"Gay Marriage? I'm fine with it. "

And with those words uttered from the mouth of my 14 year old son, I feel like I won the lottery of parenthood.  

It’s an extremely personal issue to be sure.  I knew when I sat down to write this that what I consider a triumph in parenting, others might consider a travesty.  Everyone will have their opinions, but I see it as more than this one issue.  To me it’s all about how we view and treat other people in general, regardless of anything that might make them “different” from ourselves. 

The truth is, I never really sat down and talked specifically about gay marriage with my son until now.  But it didn’t seem to matter. 

Me: “So, how do you feel about gay marriage?”

Zach: “Why? Are you going to blog about this?”  He knows me too well…

Me: “Yes, it’s for something I’m writing, but it’s important, just answer the question.”

Zach: “Well, I don’t know mom, it’s kind of awkward, I like girls you know…” 

Me: (laughing) “I’m not asking you if you want to marry a boy, I’m asking how you feel about people who happen to be gay being able to get married just like everyone else.”

Zach: “Oh, yeah, I’m fine with it.”

Me: “Really? You can’t think of any reason they shouldn’t? Any reason it might be wrong?”

Zach: “No.”

Me: “If you were invited to a wedding of a gay couple would you go?”

Zach: “Sure.”

Me: “If you were old enough to vote and our state was asking if gay marriage should be legal, would vote yes or no?”

Zach: “I’d vote for it, yes.”

Me: “Thanks, hon, that’s all I needed to know!”   And as he went off to do some 14 year old boy thing, I couldn’t stop smiling. 

Zach is very fortunate in several ways.  He has a brother with special needs.  His brother is “different”.  Zach has been acutely aware of the disrespect and and ignorance of others because of this.  Zach knows what it’s like when other people treat you like you shouldn’t be allowed to do what they are doing just because Josh isn’t like everyone else.  These experiences have not been lost on him.  He also has extended family members on both sides that are gay, and married to their partners.  This has never been  discussed or presented to him as anything other than a matter-of-fact and he has spent time with both couples over the years. 

I think my own upbringing and experiences have helped guide his acceptance as well.  And I very specifically use the word “acceptance” and not “tolerance”.  Although there are several meanings for the word, some of them involve “suffrage” and “endurance”, both of which cause me a lot of difficulty when we are talking about people.  There are those in the world who do see themselves as “putting up with” those different from themselves as though somehow they are better and those people would describe themselves as “tolerant”.  To me this is wrong.  So I use acceptance, as there is no suggestion of superiority or someone else’s beliefs/practices adversely affecting me in any way.

Growing up, I never once heard either of my parents utter a negative word or thought against any group of people.  Ever.  We traveled a lot so I was exposed to many different cultures and practices.  I grew up in the 70’s, when we were singing about peace and love in the school choir.  And as it happened, there was a gay couple  that lived in our neighborhood.  As a child, I didn’t know them as “a gay couple”, I knew them as Jope and Herman, the artist and the piano teacher who lived a few houses away from us.  No one ever talked about it as anything out of the ordinary, these two men living together, so I never thought twice about it.  They were in fact, our favorite place to trick-or-treat at Halloween because instead of giving out candy, they always gave us little bags of art supplies, which was incredibly awesome.  I never heard any of the other kids or parents say anything to indicate they were bothered by them or that there was anything unusual about their being together.  So this was my template, the basis for which I lived my own life once I was old enough to do so.  I’ve had many “gay couples” as friends over the years, though I never differentiate them as “gay couple” unless I need to for purposes such as this.  To me they’re just couples, like any other couple, because that’s how I saw my parents accept it and subsequently how I’d accepted it from childhood. 

I’ve always tried to be straight forward with Zach about things without bringing too much of my own judgement in to whatever it is we’re discussing.  I want him to make up his own mind, trust his feelings.  I have explained that there are people who feel it’s wrong, usually for religious reasons, so he does understand that there are people who see the issue differently.  But, being the accepting person that he is, he passes no judgement over them either. 

I love that he’s able to do this.  I hope that down the road, he can be the example for his children.  Even as we do our best not to force our own opinions on to our kids, we do influence them by example - so maybe I’ve done a thing or two right along the way after all…

Kids and Food: Where Nature Went Wrong

Free will can be a wonderful thing. As humans, we are the only species on the planet that exercises this ability with great abandon. Unfortunately for us, this can also be to our detriment. Not all of the choices we make are good ones or even compatible with our own survival. This point is driven home quite enthusiastically by our offspring on a regular basis.

Take, for example, food.

Just once I’d like to see Animal Planet feature a program about animal mothers having to go out and and kill or forage for something else because their babies wouldn’t eat what they brought the first time.  Seriously, I can see it now: “Watch as the lioness visibly sighs, then heads off, again, to hunt something her cubs will eat this time.” Hey, you never know, maybe gazelle is way tastier than wildebeest…

As satisfying and amusing as it would be, we’ll never see this. All other living things on the planet understand that to survive, they must eat. Their young understand that they must eat what is brought to them. Period. Human offspring are too busy playing around with the ability to think for themselves to understand this. My kids are no exception. In fact, even though the dinner table often looks like it’s been swarmed by animals and my mother lovingly refers to Josh’s place as “the trough”, the survival instincts just aren’t there.

