The Grandma Files, again

One of my fondest memories of my grandma’s house is the big front porch.  Wicker furniture, a swing, vining flowers on the east side, a large bamboo roll-up blind on the west.

The porch floor was painted grey and partially covered by a rug.  The wood floor was tongue and groove, not the deck-style with spaces between that is common now.  It was a great place to play on a hot day. My grandma swept the porch with a broom every morning to make sure no dirt got tracked in the house.  The front porch was an extension of the living room…just  like the back porch was an extension of the kitchen.

Because of the big maple tree on the south side of the house, the front porch was cool on hot days. I can remember stories of my uncle sleeping out there on a hot summer night. No one would do that today.  But when I open all three windows in my bedroom, breezes stirring the curtains, the sound of cars going up the brick street at night…I can imagine exactly what that must have been like.

 

My ‘Cats’

When I visit my daughter, my sister and son take care of my dogs. They are lazy old dogs, and quite frankly, they might as well be cats.

They want fed and petted only when they want. They sleep all day and most of the night. Unlike our first dog, these two, do NOT follow me around like a puppy. They do not beg for attention. They tolerate me because they do not have the thumbs required to open doors or food containers.

They are annoyed when I pack my suitcase, because they have come to realize that the suitcase represents a change in their routine. They fuss when they are confined for the benefit of a dinner guest. If I allowed them access to the bedrooms, they would sleep on the beds or clean laundry in baskets. They steal my yarn balls when I knit.

See? They’re cats!

They do have one important non-feline quality – they bark. And if you heard their deep voices, you would think twice about breaking into my house. That is their one job. Even if they act like cats, they sound like dogs.

Frustration

It took 13 days to get the police report from my recent accident. Things happen. That delay doesn’t frustrate me – it made me slow down and think about what kind of car will replace the peepmobile.  I really needed to take some time to decide what to do.

When the police report became available at 9:00 this morning…my phone started ringing.  Every ambulance chasing lawyer and chiropractor/doctor in town called me this morning; tying up my phone with junk calls while I am waiting for a call from my insurance adjuster – that IS frustrating.

Also frustrating: finding out that the other driver, while insured, does not have a valid license!?!  If you don’t have a license – it means you shouldn’t  drive.  If she had complied with the suspension, the accident wouldn’t have happened.

Even as I am typing,  though, I am thinking of that other, younger driver. Her life is going to much more impacted by this accident than mine will be.  Dealing with the suspended license issue, her own totaled car, and her insurance….her frustrations will be much, much greater than mine.  I pray she has the capacity to handle it and straighten things out for herself.

This latest family weekend.

Another family weekend at my daughter’s residential facility…Activities and crafts together, meals together, long conversations. I enjoy the extended time with my daughter; even when she isn’t eligible to spend the night with me at the hotel.

Why was she ineligible? She threw some desks at someone who irritated her.   Desks! This is why she isn’t at home: Explosive outbursts of dangerous behavior.

She was fine at the visit. A little tearful when we said goodbye.  (I feel that way, too, but I suck it up until I get home – then have a good cry.)

The drive combined with the visits is exhausting, emotionally and physically. I look forward to her move closer to home after graduation. More frequent and shorter visits will be easier for both of us.

 

Another visit

I love my children. I enjoy any time I get to spend with either of them.  Here at the house this evening, packing my bag for an overnight visit with my daughter, I found myself humming a song.  It took me awhile to identify it: Another Ticket by Eric Clapton.

Why can’t it stay like this forever?
Why does it always have to change?
Every time you think you’ve paid the price
Seems you’ve always got to pay it twice
Every time you think you’re near the end
You turn around and find another ticket
These are the lyrics that go with the melody running around in my head.  I’m not sad, resentful of change. I’m just thoughtful this evening.  I wonder if my daughter will be able to spend the night with me at the hotel? I wonder if her behavior has been okay this week? I wonder….and I won’t have any answers until I get to the facility on Saturday.  I’ve learned to be flexible.
Having looked up the lyrics, I remember that they came from the time of a different visit. They remind me of the time I went to pick up my friend at the airport for a  class reunion, and found – surprise – another friend came to town and hoped to stay with me AT MY PARENTS’, without any advance  notice.  My parents were gracious about it; the stay was fine.  I was a lot less flexible then.

School blues

With the loss of the peepmobile, I decided to drop my class at the local university.  I have transportation to work, and to see my daughter.  But  school? I decided the time preparing for school, and driving there, would be better spent looking for a used car.

My sisters’ cars are nice and big.  All the cars other people have offered to loan me are nice and  big.  I am not sure I want to drive someone else’s  nice, big car to school.  Forget that school is downtown….downtown where I had the wreck….I am not sure I want to be responsible for parking a nice, big car in the student lot. And, of course, I can’t parallel park.

I was sorry to drop the class; I learned a lot of information that I wish I had known when I was  young;  young like the rest of the students in the class.  And, just like my class last semester, taking this class has reinforced to me the value of  my life experience. I  usually know the answer to the instructor’s question because I’ve lived it, because I pay attention to what happens around me and I read the newspaper,  not because I memorized the answer from a text book reading assignment.

I won’t sign up for summer classes.  But next fall….I’ll definitely go back.

 

 

Keeping busy

I’ve made a couple quilts over the last few years, and some other enjoyable sewing projects. I like to keep my hands busy. I have quilt-top cut out, but haven’t felt like pinning it together and sewing it up. The 120 year old sewing machine I use, is not portable, so I sew upstairs in the room that was my daughter’s. The dogs like it when I sew. They lay by my feet and watch the treadle move up and down. That is the only time they are allowed in that room. (The boy dog, Tex, has a love of sleeping on human beds, so unsupervised naps in the bedrooms are off limits.)

Since I prefer to spend evenings downstairs, I decided to start knitting again. I have a friend who gives me her leftover yarn from crocheting baby blankets. I don’t have the patience for crochet. When I read those instructions I feel stupid and clumsy.

So I knit hats for the local public school…one year I knitted ninety. The pattern is easy and variable. And when you are making hats, there isn’t the pressure of having two finished products come out the same size, like pairs of mittens or socks. It is relaxing. A hat takes about two hours, start to finish on the circular needles.

I don’t know who invented those circular knitting needles – short needles joined by a flexible nylon cord, but it is genius! No seams, no blocking, continuous knitting, and the project goes so fast!

Fashion

I won’t buy anything that causes me to think, “If I was younger” or “If I was thinner.” I do always buy clothes that fit me now…not my past or future self.

Every once in a while, though, I make a clothing choice that can be filed under the heading: WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?

These choices could be things such as…

uncomfortable shoes – NOT heels, and not uncomfortable for any obvious reason – just uncomfortable.

a blouse in a color that is strange – I have trouble identifying colors anyway – if the clothing is new, I can rely on the color name in the catalog. If the clothing is from the thrift store, I will ask someone who looks fairly put-together, “What color is this?” (I really do ask someone whose own clothing looks good that day!)  The color, though, can still be strange.

dress slacks in a funky synthetic fabric – I do wear fake suede pants in the colder weather. These are actually the least ugly dress slacks that I own. The old-lady slacks I used to wear daily have all been retired. I am shaking my head just thinking about them and their stylish-less bagginess.

Every once in a while, I will pick something out that I’m not sure about and buy it anyway. Oddly enough, some of my favorite clothing choices have come about this way. A vintage silk blouse with french cuffs and cuff links, for instance. I don’t wear it often, but when I do, I feel like a million bucks.  Sometimes it’s worth the gamble.

Used cars.

I have shopped for, and bought, used cars by myself a number of times. It is NOT a pleasure.

The first time, I was 24. My dad was laid up with a bad back, so I went shopping without him. I had a number of car salesmen tell me to come back with my dad. One gave me a half dollar to remember his name “Kennedy.” I used the half dollar to buy a soda, and bought my car somewhere else…from the one salesman that treated me like I was not stupid.

The salesmen routinely asked, “What color car do you want, little girl?” (I  know they were thinking ‘little girl’ even if they didn’t say it.) Now I do have a color preference, but it is very low on the list after fuel efficiency, engine size, maintenance/service records and other such truly useful information. Back then, I worked on my cars; I wanted to know what I was buying!

The salesmen that wait on me now are a little less condescending. Of course, there is the added insult of treating me like I’m elderly. I may be old enough to be his grandma, but he better talk to me like an intelligent and vital adult with a very good credit rating!

And heaven help him if he asks, “What color car do you want, grandma?”…even if the “grandma” is silent.

Seasons

When my kids were little, spring and fall, we would get out the bins and boxes of clothes for the coming season and try them on. (or at least hold them up to see if they were close.) My children were always blessed with a lot of hand me downs from friends and family, so there were never a lot of clothes to purchase. I miss those days of Winnie the Pooh t-shirts and tiny shorts on their chubby, dimple-kneed, legs. Fall overalls and turtlenecks.

Now, I just move my off-season blouses from the guest room closet into my own room’s closet. It’s not necessary to try them on – my size is the same (thankfully) from season to season. There is still some excitement – summer tie-dye and short sleeves come out – long sleeves and jackets get put away. The warm weather items I bought last fall on season-end clearance sales are new, still wearing tags.

I love the change in seasons; the change in weather, the change in clothes.

A lot of decisions.

I have some decisions to make about my own circumstances – not just my daughter’s.

I have some home repairs to prioritize. I have to shop for, and buy, a used car.  I have decisions to make that will affect the people in my life. I am in a season where decisions seem to be required in every area of my life.

I don’t  have a problem making decisions. I am very methodical, very logical, and I have a clear sense of direction; a clear sense of right and wrong.  I know where I want to go, and I know that steps, rather than speed,  will take me there. (I have a picture of a turtle that says something like this hanging outside my bedroom.)

I will take a little time, and over the next few weeks, I will make every decision, carefully and prayerfully.  I will make the best decision that I can in each case. Indecision is not an option.

Now, I know not every decision will play out exactly the way I envision. Some decisions will play out better, some not  quite as well.  Some will play out in ways that I could not begin to imagine – future me will look back and shake her head, or smile.  Just because it doesn’t turn out the way I expect, doesn’t mean I made the wrong choice.

 

 

 

 

 

Decision made.

My recent auto accident helped me finalize a difficult decision.

I had already decided my daughter would have a payee. (A financial guardian that is not me.)

I had to decide whether we would apply for a guardian for her person, to help her manage life when she graduates from high school. There was a long conversation with her DD social worker, and other social workers. We discussed her difficulty with transitions and the pros and cons to me taking that role initially. There are some personal particulars to her case that will need to be handled in 2021. The thought was that, perhaps, I would be better able to make sure this business was handled.

I read the many pages of definitions and information that they gave me to review. My gut was telling me it would be easier to make all the changes at once, rather than to make them piecemeal.

The accident caused me to decide, yes, a guardian is needed as soon as she graduates from high school. My greatest concern is that I would pass away without this protection in place. Asking for the appointment of a guardian up front will eliminate that concern. I don’t need to be her guardian to look out for her best interests, including that business in 2021 – I am her mom. I will not let that guardian rest until that business is handled.

I realize that a guardian could pass away suddenly in an accident, too, but that is a different, lesser kind of loss.

Hold on loosely.

Hold on loosely.

That was the best advice anyone ever gave me. It applies to stuff  you own and plans you make. When I was given this advice, the context was clearly stuff and plans.

When your fists are closed in an attempt to hold on, you can’t accept anything new, you can’t embrace change, and you can’t move forward.

It can apply to people; people that move through your life without a real connection, people that don’t want to be in your life, or who aren’t good for your own mental health.

But it doesn’t apply to faith, hope, or loving family and friends; to those you need to hold on tightly. And I’m not picturing a tight, grabby fist here, I’m picturing a hug.
 

 

 

The end of the road.

I bought the peepmobile, my little yellow car that looked like a marshmallow peep, about a year ago. It wasn’t new, but it was the newest, nicest car I had owned in a very long time. I smiled whenever I opened the garage and saw it there; the yellow upholstery and yellow interior trim made me chuckle. I had never imagined driving such a thing.

Driving to school the other afternoon, the peepmobile was hit and totalled. I just had a couple bruises from the seat belts and airbags, and the other driver and her passengers were not hurt. I am very grateful for that!

The other, at fault, driver had made an illegal left turn into my passenger side door and fender and pushed me into a pole, which damaged the front end and ripped off the bumper.

The other driver was legitimately confused. The intersection is poorly designed, and although there was a “no left turn” sign over her lane, she just didn’t realize there were two lanes of parallel traffic coming up on the left beside her;  Main and Broadway merge. The changes being made all over downtown, all at once, have left many drivers confused!

The policeman indicated there is a traffic camera at the intersection because there are so many accidents at that location. He was able to see the video from the camera on his smartphone immediately. It was clear that her claims that I caused the accident were untrue. He could see her turn left into into my car on his little screen. Thankfully, she was insured.

My sister graciously came down and picked me up; I grabbed my stuff out of the glove box, since I didn’t expect to see the car again. We watched the peepmobile getting ready to be towed away. The officer asked me about the license plate: P33P. I told him I got the vanity plate because the car looked like a giant marshmallow peep (he agreed)….and that it was spelled that way because it was substantially cheaper to have two 3’s than two E’s.

It’s the end of the road for the peepmobile and P33P.

Yellow Flowers

I enjoy the daffodils in my yard. They are transplants from my friend’s yard, by way of my mom’s yard. They were among the plants I received when I moved into my home almost 29 years ago. I like their sunny yellow faces. They seem to glow when the sun hits them in the morning.

My aunt had an intense dislike of another yellow flower – forsythia. Instead of a sign of spring, she considered them the harbinger of doom. When she saw forsythia blooms, she recognized them as a signal that snow and ice were on the way to kill her other spring blossoms.

My son and daughter liked yellow flowers – dandelions.  I cannot tell you how many dandelions I have put in little vases and cups, brought in by my children, because they wanted to bring me flowers. I always told them not to pick the neighbors’ flowers, so they picked ours. Our were mostly dandelions.

I miss the days when they were little and life was that simple. But you can’t go back, only forward.

And that’s okay. Who knows what kind of yellow flowers might be in my future?

The end of patience.

I am a calm person. When I recently sat in a seminar about high conflict parenting, I noticed that some of the suggested methods of defusing a difficult situation were already a part of my repertoire. I’m used to dealing with volatile people without getting sucked into the madness. I almost always will choose a thoughtful response over a knee-jerk reaction.

I’m not saying I never get mad, annoyed, or irritated. I do. But I rarely reach a combustion point. I rarely lose my temper. I don’t like arguing and I don’t feel the need to be “right;” I am able to just walk away…most of the time. Sometimes, though, something is SO important that it is non-negotiable.

I reached a combustion point this week. I reached the end of my patience and peered over the precipice. I did manage to keep control of myself and there was no anger-explosion. I moved away from the person who chased me to the edge until I can interact with him/her calmly. I’m nearly there now…I just need a little more time to fully calm down before I set things straight.

 

 

 

Red buds

The maple trees in the neighborhood are covered in emerging red buds. I love the way they look. The buds will get bigger and bigger until they burst into a big red mess on the sidewalks and driveways. I never mind the mess. I choose to look at the bigger picture:

Red buds mean the trees will be leafing out soon. In a few weeks, I will no longer look out my kitchen windows and see downtown or the city lights. Leaves, flowers, trees. That is all I will see in the early mornings when I cook my coffee.(Yes, I actually cook it on the stove.) I will have a complete change of scenery courtesy of spring.

Red buds mean that the evening sun soon will not shine through my west-facing windows. Instead, the trees will cool my house in their lovely shade. I will leave the upstairs windows open enjoying the sight and sound of the breeze through the lacy branches.

I am ready for the change of seasons. Red buds say it’s here.

Putz

I describe my work around the house as putzing. Lots of little fix-it jobs, mending, moving my pictures and tchotchkes around into different arrangements. Some dusting. Even a little ironing (Yes, friend, there is that one blouse that just needs it.)

I washed the china for an upcoming dinner after moving it carefully down from the upper cupboards. I cleaned my long hairs out of the vacuum cleaner brushes. I hand washed some doilies.

Before I know it, I’ve putzed the day away. No one but me would notice any of the changes I made today, but I do notice them. And I feel like I got something done…something just for me.

The thing about doing those little putzy jobs around the house is – one thing leads to another. Washing the doilies makes me want to launder the curtains, throw the toss pillows into the dryer to dust them. There always seems to be a natural progression to the next task. I like that. It’s very orderly in a natural way. It does make for a long workday though…it’s hard to find the place where you stop thinking, “just one more thing.”

Evening Crazies

My dogs are old and lazy. They eat breakfast and sleep all day. When I come home from work, they want to go out, have a little attention (pats on the head) and another nap. What a life!

About an hour before my bedtime, something changes.

Sweetie makes a “nest” and “sings,” curled up on her chair, grunting and snorting herself to sleep. It is quite a racket and often lasts half an hour.

Texas…for him evening is fetch time. He would play fetch all evening, if I was willing. I throw whatever he brings, a ball, a rubber squeaky toy, rope or the un-stuffed “corpse” of his Lambchop doll…he runs back and forth, bringing me toys to toss into the other room for him to chase. He wags his tale, smiles (I swear he smiles)  and drops the toys at my feet. When he is finally tired, he stretches out and chews his bone.

When I decide to go up to bed, Sweetie will open one eye and watch me leave the room. Tex will follow me upstairs and lay down beside the bed. He rarely stays there all night though; apparently my snoring drives him back downstairs.

 

Maynard

I have a lot of things in my house. Decorative things. Things that have sentimental value to me. Some of the things remind me of family or friends. Seeing these objects often prompts me to pray for the acquaintances, friends or relatives who gave them to me. Sometimes the objects weren’t gifts, but they will still remind me of someone for whom I need to pray.

Not all of the objects have such a serious purpose. Sometimes an object will just tickle me. (I am chuckling, imagining how my daughter would take that sentence literally!)

One of my favorite objects is a “statue” I named “Maynard.” It is a cheap resin copy of Rodin’s Thinker. He sits on the table next to me ‘watching’ tv in the evenings, along with the giant nose that my son bought me to hold my reading glasses. I named the nose “Moss.”

Now, don’t worry, these are not imaginary friends and I have not totally lost my mind. When I am doing housework, I just prefer, “I have to dust Maynard and Moss,” over, “I have to dust my plastic thinker and giant glasses nose.”

In fact, I was sitting here this evening thinking I should make a teeny-tiny name tag, you know, like those stick-on ones that say, “Hello, my name is,” for Maynard. That would really tickle me.

