to get her to take courage and relieve herself. She wasn't convinced.

I finally left my rainbow post and approached the wiggly girl. I put my arm around her and said, "Sweetheart, go talk to Mrs. M so you can go to the bathroom. You'll feel much better. Believe me."

"No," she replied weepily, "I don't want to get in trouble."

Frantically, I tried again. "You have to go to the bathroom. There is no way you can hold it. And you don't want to pee all over yourself, do you?"

I was *this close* to sharing the story of Stinky McNicholas, the kid who peed himself in my first grade class and never, to this day, has he lived it down. I don't even remember the poor kid's first name. After 8 years of grade school together, I still think of him as "Stinky McNicholas." I didn't want to traumatize poor Gertie, but I was running out of options. She had no idea how close to ruination her social life was.

I personally thought she was being pretty shortsighted. I mean, did she want to never get a prom date? Did she really think getting in trouble now was worse than 12 years of mockery and teasing? Was she interested in consigning herself to the outcast clique for the rest of her school days, all the while plotting revenge ala Carrie? I mean, c'mon, kid. Man up and save your future social prospects, right?

I finally managed to convince the girl to approach Mrs. M and what did she say?

"Mrs. M, I have to go to the bathroom. I have to poop really bad."

If Stinky McNicholas thought he had it bad, the collapse of his social standing was nothing compared to the disaster Gertie had just narrowly averted, thanks to my intervention. Poop? Seriously? I don't care how smart or beautiful or cool Gertie became, she could never live down pooping herself.

I left Mrs. M's class feeling pretty smug in my accomplishments. Sure, I was exhausted after a mere 55 minutes in that class, my patience had been tested and I was really anxious to be away from that many kids, but still, I had achieved more than most people do in a lifetime.



* Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

holidays on the spectrum suck


It was a bad morning. St. Patrick's Day is usually one of my favorite holidays. Perhaps it is because I was named after St. Paddy; maybe it's because everyone assumes I am Irish, though I can't find anyone of Irish descent in my family tree. Still, with a name like Patricia, strawberry blonde hair, and ghostly complexion, it's no wonder I am mistaken for having descendants from the Emerald Isle. And then, let's not forget I grew up in Chicago, where everyone is Irish on St. Paddy's Day. They dye the Chicago River green every year for the holiday, even though nowadays, it really is green pretty much every day of the year.

Add to all that the fact that I was actually once in the South-Side Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade in high school and you have the coolest holiday ever. No decorating or gift-buying required. No baking or wondering if your significant other will remember you. Nope, it's just plain fun. The drinking, of course, adds to the festivities, and if you, like me, happen to not drink, it gives you much fodder with which to later blackmail your drunk friends.

Anyway, my bad morning started because of Daylight Savings Time. This monstrosity of an idea has wreaked havoc on the Pancake mornings all week. Danny wakes looking like death warmed over with puffy undereye circles and the pallor of a dead Irishman. I hate DST; I hate anything that so significantly affects the kids' schedules, especially during the school year. It will take weeks for his sleep schedule to even out, and until then, mornings will most likely continue to be miserable.

Then, add on top of the sleep disruption the fact that it is St. Patrick's Day and life gets more complicated in our house. I foolishly advised Danny to wear green to celebrate, so Danny got into the spirit of the holiday and asked to wear his Santa shirt, the one green shirt that happens to be in the wash. Normally, I wouldn't really have a problem with taking a shirt from the washing pile and letting him wear it. I have given up on those silly sorts of social conventions and squeamishnesses years ago. You have to in order to salvage any of your sanity, at least in our house.

Unfortunately, the shirt stank; all the laundry stinks, because Danny has been pooping himself again. Several times a day. I am completely at my wits' end about what to do. I google it all the time, but none of the suggestions work with Danny, at least not for long. And when I look for info on late bloomers in potty training, I find stories about 3 year olds, not 6 year olds. It's enough to make me cry.

So, anyway, even though his pants don't get poop on them, they smell and of course, the one green shirt he wants to wear is sitting under a pile of poopy-smelling pants.

No other shirt would do. He even cried about it. I felt like a total idiot. Why hadn't I set aside the shirt for today? The thought had crossed my mind, but I didn't follow through. I should know better than to disregard an instinct. Lesson learned.

It took forever to get Danny dressed, because he wanted to wear green, yet the green shirts I offered were out of the question. Who knows what they are, but Danny has very specific criteria governing his clothing choices. It used to be strictly a texture/fabric thing, but now the equation factors in other variables such as words and cartoon characters featured on the shirt, whether it is long or short sleeved, and what position the moon happens to be in that day.

He finally got dressed (in blue sweats and a yellow shirt) and was pulling on his jacket just as his ride pulled up, sniffling and frowning the entire way.