The great irony of this is that while their instincts are somewhat lacking, mine are completely intact - the need to feed my babies and have them eat is strong. As a result, we end up with the all too familiar restaurant scenario, where I am not only waitress but also the chef and the busboy. The kids are the customers and as far as they are concerned, they are ALWAYS right. The situation at Chez Moi is further complicated by my older son’s long list of food allergies and my younger son’s autistic issues - I don’t think there has ever been a time when I could make one meal that we could or would all eat. Josh will often ask for something, I will make it, then he will ask for something else entirely. The problem for me is that I know if he doesn’t eat at dinner, he will wake up just after midnight because he is hungry and since sleep is such an issue with him anyway, I try to avoid situations that are likely to exacerbate that. So I am back in the kitchen getting him something else. On any given night I make at least 3 different meals to cater to everyone’s needs, either by necessity (Zach’s allergies) or it being the lesser of two evils (Josh eating at dinner instead of in the middle of the night). Restaurant indeed. At least at my house we have a twist on the old “No shirt, no shoes, no service” routine - No shirt, no shoes, no problem. No pants on the other hand, means no food, no exceptions. Hey, I don’t want Michelin taking away any stars just because Josh is naked at the table...

My situation is a little extreme compared to most but I know I’m not the only mom out there who has a kid or kids who treat mealtime as though they were at Baskin Robbins, tasting a little of this, a little of that, before they finally decide on which of the 31 flavors is going to rock their free will this time.


Poop. Pronunciation: \ püp\  Function: noun, verb, transitive verb, intransitive verb.
Etymology: Middle English, from the Anglo-French pope, from Latin puppis
Dates back to the 15th century. *

Oh yes, gentle readers, it’s a poop-post.

There is a point, somewhere between that last push in the delivery room and your baby’s 6 month birthday, where poop and all things related becomes a relevant and pervasive topic in your life. When you were single or even married but before you had children, did you ever talk to your boyfriends, dates, or spouse about poop? Did you talk about it with your girlfriends? Your mom? Was it even something you thought about much if at all? No. You do now though, I’ll bet.

I know you do. As do I. Why? I wonder about this. Then I take a look at my life, my two boy children, one of whom because of his disability, is almost 12 and not yet potty trained, our three pets for whom I am the primary caretaker, and it hits me: I am up to my elbows in poo. Since the boys were babies to today when I still deal with Josh wearing Pull-Ups, between picking up after the dog, cleaning the bird’s cage and the chinchilla’s house, it’s always there. My 13 year old has an inexplicable need to relay his bathroom exploits in great detail. Josh still has plenty of accidents. The dog, who I am fairly certain is insane, has a pooping ritual that is beyond strange.  The bird likes to build mountains by going in the same spot all the time. The chinchilla is like a machine, churning out a seemingly endless supply of the stuff. I’m surrounded by it. I plan my life around it - going out at times when I am fairly confident Josh won’t be needing to go; I’ve arranged flights around what I think his poop schedule might be; I have this, that and a thousand other things to do but I have to make sure I take the dog out before I do anything else so he won’t poop in the car… again.

Zach coming out of the bathroom: “Mom, I just had this…”  me: “Stop it. I don’t need to hear it.”  Zach: “but mom, it was…”  me: “Seriously. STOP.”  Zach: “Ok, but, it was really …”  me: “Why is this happening? I DON’T NEED TO KNOW THIS.”  But apparently, I do. This is part of my job.  For I am the household’s elimination engineer, head of the personal-hygiene hazmat crew, I am the key master AND the gate keeper. I am, The Poop Whisperer.

It’s an odd thing, when you think about it. You have a baby and suddenly you are obsessed with elimination. We monitor our kids’ bowel habits like they’re the Geological Survey - always wondering when “the Big One” is going to hit. Regaling your friends and family with stories of explosive happenings and subsequent Silkwood-esque hose-downs like you’ve just seen the latest action flick. 

New moms are all nodding their heads. Factoid for the freshmen: baby poop is like the Dom Perignon of the poop world. Doesn’t matter how explosive, runny, or smelly you think it is, that stuff is like sweet nectar compared to what happens when baby starts eating solids. Yes, I’m comparing baby poop to things that are consumable. You’re welcome. You too will soon understand why changing a toddler’s dirty diaper on a plane is something you want to avoid at almost any cost. You will learn the hard way that ONE time you decide you won’t be out long enough to need changing supplies and besides, he/she just pooped so it’s totally fine...that it’s not. Children have a heightened sense about this, they just know when you really, really, REALLY don’t want them to go, so of course, they will.

Becoming a parent means poop is now an unavoidable part of your world. Accept this. Own this. Equip yourself accordingly and it will all be fine.


5 Things You Wondered About Autism/Special Needs Children, but Were Too Afraid to Ask.

1. Why do parents of children with special needs, DRESS them like they have special needs?
You know what I’m talking about. The sweat shirts and pants, the slip-on shoes, things not necessarily matching, and you think, dude, why emphasize the fact that your kid has issues by dressing them like that?  I mean, is it not enough that they behave differently and maybe even have physical differences, now they are dressed like, well, like they have issues? Don’t pretend to be shocked, first of all, you know you’ve all wondered this at one time or another, second, one of my kids is autistic, I can say these things. Frankly, for a long time I wondered the same thing. Why, why is this happening? Is there some special needs dress code I missed a meeting about? Why is Josh going to school looking very cool in his button-down shirts and jeans and the other kids in his class are all in the above mentioned mismatched sweats and very un-hip shoes? I just didn’t get it. My “ah-ha” moment on this came last year. After school one day Josh was running around the house in nothing but his pull-up as usual after stripping down (in Josh’s world, clothing is apparently optional) but then I noticed he was wearing pants. Not his jeans though, these were sweat pants. The ones I keep in his school backpack as part of his spare clothes set. He had taken them out himself, and put them on. Himself. Put. Them. On. Himself. All by himself.