School – People Watching

The people watching at a professional seminar is different from the people watching at my regular college classes. I am NOT the token senior citizen (60+ student) in the class.

There is no one here under 35, and fully one third of the participants are older, much older, than me. About two thirds are women; about 80% are white. They are attorneys, social workers, education professionals.

They have this in common: Fabulous shoes. I bet you thought I was going to say something serious, like “they care about children.”

No, I chose to focus on the footwear.

I cannot remember the last time I was in the presence of that many gorgeous high heels – pumps and boots, and perfectly shined wingtips. Even the sensible shoes were magnificent.

Some of the other clothing choices were suspect…too casual, too tight, too much. But the shoes were perfect.

 

School – Continuing Education

I took a day off work to attend a seminar on High Conflict Parenting. Why? Because I like to learn new things. I spent part of the day looking out the large windows, enjoying the spring weather; listening to the speaker, but allowing my brain to wander a little.

I have a lot going on in my life right now. Work is busy. There are a lot of decisions to be made on behalf of my daughter. There are the usual spring cleaning things to do around the house.

With all the busy-ness it was a pleasure to sit and listen to someone else work. I had no responsibility there. While the topic is serious, my mood is relaxed. Oddly enough, this was like a vacation.

Favorite.

I spent Sunday driving three hours with my son to visit my daughter.

He is without a doubt her favorite person.  Her face just lights up when she sees him. One year at the school’s Santa shop, she bought him a large pencil that said, “#1 Sister,” because she thought that conveyed the sentiment that HE was number one to her!

He is kind and patient with her, and their conversations about movies, anime, video games and such, go right over my head.   I observe the conversation like I am watching a wild, no-rules ping pong game – it makes me smile to see them interact this way. The visits between the two of them are relaxed and happy.

On this visit, my daughter was not able to go out….so we brought in Chinese food.  And drinks: lemonade and iced tea.  It doesn’t matter which drink we choose for her, she will want to try the one he has chosen for himself…and he always gives it to her.  That has become a joke between my son and I; it is the reason we don’t just pick out two drinks the same.

My son and I spent the long drive up and back talking about future plans, our daily lives and music.  This trip, Weezer’s Teal Album played on the way back.  He always has some modern take on my old favorites that he wants me to hear.

It was a really good day.

The VW

My aunt took my sisters and I, sometimes our cousins, and two other adults to church in her VW on Sundays. Now, you couldn’t stack all those people in a car without getting pulled over. Then, it was pretty routine. The best seat was in the back window well.

Trips for ice cream cones with my grandma’s fat dog, long drives in the country. I remember floating across a flooded roadway in that car during a heavy rain. We had a lot of adventures in that car.

When my aunt decided to replace that her  VW, she sold it to my dad.  By that time, the VW  was no longer sea-worthy, the floorboards having rusted away. (They were replaced by pegboard.) Can you imagine driving a car with no real floorboard?

After failing to parallel park my parents’ giant Buick, I passed my driver’s test in the VW.

My dad mounted a big horn under the hood, and when you honked it, it would rattle the fillings in your teeth. The defroster didn’t work, so it was very interesting to drive this car in the winter.

My dad made arrangements to trade in the VW when he ordered his red Chevy Nova. By the time the newer car was ready, the VW was on it’s last leg. I held a plastic gallon jug of gasoline with a drip line (it looked like an IV) out the passenger window while my dad drove it to the dealership.

Aunt J.

My aunt, my mother’s older sister, spent a lot of time with me as a kid and as an adult. She always seemed much older than my mother (she was about 12 years older) and it was like having an extra grandmother. She turned grey early, and during most of her working years, had long hair that she wore in a bun.

For work, she wore suits. At home, she wore house dresses. She made her own clothes, and many of the clothes that my sisters and I wore to school.

The suits she made for herself were very nice. Conservatively styled in neutral colors. Sensible looking expensive shoes. She did not wear jewelry. She had a favorite raincoat that she called her “Columbo” coat.

Her sleeveless house dresses were called “Three-holers.” It was a pattern that she used frequently – it was for a wrap-style housedress with three armholes. No zippers, no buttons – the extra armhole is what kept the dress closed. Once she retired, she preferred denim jumpers and skirts.

She sewed skirts, jumpers, dresses and vests for us. I’m not sure she enjoyed sewing, but when asked by my mom or by us, she always sewed. My mom bought bolts of fabric for our clothes. One year our clothes were red corduroy. The next year they were snakeskin(!) patterned corduroy. Once slacks were allowed, especially jeans, my sisters and I began wearing those for school instead (Yes, there was a time long ago that girls had to wear dresses and skirts to school!)

The things that she sewed for us in junior high and highschool were Sunday dresses, special occasion dresses in velvet and other hard to sew fabrics, long frilly maxi dresses with zippered fancy sleeves. I even remember a jumpsuit or two. She altered our store-bought clothes, too. She used much more complicated patterns for our clothes than she ever did for her own.

Working full-time, coming home and sewing clothes for three girls. Remarkable.

The clothes we remember most (not counting that snakeskin corduroy):
The lined winter coats she hemmed for my sisters – she failed to remove the pins that were inside. They were routinely poked in the backside.

The lovely dress she made for my sister – J. forgot to do the final stitching connecting the bodice to the skirt. Fortunately the basting held until my sister got home.

My flowered purple maxi dress that required yards of expensive extra fabric to correctly match the flowered pattern .

The doll clothes that Santa delivered in fabrics that exactly matched the clothing that J. made for us.

Change is good, if you decide it is.

I do not care to seek change just because I want something different.  I have many memories of bad hairdos, bad clothing-style choices, and even experiments with over-rated food fads to look back on. Change for it’s own sake is NOT always good.

The changes I have chosen to embrace, the changes that I consider ‘good,’ are  brought about by time, or health, or necessity.  They are changes over which I have limited or no control.

My long time boss took another job…I decided I would like the new boss before he was hired.

My dear friend retired south – our friendship is now a long-distance relationship, the change couldn’t be avoided. (She is still my dear friend, she is just far away.)

I’m growing older – this means I do things more slowly. It would be silly to pretend that this change has not occurred or rail against it.

When I bought my most recent car, I went from full-size to sub-compact. It was an economic necessity and I decided I could learn to like the little car from the first test drive. (And I do!)

Not accepting the unavoidable changes that life brings would  make me ungrateful for what I have. It would lead to whining and joylessness.  Why would choose that for myself? Instead, I’ve decided to look for the good in change.  Looking for the good in anything makes it easier to live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Change is hard.

Change is hard.

My daughter cannot tolerate change.  Whether it is stopping one activity and moving to the next one, a new classroom, even new clothes.

She likes  clothes; she has a wonderful sense of style.  But she longs for styles that are from a few years back…when she was a little girl. It’s hard to find what she sees in her mind.

I remember her heartbreak when she had to start buying shoes in the grown up (adult women’s) department.  I remember desperately trying to find her some heavily padded, metallic mint green hightops, with silver hearts…like the ones in the children’s department.

While I, too, long for styles from the past, I can adapt. I can find something to wear that is the next best thing and be satisfied…the jeans I wear now are definitely NOT the stylish jeans of my youth, but as long as they have pockets, I’ve come to embrace their comfort.  The shoes I wear now…well, I’ve come to appreciate comfort there, too.

My daughter cannot look at something new and say, “Wow! this is comfortable!”  Or “Wow, this is  an attractive new style.” She can only look at it and say, “It’s not the same. I want it to  be exactly the way it was.”

I hope someday she will come to see that change can be good. That something new doesn’t have to be exactly the same as something old to be good and satisfying.

 

 

 

New things, 2

I learn new things all the time. How to use social media, how to use new software, how to repair things (thank you, you-tube!). Sometimes, I feel like I have reached capacity; like I cannot learn one more new thing. On those days, as soon as I have reached my brain’s limit, I work on filing, cleaning and doing other fairly mindless tasks. I am fortunate to have a job that lets me manage my own time and work at my own pace.

I like learning new things; it keeps my skills up to date. It gives me confidence that I could find another job if I needed to.

I plan to retire from my current job. I’ll be old enough soon. I have a long list of things to do around the house, in addition to spending more time with my family, that is, my kids and my parents. I will need to work about ten hours a month to make retirement work…and because I’m willing to learn new things, I can do that anywhere.

I hope to learn a lot of new things in retirement, too. Maybe genealogy research. New quilting methods. New repair methods. Maybe, I’ll learn to like cooking! And when I have reached capacity, I’ll take on some mindless tasks here at home.

Case Review – in person

Every six months, the county reviews (the review is called a Semi-annual Administrative Review, or SAR) my daughter’s case  because she is in a planned permanent living arrangement.

A supervisor not connected to her case goes over the records with me, the guardian ad litem, the county developmental disabilities worker, the county children’s board caseworker and her immediate supervisor.  My ex-husband also attends these meetings. The purpose of these meetings is to make sure that no child falls between the cracks; to make sure children get the services they so desperately need.

My daughter and I are fortunate.  My daughter’s case workers are diligent in their efforts on her behalf.  I am sadly aware that not all case workers are as thorough and competent.

The second meeting today did not include my ex-husband. This meeting was not a review, but a future planning meeting.  The issues discussed were guardianship, housing and the supports my daughter will need for a safe and successful future.

This meeting left me with the need to do a lot of studying, investigating. Decisions have to be made soon and I want to make the best possible ones for my daughter.

 

Case Review

I spent over two hours on conference calls* today. Two separate meetings – one with school staff (ETR meeting) and one with the treatment team(psychiatric and dorm staff).  Both calls included a couple of social workers who drove three hours from our county to attend in person. (My daughter has the best social workers!)

Two hours of reviewing IQ test scores and scores regarding the severity of her autism – all with full explanations of each item. Reviews of  mental health diagnoses.  Observations of teachers and staff .  All of this reinforces what I already know about my daughter’s behaviors, deficits and abilities.

Is it helpful?

Having these meetings and the very detailed results in her  records will help determine the services that are available to her as an adult.  Definitely helpful.

Hearing the difficulties that highly trained staff have with my daughter makes me feel like I am not a crazy woman or incompetent mother. Sad, and maybe selfish, but helpful.

Hearing about her good days makes me happy, and miss her very much. Hearing about the bad days makes me very grateful  for her residential school setting. Both helpful, but heartbreaking.

Tomorrow – two more meetings, this time in person, here in our home county.  I trust those meetings will be helpful, too.

 

 

*I don’t attend these meetings in  person because my daughter does not attend the meetings – if I am going to drive the three hours to her school,  I want to spend time with my daughter, not staff!

 

 

 

 

 

 

New things, 1

I like my computer. Having learned to type on a manual typewriter, and having made regular use of carbon paper, I am grateful every day for my word processing program. It tries to correct my spelling and grammar for me….sometimes I let it. The copier at work is a huge improvement over any mimeograph.

I learned to do bookkeeping on a real set of books: oversized journals and ledgers. The computerized bookkeeping program does all the math for you. Easy peasy. But I still confirm the debits and credits with an adding machine.

My phone has the capability to text (even talk to text) and remember phone numbers. I don’t use those features…my brain needs the exercise of remembering the phone numbers of the people I call.

So many of the new electronic gadgets and methods try to eliminate the need to think. I don’t think that is a good thing. My brain gets lazy when I don’t use it.  In a power outage, I can still function…there are a lot of people I know that can’t function without the gadgets…Can’t make change, can’t dial a phone, can’t think.

Decision Time

My daughter has a lot of meetings coming up within a week….well, that is not exactly true. On her behalf,  I have a two phone conferences, two meetings (requiring a vacation day from my work) and a special trip to see her with my son.

These meetings will begin the groundwork for her future plans. She will be included in the planning after her guardian ad litem, social workers and I hash out some basics. We want her to have a say in her future, too. My family has been very blessed to have very dedicated and conscientious social workers – from multiple agencies. They make the long trip to see her every month, and drive up for the meetings  that I attend by phone. (I attend some meetings by phone because I would not be able to see my daughter that day – she is in school. I save my trips for days I can actually see her and spend time with her.)

A group home of some kind is in her future; about the time I retire. The hope is that she will live closer than the current three hour distance that separates us. I’d love to see her more often.

Alternative Weaponry

When I was writing (ranting?) about guns, I mentioned my daughter’s alternative weaponry. (Her hands, feet, nails and teeth were formidable, too.)

There have been a number of interesting weapon choices.

  • Electric Fan
  • Cupholder broken off my car
  • Pen
  • Brick
  • Toy guitar
  • Book

You would be surprised how much damage you can do with these items – damage to people and property.

If any other teen came after me, in my house, with these items – I would have picked up the nearest heavy object and decked them. But this was my daughter – and I did not want to hurt her. So when necessary, I used my weight as a weapon; I tackled her and sat on her until the police arrived.

The policemen(and women) who responded to domestic violence calls at my house were always kind and professional. I could not possible thank them enough for their help during those difficult times.

Guns part 2

There was a shooting on my street last night. Around 11:00pm. The 25 year old victim was driven to the hospital. There haven’t been many details in the news…that kind of local news really doesn’t get much coverage. I slept through the shooting, though it was just a couple doors away. My dogs never barked. There was no sense of immediate danger.

I cannot for the life of me imagine what kind of beef might exist between the shooter and the victim. How does someone decide to use a gun to settle a ‘score?’

What happened to stepping outside and settling things with your fists? or better yet, to argue or debate an issue intelligently? When did it become a standard option to settle differences with gunfire?

My friend told me it is becoming the “wild west” here. That is unacceptable. In almost 30 years, I have never been afraid in this neighborhood – and I am not about to start being afraid now.

Guns part 1

I don’t keep a gun in my house. Am I against guns? No. I believe strongly in the right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms. (My personal choice of gun would be a shotgun with the shortest, legally allowable barrel and it would be only used to protect myself were there to be an intruder inside my home.)

While I am not against guns, I am against stupidity. Having a gun in my home with my daughter around would be have been stupid. (There are actually a lot of alternative ‘weapons’ that my daughter should not be around – but that is a topic for another day.)

I know my daughter. She has irrational thought processes and a hair trigger temper. I decided long ago that it would not be appropriate to have a gun in the house. What she might do in a fit of rage, would haunt her forever. Not to mention, she might kill me.

Now, I know about gun safety; locking up the ammunition away from the gun, trigger locks, gun safes, etc.

There are not enough safety mechanisms to insure that my daughter wouldn’t gain access. I don’t believe that a policeman answering a domestic violence call should have to wonder if the gun pointed at him by an angry teenager is loaded or disabled by a lock. My daughter, should never have even the most remote chance to access any gun.

I don’t like to cook.

I fired up the crock pot to make a beef roast (a teeny, tiny roast!) for dinner. I find I am eating a lot of pork chops (I freeze them individually), meatballs, and soups these days.  Easy to make in quantity and/or freeze in individual servings. Beef roast for two days will be a nice change of pace.

I’ve never really enjoyed cooking – well, some of my kid-friendly recipes, like octopus dogs, were fun to make for my enthusiastic children, but octopus dogs are not exactly a homemade gourmet masterpiece. (In case you don’t know, they are hotdogs cut before boiling so they will look like an octopus when done)

Maybe it is the budgetary constraints that limit cooking creativity here at my house.

Maybe it is the time I’d rather spend doing something else.

Maybe it is the chirping of the smoke detector that criticizes my technique.

I really don’t know why I dislike cooking, I just do.

If I invite you for a meal, and I’ve cooked for you rather than serve take out, just know you should feel very honored.

Ambiguity

I have a sign in my kitchen that says “Ambiguity – what happens in vagueness stays in vagueness.” I put the sign up because I love puns and it made me laugh. But the more I walk past it the more aggravated it makes me….because it’s true.

When I don’t say what I want or need, when I use idioms or use euphemisms to describe things, when I use any vague expression, I am unlikely to get what I want or need.

I need to talk to everyone like I talk to my daughter, who takes everything literally. Leaving vagueness behind. Does that mean I will get everything I want? No…but I won’t be disappointed due to miscommunication.

For instance, I have a friend who can’t say ‘no.’ He will say ‘maybe,’ which is just a way to avoid confrontation. I suffered a lot of frustration until I realized ‘maybe’ was just his vague way of saying ‘no.’ I don’t like having to interpret what someone really means when they are vague – it leads to fear and loathing in vagueness.

To my son, those puns are for you!!!

The Line.

I am very easy going. I rarely get angry. It’s how I am wired. And most of the time that is a very good thing. There really aren’t that many things in life that are worth fighting about. (I will fight to the death to protect my children, of course.)

But sometimes things build up. It will be that last thing, one thing too many, that pushes me over the line. I ‘ll give you an example.

During my divorce, while my stress was high, the phone wire to the house was sagging badly. It was sagging because the phone company had twisted the wire around a tree branch to shorten the line and hold it up high when it was installed. Even I know that was not a good installation. A garbage truck driving down the street took the sagging line out. (It sounded like a truck hit the house!)

It was the worst possible time for me to have to deal with one more thing!

When the repairman came to reattach the wire to the house, I met him at the bottom of his ladder and asked where he planned to attach the wire. He indicated that he was planning to attach the wire near a second story window. Then he asked me why I was carrying a saw. I told him what the old installation looked like and that I planned to cut down any branch he wrapped a wire around. He laughed nervously and got to work.

I had reached my limit and I was ready to fight.  Looking back, I wonder if he thought I was crazy.

 

Family Weekend again.

Another family weekend has come and gone. I enjoy the time with my daughter very much. Our usual activities are games, reading the Barberton Herald, talking, and texting my son.

I always enjoy having her stay overnight with me, but this time she couldn’t stay at the hotel. Her behavior had been a little rough the week before. After our day together, Saturday, I was exhausted, and since I was alone, I enjoyed an extremely early bedtime. The hotel is very nice: clean, comfortable and reasonably quiet. (The pool is sometimes out of order, but since I do not swim, I don’t consider this an inconvenience at all.) The internet connection is speedy, but this time I didn’t even turn on the computer. I just rested.

As much as I enjoy time with my daughter, it is exhausting.  I wonder sometimes how I managed when she was at home. The never-ending, confusing conversations, constant vigilance….maybe I just notice it more since it is only one weekend a month.

I plan to make an extra trip this month. My son is going with me; not overnight, just for the day. He is my daughter’s favorite person. I am smiling as I type this – thinking of how her eyes light up when she sees him.

Mincing words.

As much as I love words, I often find I leave many things unsaid.

Do I tell my children and other family members I love them? of course.

Do I say everything I want to say when I see my friends? probably not.