I had ruined his day. (Dramatic? Yes, but that is how I felt.)

I closed the door, sighed and then got pissed off. Forget about what I foresight I should have had this week. How can I possibly anticipate each and every detail that might set Danny off? How can I do all his therapy exercises, help him with his homework, and figure out what landmines might be in store this week? How am I supposed to do this, as well as raise two other kids?

It's next to impossible to hold it all together. This autism stuff sucks. It really does. And I am just supremely sick of it.

So, I say this to Autism:
You can disrupt my social life and make it next to impossible to go to parties. You can drain my savings account by making it necessary to pay for all kinds of therapy and equipment that insurance doesn't cover. You can tax my patience and bring me to tears and ruin all my plans of traveling.

Fine, I can deal with all that. But, listen closely, you slimey, despicable little disorder: you do not mess with this South-Side Chicago girl's St. Patrick's Day.

Got that? Because you just crossed a line. Be forewarned. You will be sorry. Because we Southsiders? Yeah, we fight dirty.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

sixth sense

A couple weeks ago, Danny was in a foul mood. He was crabby, which is quite unusual for a Saturday, and he was getting upset over the strangest things. The kids had a church party to go to at 10:00 that morning, but when I asked Danny if he wanted to go, he said no. Since he was close to tears, which is also unusual for Dan, and since it seemed like an overstimulating party was exactly what Danny did not need, I let him stay home, while Charlotte went with Bil.

Instinct told me to leave him alone, to let him come to me, to give him some space. And that is exactly what I did. He sat quietly by himself for at least 15 minutes, until he finally came looking for me. He joined me on the couch and we talked very softly about what we saw out the window. I knew Danny needed peace and calm, that whatever was bugging him would not get fixed unless I ensured he had some quiet.

Danny did eventually start to feel better and we had a good day after that episode. Every so often, something like this happens, and more often than not, if I am listening to my gut, I know what to do to help him.

Contrast this to one night at least three years ago, when Danny woke up screaming. This had happened before and was starting to worry me. Bil and I had no idea what was wrong; nothing we did seemed to ease Danny's distress. We tried gas drops and Tylenol, teething drops and singing. We tried holding him and caressing him, but he would just arch his back away from my hands. My very touch appeared to hurt him physically.

Danny himself didn't seem to know what he wanted. He would motion for us to pick him up, but as soon as one of us did, he would scream to get down. Though he sounded like he was being burned alive, we could never find any source of pain. These night meltdowns didn't happen often, but when they did were so intense, at times I considered taking him to the ER.

This particular night, exhausted, I sat on the couch as Bil tried unsuccessfully to soothe our poor little boy.

And I sobbed.

It wasn't just my concern for Danny that made me cry. It wasn't just my frustration or fatigue. I was convinced there was something wrong with me. What else could explain a sweet little boy being repulsed by his mother's voice and touch? Why could I, who spent the most time with Danny, not figure out how to comfort him?

All the parenting books that claimed a mother knew the cry of her baby and could determine exactly what sort of cry it was taunted me as I heaved and bawled . Not only could I not figure out what had started my son's crying, I seemed to actually be making it worse. What did that say about me as a mother?

Where was that mother's intuition everyone talked about?

It wasn't long after one of these night episodes that Danny was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, and eventually years later, with high-functioning autism. We started putting the pieces together and figuring out (at least some of the time) what set Danny off. We got him into therapy through Early Intervention, I did tons of research, kept a behavior log, started brushing protocol for him, among very many things.

Over time, I realized I did know how to help him. I knew that something wasn't right, so I pursued the answers. I knew when a particular OT was the wrong fit (she spent the entire hour with 2-year-old Danny screaming in a high chair--she wouldn't let him down, because she had to "show him who was boss") and was able to give his preschool teacher lots of ideas on how to help him stay focused. When he was still having those tremendous meltdowns, I knew that taking him for a car ride would help, but that no one should ever, ever sing to him. I figured out that watching Baby Einstein calmed him down, while any other videos riled him up.

I started trusting my instincts. It turns out, I do have a mother's intuition, which if listened to, never leads me astray. Some of what I figured out was probably through research and trial and error, but still, I know Danny and understand him better than anyone else in this world. I can sense when over stimulation is imminent; I usually understand what is motivating some of his more confusing behaviors, and I am the one who is best at getting him to calm down when he has had a bad day.

I know mother's intuition may not be what you would consider supernatural; there's no telekinesis or premonitions involved, but I still think it is a gift, one that I value so much probably because for a while there, I was sure I would never possess it.

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For more tales about sixth senses or supernatural powers, visit the Spin Cycle.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

what really matters

I have been pretty worried about money lately. We get by, but every time I think we will finally be able to add to our small savings account, some new expense comes up. These expenses often have something to do with Danny's therapy, whether it is new equipment or the copays for OT or the super nice developmental pediatrician who spent over 2 hours with me when he diagnosed Danny with autism. And then made sure to bill me for every. Blessed. Minute.