2. Why is the bus short?
Well, if it weren’t, it sure would be harder to make jokes about it...

3. So, is your son like Rainman?
Yes and no. I am aware that there is a real recoil from that comparison in the autism community, but there are some similarities between some of my son’s behaviors and those you saw in Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie.  Josh will certainly get very loud and hit his ears when he is upset. Josh also has a tendency to script all the time, which is what the character in the movie was doing when he was repeating things he’d heard on tv or the radio. My son also has a frightening memory, though he is not cognitively functional enough to use it in a meaningful way - so no, we’re not hitting Vegas when he’s 21. All individuals with autism are different, you’d be hard pressed to find any two that are truly alike despite having similar issues.

4. What is your son’s special ability, you know, how is he a savant?
Destruction of property and the ability to survive on french fries.

Not all individuals with autism are “savants”.

5. No, I do not have any examples of his “artwork” to show you…
My son is AUTISTIC, not, ARTISTIC. I have had more people than I can count who think that’s what I’ve said or what I must mean.

A recent exchange: Checkout person chatting away to Josh, Josh is not responding. I apologize and explain that he’s not being rude, that he’s autistic, so it’s difficult for him to interact with others. Puzzled look from checkout person. Then, the question “so what does he paint?” 

Me: “Impressionistic watercolors mostly, sometimes he’ll go with more of a postmodern theme, it just depends.”

Because I’m a smart-ass. Also, sometimes it’s just easier.

Mr Finch

It’s that time of the year again, for those with school-aged kids - the end of the school year.  A time when you’re gearing-up (uh, medicating?) in preparation for summer but also a time when you reflect on the year past. This usually happens when you realize that you only have a day left to get gifts (maybe that’s just me...) and you really think about those that shepherded your children through the last 9 -10 months.  The teachers. 

This year with Josh, the teacher that has left the most lasting impression was not even really his teacher at all. 

In our school district they have a wonderful inclusion policy for the children who require Special Education. Basically, whenever possible they are integrated in to a general education classroom.  Josh has never really been able to integrate very much at all because of how profound his issues are.  Over the last few years at this school, he has always been assigned a general ed class and teacher, but up until this year, it seemed that was really more of a formality.

This year, Josh was assigned to Mr Finch’s general ed 5th grade class.  His aide would take him there every day to say “good morning” before bringing him to the self-contained classroom where he would spend the rest of the day.  This happened in previous years too but this year was different.  Mr Finch took an interest in Josh.  He was not just a “formality” to him.  He spoke to Josh every morning, figured out even with just the few minutes he saw him each day, how to make a connection with him.  And connect he did.  
Josh gets upset if Mr Finch is not there and there is a substitute.  Mr Finch has come to every single meeting we have had about Josh this year. Even though he does not have much to contribute, he is ALWAYS there.  Always makes the time, always tells me what a sweet boy Josh is and how much the other kids like him.  No other general ed teacher has ever done this before.  Josh is always included in their class celebrations.  This year, he came home with not one, but two valentines envelopes - one from his special ed class, the other, filled to bursting from the general ed class.  I was confused at first, I didn’t know who that was from initially.  This had never happened before.  When I realized that it was from Mr Finch’s’s class, I cried.  I know that Josh doesn’t understand all of this.  Valentines is nothing more to him than a day when some candy shows up in red envelopes.  He likes the parties because it makes a nice break in his day and he gets to eat treats.  To me, it’s so much more.  Mr Finch not only made an effort but I believe, he has taught the children in his class such a very valuable lesson in acceptance simply by modeling this behavior.  They don’t look at Josh as “that special ed kid who comes in every morning”.  They see him for who he is and they love him, regardless of his issues.  

Avoidance Mode

We’re all familiar with what we’re told not to do, what to avoid, while pregnant. Regardless of the type care provider you choose, you are going to get the run-down.  Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t do drugs, check before taking any medications, stay away from certain types of fish, get off that roller coaster, yada, yada, yada, you all know the drill.  There are also some things that can come up depending on what’s happening during the pregnancy, for example, if you are in pre-term labor and on bed-rest like I was with my first, then you have to avoid pretty much everything, including sex.  Then there are things you end up avoiding because, well, they make you vomit.  I couldn’t eat eggs with my first, they made me violently ill.  

Here are some other things I avoided:  I avoided exercise.  Not just while I was on bed-rest, but the whole time.  I counted having a toddler as exercise with my second.  Not so much the same thing, turns out.  Being in better shape would have made everything from delivery to post-partum recovery easier on my body. I avoided maternity clothes with the first one.  True story.  I wore my regular clothes until it was absolutely not possible any more.  I felt “fat”… uh, duh, hi, you’re pregnant.  When the second one rolled around I jumped in to the maternity clothes pretty much right after I found out - that was better.  I avoided getting back to my pre-pregnancy weight with any kind of ease by knocking back homemade chocolate milkshakes like they were water.  Both times.  Think I was downing at least two of those bad-boys a day.  In retrospect, probably could have exercised a little *cough* more restraint in that department.  Let’s see, with the first one, I also avoided making good use of my time and it could be argued, good taste, by watching marathons of MTV’s Real World and Jerry Springer episodes.  Ten weeks of bed-rest = not as much fun as you might think. 
I avoided sleep for the last 3 weeks during both pregnancies, because I had heartburn so severe that it would have killed a rhino.  I don’t even know what that means, it was bad, let’s just put it that way.  Not sleeping wasn’t such a great idea though, as it left me exhausted even before delivering. 