I tend to be a  listener, an observer, and I often turn the conversation back to the person I am with.  With a couple questions, I can change the subject and just listen. It is easier than holding up my end of the conversation – especially if the subject is touchy.  I’m not talking about politics and religion here. I’m talking about the state of the friendship, interpersonal issues.

It’s not that I don’t have much to say; it’s that I don’t always know what to say, or if it is the right time to say it.  I’m never sure just what my audience, that is the friend I am talking to, will tolerate.

That’s why I write.

When people recognize themselves  or others in my posts, they often contact me; it opens the door to further discussion.

When those folks are on the dense side,  they don’t even realize I am describing them – and I don’t get any push-back.  But that also means there is no resolution and the issues remain in limbo.  It’s a cowardly way to operate, isn’t it?

 

 

Words.

You will notice this blog doesn’t have many photos. That is to preserve my children’s privacy.   People who know my children already know the stories I share. And they know exactly what my children look like.

But, there is another reason: I really like words.

I love to read and see in my mind what the writer is describing.   My mental images are   vivid and  detailed; far more interesting than a photo. My mind fills in the blanks where the descriptions are lacking.

I think that is why I always prefer reading the  book over watching the movie.  (And those movies that I do enjoy are always heavy on dialogue, really good dialogue:  The Moon is BlueAll about Eve. It’s about the words!)

Now, I don’t for a minute think that my words are so wonderfully descriptive that you can see everything I describe exactly as it is. But I do hope my fondness for those people and places comes through…and I hope you use your imagination to fill in the blanks.

 

Dog responses.

My dogs are relaxed and lazy most of the time; they are very nearly cats.  A dog barking nearby will make them sit up and take notice, but they rarely join in. When the wind howls, or thunder roars, they come and sit quietly at my feet. They just look at me for reassurance that all is well.

Music  attracts the dogs’ attention. They like Bob Marley.  They wag in time to the reggae beat and become very mellow.  I’ve been told that the boy dog grew up with reggae; I don’t know why it appeals to the girl dog.  They both hide when I play my Traveling Wilburys cd, aware it signals time for housework and the vacuum cleaner.

Recently, the girl dog has started barking at the tv.  Truth be told, she only recently started barking at all.  What is it on the tv that makes her bark? Trucks, heavy machinery,  roaring cars, airplanes, helicopters.  These are the real-life noises that cause her to bark, too.   It is a bark that clearly expresses annoyance.  Do the machine noises hurt her ears? Or do they remind her of something that happened long ago?

Do the dogs bark when someone comes onto the porch? Yes. Since I started ordering from Chewy, they think every footfall on the porch is bringing them food, treats or toys and they respond with great noisy joy.  This is not a scary “Beware of Dog” noise; this is a the dog equivalent of the way I feel when my Chinese food or pizza arrives.

I like the way that you can see so clearly what they are thinking/feeling by the way they respond; I wish people were more like that.

 

 

Other thoughts on letters.

My daughter is not the only one to whom I send notes or cards. I send notes or cards to others,  to let them know they are thought of fondly or encourage them when they are having a rough time.

I never expect a response; these notes are not part of an ongoing correspondence. No, writing is the best way for me to communicate what I am thinking.

Writing, rather than a telephone call, allows me to weigh my words; to revise my choice of words  and make sure my point is clear.

I have always preferred writing letters.   I have always hated talking on the phone…even as a teenager.  I have a couple friends who will call me to chat; and while I am always happy to hear from them, and very glad they continue to call me, it is unlikely I will initiate a call to them.

Oddly enough, I don’t like texting or messaging very much either….better than a phone call, but not nearly as good as a letter.

And while I never expect to receive a note or letter in response to my own, I am tickled on those rare occasions when I do receive one.

And  how do I feel about in-person conversations?  Well, that’s a topic for another day.

 

 

Writing letters.

I write a lot of letters to my daughter. I made a commitment, when she could no longer be at home, to keep in touch with her as much as possible. The distance of her placements has limited visits, and phone calls are allowed on weekends only. So I write to her.

Now, there is not that much going on in my life, or my family’s life, to fill my two letters a week.  So my letters are not long. They are printed or typed, since it is hard for my daughter to read cursive. (If you saw my handwriting, you would understand why!)

One letter will be more serious, encouraging her to go to school and stay out of trouble. Often this letter will remind her when I will see her next.

The other letter comes ‘from’ the dogs; or at least recounts something silly that they have done.  A silly joke or a picture of her favorite anime or game character might be included in this second letter, too.

I  never get a response – even though I have sent her self-addressed envelopes and cards.  Whether or not she writes back to me is not the point. My letters let my daughter know that I think of her, even though we didn’t talk that day. They make her feel connected to family here;  and I do hear from her staff that she is happy to receive them.

 

 

 

On the value of time.

Working on my future plans has reminded me just how much  value  I place on time.

I have often felt the conviction that I am stingy with my time.

Money, I hold loosely.  Stuff? there is not much that I have that I wouldn’t share with someone who needed or wanted it.

But ask me for time?

I’m not saying I won’t drop everything to help a friend or family member. No, I do that gladly.

But I am often annoyed and impatient with people who, from my perspective, have wasted my time, even though I waste plenty of time myself.

 

Stuck, part 4

While I’ve worked out how my retirement income, expenses, and time might work, I am still trying to figure out whether I want to pursue companionship when I retire.

I have friends, good friends, and I am not lonely.  I enjoy living alone. But I realized a few months ago that I was missing day-to-day domestic life.  When I realized that, no one was more surprised than I was.

I still haven’t decided what I want to do about that.  I wouldn’t say that I am ‘stuck’ on this issue. I would describe it as ‘processing.’ You know, that little circle that goes around and around when your computer is ‘thinking.’

I looked back to see how long ago I wrote about missing domestic life. It was in a post from last December –

Thoughts about being alone.

 

Stuck, part 3

I have been working on getting un-stuck recently. Since my friend asked me about my retirement plans, I haven’t been able to get my future  off my mind. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, praying, and planning.

What will retirement look like for me?

I  know I will need to work about 10-12 hours a month to stay afloat and finance my house’s fix-it projects.  Most of those projects are low-cost and just require a lot of time and elbow grease.

I really don’t care for travel. (I am always happy to hear about others’ travels, but I truly have no desire to do it.) So, when I retire, I will  happily spend time at home.

My daughter and parents will require more of my time. Retiring will give me the time I want to spend with family.

Then there is school. I love taking classes in the 60+ program. This keeps my brain busy and gets me out of the house.  Being retired will allow me to take early morning classes, rather than evening classes, and allow me to select from a wider variety of subjects.  Did I mention it is FREE?

I have been practicing living at the lower income level I will have at retirement…and am relieved to report it is definitely doable. And working out this plan has made me realize just how much I value time.

I’m no longer feeling ‘stuck’ …at least about retirement.

 

 

Stuck, part 2

I’ve personally experienced a different kind of ‘stuck.’  It’s not  a developmental  issue, like my daughter.

No, this is different.  Maybe ‘oblivious ‘would be a better word for my issue.

For a long time I didn’t realize I was stuck (see, I WAS oblivious)… not moving forward…not making future plans.

One reason for that is that things with my daughter were so unsettled.  I was so focused on her future, that I forgot to think about my own.  When I did make plans for myself, like planning to retire at 62, it was because that plan coincided with plans for my daughter. My 62nd birthday is about when she will graduate from high school and move closer to family.  I want to be more available to her when she moves closer.

But there is another reason for it, as well: I wasn’t sure what I wanted.  I really hadn’t spent any time figuring out what my future would look like! or what I wanted it to look like!

How did I figure this out?  One day, my friend asked me what I planned to do when I retired.  It was then that  I realized I really didn’t have a plan and that I really wasn’t sure what I wanted. My friend has a way of asking questions that really make me think!

 

Stuck

I’ve been writing about some silly subjects in order to avoid writing about this one. I have been mulling it over in my mind for some time and yet I don’t have any insights into how to address it.

It’s about being ‘stuck.’

It’s something that came up at a recent family weekend, during a lecture. I have no doubt it is true. I see it in my daughter and I see it in other women I know. (I am not singling out women; I just don’t have many close friends that are men.)

It’s something that happens with traumatic events (that includes the onset of mental illness or addiction) that causes emotional growth/maturity to get stuck at the age when the traumatic event occurred.

It’s possible  to work past some of it, maybe more easily if you don’t have intellectual or additional developmental issues, to deal with, too.

I don’t know if my daughter will get past that – she is 17 going on 6.  I don’t really know if she has the intellectual capacity – but I do plan to make every effort to help her grow up, to get un-stuck and move forward in every way possible. I want her to be her best possible self.

 

Non-compliments

I realize that the opposite of a compliment is an insult. But sometimes there is something in between; the ‘compliment’ just isn’t very, well, complimentary. Some people call them left-handed compliments…but since they aren’t really very clever, that is an insult to left-handed people everywhere.

I’m not talking about mis-speaking,  when the words coming out of your mouth don’t match the compliment your brain wanted to say. (When people do that you can see they are mortified!)  And I’m not talking about very direct insults – words that are clearly meant to be mean. Non-compliments are passive-agressive comments….you casually act like you are saying something nice, when you are really just being catty.

“Oh, you used  a  new pattern this time, didn’t you?” is not the same as saying, “Nice jacket.”

“Wow, you’re wearing makeup today!” is the non-compliment version of “You look especially nice today!”

“I like that  so much  better than the one you had on yesterday!”  is a non-compliment, too.

“I would never have thought of wearing those two (or in my case, three or four) colors together!”

“You like the way you wear your hair, don’t you?” I could go on and on.

My grandma, and I imagine most grandmas, used to say, “If you can’t say any anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

The non-compliment version would be, “If you aren’t sure you have something nice to say – (implying  you are just not that smart) – keep your thoughts to yourself.” The kicker is, I would never say that to someone – because it isn’t nice!”

 

Texting

I don’t drink, so I don’t have to worry about sending drunken texts.  But I am all thumbs (not in a good way) when it comes to texting/messaging.

My son has had some good laughs over my texts. I learned the hard way that I MUST wear my glasses when I text…even if the message is sent from the larger screen and keyboard of my computer. And because I often text folks whose first language is not English, I spell out every word and use proper grammar and punctuation.

Recently I sent a message to the wrong friend. A valentine message. It was not mushy or romantic, so there was no harm. I just felt a little stupid…and the recipient was very polite, but a little confused.

It could have been a disaster!

Maybe the lesson I learned from this experience is one I should have learned in kindergarten – if you can’t share it with everyone, don’t share it at all. Of course, if I do send you a confusing message, wishing you love, just accept it – I’m sure you deserve it.

 

Some thoughts about – Shoes

I love shoes. Over the years I have had some fabulous, and fabulously uncomfortable, shoes. But it’s the red ones that own my heart.

The red shoe-lust started when I was just a girl. My aunt took me shopping for shoes. Milton’s Shoe Box on Copley Road. I must have been 8 or 9 years old. These shoes were to be my Sunday dress up shoes. Sunday shoes were black patent in fall and winter, and white patent in spring, in time for  Easter,  and summer.

On this very memorable shopping trip, however, I spied a pair of candy-apple red shoes in the window. I was in love. My aunt knew my mom would not be happy with red shoes and make me return them – so my aunt let me wear them home so that they would be non-returnable.

I wore those shoes whenever I could – with any color dress. I wore them until my feet could no longer squeeze into them.

I’ve had many pairs of red shoes since then, different styles, different heel heights and levels of comfort. All quite expensive and resoled several times to extend their lives.

Even now, I occasionally wear red shoes – of course , now they are sneakers, machine washable, very comfortable and practical. But I can tell you if I am wearing these, my mind is on that first pair of red shoes, and it puts a spring in my step. One of my friends always notices and says, “you’re wearing your happy shoes today!” She’s right!

 

 

 

 

Some thoughts about – Hair

Over the years, I have made some interesting hair decisions. You wouldn’t know it to look at me now, with my shoulder length hair, uncolored and pinned back purely for convenience, but I was in my younger days, a slave to hair fashion.

I have died my brown hair red, frosted it, had uni-perms, spiral perms, even a home perm(only one of those – I learned my lesson.)  I have have had very short hair, waist length hair, bangs, layered and feathered styles….and before I was old enough to choose: an assortment of Pixie cuts.

I have used hot rollers, curling irons, an iron for crimping and straightening, blow dryers and gallons of hair spray. I braided (I braided it a lot back in the seventies – lol) rolled, pin-curled and even rag-rolled my then, thick wavy hair.

I spent a lot of time trying to make it look ‘just right .’ I cringe to think of the time spent (it took hours to roll up my perms) to change my look.

Looking back at these lists, it is amazing to me that I still have hair. Post menopause my hair is thinner (not too thin) and extremely straight, still mostly brown, but starting to grey. I’ve become comfortable with it – and that I wish I would have done sooner.

 

 

 

Impact

Actions can have huge impact.

I’m not talking accidents or crime – although a few years back, when we had a break-in, it caused us to get our first dog… So those teen-aged thieves certainly did have an impact on us!

I was thinking about more positive impacts. For instance:

The lovely nurse at the doctor’s office that made my daughter feel so at ease. This was at a time when everything was a struggle, and this nurse erased her fears and made her feel important.

The young man, a host at Cracker Barrel, who treats our family so kindly. He always fusses over my parents, especially my dad. It makes my dad so visibly happy!

The young man who plows our parking lot at work, and goes out of his way to salt where I park and walk. He checks the parking lot even when no events are scheduled – just for me. I appreciate it so much!

The dear friend who sent me chicken when I was going through a divorce. Yes, I said chicken. It was the most practical expression of sympathy and support I have ever experienced! And it provided delicious meals for days.

These actions have a huge impact; they make life better. These individuals, their actions, make me consider… what kind of impact have I had  today?

Meds

Recently, at Family Weekend, we had a guest speaker (a prescriber) to parents about meds.

It was interesting to hear how meds are developed, and how they are used off label.

It was frightening to hear about the possible side effects  and interactions they can have.

It was educational to hear how long it might take for a new med to work. (My daughter thinks meds work as soon as you swallow them – like in the commercials.)

It was horrifying to hear that generics can contain only 70% of the active compound and still be considered “equivalent.” And it was equally horrifying to hear how many of the drugs are manufactured in China and India – far from the eyes of American inspectors.

My daughter’s meds have been helpful. There is no doubt about that. (We have had one or two over the years that were the opposite of helpful! I keep a ‘blacklist.’)

I am grateful that she is covered by medicaid and that  I don’t have to figure out how to pay for her meds.

I am  aware that  vigilance is necessary: Self monitoring for side effects and other issues is beyond her current capability, so I do need to look out for her.

I am thankful that she has been compliant in taking her meds, so far. As she becomes an adult – I realize that could change.  Since I try not to borrow future trouble, I will  choose to remain hopeful that as she matures, she will see the value in her med routine. And as that routine changes, I hope she will learn from watching me, what questions to ask the doctor or pharmacist – and ask them.

 

 

You can’t get there from here.

I live in a neighborhood dissected by a steep hill, an interstate and railroad tracks. Roads stop, start and sometimes turn into stairs, or a foot path. There is no designation assigned to the streets, like north or west, to clarify the sections.  Sometimes the closest  route by car is several blocks or a half mile away.   Locals will tell you the nearest cross-street and hope you can find them. In a local neighborhood, this  might be considered charming.

However, construction projects in our town have produced a whole new level of “You can’t get there from here.”

I can see the local university, downtown, from my kitchen…up here on the steep hill. Getting to school is easy – the route may change a little, day-to-day, due to highway construction, but I can get there,  as long as I pay attention to which lanes are open today.

Coming home is another story.  I can see the hill where I live…..but the trick is figuring out how to get there.  Damage to a nearby bridge (this accident could not be anticipated) has disrupted traffic.  Emergency repairs to the interstate (now, think about  just how big a chuckhole must be to require immediate, lane-closing repairs) eliminated my usual route.  The downtown roads that are open during their construction have constant lane changes – and driving through them at night is no pleasure.

I do make it home, eventually, but my 5 minute drive often takes 15 or 20.

Now, I don’t dispute that some of the traffic changes and new construction are necessary.  But I do think it might be better to finish one project before starting the next one (if it’s not an emergency).  And maybe the newly popular* ‘right-sizing’  or lane reducing of major roads, like our local business district boulevard, could wait until all surrounding road projects are completed.

*popular with the “experts”, not drivers

 

Bubblegum Pink

I like bold colors, but I am NOT a fan of pink. When my daughter was little, she loved green – a lot of her clothes were still pink (have you ever shopped for little girls? Pink is inevitable.) but green was her favorite.

As she grew, she decided she would like her room to be pink. It had been beige, with lines of ivy and a border of little cottages, gender neutral, and very calm, since it had started out as a guest room for adults.

We looked for wall paper that she might like at the discount shop. We found a border that she loved…pink ballet shoes, with ‘photos’ of grown up ballerinas in pink tutus…ballerinas that were a variety of shades of brown. It was perfect. Even with a ballerina theme, I figured she would enjoy the border for a long time.

Once she found the border, she was done shopping. She left it to me to find the pink paper for the rest of the room and the pink paint for the ceiling. She was very serious about the shade of pink he wanted – bubblegum pink. I found paper with several shades of irregular pink boxes that had a companion paper of bubblegum pink with circles and cartoon-ish daisies. I bought both and I asked the salesman to match paint to a pale shade of pink in the paper. I painted the ceiling and trim and got to work hanging paper.

My daughter’s room is as large as my own, and it took the better part of a week to get the room done, working evenings and all day Saturday. My daughter loved it and it suited her. It was bright and happy …and despite what you might think from my descriptions of the wallpaper….it looked really nice. Really pink, but really nice.

She enjoyed it very much for a couple years before she destroyed it. She put huge holes in the plaster, right down to the lath when she lost her temper.

When I had the holes repaired – the gentleman who repaired my walls, wouldn’t charge me, God bless him – I decided the pink had to go. Even then, I knew it was unlikely that my daughter would be coming home to stay. I removed the pink wallpaper and painted over the pink ceiling and trim. I took up the carpet and finished the hardwood floor.

The room is pale blue and beige,  once again gender neutral and very,  very calm.

Time change

Daylight Savings Time comes March 10.  I love the lighter evenings….but I hate the time change.

Why? In the fall I spend weeks trying to convince my dogs that it is NOT time to get up. I pull the covers over my head, but they grunt and snort and try to find me with their cold wet noses until I give up, get up and feed them, an hour earlier than  needed.