I so should have become a developmental pediatrician, because they sure rake in the cash.

Anyway, so we are doing OK, but not saving a whole lot. We have a nest egg in case we have an emergency, and we have next to no debt, besides our mortgage and Bil's student loan, so I know we are better off than many. But still. We have so many things we need to save for: a new furnace, new siding for our house, a car to replace the vehicle Bil uses, which is sure to die on us at some point in the near future. And let's not even discuss all the things I would love to do to our house to make it more aesthetically appealing. Our landscaping is horrendous and replacing it is my dream.

I am not an overly materialistic person. We live pretty frugally, forgoing many items people consider necessities, like cell phones and cable. I even went without a clothes dryer for years, until last March when my mother-in-law insisted on purchasing one for us.

I am not expecting a mansion or country club membership or designer clothes. What I want is to be able to save some money every month so that we don't have to go into debt when our furnace dies or the next time our insurance company decides they no longer want to cover one of Danny's services.

So, I have been worried, a bit preoccupied, obsessive even about how we are going to do this. And maybe just a touch petulant that we don't have more.

Then, I did my Meals on Wheels route this week. I entered home after home to drop off an unidentifiable meal to the people in my neighborhood, most of whom are elderly and many of whom have pretty nice houses. Big houses that are probably all paid off.

The thing is, the majority of these houses are empty. Big, pretty, and empty.

I'm willing to bet that all the people I visit would so much rather have their health or the company of their loved ones than have a big, paid-for house. I am sure they wouldn't give their material possessions a second thought if they could trade them for the ability to get around or the chance to visit their grandkids.

And I have that. I have my kids who love spending time with me. They really do; most of the time they are begging me to play with them. And my husband is living with me and is healthy and able to take out the garbage. He loves me and enjoys spending time with me. I have friends who I get to laugh with and spend time with, and I am able to get out of the house whenever I want. I have my health and am mostly physically fit (though don't ask me to run a mile or anything. Let's not get overzealous here.)

I am able to do the millions of things I take for granted or even complain about every week: I can cook a meal, babysit a friend's child. I can carry my fat baby boy around the house and even toss him up into the air. I can play a rousing game of hide and seek with Danny and Charlotte and hide under the bed while laughing so hard I pull an ab muscle.

We may not be able to afford remodeling, but we do manage to pay for all the equipment and therapy Danny needs, all while eating well and having a warm home to sleep in.

My house may be a bit shabby, but it is filled with kids who laugh easily and often. We are a family who plays together a lot; we build forts out of blankets and chase each other around our crudely decorated house. Pricey knick knacks we may not have, but our house is abounding in love.

And really, who needs pretty landscaping when you have that?

Friday, March 5, 2010

lessons I have learned this week

~~~~Do not ever walk away from the stove while cooking milk for pudding or melting chocolate for truffles or boiling water for mac and cheese. I always do this and invariably forget about what is on the stove, sometimes until it is too late.

Have you ever tasted chocolate pudding made with scorched milk?

It's vile.

~~~~If something comes in a pair, be it socks, gloves, shoes, barrettes, lungs, kidneys, we will lose one of them, guaranteed. And not only that, but we will lose it when we most need it. Like this morning as Danny was readying himself for school. We couldn't find his other glove. I have three gloves for him, but no matches for any of them, so he was forced to wear his blue glove with my tan one, which is slightly too big for him.

I am willing to bet I will find those gloves this Spring when they are no longer needed. Or next year when he has outgrown them.

~~~Check the wash machine before doing a load of laundry. Trust me.

~~~~Do not store recyclables on top of the washing machine or you could end up with a load of clothes covered in what I can only guess is the remains of some sort of cardboard box (probably one that once contained cereal, but I cannot be sure.)

~~~~Wet cardboard really makes a big mess in your washing machine. A mess that may take as long as a week to fully clean up.

~~~~If you are having a rough day and want to boost your self-esteem, don't turn to your kids to help. If you happen decide to ignore this advice, you may want to have a cookie or similar treat on hand with which to bribe your child. Otherwise, you may end up getting an unsatisfactory reply to your misguided question, "Charlotte, do you love me?"

~~~If you think you smell poop, you probably do.

No amount of air fresheners or Scentsy wickless candles will change the fact that there is poop in your house somewhere. Because it is there. Oh, it is there, mocking you and laughing at your inability to locate it. Yes, the poop is lying in wait and taking delight in your attempts to convince yourself that it is not, in fact, excrement that you smell.

But, it is. It is.

And it will only be that much more infuriating when you find the offending waste product if you have denied its existence in the first place.