Moral of the story: drugs/alcohol are bad. So, apparently, is chugging milkshakes while watching mindless drivel sitting in bed all day and all night, in really not fitting any more size 4 jeans.  Just sayin.

My Father of the Bride Moment

Ok, I realize I am not a father.  Nor do I have a daughter who’s getting married.  Or even a daughter for that matter.  I won’t even be a mother of the bride.  So what’s up with the post title?  

I’m talking about the movie, the one with Steve Martin, Diane Keaton and Kimberly Williams (1991).  If you have not seen this movie, you should.  It’s funny, sweet, and in classic Steve Martin style, has some priceless “moments” throughout.  

Which brings me to last week.  Zach had just come home from a school trip where he spent 3 days away at Mt St Helens with his classmates and teachers.  He’s telling me all about about the trip but even though he tells me he enjoyed himself, I can tell there is something wrong.  He had been really excited about the trip before they went.  So I press him on it.  

What happened next is going to be hard to show in writing but I’ll try to give you an idea of how this went down. Anything that is in brackets is what I was thinking, not saying, while he was talking.

Zach: “Well, I found something out and it upset me.”
Me: “What did you find out?”
Zach: “The person that I have a crush on likes someone else.”  (okaaaaay, wait, what? what crush? what are we talking about? you told me you didn’t like any of the girls at school... )
Me: “Um, who are we talking about here honey? Just tell me the whole story.”
Zach: “Ok, well, on the way down in the car we were playing ‘truth or dare’ (truth or dare, they still play that? I thought that was a girl thing.  Oh man, Zach, what did you DO?!) and I said ‘truth’ (uh-oh) and they asked me if I had a crush on anyone that was in the car (oh, Zach, you didn’t... ) and so I said ‘yes’ (... you did.  Dude, seriously?)  So then I chose ‘dare’ and Chris said he dared me to tell them who it was (not much of a dare babe, there were only 3 girls in that car and given the options, you may as well have been pointing at her with a big neon sign...).  I didn’t do it (orly?) but they knew anyway (no duh).  Then I saw that Chris had his arm around her shoulders almost the whole trip down (aw, honey...).  People at school had been saying that she and Chris had a ‘thing’ but I wasn’t sure until I saw them on the trip (oh sweetie, you sound so sad).  During ‘truth or dare’ (stupid, STUPID game!) she took truth and Chris asked her if she’d rather give up Thai food (at least she has good taste in food) or him...  she said Thai food.”  

He was crushed, indeed, hence the use of the term in these situations.  But this is my Zach and some girl has just broken his heart.  He goes on to tell me how he couldn’t sleep very well, he was so upset (she broke his heart. how could she do this? wait, some girl actually broke his heart? he’s not sleeping? this is really not cool... ).  

Zach: “I even took her phone number off my phone, I knew she’d never call me anyway and it made me too unhappy to see it there” (you took her number off your phone? you have a phone? when the hell did that happen? wait, oh yeah, but, wait, just... wait... )

BAM. That’s when this happened:

Although instead of a little girl telling her daddy she’s getting married, I saw  this little guy

telling me how some girl likes someone else and he can’t sleep and he was so upset he took her number out of his phone. I’m not kidding.

It was then that I realized the milestones we’d both reached.  Zach is no longer 7 and wishing that girls would stop following him around.  He’s a young man, who has just experienced some very grown-up feelings.  When I finally managed to stop seeing this muffin standing in front of me and saw the teenager, I realized that the balance of my job with him had just shifted.  In the blink of an eye I went from Macgyver to Mr Miyagi.  Less the guy who can fix everything with a twist-tie and more the mentor, the coach, the one who has to give him the tools he needs to be able to deal with things on his own.  

I knew I couldn’t make it better, couldn’t make it stop hurting, couldn’t “fix” it for him. All I could do was be there for him and make sure the he understood that these kinds of things should never damage his self-worth.  Let him know that there is nothing wrong with him and that all of us have been through it, he is not alone.  I also suggested he put her number back in his phone.  They are friends.  Her liking some other boy right now shouldn’t change that.  

This week, he seems to be better friends with Chris and the three of them have been chatting on messenger after homework is done.  I know it still hurts, but he is handling it well, friendships have been preserved and he is back to his no-trouble-sleeping, wonderful self.

Wax on, wax off, Zach-san.  Wax on, wax off.



Mind Your Manners!

When exactly did basic politeness and being considerate of others become passe?  Seriously, I must have missed that memo. 

I have always been taken aback when people are outright rude, I’ve simply never understood it. Until recently though, it was fairly rare that I’d encounter someone who was.  Over the last few years it’s been happening more and more and it’s getting to the point where those of us who still believe in using our manners seem to be in the minority.  Which is pretty damned sad. 

It all starts when we’re kids.  I don’t know about you, but I was brought up to be a polite person.  My parents instilled this in me as a child and it has never left.  They did something else too.  They set the example.  They expected me to be as polite to others as they were.  Never once did their expectations of me and my siblings seem hypocritical because I saw them behave exactly how they wanted me to.  I believe very strongly that this really helped to ingrain the behavior in me.  It would be one thing to be told to behave a certain way, it’s another to be told and to see it modeled for you all the time.  When you’re little you see it, you hear it, so you think, “ok, that’s just how we do things, I get it.”  It becomes part of who you are.  When you are told but have no example to draw from, it’s harder to really take seriously.  It’s like telling your kids not to swear but then they hear you doing it all the time - they will be hard pressed to take your instruction to heart. 