In the spring, I spend weeks trying to convince them it IS time to get up. Pulling the 50# mutts out of bed and herding them outside is not how I like to start my day.

I remember when my son came home all excited from school one fall day and informed me that starting that Sunday, days would have 25 hours per day.  He had misunderstood his teacher  and he thought all the days would be longer, not just the one day when we changed the clocks.

It really doesn’t matter how many hours are  in the day – there are never enough, yet I still manage to fritter many of them away.

Maybe I’m the one who needs schooled on time – not the dogs.

 

 

 

From the Grandma Files, again

Grandma was a cheater. Checkers, cards; at any game we asked her to play, she cheated.  I wondered for a while if it was being hard of hearing, not understanding the rules…..but no. She just cheated.

And not just at games.  When she read books to us, she skipped sentences, paragraphs and pages, whatever she could get away with.

When my sisters were little, they got even.  She would read to them at nap time, and thinking they were asleep, she would tip-toe down the stairs.  They would wait until she went all the way down the stairs before they yelled very loudly, in sing-song voices, “Grandma, we’re not sleeping.’  She would climb up the stairs and read again.

She was an interesting babysitter.  Lots of polka music on the stereo: Frankie Yankovic.

When we did something we weren’t supposed to, (while she was napping) she covered for us.  I remember my sisters trying to catch the guppies in the 10 gallon fish tank with a comb. Why a comb? Who knows.  They were quite successful, though. Grandma scooped up the poor little guys, after they stopped flopping and put them back in the tank. We were adults before my mother found out why her fish raising efforts were unsuccessful!

 

Family Weekends

Monthly, I attend family weekends with my daughter.  The facility where she resides reserves hotel rooms and provides meals so families can spend time together.

I always go. Sometimes my daughter’s behavior is excellent in the weeks before, and she gets to spend the night at the hotel with me. Many times, her behavior is not good, and she comes over to the daytime events, returning to the facility overnight. Either way, we get to spend hours and hours together and I love that.

Something always puzzles me at the weekends, however.

The rules are very rigid; this is necessary for the young people who reside at the facility.  This is a group who sees things black and white; something is, or isn’t acceptable.  For this group there is no in between – they understand the rules and  most try hard to follow them. This part is not puzzling.

What puzzles me are the family members (just a few) who come, and ignore the rules. We are not talking criminal activity here. We are talking about things like: No cellphone use during programming, or no outside food or drink during programming.

I do follow the rules – I want my daughter to see that  I think it is important. I want her to know that she is capable of following rules….of doing what is expected.   I want her to understand that life is easier when you do what you are supposed to do.  And I don’t want the distraction of a cell phone during the precious time I have with her; she is far more  important than the latest music video, text message or tweet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My other grandma.

Whenever I write about my grandma – I usually mean my mom’s mom. We saw her very often.

Although my dad’s mom lived just as close, we didn’t see her very much. She was busy raising my cousins.  She would have been about my age when my uncle died. I cannot imagine taking in three rambunctious boys at 60.

My memories of her are limited. I remember her wearing boy’s tennis shoes (sneaker options for women were different than they are now).  At the time I wondered why. Now I know: her feet hurt.

As she aged, her hair remained mostly brown, and I don’t think she colored it – because mine is the same way.  In fact, when I look in the mirror, I often wonder at how my grandma’s face is looking back at me.

She was an accomplished knitter and crocheter. I still have the little blue afghan she made for me.  While I knit ( dishcloths and hats only – I  cannot for the life of me get pairs of things, like socks or mittens,  to come out the same size), I have never been very good at deciphering the instructions for crochet.

The colors she picked for some of her projects were outrageously bright; something else we have in common. I wonder if she had some color blindness, too?

It’s a special day.

Today is my friend’s birthday.  When I wish my friend well today, this is what I mean:

  • may you wake up from a good night’s sleep, in a warm, comfortable bed
  • may you feel as well as possible (face it – we’re old and stuff hurts – lol)
  • may you receive many loving greetings from family and friends
  • may you have time for fun, without  any guilt about using your time for yourself
  • may you have a deep sense of security and a genuine feeling of calm
  • may you have hope for a future that includes peace, love and happiness
  • may you sit down to good food on the table,  and have good company with whom to share it
  • may you have cake (because everybody needs cake)

 

Birthday cake adventures

This was posted two months ago. For some technological reason I do not understand, this post got all messed up when you scrolled past  – so I deleted the original and am trying it again.

I usually bake my kids’ birthday cakes. I am no baking/decorating master, but I have managed to make a number of acceptable, even a couple exceptional, cakes over the years.

When it was my daughter’s birthday, we would sometimes be on vacation with extended family in the Outer Banks. She would know we were going to celebrate, and even pick out the cake – but she wanted us to all to yell “Surprise” when she came in the room. She expected it and enjoyed it, so we did it.

My kids’ birthday cake adventures were pretty tame compared to two of my own experiences.

First, I remember a birthday cake my aunt ordered – a doll in a hoop-skirt cake with a big cardboard and frosting hat. Well, the candles were too close to the hat. You can imagine the rest. Exciting and memorable. All the other birthdays celebrated with my aunt run together. Only the flaming disaster stands out. What I learned from this experience – you remember more of what goes wrong than what goes right.

Second, there was the banana cake incident. We were high-school age, a few girls celebrating a birthday at my friend’s house. I baked a scratch banana cake with cream cheese icing – it was perfect. When the birthday girl went to cut the cake, it was too close to the edge of the coffee table and flipped frosting side down onto the living room carpet. We laughed so hard that we spilled a glass of cider onto the mess. We, being responsible girls, decided to clean up our mess with the vacuum cleaner. Needless to say the vacuum was never the same. Fortunately, someone else had baked a second cake and the party went on. What I learned from this experience – always have a back-up cake.

Goldilocks

I used to watch a cartoon called ‘Fractured Fairy Tales’ when I was a kid.  Puns everywhere. It is the kind of cartoon I enjoy watching even now.

I don’t know if it was this cartoon that inspired my telling of the ‘Three Bears’ fairy tale to my son.  I do know that he was truly frightened of Goldilocks for many years.  Here was a girl who would come uninvited into your house to eat your food and break your stuff! He found it frightening.  I probably should have read him a standard version from a children’s book…a version where Goldilocks ran away, afraid of the bears.

I think back often about the stories my children liked me to tell them or read to them. Sitting on the couch reading to them, or telling them stories was one of my favorite parental responsibilities. No, make that one of my favorite parental privileges.

A Neighbor

My neighbor was a good cook, a very good cook. I remember the smell of garlic and onions coming from her house as I came home from work. At canning season, the smell of tomato sauce and a variety of peppers filled the neighborhood. Like my grandma, she used the high wall of her back porch to cool her pies and set her jello at Thanksgiving – that back porch was an extension of her busy kitchen. When my son was born, she brought me a casserole…it was delicious.

My neighbor often offered my young son a cookie when we were out for a walk. We would stop and chat while my son ate his cookie, waiting patiently to move on so he could look for interesting rocks and bugs. My son asked  more than once why her cookies and other baked goods tasted so much better than mine. It made her smile to hear him say that.

The neighborhood has changed since she moved away. Oh, I still have good neighbors, but illness and age keeps them inside. Some, like me, work irregular schedules. There is still the feeling, that in an emergency, you could knock on any door and someone would help. But there aren’t neighbors sitting on the porch, waiting for a chance to talk. Or share a cookie.

Future Shock.

My daughter is approaching age 18, so there is a lot of planning going on about her future.  Some of the planning involves her team of social workers, and me. Some of it includes her directly.

When I adopted her at age 46(she was 3), I never imagined the changes that would take place in both of our lives.  I  did not expect to feel old at 60.  I did not expect to be a single parent.  Am I expressing regret over the adoption? NO. Not at all.  I’m just saying that  my plans back then did not adequately consider rogue events.

I think it is important to plan. I think that  based on what we know about my daughter’s development and her emotional state now, we will come up with a wonderful plan….a plan that will take into account  every situation that we can imagine.  It’s those  situations that are outside our view, beyond our wildest imaginings that could derail the plan. God knows her future. He knows her need. And I am confident that he will provide what she needs even if her team and I can’t foresee it.

Will I lose sleep over the plan, or over her future? No, probably not. I will make every effort to be sensible and careful.  I will consider possible outlying events, and wherever I can, make them  a part of  the plan. That doesn’t  promise planning success, but is does eliminate guilt and regret and those are the things that tend to keep people up at night.

 

Another page from the Grandma files.

When I was little, my grandma’s dining table had six legs with wide curved stretchers connecting the legs. These stretchers made wonderful roads or parade routes for the decorative salt and pepper shakers she used to let me use as “toys.” A refrigerator box with a dish towel as a curtain on a cut-out window, was a playhouse. The old record player turntable was a steering wheel for my “car.” I played “store” in the fruit cellar. Grandma could fold hankies into babies in cradles and turn little boxes into cribs. Newspapers could be cut into paper dolls.

I spent a lot of time playing at Grandma’s, but I don’t remember there being actual toys there…and I certainly don’t ever remember being bored.

When I got older, imaginative playing gave way to watching silly old movies on Saturday afternoons and sitting on the porch swing; all of us talking, laughing and dozing off after a big lunch. I miss those simpler, quieter days.

Cooking

Perhaps the biggest challenge that comes with living alone, is cooking for “one.” My crockpot is my friend (my daughter calls it a ‘crackpot!’). Since I don’t mind leftovers, I often plan to eat the same thing all week or freeze servings for busier days. Soup, chili and meat sauce for pasta are frequent preparations. Easy to make, easy to reheat. An occasional roast or batch of pulled pork. I am definitely in a cooking rut.

I have friends that are gourmet cooks; their recipes and ingredient lists are astounding. Like the cooking shows on tv – far removed from the reality of my kitchen.

Here is the kind of cooking show I would like to see:

The competing cooks go to a random home, a home like mine: galley style kitchen, old stove and an oven that may or may not heat to the temperature you dial up. Using just the equipment available in that house and just the ingredients on hand in that house, the competitors have to make an edible meal.

No fancy knives, one mediocre paring knife. No fancy pans – just Farberware or Revereware. no stand mixer – just an egg beater.

Simple seasonings like salt, pepper and Italian seasoning from the dollar store. Ingredients like canned tomatoes, boxed pasta, canned tuna, condensed soup, applesauce and baked beans. (Not to be used all together in one dish – of course!)

There may or may not be butter, milk, flour,eggs or sugar on hand. The produce will be grocery store quality – not fresh from the farm or orchard. The meat or poultry will be from the local supermarket and will be frozen solid because no one defrosted it.

The judges will be picky children – not people who live alone. Why? because when you live alone, you tend to appreciate anything someone else cooks for you!

Off track

Looking back over my posts, I see I have written about a lot of things other than my daughter.

When I write about her, it is often very difficult.  So if you wonder why I get off track, wonder what’s up with the silly family stories: It’s a matter of self-care. Some self-indulgent  writing about happier days, simpler times, and adventures with friends takes my mind off the weight of care giving, and off the pain of loss.

Now, do NOT imagine that my life is a misery – it is not.  I actually consider myself very (undeservedly) blessed.

I have friends who don’t get to choose to take any kind of break.  Their reality is 24/7, ongoing, never-ending care-giving. They have my respect and admiration. I remember having my daughter here at home…the constant stress, the heavy  weight of that responsibility.

I have friends who have suffered the worst possible loss, the death of a child.  I  cannot fully comprehend  the enormity of that grief.   I still get to see my daughter, and although the future for us is not what I imagined when she was little – she is still here, on this earth for me to hug, and I am very, very grateful.

Racing.

When I think of racing, I do not think of NASCAR, the race in Indianapolis, or drag racing.

When I think of racing, I think of my daughter’s racing thoughts and the resulting one-sided conversations she has with me.

She will be talking to me very fast; it is hard to follow her train of thought – and suddenly she will stop and ask, “Wait, what was I talking about?”

If I’ve been able to keep up with her monologue, I tell her and she will go on. When I can’t keep up (It is easier to keep up in person than on the phone!), she will go on to something else…and when she remembers that first racing train of thought, she will suddenly switch gears.

Now, I come from a family of fast-talkers. I’m used to that.   But my daughter’s words come out at a speed that makes everyone else seem slow!

Funny thing is, while her words and thoughts may race, her walking and working at tasks is very slow. I think to myself sometimes, “If she moves any slower,  she’ll be going backwards!”

 

About Chicken

I have never made fried chicken. Never.  I have never even investigated fried chicken recipes.  I live in an area with many local  and truly excellent chicken joints, so I never had any reason to cook it myself.  I do cook chicken in other ways: baked, stewed, grilled, paprikashed.  I make chicken a la king, chicken casserole and an assortment of other chicken dishes – just no frying.

My daughter was horrified to find out that ‘chicken’ was really chicken. We eat beef or veal (we don’t call it cow), pork and ham (we don’t call it pig) – so why don’t we have an alias for chicken?  Fortunately, her horror at eating chicken didn’t last long.  She did want to know, though which part was the nugget. Her comment was, “It’s the butt, isn’t it?”  Just thinking about the seriousness on her little face, when she asked…

Similarly, my grandma, upon hearing that we had “chicken fingers” at a fast food place, once remarked quite seriously, “I didn’t realize that chicken had fingers!”

With my sisters and parents, saying “chicken” would bring back the same memory to all of us.  My sisters had a friend who was a very picky eater. Knowing this, my mother always fixed chicken when she came to visit. Every time.  We found out later that this friend thought that chicken was just the only thing my mother knew how to make.

 

 

Giraffes in the Kitchen.

4giraffeIn my kitchen there is  giraffe lamp from World Market and a giraffe painting that my daughter made in kindergarten. I love that painting. The giraffe is smiling, surrounded by clear blue sky and he is twisted into a crazy position because he is joyfully dancing. It is a happy picture; it makes me smile when I see it.

Some of my kitchen wallpaper has sky blue and red stripes and some of my kitchen wallpaper has giraffes. Now, if I didn’t point out the giraffes, gazelles and ostriches in my wallpaper, you might not notice them. They are beige animals in a colonial style wallpaper that I bought – wait for it – because I liked the colors.  The red, green and blue plants that surround those beige creatures match the style and colors of the cross-stitch samplers hanging in the kitchen. It’s hard to explain, but it really all coordinates quite nicely.

This is not the wallpaper I was hanging when a friend passed away – I mentioned that in a recent post.  This wallpaper represents a fresh start and happy days. I put it up right before my daughter came home from her first placement.  It was celebratory wallpaper!

Recent happy kitchen memories include meals with  friends and cooking because I choose to – not because I have to.

From the other room, sitting in my recliner, I can see into the kitchen and watch the sunrise through the kitchen’s picture window. The window is framed by a string of  lights; the kind of lights you see strung across the ceiling in an Italian restaurant. They were a gift from my son and they always bring him to mind. He makes me happy, too.

Time to Say Goodbye.

I remember the first time I saw and heard Andrea Bocelli. It was 1997 on public tv during fundraising week. How do I remember? Am I some kind of music memory savant? No. I remember because I was wallpapering my kitchen.

That was what I was doing when the phone call came. A friend had died; he had been very sick for some time. He had survived a lung transplant that extended his life a few years, but he had begun to fail again. I remember thinking about his wife and how lost she must feel after such a long struggle.

That song always makes me think of her. “Time to Say Goodbye.” It isn’t actually the correct translation of the Italian lyrics, it is a phrase added to the song in English to make it suitable for another event, a retirement. (I think the correct translation is more like “I will go with you.”)

I remember seeing her at the hospital after his transplant. I remember how sick he had looked before the operation and how well he looked afterward. I remember her giggling and happy when he came home from the hospital. She adored him. And he loved her. You could see it on both of their faces. You could hear it in the way they spoke to each other.

I remember him using the time after the operation, he felt so much stronger, to make sure everything was good at the house – he made curtains (yes, he could sew; he had been a boy scout!), painted, remodeled. He wanted the house to be trouble-free for her when he passed and he worked hard at that.

I remember the stories they shared about how they met. I remember them bringing dinner to us on the day we moved into our house and telling us about some of their own homeowner experiences. I remember them together. Until he passed away, I don’t really remember seeing one without the other.

It was hard to get her to come out after he passed. She stayed, for a while at the house he had he had so faithfully prepared. Then I lost track of her. I heard she moved in with her son. She was truly heartbroken after he passed away; she missed him so much because she loved him so much; or maybe it was because of the way he loved her,  Either way is just lovely.

“You like me, goat?”

My children and I spent a fair amount of time at the Akron zoo; it’s close to home and the annual membership fee was very reasonable. Both of my children had their favorite parts of the zoo.

When my son was young, my aunt often went along with us. She and I sat and talked while he dug up “dinosaur bones” in the area set aside for digging. We followed him to the playgrounds and watched him ride the pony. The animals were really not the focus of our visits…except the goats. He liked to feed the goats.

Now, my son was a very cautious boy. The goats were as tall or taller than he was. Before reaching out his little hand full of goat crackers or kibble, he would look them in the eye and ask, “Are you a nice goat? You like me, goat?” Now, of course the goats didn’t answer; their eyes were focused on the food in his hand. But he took their silence as agreement – “yes” and “yes.” When they took the food he offered, he would smile and wipe his dimpled little hands on his overalls. (I love overalls on toddlers and preschoolers – if you have a baby and I give you a gift – that is probably what it will be!!!)

Visits to the zoo with my daughter were a little different. We spent a lot of time at the playgrounds, too…zipping down the slides, climbing carefully up the ladders or steps. When my son was with us, he carefully guided her up and down. She always looked to him to determine what was safe, fun, and acceptable behavior. She watched everything he did.

When he got older, my daughter and I would go alone. I have a lot of pictures of her sitting on a giant fiberglass caterpillar and “driving” pretend vehicles. She liked the more recent additions to the zoo….the jellyfish and the interior play areas. Even when she was a little too old/big for those play areas, she enjoyed them….and as long as her behavior was appropriate, I let her play on them with the smaller children who were there.

My daughter’s trips to the zoo were shorter. It was easy to see on her face when it was just all too much and we needed to leave. She would fall asleep, exhausted,  on the five minute ride home.

I miss those trips to the zoo. I think I’d like to go again, just myself…maybe I’ll feed the goats.

Big fat frog

I have a three frogs in my living room, ceramic and glass…and a “mistletoad” that hangs in the doorway year-round.

I did not set out to collect frogs or toads. In fact, my favorite one, the big fat frog, started out as something I didn’t want at all.