I see so many little kids these days that simply have no regard for others.  I was at the grocery store about a week ago with Josh.  We were behind another mom and her two children at the checkout.  The daughter was in her teens and the little boy was probably about 5.  At one point while their groceries were being checked and I was loading what was in my cart up on to the belt, the little boy took off somewhere.  Just as  they were at the end of their items he came running back from behind us, pushed me to the side and said “outta my way, comin’ through.”  He actually put his hands on me and pushed me to the side as he went by.  Not, “excuse me”, not even “I need to get by please”, nor did he attempt to slip past without disrupting anyone.  He simply shoved me over and barged through.  I was floored as was the gentleman behind me.  Not a single word from the mother to him or me, she just went about her business.  These are also the people who when the store staff wish them a good afternoon simply ignore the fact that they have been spoken to and do not respond.  How is this little boy ever going to learn how to behave considerately if his mother doesn’t do the same?  He won’t, simple as that.  I see this kind of thing all the time, this was not an isolated incident.  Josh was behaving better than that and he’s the autistic one! 

These kids grow up.  Unfortunately many of them grow up to be just as rude as adults.  In these days of constant distraction and self-absorption (let’s face it, Twitter has got to be the most ego-centric internet app ever ) people simply have no real awareness of what’s going on around them any more.  I can’t begin to tell you how surprised and genuinely appreciative the staff at grocery stores or restaurants are when I reciprocate their wishes for a good day or when I ask them how their day is going after they have asked me about mine, even when I simply say “thank you” and “good bye”.  I’ve watched person after person leave checkouts without responding.  I have stood in the middle of the school crosswalk and not only watched in amazement as car after car blows through the school zone going 40 instead of 20mph, but also in horror that they are not stopping, even though I am in fact, in the middle of the crosswalk.  Everyone has their own agenda, their own needs, and the rest of the world simply gets no consideration.  And yes, I consider the ignorance at the school zone to be the same as the rudeness at the grocery store. It all has to do with how you have learned to behave and respond to the world around you. 

I was at the train station in downtown Seattle over the weekend to pick up my mother who has come to visit this week.  Had Josh with me as usual.  As we were leaving the station, I held open the door for my mom, holding Josh with one hand and the door with the other and most of my body as it was an extremely heavy door.  I noticed that there were some people coming behind us who had bags so I continued to hold the door for them.  There were 3 of them.  I was letting the door close when one more was coming so I heaved it open again, maneuvered Josh out of the way, and kept it open one more time.  Not a single one of the 4 people that I held the door for thanked me.  Not one.  All of them women too.  I’m sure this is some sort of bad stereotyping on my part, but I expect more from women.  Not that I would think it was ok for a man to not thank me, but for some reason I was particularly offended that it was women who had been so inconsiderate. 

Things like this happen all the time. I think my point is that society just seems to have fallen in to this era of such intense navel-gazing it makes us poor examples for our kids.  I do my best to model basic manners and politeness for Zach and even Josh, who may well be the most polite, barely verbal autistic child out there - he says “please” every single time he asks for help.   Zach is a very polite kid and it gets noticed, adults love him.  He’s considerate and well mannered with people and I know he will be the same as he grows up.  Of this I am very glad.  If I haven’t managed to do anything else right, at least I know I brought up a polite human being.

He’s on notice though: any future girlfriends that do not say “thank-you” when he holds a door open for them will be history.

What If...

I’ll apologize in advance, this is a bit of a downer post.  It’s an important subject though, so, here we go.

When you become a parent, you discover that there are a fair number of what I like to call, “not going there” subjects.  Things that are just too hard to think or talk about when it comes to your children or your family.  They can range from simply awkward and confusing to flat out devastating.  As one of my sons has significant special needs, there  seem to be a lot of these.  Too many. 

There is one that is not unique to my situation though, and that is, what happens to your child or children if something happens to you?  And by “you” I mean both parents.  None of us like to think about dying, especially not when you have a minor child or children.  It’s an important issue to deal with, however, despite how hard it might be.  I say this, though I am not terribly good at practicing what I preach. 

On the surface it might seem like an easy decision, if you have really close friends or family.  There are a lot of things to consider though, so you need to be very thoughtful about how you approach this.  Housing situations, locations, financial issues, how many children are there already in the household if any, religious issues if any, the list goes on.  Your best friend in the world might seem like your obvious choice but if you have 3 kids and she already has 3 of her own, is that really a workable situation for her?  To suddenly have 6 kids?  How will they manage financially?  What about the housing situation?  If you pass away when your children are still young enough to need care, then chances are you will not have a significant estate built up yet to help provide for their future.  Financial considerations are important.  If you are thinking about your parents, keep in mind any age issues that might arise. If you have been attentive to this already, remember to reevaluate as time goes by.  Life changes for everyone.  Is the choice you made some years ago still an appropriate choice?  Sometimes it might be necessary to make changes to the plans you have made.

Aside from the decision process, there is the discussion with whomever you have chosen.  No matter how close you might be to someone, this is a big, fat, life-changing deal, and when faced with the reality and significance of it, some people might not be very comfortable.  You need to talk about it.  Also be understanding if those you have chosen are not so quick to jump on board.  Like I said, there is so much to consider here, it can be extremely overwhelming.  You may need to find someone else.   I think this is more of an issue in my case, given Josh’s disability.  He will need lifelong support and care and that is a lot to ask of anyone, even those who love him as much as much we do.  

The boys’ father and I have been procrastinating on this for far too long and we know it.  Partly because it really is a tough thing to think about, I can’t help but cry when I have to “go there,” but also because in our case, as I mentioned, it is that much more complicated by Josh’s issues.   We haven’t done ourselves or the boys any favors though.  I talk myself in to believing that our families will take care of things if something happened before we get anything set up legally.  That is a lot to put on the family.  It is also not necessarily something that will be easily worked out.  My mother had neighbors a few years ago, a young couple.  The woman was diagnosed with spinal cancer while she was pregnant and died not long after the baby was born.  So dad was alone, raising their little girl.  A couple of years later, he died unexpectedly of a heart attack while on a bike ride with some friends, leaving his young daughter an orphan.  There was a bitter fight between the grandparents regarding custody.  Sad, sad story on so many levels but really, did these families need to be in a court fight when they had both experienced such great loss?  No.  If the dad had made sure arrangements were discussed, defined, and legally set before he passed, they would not have had to go through that on top of everything else. 

I hadn’t been sure what I was going to write about here this week, I had some other things in mind until this morning when I saw the news.  Plane crash in Tripoli killing all on board except, a 10 year old boy.  It would be my guess that he lost his parents in the crash, since chances are a 10 year old Dutch boy would not be traveling from South Africa to Libya on his own (possible I suppose, but not likely).  All I could think of was, what is going to happen to him now?  The hope is that arrangements have been made and there won’t have to be any more heartache for his family than they are already having to deal with.  So, I decided to bum everyone out with this today, but it’s important.  New parents, old parents, and everyone in between need to “go there.”

That’ll be one less “what if” for you to worry about.

Nick at Nite: An Unexpected Addition to my Son's Reproductive Education

A couple of weeks ago, my 13 year-old son and I had a conversation in the car after I had picked him up from school.  It went something like this:

“What Zach?”
“Does your period hurt?”
“Um, well some women get cramps during part or all of it and they can be really painful or just uncomfortable.  It’s not the same for everyone.”
“Well, do you get cramps?”
“Yup, usually just the first couple of days but they can be pretty terrible.”
“Oh mom!  That’s why I was asking, you don’t have to!”
“Have to what?”
“Your period doesn’t have to be painful and you can even make it go away so you don’t have to have one at all.  There is this pill you can take, I saw it on tv!”

He was genuinely thrilled.  Where did this boy come from?!  I don’t know, but I love him to death.  So I explained that I knew what he was talking about, that what he’d seen was an ad for a type of birth control pill, and yes, all the things they said were true but I can’t take them because I have high blood pressure.  Then I asked where he had seen this ad. 

“It was on a commercial when I was watching Everybody Hates Chris last night.”

Zach is very much in to some of the re-running shows on Nick at Nite right now so it’s essentially all he watches in the evenings once his homework is done. 

These kinds of out-of-nowhere questions from the back seat stopped surprising me years ago.  We spend a ton of time in the car every day, the boys are at different schools that are quite far apart so Zach and I have a lot of these “car conversations”.  They are often quite involved.  This particular one went well beyond what I have written here because my answers usually lead to more questions from him.  Which is great, I love that he feels comfortable enough talking to me to ask these things. 

A few days later, again from the back seat in the car, he asked a question that had occurred to him as a result of the conversation I just mentioned. 

“So, if you are pregnant and you don’t want a baby, do you just take the pill to make it stop?”

Whoa.  Well, there’s a big one.  I explained that that wasn’t what the pills he was talking about were for, though it might seem that way since they are called “birth control” but  that wasn’t how they worked.  I followed up with an explanation of how they do work.  Which led in to a discussion about abortion.  How anyone feels about it notwithstanding,  it exists, and I felt I owed it to him to talk about it from both sides, given the discussion we were already having.  I hadn’t ever really thought about talking to him about it or even a lot of this stuff when we had our “talk”.  Maybe because he’s a boy, I’m not sure, I just hadn’t felt like he needed all the in depth details about the female side of things, at least not at this stage of the game.  I gave him the essentials but that was it.  After these recent conversations though, I realized that was probably a mistake on my part.  What do I know?  He’s a boy.  But the more he knows now, should serve him well in the future.  Not just as far as reproduction goes, or more to the point, doesn’t go, but as far as women go.  The more a guy knows and understands about women and women’s issues the better, I’m thinking, so, this was good.  The fact that it all stemmed from a commercial he saw while watching Nick at Nite was somewhat amusing. 

It doesn’t end there.  Last week, he yells at me from the loft, “Mom, what’s ovulation?”  Ok, so, this is a conversation we are not going to have yelling at each other over a railing.  I head upstairs, sit down on the futon next to him.  “Didn’t we talk about that already? Thought I explained it to you before?” 
“I don’t remember.” 
“What brought this up?” 
“There was this commercial, something about predicting ovulation.”
“What are you watching?”
“George Lopez.”

There it was again.  Nick at Nite must have a predominantly female viewership is all I can figure between the birth control pill and ovulation predictor ads.  So, in an unusual non-car setting, we discussed ovulation.  Which of course led to more questions.  And more, and more, and more.  All said and done I believe we covered everything from a complete explanation of the menstrual cycle to condoms and even, as Zach calls it, the “m” word.  Zach looked a little dazed by the end of it.  These are all things we have touched on before but again, just basics, not terribly in depth.  I started laughing, “you asked!” 
“Yeah mom, but you went too deep... too DEEP!” 