We were shopping (my mom, my sisters and me) at a gift shop, on vacation at the beach. My mom wanted me to distract one sister so she could buy a gift  for her elsewhere in the store.

My sister and I were in a section of the store that had bugs and frogs. Now, there was no way I could make my sister believe I wanted a giant ant doll for my living room, so I went for the frog. I really sold it. “He’s so cute. I really like him.”  I kept my sister busy with the big fat frog until my mom had stowed her gift purchase safely in the car.

Later that week I received a gift.  Because I had convinced my sister that I LOVED the big fat frog, she talked my mom into buying it for me. My mom asked her, ‘Are you sure?” It didn’t look like something I would pick.

My sister really worked hard to convince my mom it was what I wanted. She remembered all the things I pointed out about the frog (while I was keeping her busy!) and my mom was convinced…she bought me the big fat frog.

Now when I look at that frog – I think about how my sister went to bat for me and that is what it represents. I got two other, much smaller frogs as joke gifts after that – so big fat frog now has a little frog family.

And the mistletoad? He hangs in the doorway to remind me of something completely different. A kiss. Wow! what a kiss! The mistletoad represents hope of getting kissed like that again. Someday…..

 

frog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Caregiver Road, part 2

I don’t know why it was so easy to form a friendship with my caregiver friend. If I knew what made it easy, I would look for other people with those qualities.

What I do know is this: He is easy to talk to. He doesn’t seem to be offended by my need for alone time (he needs his alone time, too.) He gets my jokes, or at least laughs at the right places. He eats my cooking without complaining and doesn’t think I should wait on him. He expects me to have opinions and doesn’t expect those opinions to be the same as his. He makes me feel like ‘me’…not somebody’s mother, daughter or anything else. Just ‘me.’

My friend is not  perfect,  but he is authentic. (On the rare occasion that he’s tried to be cagey – well, let’s just say that he has an obvious – obvious to me anyway – tell.)

He has great taste in music and likes to sing along and dance… I’m not saying he’s REALLY good – I am saying he  REALLY enjoys it, and that makes those around him enjoy it, too.

My friend is genuinely and rather innocently affectionate, not fresh or grabby. (He would call that ‘frisky.’)

While having a companion on a caregiver journey is helpful, having a companion who is no longer following that same path, who  is changing directions,  makes it hard to stay close.   I expect we will see each other less, communicate less, and continue to move farther apart.  This  friendship will just fade away. There will be no animosity and no regrets.   Hearing my friend’s name, will always make me smile.*

*(I’m hearing Hello, Old Friend, by Eric Clapton in my head…“when he tipped his hat, I knew his name……” )

On the Caregiver Road, part 1

My caregiver friend and I have been friends for about 2 1/2 years. Despite the difference in our life experiences and lifestyles, we bonded over some common things…like care giving, divorce and shared acquaintances.

If you saw my friend, with his hippy-biker style, you might think he was tough, rough. You would be wrong. He is polite, considerate and gentle. Sometimes, a little goofy.

He is the most naturally kind person I have ever met. He took wonderful care of his mother. He treated her gently and lovingly, even when he didn’t feel very well himself.

I always knew this was a friendship just for a time, this care giving time, while we were both traveling this parallel road. My journey on the care giving highway is never going to end. Oh, I’m not stuck in the 24/7 express lane; no, I’m in the local lane with frequent exits and little curving access roads. Since my daughter is not living at home, I can veer away from the care giving highway for brief side trips. I just can’t stray very far.

My friend, who had been stuck in the express lane of constant care, has now, after the death of his mother, been able to exit that road entirely. He looks forward to new and distant adventures…Just as soon as the weather is motorcycle appropriate.

I am very happy for him; he is free to go wherever he wants and is no longer responsible for anyone else. I don’t think I remember that feeling.

I wish him the best – I hope that he will be as kind to himself as he was to his mother. He deserves that.

Turtle-mode

Long after most children stop taking naps, my daughter still needed them. She required a lot of sleep at night and substantial down-time during the day.

She has a very odd (to me, anyway) way of sleeping. She sits cross-legged, like you would in a yoga class. Then she leans down over her legs, head resting where her calves intersect. Her arms are tucked in the middle, across her waist. I don’t know when we started calling this position “turtle-mode;” I do know it was intended to be descriptive, not mean. She looked like a turtle with all extremities pulled in.

I was NEVER that flexible. It amazed me that she found this position comfortable. (AND STILL DOES!)  I also remember her sitting and watching tv with the soles of her feet on either side of her face. She routinely and absentmindedly stretches into positions that amaze me.

 

The Grandma Files, part 2

Grandma had an assortment of colorful neighbors over the years…There were neighbors who borrowed fried chicken. Neighbors with unusual names. Neighbors whose dogs brought her Fenton glassware and other collectible offerings.

One young neighbor boy ran into her kitchen and hid under the stove (the stove was up on legs back then). He had seen a blimp in the sky, didn’t know what it was. He thought it was a whale or fish coming to eat him.

An elderly Italian woman wanted to summon the police. Not knowing how to use the phone, and knowing the telephone lines were attached to the poles, she ran out and knocked on the pole, calling “Police, Police.’

Grandma’s next door neighbor routinely came to borrow ice, which made Grandma wonder if the poor girl knew how to make it.

———–

Grandma was the best cook. I have not eaten pork chops anywhere that are as good as I remember hers. And don’t get me started about the gravy. She planned six (yes, you read that number right) pork chops per person when she cooked.

Grandma wore glasses. It didn’t matter if they were hers. If they were handy, she put them on. She would complain, sometimes, that her eyes weren’t very good that day. Those would be the days she was baking; her glasses were covered with flour and it never occurred to her to clean them.

She baked and cooked a lot; if she wasn’t sitting on the couch, she was standing at the stove. If you fussed over something she made, pecan pie for example, she would make it every time you came. I cannot eat pecan pie to this day, because I ate so much of it a kid. I remember warning my friends to compliment the cooking, but not to go overboard – unless they were willing to eat that same food at every visit forever.

She knew she was a good cook and she would often tell stories about how her cooking was better than a neighbor’s, relative’s or other acquaintance’s. One story involved a cherry pie – the baker bragged and bragged about her cherry pies, but didn’t remove the pits. Grandma was incredulous.

At restaurants, Grandma routinely said, “Mine are better.” And she was right!

Her recipes, when they were written down, were not really helpful. “Bake until done” is not a real instruction! A bit, a pinch, a handful – really!

Her grocery lists were not helpful either! Triangles were her shorthand for chicken breasts. Circles were donuts. Or dog treats…and there were some other hieroglyphics that you just had to guess.

Another IEP story.

Last time I wrote about IEPs, it was about a discouraging one. This week we had a IEP meeting that knocked my socks off. (I am thinking about what that expression might look like in my daughter’s very literal mind and chuckling.)

There were nine participants, all fully engaged. Every suggestion, was discussed and then worded or reworded to have the maximum impact on my daughter’s success. Her mental state (her mental health diagnoses and her autism) was truly considered as a factor in her ability or inability to complete her work.

Despite the ice and snow, two workers from my county made the two and a half hour drive to participate in person. Despite a school closing, the school staff came and participated – all of them. The guardian ad litem and I participated in the meeting via phone.

The plans and changes to help her move toward graduation….so encouraging. I look forward to the day when she’ll  be moving closer to home. So encouraging!

The Grandma Files part 1

Grandma was born in 1902. She was 56 years old, and already seemed very old, when I was born. She was quite hard of hearing. My grandma was a short woman, well under 5′ tall, but she was not a small woman. Her clothes came from the half-size department; nowadays, we call it the plus-size department. She wore conservative clothing to church, black and navy blue, no jewelry, but very loud-print cotton house dresses at home. (The prints disguised the tomato sauce and paprika that found their way onto her clothes when she cooked.) The dresses, all of them, always seem to hang longer in the front than in the back, regardless of how they were hemmed. She wore a hat or babushka when she went out, and a very long black coat. Her long, curly white and grey hair was always pinned up on her head with hairpins and a hairnet – unless she was brushing it out. Grandma looked like Aunt Bea on the Andy Griffith show (but not as stylish), and even had that same shrill tone to her voice.

I spent a lot of time at Grandma’s. We (my sisters and I) were there all day most Saturdays, sometimes after church on. Once I was grown, I often visited her in-between. I visited at her house when she live around the corner, and when she moved into an apartment, I visited her there.

I loved being at her house, being with her.

Once Grandma passed away, I continued these visits with my Aunt, who lived with her ….but those stories, stories about my Aunt, are for another day.

Grandma had her special place on the sofa. Her seat. I don’t ever remember her sitting anywhere else. That sofa – it was the color of paprika, burnt orange; the upholstery fabric was bullet-proof. The furniture was always in the same arrangement – at her house nothing ever changed.

One day, a neighbor kid came to visit. He was very fond of Grandma, and her cookies, and stopped to visit whenever he came to town. His comment was, “Everything is always the same here, nothing ever changes.” It was intended as a compliment. And it was true, nothing ever changed there. She never fussed if the house was clean enough for company; she always said they came to see her, not the house. And she was right.

Everyone was always welcome, but I will say she preferred her grand-childrens’ friends, because she “didn’t like to be around ‘old’ people.” I remember her saying that she didn’t know how she got so old, that she still felt young on the inside. I didn’t understand her comment then, but I do now.

Lawrence of Arabia

Just for the record, I don’t really like that movie, Lawrence of Arabia, but Peter O’Toole is beautiful in it. Yes, I do mean beautiful, not handsome; if you’ve seen that movie, you will agree. When I saw the framed movie poster at the thrift store, I had to have it. Graphically the poster is striking….and the colors match my bedroom perfectly. Red, gold, brown, orange. (Yes, I admit I buy artwork because I like the colors.)

My room, like the rest of my house is colorful. Red and gold fabric-look walls, boldly patterned borders, a red rug, old furniture, a Moroccan travel poster, a funky round mirror and Lawrence. My room is “exotic-on-a-budget.”

Now, I have no desire to actually go and see Arabia or Morocco. I hate to travel and I have never had a passport. I dislike flying and I prefer to sleep in my own bed every night. But I do like to think about far away places. I watch travelogues on tv and movies. I prop up against my white iron headboard, snuggle in under my orange and red comforter, and read. The books take me far away. The warm colors and vibrant patterns in my room make me feel warm and happy; they please me.

lawrence

And we’re back on the roller coaster again.

I was eager to talk to my daughter; she had been on the upswing when I saw her at family weekend.

When she called today she was tearful and upset. We are on a sharp downward turn again. It’s heartbreaking to hear her cry and wail. I want to be there to hold her hand and give her a hug, but she is far away…and the next visit isn’t for another 10 days. And if I was with her, there is no guarantee she would accept the hug…sometimes she doesn’t like to be touched. I always ask if it would be helpful before I hug her or take her hand.

Nothing is right in her world today. School. Her roommate. Her memories. Homesickness.

It is one of those days that when you look her, you can see things are not good in her head. Over the phone, I hear it in her voice.

Her mental state overpowers everything, every thought. I don’t know how else to explain it. It overpowers? overrides? overwhelms? Her unsettled mental state fills her with sadness, anger and fear…and it overflows into her actions.

On days like this, I feel very sad for her and helpless. It’s heartbreaking, just heartbreaking.

About the same.

When I was in sixth grade we moved across town to the house where my parents still live. I went from a neighborhood with 20+ kids, to one with only a few, most of them younger.  I went from a school where I knew everyone, to a school with only strangers.

Fortunately, there was a girl down the street, in my grade, who became my friend. We spent a lot of time together, listening to LPs or 8tracks, stalking boys we liked , playing marathon games of Monopoly,  and walking home from school.  When summer plans took us different directions, we wrote  a lot of letters.

My parents never asked me where I was going when I went out with this friend, because we had fun, but we never got in trouble.  (We accepted as fact that we would get caught if we did something we weren’t supposed to be doing.)

My friend has a wonderful sense of humor (translation: she gets my jokes and likes puns) and while we don’t see each other often, due to distance, we do occasionally send each other a bad joke or pun.  Sometimes I run across a pun so bad (or good, depending on your perspective) that I have to send it to her. Our punny interactions always make me think about happy  times long ago.

About the same.

For instance, I remember the two of us visiting my grandmother.  Grandma was getting a little forgetful,  and when Grandma asked how my friend’s little dachshund was doing (we already had told Grandma that the dog had passed away) my friend answered without hesitation, “about the same.”  It was kind, true, horrifying and funny – all at the same time.

I thought about that visit the other day. A detour took me by my grandmother’s house…and my friend’s visit is the thought that popped into my head…About the same.

Beethoven’s Seventh

Since I always played classical music in the nursery for my son, daughter, and foster babies, I listened to a lot of it myself over the baby monitor. Often I played a cd, sometimes I turned on the local classical station. It was background noise, soothing and I never paid it much attention.

One night, having fallen asleep on the couch, I woke to the most amazing melody/harmony. It drew me in and woke me up. I didn’t recognize it and the radio announcer, of course, did not say what it was. Back then, there was no digital read-out on the radio to tell you what was playing.

A few weeks later, driving with the same baby in the car, I heard it again.  This recording was different, piano only, but I recognized that the music was the same.  I pulled over and listened closely until I heard the announcer say it was a transcription for piano of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

The music makes me cry every time I hear it, that second movement!

Recently, I was able to hear it performed twice – by the Akron Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra. Both times the tickets were given to me by people who did not know how much I loved it.  I can’t describe the feeling I have when I hear it….it overwhelms me.

There are other songs that transport me back to a particular place and time in my mind, songs that bring to mind an experience or feeling (like dancing with my friend to Turn the Page), but this music, Beethoven’s Seventh, stands alone in touching my soul.

Is he dead?

I watch a lot of old movies and tv shows. My children watched them with me. They never seemed to care that they were in black and white.  Maybe they thought the world used to be less colorful.

It was certainly more appropriate for children!  Old shows like McHale’s Navy, Burns and Allen, The Munsters, even the Three Stooges – were all acceptable for little eyes and ears.

Sometimes my daughter would ask, “Did you watch that when you were little?” When I answered, “Yes,” she would scowl and ask “Is he dead?”

Now, sometimes the answer would be, “No, but he is old now like Gampy,” and she would be very satisfied with that.  But when the answer was, “Yes, he is dead,” she would  shake her head and say, “I knew it.”  I don’t know  how she “knew it,” but it clearly was important to her , because she always asked.  If I didn’t know the answer, I had to google it so she could be certain.

The actor being alive or dead didn’t determine whether we watched the show or interfere with her enjoyment of the show. It was just a fact she needed to know.

It’s funny, the things my daughter  focuses on.  Sometimes the things give me an insight into her thought processes. Other things, like this dead-or-alive information,  leave me wondering.

 

 

Blizzard of 78

I was sitting in my recliner, looking out at the heavy snow falling today. It made me think of another snowstorm long ago. It made me think about how things have changed….how I have changed.

I had just started my first full-time job and no one had my phone number to call and tell me not to show up for work…during a blizzard. I went; I was carpooling with my dad back then because we both worked downtown. It was the legendary (in our area ) Blizzard of 78.  My dad and I both went to work in my 1967 Buick.  We both came home early together.

I have to say, it would have never occurred to 19-year-old me NOT to show up for work.  Now, as an older adult, you do not have to ask me twice if I want to take a snow day – whether I get paid for it or not.  It doesn’t have to be particularly dangerous – just really snowy or really cold – for me to call and tell my boss “I’m not coming.”

It isn’t that I have become less reliable as an employee, it’s just that I’ve become more sensible as a person. I have a better balance in my life.  My job is how I get money to live. It isn’t a career. It isn’t my life. It’s just a living.

Now, I really like my job – I am a church secretary and bookkeeper – but I am confident  could find another…and I would like that one, too. I feel a freedom regarding my job, or changing jobs,  and regarding life in general, that I did not feel as a younger person. That is a positive change.

When forecasters call for the mother-of -all-snowstorms to come down on us, I think back to the Blizzard of 78 and think – “I’ve seen worse.” The creative terms they use to describe the storms do a disservice to the public – hysteria reigns. This is a big change from 1978.   Because the weather is delivered in such a sensational way, because the the computer generated models are taken as gospel, people are fearful.  When the storm doesn’t develop as predicted, we and venture out during the next storm, when we shouldn’t.  This is a negative change.

So, if I’m not keen of forecasts, how do I know when to stay home?  I take my dogs out. If I have to push them out the back door due to the extreme cold; if the gate or garage door is frozen shut, if the snow is drifted up to my knees…I stay home.  Yup, common sense.

 

 

 

 

Mrs. G.

Thinking about the Lunch Bunch made me think about a woman that passed away before the group was formed. Mrs. G.

Mrs. G. attended our church for some time. She was very lovely; beautiful  on the outside, as well as gracious and kind, generous and strong. If I had to describe her in just one word, it would be ‘class.’

I could never understand how her husband could have left her and their children. I know it is not possible that his new, younger love interest was more beautiful than Mrs. G.

I knew Mrs. G. long before I was divorced myself. I heard her advice (Hold on loosely) and saw the grace with which she conducted herself. I saw the respect that her children and others offered her.

She was very vocal about what was, and wasn’t helpful, after a divorce. Some people mean well, but don’t know what to do or say. (Sadly, others just don’t mean well.) Because she shared these experiences in her gracious way, people paid attention. And when I got divorced, I avoided a lot of the difficulties she experienced. She paved the way for me and for others….it made it better, easier for us, and I am very grateful.

She went out of her way to befriend women who were attending church alone, widowed or divorced….and those ladies, in turn, befriended others. She was the “Lunch Bunch” before it existed.

Mrs. G. was an avid golfer, well into her 80’s. Very fit and fashionable. She passed away after a very brief and unexpected illness. Years after her passing, when I have to deal with life and divorce issues, I still ask myself, ‘What would Mrs. G. do?”

Lunch Bunch

I was approached by a woman at church about starting a group for unattached (single, widowed or divorced – or women who just come out to church alone) ladies – so that they could get to know each other. She was fairly new and wanted to meet other women. Women who might have interests similar to her own.

Now, I work at the church. I “know” everyone. I was NOT looking to expand my social circle. But I agreed to facilitate a get-together.

The woman who came up with the idea did not stay around to see her brain-child succeed. But I am so glad she came up with the idea! I have gotten to know the most interesting, strongest, most caring group of women you could imagine.

We are the Lunch Bunch – I was hoping for an alliterative name, but settled for rhyming instead.