I blame Nickelodeon.

Confessions of a Gamer Mom

Ok I admit it.  I love video games.  I am just a few weeks away from 45 years old, mother of two - one of whom is significantly disabled, with a lot on my plate.  But these games have been a part of my life one way or another for what turns out to be a fairly long time now and aside from the entertainment factor, I do believe that they provide me with two very important things:  escape/release, and another way to connect with my older son. 

Believe it or not it all started with Pong, yes, that Pong.  The original video game, the white dot batted back and forth across the black screen using white bars (“paddles”) that you could only move up or down.  You could play against the game or someone else, you could set the speed of the white dot to increase the difficulty, you could also make your paddles shorter to increase the difficulty.  Amazing!  Well, it was at the time, we are talking mid ’70’s here.  For those of you have never seen it, here you go:


I know right?

When I was a bit older things started getting more interesting on the gaming front.  I have a younger brother who was very much in to them.  My parents had split up and he and I became best friends in the aftermath.  So it was something we did together.  He was much better at them then I was, my hand-eye coordination is not as good as his.  So many times he would be on the controller while I would be the one figuring out what to do, where to go, etc.  We made a good team.  As the games and systems advanced, so did our skills. 

Then I went off to college, became a nurse, went to grad school, became a nurse practitioner, got married and had two babies.  My brother, believe it or not, went on to become a video game designer.  So there was a long period of time for me when I didn’t play at all.  I did play a few desktop computer games like Myst but no actual console type video games.  That is until my oldest son was old enough to be interested in them, and I thought we should at least check out some of my brother’s work...so we bought a Nintendo GameCube.  My first real addiction was with Animal Crossing.  Anyone else familiar with this one?  There have been several incarnations of it.  On the surface it looks like a sweet, innocent, fun little game the whole family can play there is no violence or language or anything potentially objectionable.  The reality is that it is evil incarnate.  This game is played in real time so a day in the game is 24 hours and you set the game clock to correlate with your time zone.  In order to accomplish things in the game, you have to play ALL THE TIME.  Certain things can only be accomplished at certain times of day, under certain weather conditions, at the right time of year, and on and on.  It never ends.  Ever.  I was playing early in the morning, late at night, and various times in between whenever I had a little time.  Which is baffling to me now, since the sound and in this game is probably the most annoying thing you’ve ever heard. 

Yes, I really played this.  A lot.

Then I branched out from the safe, freakish little world of gibberish talking creatures in a cute town to more grown-up fare.  I discovered Need for Speed.  I’ve always loved the driving games at arcades, and this was just as good.  Turns out there was a whole series of them too.  I started with Hot Pursuit then moved on to Underground 2 and Most Wanted.  Those were really the best.  I have played a few of the ones that have come out since Most Wanted  but haven’t really liked any of them.  Underground 2 was the best though, it was like, woooo I get to drive fast AND make my car pretty and change how it looks as many times as I want!  I swear it was like crack, the in-game garage where you could fancy-up your car was like Barbie’s Dream House for me.   Wondering when I had time to play these games?  Late night, after everyone was asleep.  This is what I would do.  If Josh wasn’t keeping me busy I could watch Zach play sometimes during the day, so that was where the game connection with him started. 

Years went by, the NFS franchise was losing its mojo, Zach was getting older and along came Guitar Hero.  Now I know I’m not the only mom out there who was playing this one.  This was great though, so much fun to unleash your inner rock goddess!  Also hilarious when playing for the first time, we were terrible and couldn’t stop laughing.  I really enjoyed the first two, haven’t liked them much since, mostly because I just haven’t liked the music so much.  But the first two, definitely.  I can’t go beyond medium mode without failing badly though I am pretty good at that level.  For reasons I cannot explain I can only play in my bare feet, I cannot wear footwear of any kind while playing this game.  Weird. 
Not too long after GH I was introduced to the granddaddy of all video games, World of Warcraft.  My friend who was the one playing it gave me the info for the website but warned me not to start playing.  I watched the trailer.  I was hooked. 

I made my main character a druid because I wanted to be like the elf girl in the trailer that shape-shifts in to the cat...what can I say, this game spoke to the little girl in me, the one who always imagined there were fairies and gnomes living under every mushroom I saw in the woods, sprites riding fallen leaves down streams, and was convinced Big Foot lived near by and was determined to get him.  This was my chance to BE an elf, a druid, to fight those monsters and do cool things like fly in dragons and ride tigers.  This was my escape.  Of all the games I’d played over the years, this one, was really it, my complete escape from my day-to-day life.  For a little more than 2 and a half years I played practically every night.  It really was an addiction.  This is a game you play with other people so it was very different from the others, there was actually a social aspect to this.  Zach started playing too and we played together sometimes.  Even if we weren’t able to play at the same time, we could still talk about it, and that we did.  It gave me another connection to him.  It also earned me some serious cool points on the mom-meter, but, that was less important to me than our having something we could really share as he enters his teenage years here.  Over the last few months both of us have stopped playing as much as we used to, in fact, we rarely play at all these days.  We still have the connection though, because World of Warcraft  has a massive amount of lore - that is, back stories, written after the game was created to provide a history for it and all of the characters - and Zach and I are both huge fans.  He has 7 of the books now and is reading them avidly, reads some of them to me when we have the chance.  This is a big deal, Zach is not a tremendous fan of reading, but he loves these books.  How is that for irony?  Playing a video game got my son interested in reading!