We range from 50 – late 80’s. Two (including me) are divorced, one is single (and still hopeful) and the others, about six of them, are widowed. The widows are remarkable in their compassion for each other; in the quiet strength, and mental toughness, that they had to draw upon as caregivers when their husbands were sick.

I don’t want you to think that this is a humorless, grief support group. Just the opposite. While we do offer each other support, we get together just to laugh, eat and learn about each other’s lives. I have made some good friends. And I have to admit that, before Lunch Bunch, I didn’t “know” these ladies at all!

Free Bird

It’s funny how some songs remind you of a past event or a particular time. And my thought processes – sometimes I wonder if the way my brain functions is normal.

This morning, while I was driving to see my daughter, Free Bird came on the oldies station. It reminded me of a trip I took long ago. And a car.

A friend and I were driving to Florida, and a long version of Free Bird was playing on the radio when we started the trip. Funny thing was – I thought about that trip, and I thought about a car; a different car than the one we took to Florida. The car involved in the Florida trip was memorable because of the breakdowns it had over those two weeks on the trip. Since we were young, the trip was an adventure, even with the inconvenience of car trouble. THAT car was such a lemon, I will not even reveal its make and model…the mere thought of it makes me shudder.

The car that Free Bird brought to mind was one I really loved, a 1978 Thunderbird. Red. It was the car that replaced the lemon-car after that difficult trip. Considering how these things were connected in my memories, I realized that it was the memories of that particular friend and our times together that tied the good car and adventurous trip together with the song.

Next time I hear Free Bird, my mind will go to my friend first. Good memories.

On missing my friend.

Recently my dear friend moved south. While we didn’t see each other in person often, knowing that she was nearby, and knowing I could depend on her to pray for me, was very important to me. She could depend on me to pray for her, too. We would get together for lunch at our favorite spot and catch up on all the news: our children, extended families, pets and shared acquaintances.

Her husband recently retired, and her life down south, will be busy and full, and closer to her grandchildren. That makes me very happy for her; it is a wonderful change.

We will, of course, continue to communicate via text and facebook, continue to pray for each other, as we have done for years.  We will still catch up on all the news, but it won’t be in person. And I’ll miss our lunches. Knowing she is living far away makes me feel lonely.

 

A little night music.

I always played classical music on the radio at night for my kids. Since the neighborhood is noisy, I wanted them to be used to sleeping with sound…and exposure to classical music is a good thing.

Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Saint Saens… all good for little ears to listen to.

When my kids got bigger, they could choose. Motown and children’s songs were added to the repertoire. My daughter liked Captain Underpants, so “Super Diaper Baby” played over and over on many nights.

Then there were the bongos. For some reason, my son decided to buy my daughter bongos as a gift. (I often wonder if he was mad at me when he bought them!) My daughter loved to play those bongos along with the radio…especially in the wee hours when she couldn’t sleep… Better than a door alarm for me to know when she was awake at night.

Toys – Ellie and Dandy.

Two of my daughter’s animal dolls were a mint green elephant from a claw machine and a beanie baby duck. Ellie, the elephant, was my daughter’s favorite stuffed toy for year. Ellie went to placements with my daughter, rode in the car with my daughter and had to start wearing doll clothes just to keep her stuffing contained. And an eye patch. Ellie had lost an eye. It was a sad day when Ellie disappeared. Nellie (short for ‘New Ellie,’ who is a new green elephant) has taken her spot on the bed…but Ellie is still missed.

Ellie’s closest friend was Dandy the duck. Dandy was about 6 inches long with a small head, wobbly neck, skinny legs and a worn tuft of feathers on his head. He also was well loved. Dandy got lost at my daughter’s first placement. It was heartbreaking for my daughter. We looked and looked online  and in stores for a similar duck, but my daughter could not find any duck that was just right.

One day we were at a yard sale. My daughter got all excited – she found a 50 cent duck that was “just like” Dandy! This was not a 6 inch duck! This was a two foot tall duck with a HUGE head! It was the same color as Dandy….but so were a lot of the potential replacements that we saw online. What did she see in this giant duck that made him the same as old Dandy?

It was the worn tuft of feathers on the head that made the giant the same as little Dandy. That was the one part that was so important to her!

Toys – One size fits all.

When my daughter played with her Barbies, they often had “guests” for tea. The guests included stuffed elephants and ducks, sometimes wearing clothes(stuffed animals were always considered dolls here), and Little People. The Little People are toddler toys, about 2 inches tall, in a variety of skin tones, hair colors and ages(indicated by balding and grey hair). She had elaborate stories about which ones were related and how.

It never occurred to my daughter that there was anything odd about the disparity in size and shape of her tea party participants. They were all dolls and all played together. I didn’t think it would be a good lesson to have her keep the dolls segregated by type.

She still has doll families (mostly stuffed animals) where you cannot tell who is related just by looking at them…you have to ask. After all some of them are adopted, and there might not be an obvious familial resemblance.  It makes me happy that she plays this way.  It makes me happy that she accepts that family members don’t have to look alike to love each other and be together.

Talking Animals

I write letters to my daughter. They aren’t long, or particularly interesting…but they make her feel connected to home. I try to write two at a time. One that is fairly serious and one that is silly. The dogs often “sign” that one. My daughter knows that our dogs don’t actually say ‘hello,’ but it makes her laugh when I tell her the dogs said to tell her, “woof.”

I remember when she was six or seven years old. We watched “Mr. Ed” reruns. My daughter was sure that horse could talk. And “Babe”. Talking pigs, sheep and dogs!

When she heard a real dog “woof,” she would ask me what the dog was saying. She thought she just wasn’t hearing the dog’s words right. It took quite a while for me to convince her that animals don’t really speak.

Killer

My name is Kellie.

When I type that into my online email program, it tries to autocorrect.

“Did you mean ‘Killer’?” it says.

Killer was the name of a neighborhood stray that lived on my grandma’s porch.

Killer was a big black labrador mix. Killer was old and very friendly.

Killer had no teeth. Everyday my grandma would cook Killer mac and cheese for lunch.

“No, autocorrect, my name is NOT ‘Killer’!”

That dog story.

My friend has had a series of golden retrievers. Rescues. I remember her telling this story about one of them.

One inclement Sunday morning, her dog did not want to go out. On a typical wet-weather day, when my friend was staying in, that was ok. On those days, he did not have to go out. He could wait for the rain to stop and the air to warm up.

This day was different. My friend had all-day plans, and needed her dog to go out NOW. It was for his own good…she did not want him to be uncomfortable.

Exasperated, she pushed him out the door, and she told him, “Trust me. I know what’s going to happen, and you don’t!”

My friend said she realized as she said that, God must sometimes feel that way about us. We don’t want to experience the inclement weather and refuse to move…not understanding why things are happening, not not seeing the bigger picture.

About Baseball

There are two things on my bucket list. Only two: A return to the ocean for a vacation(off-season), and a trip to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame.

On Major League opening day, hotdogs and other ballpark-type foods are served at my house, in front of the tv. I use rabbit ears to watch tv, and not very many games are broadcast, but opening day is always broadcast on our local station.

I like baseball movies: Pride of the Yankees, Rhubarb, It Happens Every Spring, The Sandlot. I regularly re-read my favorite baseball books: Veeck as in Wreck(my all-time favorite), Cobb, The Curse of Rocky Colavito. And I love to read about dead ball era players and games, and the business of baseball.

I like the sound of baseball on the radio. It is the soundtrack of my summers, now, just as it was when I had my first transistor radio, back in the 60’s. It is a sound I associate with happy times.

My dad listened to baseball, and my grandma listened to baseball (although, sometimes she would take her hearing aid batteries out because she didn’t want to waste them on the Indians…yes, they could be that bad).

Growing up in the 60’s, the neighborhood kids played baseball in the street. The sewer lid was home plate. Telephone poles were bases. The rules and equipment were very loose…of course there is no sliding into a telephone pole. We used a bat (or stick), we used whatever ball we had, not necessarily a baseball. We only had two mitts among us. The pitcher was very often the biggest kid playing. He pitched for both teams and didn’t get to bat. Our games were not measured in innings, we ended when our moms called us in for dinner.

When I was pregnant with my son, Ken Burns’ Baseball was showing on PBS. I was on bed rest, and I must have watched it, all of it, at least three times over that summer. The Major League strike that year – the year I could have watched all the Cleveland baseball  games – really annoyed me, but not enough to keep me away from baseball the next spring.

I dressed my son in baseball gear quite often. (Clothes for little boys seem to come only in three ‘colors’: vehicle, sport or dinosaur. As a kindergartner he wanted to be a baseball player/archeologist.) My son played a couple seasons of baseball as a kid and I decorated his room with an old-time baseball theme.

I don’t follow the current players very closely, but my son regularly fills me in on the new players, trades and standings. Apparently, the love of baseball is genetic.

IEP

Individualized Education Plans.

This was a new concept to me when my daughter started school. Actually, her teacher suggested it and spearheaded the campaign to get it done. The principal advocated for my daughter’s accommodations with the music teacher and art teacher. (The principal would allow my daughter to sit in the office and work on her math homework if she wasn’t up to music class. I don’t know if it was the noise of the students or the loud voice of the teacher that upset her – she could never say.) The staff worked as a team to make my daughter successful. I know this is not typical. I have heard all the public school and IEP horror stories that parents tell.

I have one, only one, to tell myself.

Fourth grade – this year got off to a rocky start. First, a new principal was at the school. Before this year, I had no idea just how important a principal is – in terms of setting the tone for the school. Second, one month after school started, just when my daughter had gotten into the routine of a new school year, the school decided the class was too big and needed to be split. Of course, that meant my daughter would be moving to the new class, despite my pleas that this was not good for her.

A substitute teacher had the new class for a month before the permanent teacher arrived. Personal tragedy struck the new permanent teacher, and after a few weeks, another long term sub took the class. All this upheaval was not helpful to my daughter. And while I was sympathetic to the new teacher’s absence, I was annoyed with the principal’s refusal to leave my daughter in her original class.

Come time for the IEP, I left work early to attend the meeting. I was on time. The intervention specialist was waiting for me and we got down to business. No one – no teacher, no principal, no district representative – NO ONE else attended. Now, I liked the intervention specialist, but she was not in contact with my daughter on a daily basis. While we did go over the recommendations and the intervention specialist promised to go over the IEP with the teacher and principal, I left the meeting discouraged. If the meeting was inconvenient for them that day, they could have rescheduled. When the formal IEP transcript was given to me, I was surprised to see both the teacher and principal signed it as if they had attended. It made me very angry. It was clear to me that the educators were not taking my daughter’s education seriously.

The rest of that year did not go very well. In fact, I don’t know how they passed my daughter to the next grade. Because of this, I made a decision – to enroll my daughter in a charter school, one that had a large number of students with autism, bi-polar, adhd, and other related disorders, for grade 5.

While, it was the best choice for my daughter, it was not as convenient for me – it was across town and my daughter is NOT a good candidate for riding a school bus. (We did try the bus a couple different times, but it was Trouble – the capital ‘T’ is intentional.)

Family Weekends

At my daughter’s current placement, they have Family Weekends. Once a month, I travel to western Ohio for a day-and-a-half visit, with group and family therapies and free time. The facility pays for a hotel room, and when my daughter’s behavior permits, she can stay overnight with me at the hotel.

I like an extended visit like this. It gives my daughter and I time to talk about a lot of things, face to face, which I really value. It gives me time to interact with my daughter’s direct caregivers. The guest speakers, experts who address the parents only, share good ideas on self-care and practical advice.

But perhaps the most helpful part of the extended visits is this:

Extended visits give me a chance to talk to other parents, who are dealing with similar developmental and mental health issues in their children…and this is really helpful.

  • Helpful because I know I am not the only one in this situation.
  • Helpful because some of the trial and error experiences they share can save me a lot of trouble.
  • Helpful because I see hope for my daughter when they share their successes.
  • Helpful because I have seen the services available in my county are not widely available – it makes me truly appreciate the competency of the social workers on my daughter’s case.
  • Helpful because I can share my experiences with someone who really understands, someone who doesn’t look at me like I’m a crazy person when I talk about my daughter’s behavior.

Wait here until you are useful.

“Wait here until you are useful.” That is the sign on my desk. The sign has a quirky picture with a bird that I saw on the internet a few years ago when I was looking for something else.

I don’t remember what it was I was looking for when I found this sign.

Isn’t that how life goes? You are looking for something, working toward something….and something else, something completely different pops up. Maybe it is a change in circumstances, maybe a change in your health, maybe you make a friend that makes you stop and take stock of your life.

That’s why I keep the sign on my desk – not because I need to be reminded it is good to be useful – I keep it to remind myself that I need to keep my eyes open, pay attention to what is going on around me, so I don’t miss something meaningful, something unexpected and important.

City life. Part 3 – This is home.

I have lived in the same house since 1990. It was familiar to me immediately – it has the same floorplan that my grandma’s house did – with different details, and not as old.

When I bought my house, I was interested in the closeness of the bus stops. Do I take the bus? No, not usually. But I could if I needed to, and that provides me some security.

My parents and sisters all live within blocks. If I need something, or if they need something, everyone is nearby to help. I don’t have to travel very far to go to the market, hardware store, bank or post office. Doctors, and hospitals are both nearby. I have a 10 minute commute to work.

The utility costs are low, thanks to newer windows. The taxes are reasonable and, well, since I have lived here so long, there is no house payment. I cannot imagine anywhere I could live as cheaply as I do here.

For many years, even as a kid, my dreams took place at my grandma’s house – that house that was so similar to my own. Very recently, I started having dreams that take place in my house instead of at my grandma’s. My sister suggested that the shift could mean “the past is done.” I like that. And I think that the shift also means my future is here.

Moms always know.

My daughter is a horrible liar. No, I don’t mean she has the habit of lying all the time! What I mean is that she is just horrible at it.

Any story she tells is out of order and confusing, difficult to follow – so I tend to ask her a lot of questions.

When she is telling me the truth, she knows the answers to my questions, like -“Who was there?” or “What  color were they wearing?”

When she is lying, she can’t settle on an answer, or the answers are so far out of the realm of possibility, so outrageous, well, let’s just say she is always found out.  Her “tell” is obvious.

When she asks me how I knew she was lying, my answer is always the same: Moms always know.

 

Eyes and ducks.

When my son was three, he wondered how he got caught doing things he wasn’t supposed to do.  My aunt told him that moms have eyes in the back of their heads.

One day, while I was sitting playing with my son on the floor, he started lifting up my long hair; he told me he was looking for the eyes in the back of my head – he wanted to see those eyes.

Thankfully, my son outgrew the confusion between ‘an expression’ and fact.  (This is something my daughter still struggles with.)


We always had a large flock of rubber ducks in our bathroom – most were yellow, but there was the occasional odd duck.  When my son was two,  he was intently studying an oddly shaped blue duck.  He turned around, a very serious expression on his face, and grimly declared, “Blue ducks no have butts.  Yellow ducks have butts, but blue ducks no have butts.” He shook his head sadly as he walked out of the room.

He outgrew his sadness over the unfortunate blue duck – it was after all just a toy.  but he has never outgrown kindness and concern for those who seem ‘different’.  I hope he never does.

 

City life. Part 2 – Sights

I cannot imagine living in a rural setting. I love the city lights too much.

When I was a girl, visiting my grandma (just a few blocks from where I live now) I loved looking out over the city lights from her hill top home. The shape of the interstate and other roads looked like a Christmas tree to me. I still drive down that street occasionally just to see that view.

From my house, in the winter, when the leaves have fallen, I can see the city lights I can watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks that happen downtown. (In the summer the trees are so thick, there is only an occasional twinkle, and although we can hear the summer fireworks at the ballpark, we can only see an occasional glimmer.)

I like the look of the neighborhood homes – different styles and eras, all on the same street. No homeowners’ association to control what color(s) you can paint your house. Renters and owners all on the same street.

And I love the look of the families, families of every color – and families that include every color. At the local grade school, no one considered it odd that my daughter and I were not the same color. I like that.

There are some sad sights in the neighborhood: vulgar graffiti, an occasional vacant house – but the good sights outnumber the sad.

On having, or not having, children

I love my children,  biological son and adopted daughter.  I recognize that they are  wonderful, undeserved, gifts from God and I am thankful for both of them.

I assumed, when I got married, that I would have children.  But years went by…ten years.

Some of our friends were frantically trying to conceive, taking extreme measures, and exhibiting  desperate behavior, bordering on throwing a tantrum.  I thought they were out of control. I could see they were not happy, that they would not  even consider that they could be happy, without bearing children. They did not find enjoyment in anything happening TODAY – they were only focused on the future, a future that must include children in order to be complete.  I truly did not understand this desperation.

Meanwhile, I felt, “If we get a baby, great. If not, my life is still really good, isn’t it?”  After all, I enjoyed being married, spending time with my husband. Those friends, who were consumed with conception, thought I was  delusional, out of touch with my own feelings. Abnormal.  I couldn’t understand their attitude, just like they could not understand mine.  It made me wonder, for a while,  if there was something wrong with me. (It was several years later before I encountered a woman with the same attitude as mine – it made me so happy to realize others felt content without children! )

There wasn’t anything wrong with me  (at least not where this is concerned) – I just had the benefit of a perspective that not everyone enjoys – having an unmarried and childless, very wonderful aunt,  let me see that life’s worth was not measured by your marital status or whether or not you reproduced. Life’s fullness is not measured that way.  It’s how you receive and perceive what you have (or haven’t) been given, how you love those around you,  that makes your life “full” and complete. It comes from inside, heart and soul, not  your circumstances. Not from having children.

 

 

City life. Part 1 – Sound

Our urban neighborhood is noisy. The street is brick and there is a certain noise that comes from  tires rolling over the brick. The interstate is just a block away and that has a very distinct, mechanical sound. The neighbors, just a few of them, can be quite loud: dogs, all of whom bark when a stranger walks down the sidewalk, picnics and bonfires that feature Motown (I am so glad it it is Motown), fireworks around holidays, birds chirping at dawn. I am used to the noises from these regular occurring activities and routinely sleep through them all.

Every once in a while, though, there will be an unusual noise that wakes me up.

When my daughter was home, her room alarm routinely woke me, instantly and completely.

From outside, an occasional domestic dispute. A car alarm. Non-stop quacking. (I thought I was losing my mind – middle of the night and I am hearing quacks. A family of ducks had hatched in the back yard across the street and the neighborhood cat was too close for the comfort of mama duck.)

A gunshot…that was the scary one. My son was due to be home from work around the time I heard the shot. I ran downstairs and looked out the front door window; I saw him sitting in his car. When I turned the porch light on, he hopped out and ran into the house. I asked him if he heard the shot. He said, “Mom, I SAW the shot!” Frightening! Just frightening!

A very rough summer.

After my daughter’s first long term placement (six months) ordered by the juvenile court, she was released. The therapist did not indicate that she was significantly improved, but rather that it was time for her to go – they had done as much for her as they could.

I worked frantically to get ready: in home services scheduled,  and visits arranged by her social worker and others who were assigned to her case.

It was a difficult summer, with multiple visits to the hospital, a short term stay at a mental health facility that served adults and teens and many calls to the police for assistance. Even the workers that came out could she was struggling to control herself.

At the end of the summer, about the time I re-enrolled her in a local charter school, all hell broke loose. It was a Saturday night. We had a wonderful day – a trip to the library, and Chinese take out (my daughter’s favorite).  I had her get ready for bed at nine, with a reminder that bedtime was coming. At 10 pm I reminded her it was ‘lights out’ and time to sleep.  That final reminder is what set her off.

She began swinging her toy guitar. The furniture, closet door and the walls took the brunt of her tantrum. When I walked toward her, she held it up to swing it at me, so I backed off.  She began pounding on the wall between our rooms; her stated intent was to go through the wall and destroy my room.   My 90 year old house is very well made and the heavy lath and thick horsehair plaster  fortunately made her progress very slow.

It was at this time that I heard my son come home.  I heard him talking on the phone, asking dispatch to send a CIT (Crisis Intervention Trained Officer).  I thought to myself that a 20 year old should not have to know how to do that.  My son let the officers in and they came upstairs. Since I knew they were coming, I had gotten dressed and ready for their arrival.  When they came upstairs, I went downstairs to get out of the way.  I could hear the officer say, ‘If you expletive kick me again, I will  tase you.’

That was the last time, the last day, my daughter was home.

 

 

 

 

Normal

I have a friend who likes to say, “Normal is only a setting on the dryer.”

After years of  dealing with “atypical” diagnoses, and “non-standard” behavior, I have to agree.  People are just  not  “normal”  – we are all weird.

And it isn’t just folks with a formal diagnosis  that designates some definable difference – the weirdness is in all of us.

Of course, once you realize that, well, “weird” becomes “normal,” doesn’t it?

 

 

Happy New Year

I have a friend who always ends her emails with “Choose Joy.”  This is my resolution for the coming year.

When I think of ‘joy’ – I think of full satisfaction and security, peace and hope.  I want to choose joy every day. No whining. No complaining.

Just like my thankfulness project back in 2016, when I chose to be thankful  and express thanks every day –   I want to make a daily, conscious choice to choose joy in 2019.

I recently saw another friend, one who is not joyful. The circumstances are difficult, the weight being carried is very, very heavy.  Without a doubt, choosing joy would require tremendous effort.

But I can also see the enormous effort that it takes to continue to carry  great weariness, unhappiness, and dreary tiredness.  And I can’t help but wonder, “Would it be that much harder to choose joy? To embrace hope and relief?”  I plan to find out.

 

 

Back to school

I am a homebody. I go to work, see family or a friend and come back home.

I decided to go back to school as a healthy way to get out of the house and expand by world. The local university offers free classes (auditing) to those age 60 and over. When I turned 60, I signed up.   I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Many things, i.e. technology, dress codes, the ability of students to write and read cursive….these have all changed since I last attended a class in 1978.

I was amazed at seeing young people walking side by side, not talking, but looking at their phones. Why don’t they talk to each other?  I wondered how they can text and walk at the same time? I have to watch where I am going! Whenever I  caught their eye,  I smiled and said ‘good afternoon.’  They always seemed surprised and responded.  I was  very pleasantly surprised by the kindness and politeness of the students toward me.

In class, I enjoyed the lecture, I understood the material (Survey of Economics) and I did the reading (but not the homework – class is SO enjoyable without the pressure of assignment deadlines!)  The reading was pretty minimal – a short chapter each week.

The book was digital only. Digital books are NOT my preference. I like to read in the tub and I have this awful fear of having the tablet in the tub. Not that I am going to drop it and ruin it, no,   I take that risk with my paper books all the time. No, my fear is that I might accidentally take a selfie with the tablet and accidentally post it. Horrifying!

The one thing that has not changed about college textbooks: college textbooks are still incredibly over-priced.

I plan to take another class this semester. It is good for my brain and good for me to be out among other people – instead of a semi-hermit at home. I hope to sign up for a one-night-a-week class recommended by a friend. It has a whole new level of required student participation…not just a lecture.   Yeah, I am living on the edge.

My daughter’s new Christmas experiences.

tori ornamentAt her current facility, no one has visitors on Christmas Eve or Christmas. The reason will make you cry: There are no visitors on those days because so many of the kids (young teens to young adults) have no one to come see them.

Because of this, they all celebrate together. They open the gifts, shopped for by staff. They have a Christmas dinner, Christmas activities, a facility “family” celebration.

My son and I will celebrate “Christmas” with my daughter on December 30 this year. We will take the 3+ hour drive, talking and catching up. I look forward to this time with my son.

All of my daughter’s gifts, which will fill my little car (not because we spoil her; birthday and Christmas are the only occasions for gifts at her facility and I like to make sure she has plenty to wear…plenty of socks, undergarments, clothing, shoes), have been pre-approved, tags removed and her name written on them. We will pick up a pizza at the last shopping area before heading out through the cornfields and woods. When we arrive, we will wait by the locked door for staff to admit us to have lunch and watch my daughter will open her gifts. (My son will open the gift she made for him, too.) We will keep the conversation light and laugh together, enjoying our short, two hour visit, before the very long, mostly quiet, drive home.

New Christmas Traditions

We have always, since my sisters and I have been adults, celebrated with our family on Christmas Eve. As soon as everyone can get off of work, usually in the afteroon. That continues…but there are changes.

Some changes are just a result of aging – there are no little kids in the family, so we have a gift exchange – we have an exchange rather than giving gifts to all. And the menu: It is a sandwich smorgasbord.

Some changes have developed since my daughter is away.

The sign. Since my daughter is away, we started taking a photo with a sign. The sign was my mom’s idea. It says “We love you, (daughter’s name)” and we hold it up in front of us. Somehow, knowing she is missed by us all is helpful to her. We tell her, of course. But this small, extra effort is extremely meaningful to her. I print and take the photo to her.

The phone call. I start at the beginning of December, reminding her what day and time we will all be together. I keep my cell phone nearby…something I wouldn’t normally do at a celebration and we pass the phone around when she calls. Lots of     “I love yous” and then my daughter talks to her favorite person – her brother.

The quiet. At the end of the day, I go home to a quiet house. I put on my nightie and I read the paper. I think, “Maybe I’ll head out to Christmas Eve service,” but I always choose to stay in.

Christmas Day. A late breakfast at my folks’ with any available family or friends, followed by more home and quiet. Sometimes, my daughter will call me on Christmas Day. Other times, she is busy…busy with the Christmas busyness of her home-away-from-home.

The nicest thing

At one of the group activities at my daughter’s facility, families were asked to tell about the nicest thing that someone has done for us – individually. We were to discuss this as a family and come with an answer for each family member present. It was a wonderful discussion – “What about this?” we bantered back and forth. Both my daughter and I had several wonderful suggestions. Then she said it – “I know what the nicest thing is for you,” she declared. And she was right. It was the nicest thing.

I had fostered several children over a period of 8 years before adopting my daughter. (We actually had not planned on adopting – but that is a story for another day.) We had asked for infants; my son was still young and we wanted to keep him away from the influences of older children. Children’s Services sent us our first foster child, a little girl, just under two years of age. She was very cute, short, and quite chubby. It was a pleasure to have her in our home. After 11 months, an appropriate relative, an aunt, was identified, and she was able to move on to her permanent home.

I never had any doubt that this was the best possible move for my foster daughter. And when thought of her, I never doubted that she was well loved and cared for by her aunt.

Recently, I had a knock at the front door. I was already in my nightie, and not looking my best, but I decided to answer the door anyway. There stood a smiling, middle aged woman who looked vaguely familiar and a strikingly beautiful young woman I didn’t recognize at all. The older woman called me by name and said, “I’m (Aunt) and this is (Foster daughter’s name). We took a chance that you still lived at the same house.” Stunned, I invited them in. Foster daughter was indeed well loved and cared for…and graduating from high school.

They had come to invite me to her graduation party. This was at a time when I was sorely missing my own daughter; a time when I wondered if I had failed as a mom. They had come to invite me because they valued the time my foster daughter spent with me. It was an encouragement that I really needed at that time. It really was the nicest thing.

My son and I had a good time at the party. I shared one of my favorite memories of Foster daughter: she had a healthy distrust of strangers, and although she was a very pleasant little girl, when a stranger came near her, she would give them the meanest, dirtiest look. When I said I remembered this look, her family laughed – she still does it, they told me. Then she did it; she made the face – now THAT face I would have recognized!

The Peep-mobile

I have had a series of wonderful used cars. All reasonably priced. All reliable. All white.

I didn’t intentionally buy white cars – I just always bought what was the best value.

I don’t want you to think I don’t care what I drive. I love cars. Classic cars, hot rods, fine looking new cars. If money was no object, my car would be fabulous. And NOT white.

When I totalled my Mercury station wagon (it was an embarrassing accident in a parking lot that involved a pole. A pole that was painted red – and I still hit it!) I had to shop for a used car. I had a budget. I had an idea what I would like to drive. I had to find something that was on both lists.

Nowadays, you can do a lot of the legwork online. I kept sorting the cars…looking up information about the cars, trying to decide if I wanted to go back to a manual transmission. I spent a LOT of time looking at the available cars.

One car kept ending up on the list. I wondered, “Who would buy a car with the color name ‘lemonade’?” Apparently, the answer to that question is ‘me.’ The car, a small Chevy, is fuel efficient, barely used and easy to drive. It is so small that I can even parallel (did I spell that right?) park it. I smile when I lift the garage door and see it there. I smile when I get in: even the interior is yellow.

Why is it the ‘Peep-mobile?’ Because it looks just like a big yellow marshmallow peep.

The main library.

I loved going to the city’s main library when my daughter looked for books and videos in the children’s section.

The children’s section must have been designed by a mom. One way in, a bathroom in the section, and a security guard on patrol. I could park myself near the door with a newspaper and turn my daughter loose. She would browse for hours sometimes. Other times, she new exactly what she wanted and was ready to go in minutes. Either way was ok…this was a good, free and quiet activity we both enjoyed.

Eventually, she wanted to visit the teen department. She wanted ‘Graphic novels,’ you know what I mean, we used to call them ‘comic books.’ Problem is, the teen section is open, not enclosed. How could I be sure she wouldn’t wander off?

Adults are not supposed to sit in the teen section, or hang out there, but adults, mostly young men, would comb through the shelves for books, too. How could I be sure they wouldn’t bother her?

The nearest adult seating area was the business/economics section. I sat there with a book and read…occasionally walking to where I could see her…she would be sitting on the floor in front of a shelf full of comics, oblivious to everything.

One day the security guard on that floor stopped me to ask what I was doing hanging around the teen section. I told him my autistic daughter was searching for books to check out. I told him I was concerned because she had a tendency to wander and I couldn’t sit in the teen section. He asked me to introduce him to my daughter. So I did. (I realized later that since there was no familial resemblance – he would have never suspected I was her mom.) He told her that he walked through the section regularly…if she couldn’t see me or if anyone bothered her, he would help her. He pointed out a better spot for me to sit and every time he walked through the section he would give me a thumbs up on his way by to let me know she was still there and ok. Sometimes he would tell her to go check in with me. His kindness gave my daughter a freedom she would not have otherwise had.

 

Obsession

No, not the cologne from the nineties. The obsession I’m talking about is far worse that those bad commercials.

The objects of my daughter’s obsession change – maybe rotate is a better description. A classmate. Japan. Anime. A video game. Drawing. Finding her birth mother. Something she can’t find – it could be as simple as a scrap of paper – this last one is the obsession that has the worst effect on her life.

Obsession is so disruptive. When my daughter is fixated on something, she cannot redirect. she cannot think about anything else. She cannot function until the obsession resolves or lessens. She doesn’t want to talk about anything else. She doesn’t want to learn about anything else. If she is drawing, she will erase and redraw the same thing over and over, trying to get it the way she sees it in her mind.

When she is looking for something she lost, she often can’t even tell you what it is. She can’t describe it, she can’t answer questions about it so that you can help her find it. She will empty every drawer, box, closet, laundry basket and bookshelf.

She will scream, ‘where is it? I have to find it! I need it!’ Sometimes she just screams – no words. It is not rational. There is nothing you can do to help her find the lost item…even if she wanted, or allowed, you to help.

When she is in this state, it is obvious, when you look at her face, that things are not good in her head. I wish I could describe it better than that, but I have no special insight into her mind. When I see her like this, well, I think I would be terrified to have that insight – looking at it from the outside is heartbreaking enough.

Texas

I have written about Sweetie, the dog with no name, and Perry, our first dog. I realized I left out Texas.

Texas has been here about 18 months. He is an old dog with no place to go, so I offered, if he was housebroken(and he is), to take him in.

He is a very sweet old man, similar in size (60#)to Sweetie. He is handsome, beautiful coat, smiley face. Undemanding, content just to have a quiet home. He is a polite boy, and I am glad he came to stay.

He recognized immediately that Sweetie was the boss of him. If he has a bone, and she wants it, he lets her have it. He defers to her in every way.

He likes to sleep on the floor beside my bed. Once in a while, Sweetie will come up and sleep with him. She “sings” him to sleep with her grunts and snorts.

Now, I don’t want you to think Texas is the perfect houseguest. One day I came home from work and he did not come to greet me. I went upstairs to see where he was. He had climbed into my bed, under the covers, and was sleeping with his head on my pillow. Unacceptable. Now I tightly shut my bedroom door.

Then there was the “pie incident.” My beautiful pie – the best looking apple pie I ever baked. I baked it for my friend. I posted a photo of it on Facebook – I don’t usually have beautiful baking successes to post. I don’t let the dogs in the kitchen (another usually tightly shut door), and I had only turned away from the pie for a moment. Texas stealthily grabbed and gulped the top crust, all of it, off my pie. I was SO angry and he was NOT SORRY! In fact, I’m sure, given the opportunity, he would do it again.

It’s the darkest day of the year.

When I was 4 1/2, my mom had twins. My parents were expecting one baby in February, what they got was two babies, on December 21. Back then, there weren’t sonograms to show the babies and warn the families in advance.

I was NOT very happy with their arrival. When my parents brought them home, I asked them to take them back.

I like them a lot better now…56 years later, but I still like to kid them – “Your birthday is the darkest day of the year!”

Music

There are times the strangest things will make me miss my kids. I don’t want you to think my life is a misery. It certainly isn’t and I am happy, content with my life. But once in a while, sadness sneaks up on me.

True confession time: I sing in the car. Loudly and badly. Usually it makes me happy, but once in a while, a song will come on the radio that makes me feel sad. (Ringo Starr’s “Photograph” for instance – I heard it on the way home the first time I visited my daughter at a facility. Years later, it still makes me remember that day and cry.)

When those songs come on, I change the station.

Christmas music can be the worst. Don Henley’s “Please Come Home for Christmas,” which I used to regularly belt out in the car: I don’t even listen to it when it comes on the radio …it makes me think of my kids, and it makes me truly sad.

There are some other Christmas songs that affect me that way, too. You may laugh when you hear what they are. I hope you do; I am smiling as I think of how to  describe them.

There is a really bad Dean Martin version of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” that is overplayed on the local stations. My kids would laugh and say “don’t change the station” every time it came on because they knew it annoyed me – especially the German accent part – and because they knew that the ONLY acceptable version is by Gene Autry.  I change the station when it comes on now, not because the song is awful(it is!), but because I miss the good-natured joking that surrounded it.

And “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” has a story, too. When my daughter was little, she kept singing a song over and over. We couldn’t figure out what song it was….her lyrics were, well, different. “Does your llama, does your llama ever poo.” I don’t know how she got from a hippo to a llama – and the rest of the lyrics, well, they changed every time…only the llama and the poo remained the same. It wasn’t until she sang along with the radio in the car (yeah, we all do it), that we realized she had corrupted the hippo song. Now when I hear it on the radio, I smile and change the station before “Llama Poo” gets stuck in my head.

There are others, random songs, songs with mis-heard lyrics (for years I thought the werewolf of London had hair that was purple, not perfect!), that make me, not exactly sad, maybe “sentimental” is a better word. Not all of them remind me of my kids. A few remind me of friends now far away or passed away.

I’m sure some of the songs I sing in the car now on a regular basis will someday move into the category of “no longer fun”….in the meantime, I plan to sing them loud and work on my car choreography. If you see me, in the peep-mobile (that is what I call my yellow car – and a story for another day), singing and dancing, smile and drive on by – and if it’s a warm day and my windows are open, join in. It doesn’t matter if you know the words…I probably don’t know them either.

Truancy

I always got my daughter to school. She put on her uniform, took her morning meds, I pulled her into the car, and walked her into the building, if necessary. Her hair may have been messy, her shoes might not have been on, but she got there.

At her residential placements, they have much less success in this area than I had. An on-site school – and the facilities can’t make her go if she refuses. I am not suggesting that they drag her by her feet down the hall. Or bribe her – I wouldn’t want that either.

But there needs to be some way…If she had missed school at home as much as she has missed school at her various placements – I would have been charged for her truancy.

Explaining to her that she is just prolonging the school experience is not helpful – she has no concept of time. She cannot connect her behavior now with a later graduation date – this just not make any sense to her.

I don’t know what the answer is regarding her schooling. She will be the first in her bloodline to graduate from high school, if she finishes. I have always placed a high value on finishing high school – not on getting A’s, but on doing your best. There is no shame in any grade – if that grade is the best you can do.

Thoughts about being alone.

Alone is not the same as lonely. I am far more likely to feel lonely in a room full of people that when I am by myself.

Alone for me is quiet, restful. I read, knit or sew, watch an old movie (mostly Cary Grant or the Marx Brothers), old tv shows or cartoons (I love Dobie Gillis reruns – truth be told, I love Maynard), write letters, or work around the house – you may have noticed which one was listed last!

Since my son moved out, and my daughter is not at home, I am home alone a lot. It is quiet. There is ambient noise – I live near the highway and I often have my windows open. I have two dogs. But there is no yelling in my house. It is peaceful…maybe “calm” is a better word. The environment is calm and I am calm. I only recently realized how much I crave, need, the calm and quiet.