Don’t misunderstand, we are not sedentary couch potatoes, Zach is a brown-belt in karate and I am on and off with the karate and work out when I can.  Josh keeps all of us busy and Zach is an A student in school.  So despite the game playing, our lives are still pretty well-rounded. 

I realize that there are those who really do fit the stereotype most people have of avid gamers - the geeky, mom’s basement living dudes who are socially inept but insanely good at games.  I’ve met some.  But there are also an awful lot of moms, dads, and kids  who are intelligent and outgoing who play too and simply find it entertaining, a good way to get away from stress and even connect with each other. 

Storytellers Lost

While most of my writing is focused on what it’s like being the mother of a son who is profoundly autistic, I am also mom to Zach - Joshua’s typically developed big brother. So along with the all the strange and wonderful things Josh brings to my life on a daily basis, Zach brings me back to the place the rest of the world lives, the world he’s growing up in.  

On a somewhat regular basis, I find myself lamenting the fact that things are so much less safe these days for our kids.  Then I catch myself - are they really less safe or do we just feel that way because the media has changed so much since I was little?  This is not a new topic and, in fact, a fantastic article was written last May about an entire book on the subject http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2009/05/04/free_range_kids .
Now whether you would allow your 8 year-old to ride a New York City subway alone is really not the issue.  It’s more this overall feeling of our children being in constant danger and how that leads us to behave and make decisions as parents.  

I grew up in the 70’s.  My parents were/are intelligent, educated, conscientious people.  They were (still are!) great parents.  But I have to tell you, that if we time-warped what my siblings and I and all our friends were doing as kids to today, I’d bet you a million dollars that our parents would all be under investigation by CPS.  Which is ridiculous, because they weren’t doing anything wrong by allowing us the freedom to be kids.  

I loved my childhood. I really did!  The only regret I ever have looking back on it is that I can’t do it again.  I had adventures.  I got in to trouble - nothing serious, but enough to be interesting.  I explored.  My friends and I went places.  We walked, we rode our bikes, we took buses, we hunted for Big Foot.  The older siblings took the younger ones to the movies.  We went swimming, we went skiing, skating, hiking...and all of it, without our parents watching over us.  I was able to take a bus by myself when I was 6.  I was skiing by myself when I was not much older than that.  Where I lived, we walked to and from school through a forest, which I was doing by myself at the age of 5.  There were usually other kids around, but sometimes not.  Didn’t matter though.  Did I ever get scared?  Absolutely.  Do I wish my mom had walked with me or driven me to school instead?  No way.   

I think back on this and can’t believe that I have become essentially the antithesis of what I was and what I wish my son could be.  I think that in my case, there have been a few extenuating circumstances leading to how protective and sheltering I’ve been with my kids.  With Josh it’s pretty self-explanatory - he cannot be responsible for himself in any way, so his safety is entirely up to me.  With Zach though, I think it’s been a combination of things.  He has a long list of allergies, especially food allergies, that caused him to have a couple of anaphylactic reactions when he was very little.  He also had asthma that was a significant issue for a while.  So I had a need to be careful with him.  The food allergies particularly made it difficult to be comfortable letting him go places without myself or his dad, primarily because he always needed an Epi-Pen near by.  Zach is also extremely small for his age and this has contributed to serious concerns about bullying as he has gotten older.  There is also his brother.  I do think that we have ended up somewhat isolated because of Josh and his issues.  Josh was and can still be very difficult to take places or for other people to be around without attracting attention, primarily the negative kind because many people don’t understand.  Particularly when he was younger, it was so bad I literally only went out anywhere or had people over when it was an absolute necessity.  There were also the endless trips here there and everywhere to various therapy sessions, evaluations, special stores for special food, yada, yada, yada, and Zach had to come along for all of it.  

So I am truly sad for him and it’s pretty much my own fault - his childhood has been safe, sheltered, predictable, and, frankly, boring.  Here is the part that just hit me though: apart from the things that seem obvious as far as what many children today don’t experience the way we did when we were kids, is something that is not so obvious.  The stories.  Every parent tells their kids stories about their own childhood, from the classic “I had to walk 10 miles uphill in the snow” to “the firemen scooped me up, drove me to my house in the firetruck and carried me up the driveway into the house” when they found me after I broke my arm walking home from school one day through that forest.  Zach LOVES my stories.  I can go on and on for hours and he never gets tired of it.  I think this is partly because he doesn’t have any of his own. I certainly have a lot of them.  I tell him that when I was only a few months older than he is now, we were living in Paris (my father worked in France for a year when I was 13) and his uncle Pete and I used to walk through the city on our own to museums, parks, take the subway...you name it.  My brother was only 8 at the time, I was not quite 14.  These are some of the best memories I have and yet I know that if Zach ever suggested that he go explore a city as big as Paris on his own or with someone a few years younger than he is, I would laugh for about an hour before telling him he was insane if he thought I would actually let him do that.  My blatant hypocrisy has not only left him with a somewhat un-interesting childhood, but no stories to tell.  What is he going to tell his kids?  I mean really, the best that he’s got right now are the crazy conversations we have in the car every day.  There have definitely been some story-worthy ones, but it’s not the same.  

I imagine I am not the only parent in the world who feels this way.  Longing for those childhoods we had yet not feeling like we can let our own kids have that because we believe it’s not safe.  As Zach is getting older I am feeling more like I can let go (hell, he’s even more obsessive than I am about the food allergies and ingredients these days!) and I wish nothing more for him than to go out there and start having some adventures of his own.  

One of these days, I’d like him to be the one telling me a story.