I am not afraid in my city neighborhood. This neighborhood is familiar…I grew up here…my parents grew up here. I know if I have an emergency, my neighbors are available. We don’t socialize, but when we are out and see each other – we stop and talk.

I am not a hermit. I work, I go to school, I meet friends for lunch, see my parents and sisters. Occasionally, I participate in a girls’ night out or see a friend for dinner. Many of my acquaintances, friends and family are talkers. Although I enjoy their company, time spent with them is NOT quiet. And at the end of the day, I am ready to go home.

Home. I like my home. It is cheerful, comfortable, and since I live alone, everything is my way. I set the furniture, which I picked out, in an arrangement that pleases me. No one else is here to offer an opinion or request a change. When I first started moving things around to suit myself, I had no idea how much I would enjoy that…Everything is my way.

And I cook what I want! I love tomatoes, onions, spicy food. Even for breakfast. There is no one here to object and no one here to request something different when I decide to eat the same main dish all week.

It made me wonder for awhile, whether or not I would ever want to live with anyone again…whether I could go back to the give-and-take of other people in the house. And, of course, that made me wonder if I even want to date at all; there is a risk that things could turn serious…

A recent experience made me realize that I might be willing to adapt – and it surprised me.

I was visiting my gentleman friend (yes, he is just my friend), having dinner, clearing the table, playing cards…it was very “domestic.” I realized, that despite my current contentment, this domesticity was something I missed. It shocked me that I felt that way. I made some excuse and hurried home. I needed to think about that. I am still thinking about that….8 weeks later.

Death of Perry

While my daughter was away, our first dog, Perry, had to be put down. That was a hard day; he had been a faithful dog.

Perry was bought as a puppy to be a watchdog, a protector for our family. I put bars on my downstairs windows for safety – not to keep burglars out, but to keep Perry in. I was afraid he would go through the window after an animal or human who was walking by. He did not like anyone to come in the house. Or in view of our house. It didn’t matter if they were friend or foe – this was HIS house, HIS territory, and he did not like anyone outside of our family here. I could not open the front windows or blinds because anyone walking where he could see, was in HIS territory.

He would stand up on his hind legs when I answered the door. He was taller than me when he stood like that…but he didn’t like the feel of the screen on his paws and wouldn’t touch the door. He just stood tetering on his hind legs and growled. He scared annoying door to door salesmen/solicitors off of the porch every time, by looking them straight in the eye.

Perry was handsome. His coloring, his proportions, were beautiful. He was a boxer mix with a crazy row of fur down his back. We wondered if his unknown father was a Rhodesian Ridgeback. That crazy fur stood up whenever he was upset. It made him look dangerous.

Fearing he would escape, I had a fenced area – six foot high – constructed outside my back door. That way my kids would not have to try to hook him to a chain. He was 100# and very strong. The tall fence and ‘beware of dog’ sign did a lot to make us feel safe. No one would see that tall fence, hear that bass-voice bark and break into our house. No one. I used to say he reminded me of the creature in “Alien” – the way he showed his teeth.

As ferocious as he appeared, he was really a big baby. He hid under the dining table when it thundered, or when Tori threw a tantrum.

I called him ‘laundry dog’ because he used to follow me down to the basement and wait there while I started the next load. He followed me everywhere around the house.

He had a big vocabulary. He seemed to understand clearly all my verbal commands. He didn’t always obey them, but I have no doubt he understood them.

Perry loved the kids. He laid outside the bedroom doors when I went to work early, just waiting for the kids to rise. He was not crate trained – we had a big dog crate when he was little, but he ate it. Yes, Perry ate the ASPCA-approved crate.

We joked that he was part goat. He ate everything near the floor – toys(you may recall that I referenced the Barbie massacre in an earlier post), crayons, my son’s birthday money (my son had dropped it- we were, thankfully, able to retrieve enough pieces to replace all $100 at the bank), Christmas ornaments that he would jiggle off the tree – yes, even glass ones. We bought him big cow leg bones to chew – he would grind them right up. Nothing upset his stomach.

He did NOT chew my furniture or try to sit on the human chairs, but we bought him a used giant ottoman to sleep on. We also made him a denim bed out of old jeans that we called the ‘mutt butt.’

An end table that he had used as a hiding place as a puppy had to be retired because he kept trying to hide there as a full-grown dog – his rear end was too big and he would knock over the table.

When we first noticed the growth on his front leg, we didn’t think too much of it. It didn’t seem to hurt, it was not in a spot that could be operated on easily – so we just watched it. At the vet’s suggestion, we made him wear a sleeve – my daughter’s old turtlenecks, adding padding (kotex) to the sleeve as necessary. The neighbor kids thought it was hilarious that this big ferocious dog wore pink shirts. They would have cracked up if they knew he was wearing kotex!

When his growth became painful, another trip to the vet – the suggested cure was amputation of his leg. Perry never learned to lift his leg to pee – whenever he tried, he tipped over. I did not see how, with his really broad chest, just one leg up front was going to work for him. I thought the kinder thing to do was to put him down.

It was a sad day. My sister tagged along to keep me company. The pound will put down a sick dog down for a very reasonable fee, so that is where we went. When we took him in, he was very scared of the other dogs, who were barking. This was out of character for him; he was obviously not feeling well. Feeling sorry for him, the worker kindly led him to where they keep the the little puppies to await his fate. He was only 6 years old.

Off the rails.

It’s a roller coaster.

My daughter’s behavior has gone off the rails again. She had been doing pretty well in school, participating in therapy, obeying the rules….then the progress suddenly stopped and we plummeted downward.

This is a recurring pattern:  Make progress. Slide backwards. Rinse. Repeat.

I don’t know why the progress only continues for short spurts. I don’t know why she suddenly decides to bite someone or throw a table. The reality is – it happens. There isn’t any excuse for the sudden and outrageous behavior shift. My daughter would like to blame someone else for triggering her outburst – but she is the one who is behaving badly. My daughter would like to do as she pleases without any consequenses – after all, she is a teenager.

There are times when you can look at her and see that she can’t help herself, can’t control her reactions. She simply loses it.

There are other times when her actions are clearly calculated….if you have enough wherewithal to walk upstairs and rip the wallpaper in MY room, this is NOT the same as flailing about and ripping the wallpaper where you happened to be standing when you lost control of your temper.

I struggle with identifying that self-control line sometimes. I want my daughter to be as responsible and well-behaved as possible. Where the line is clear – I do not cut her any slack: If you angrily destroy your own toy, it does not get replaced. If you angrily destroy someone else’s property, you need to replace it. In my head, I can hear her saying “that’s not fair.” She has a thing about ‘fair.’ The problem is, her definition of ‘fair’ is fluid and self-serving. Not to mention, life is just not fair!

I hope she gets back on the rails soon. I would like her to finish school on time. And, selfishly, I would like to avoid another disruption in our visitation schedule.

Rules

There is a reason for those rules.

When my son was little there were two Saturday morning rules: Do not go downstairs naked and do not answer the door. These rules allowed my husband and I to sleep in a little on Saturday mornings.

One Saturday morning, I heard my 4 year old son go downstairs and turn on the tv. Back then, there were appropriate cartoons on for kids on Saturdays. I rolled over and decided to enjoy a little more sleep.

A short time later I heard little legs running upstairs and a little voice yelling ‘Mom, Dad!’

My son had disobeyed the two rules – he had gone downstairs naked, and he had answered the door. Seeing strangers standing there(it was door-to-door Jehovah Witnesses), my son became afraid and ran upstairs to get us. I think the strangers were probably as scared as he was.

I don’t believe we had to remind him about the two rules ever again.

Olive Garden

Olive Garden – no restaurant has been as accommodating to my daughter’s quirks (plain pasta, meatball and sauce on separate plates).

I always tip REALLY well when a server at any restaurant accommodates us, which I am glad to do.

My daughter has learned from watching me that if you ask nicely, servers will help you. And if they can, they will do what you ask.

Sometimes, what she asks is, “Will it look like the picture?” Sometimes she will just say, “Mom, will you explain how I want it?” If she is feeling good, confident and comfortable, she is more likely to express her preferences herself. I encourage her to address server the directly, but I follow her cues – if she is visibly nervous, anxious – or having some word confusion – I offer to step in to help.

We tend to frequent the same restaurants, family friendly ones, because she has trouble deciding what she wants if there are too many choices.

Her brother has set a good example, too. He is always generous and polite to wait staff.  She is always watching to see how he does things – she wants to be like him,

17 year cicadas.

My daughter hates bugs: spiders, bees – anything with 6 or 8 legs. Mosquitoes will make her hysterical.

Lightning bugs! There was no explanation that could satisfy her when she noticed them (age 6 – before then, her bedtime was early enough that she just didn’t see them.) She just ran and screamed. And screamed, in her room, well into the night. She did eventually out-grow this fear.

A gnat made her try to exit the car on the highway – thank goodness for the child-safe latches on my car. To this day, there is no bug scarier to her than a gnat.

When the 17 year cicadas came out, I was not sure what to expect. The noise from these creatures was deafening. It made me think of the roar of the ocean. We had an overnight visit scheduled and I was not sure how she would handle the noise. I played the radio in the car to mask the noise a little. A couple of them hit the windshield – that was disgusting to both of us. One of them landed on the passenger-side, outside mirror. That guy was hanging on for dear life. My daughter was fascinated by this giant bug. Apparently, bugs are scary inverse to their size!

She asked me what we would do if the cicada was still on the mirror when we arrived at the restaurant. I assured her that he couldn’t possibly hang on for thirty miles and I calmly added that I would get out and kill him if he did. She surprised me – she didn’t want me to kill it – just brush it away, so we agreed this was the plan. Thirty miles later – he was still there! When I slid the car into park, he flew away. I guess he was hungry for Olive Garden, too. Olive Garden – more about that in the next post.

The Really Big Preschool

When my daughter was 4, I sent her to a private preschool. It met in an old church with a lovely playground, next to the churchyard cemetery. My daughter enjoyed her time there very much and the teachers were very good with her. Once she was school-aged, she would comment about the preschool every time we drove by.

One day were driving in another part of town. We drove past a very large cemetery that covered many acres, Holy Cross, on the south side of the city. My daughter, seeing the endless rows of headstones, turned and said to me, “Mom, that is a really big preschool!”

She hadn’t realized that the preschool’s churchyard cemetery had a purpose other than offering a buffer between the classroom and the playground. When I explained what the cemetery was actually for, she didn’t want to believe me. She was sad that so many people had passed away. My daughter can be very compassionate – she understands what it is to miss someone who has passed away – and she felt sad that so many families had felt that pain.

Christmas can be hard

Christmas can be hard, or at least strange, when you have a child at a residential facility.

As a family, we had wonderful, if overwhelming, Christmases when my children were small. While the days of, and after, the celebrations with extended family were sometimes just too much for my daughter to take in, the feeling of love and the anticipation were wonderful…even for her. She has never doubted she was and is well-loved.

When my son left for basic training, Christmas was somewhat subdued, without him here at home.

The next year, he was home, but my daughter was in a residential facility placement. He and I traveled to spend Christmas day in the cafeteria of the facility, with other families and their children celebrating at other tables. I’m not sure I can adequately explain to you the strangeness of it all. This was not a Norman Rockwell Christmas! The three of us could celebrate together…. but that in itself was part of the strangeness: our extended family was not there!

This facility reminded me of visiting a friend in the mental health ward at an adult hospital. At this facility, and I want to stress that the facility was clean, caring, and safe – the staff were WONDERFUL – there were very rigid rules about what we could bring my daughter. When you arrived, you locked up your purse and phone and you could not take in food or drink. These rules were for client safety, as well as the safety of staff; rules necessary because some visitors – adults – do not use or have any common sense. Some of the gift restrictions were: no aerosols, no glass, no shoestrings or drawstrings, no metal – this includes staples in books, spiral notebooks – you get the idea – nothing that can be fashioned into a weapon or device to harm others or yourself.

When my daughter opened her presents(toys, clothes and books), we used a sharpie to put her name on each item – like you would at a nursing home. Tags and some of the packaging had been remove before we wrapped them. We shared ham, scalloped potatoes, and dessert, provided by the cafeteria. My son and I stayed and visited the allowed two hours and headed home.

Did I mention it was a 2+ hour drive each way? Over the course of her two-year stay at this facility, I made the trip at least 110 times. Sometimes alone, sometimes with my son or sisters(they took turns). On a very few occasions, her behavior was deemed safe enough to take her out. We would go out to eat, go to the salon, and maybe pick up an item she needed at Gabe’s or the mall. Whether or not she could go out, I never missed a visit. If my daughter can’t be home, I have made and will make every effort to see her as often as possible.

Her current placement is slightly different – better for her needs – farther away. I will write about this placement, and Christmas there, in another post.

The ‘f’word

 

I mentioned in a previous post that we don’t swear in my house. That post made me think of a fifth grade incident with my son.

He came home from school and told me, “I know what the ‘f’word is.” My heart sank. I had tried so hard to protect him from the vulgarities spray-painted on a nearby bridge. Was it for nothing?

“It’s ‘fart,’ he said.

To my very great credit, I did not laugh. I told him that was not a nice word, and I did not want to hear him say it again. Even now, years later, when I am typing this, I am smiling ear-to-ear.

It wasn’t until high school that he came home and told me, “Mom, the f’word’ isn’t ‘fart,’ you know.” I told him I was aware. He shook his head and walked away. There must have been some interesting conversation at school that day!

Because she’s going to kill me.

Cluster. That is what the juvenile court calls the gathering of all the county agencies that deal with children. Imagine going into a room of strangers – twelve strangers – who work for various county agencies. They are gathered to decide what is going to happen to your daughter after her first domestic violence charge.

They look at you like you are an alien creature – this is not a friendly crowd. There is some chatter, then one looks at you and says, “I don’t understand why this girl just can’t go home.”

I thought before I spoke. They had all seen the reports and they had the files in front of them – I was surprised by this comment. Because it was winter, I was wearing a jacket and long-sleeved shirt. I slipped off my jacket and pushed up my sleeves. My arms were covered with deep scabbed-over scratches. I heard some gasps; then I spoke. “Because she is going to kill me.”

A stay (30 days) at a local behavioral facility was arranged/ordered by the court.

This was the first of several stays at various facilities. There will be posts about them all, but I want to make two points here; (1) I feel she received good care at each of the facilities and I am very grateful she received help, (2) She would not have been admitted to any of them without children’s services and juvenile court involvement.

About swearing

I don’t swear. I will say ‘crap’ or ‘darn’ or, if  I was  really mad, I may have said  ‘half-assed.’ That is as wild as language gets in my house.

My daughter learned to swear like a sailor. In fact, she has called me things that would make a sailor blush. Where did she hear them? Who knows. The school bus? The Behavioral Health unit? We don’t have cable. My extended family doesn’t swear. I really don’t know where she learned those ugly words.

My son, at 21, said to me, “Mom, if I said those words, you would wash my mouth out with soap.” I told him he was right. I would. And I added that I knew he wouldn’t bite me. (My daughter would bite me. She did on many occasions – not because I tried to wash her mouth out with soap.)

Sometimes my daughter aimed those ugly words at my son. He never responded in kind. He would go for a walk or a drive until he (and she) cooled down. In this situation, I am proud to say, he reacted with a maturity beyond his years.

What if I don’t come?

I tend to look on the bright side of things. I am optimistic by nature. But there have been very  dark days here in our family, and I won’t sugarcoat them for you.

On a visit to the behavioral health emergency unit at the local children’s hospital, one of many, I asked the nurse, “What happens if I don’t come when they bring my daughter in?”
She replied, “You have to come.”
“What if I don’t?”
“You have to.”
“What if I don’t?” I asked a little louder.
“Then we have to call children’s services.”
“Ok. That’s what I wanted to know.” Now I had a plan. A plan of last resort.

I should back up a little.

The first time the police took her to the hospital – let’s abbreviate the behavioral health emergency unit “BHEU” – the nurses fussed over my daughter and got her whatever she wanted from the food service: Pizza and chicken nuggets. I’m sure it was the most expensive meal my daughter ever ate.

The next time the police or ambulance transported my daughter to the hospital, I took the policeman aside and asked, “What’s the point, they are just going to feed her and release her.” I described the first visit to the BHEU and the policeman assured me that it would be different this time. I don’t know what he said to the hospital staff, but they never fed her again. But they didn’t admit her, either.

“It’s a chronic behavioral problem.” Duh! Did they think I didn’t know that??? I was living it!

Asthma is chronic. When patients have a crisis, they can be admitted. Apparently that is not true for mental health patients. I know it has become popular to say “behavioral health” instead of “mental health.” That does not change what it is.

My daughter routinely received a shot of benedryl and haloperidol (or other heavy-duty drug) when they took her in to the BHEU, restrained, fighting and screaming obscenities and threatening those around her. Sometimes it would take two shots to quiet her down. The paramedics would not transport her without a police officer, because it wasn’t safe. The police always came out to deal with her in pairs – The police in our city usually ride alone.

Despite the violence of her episodes, she was never admitted. I asked if the BHEU could check other facilities – to see if some other facility would evaluate her or admit her for treatment. She needed help. They went through the motions, but the answer was always, “No.” No facility would admit her. This happened both before and after she was diagnosed as autistic. This happened despite her medicaid coverage – and this is important – medicaid has NEVER denied her any service. The BHEU’s just didn’t see she needed the care.

They would say to me, “She is calm now, you can take her home.”

That’s how I got to the point of asking the question, “What if I don’t come?” I thought if I didn’t come, they would have to admit her. Instead of not showing up at the hospital and having the hospital call children’s services because I wasn’t there – I showed up and then had them call. This time, the last time, I went to BHEU, when they said, “She is calm now, you can take her home.”  I said “No, she can’t come home. It isn’t safe.” And I waited there for the social worker to come and talk to me.

After that, I went home and spent eight hours cleaning up the mess she had made in her room. Broken walls. Broken toys. Broken furniture. There was very little left in her room that wasn’t broken.

Clowns are NEVER a good idea.

Full disclosure – I do not like clowns. I like the Three Stooges – but I wouldn’t enjoy that physical humor if they were wearing white greasepaint. I don’t watch scary movies, so I haven’t been influenced by that – I just don’t like the way they look.

When my daughter attended Headstart, the end of year picnic included a clown. Now this clown was a man that helped on the transport bus, a nice man, a man my daughter liked, but a man that did not usually have his face all painted up.

The screaming started when she saw his face. We walked away from the activities and waited inside. She was hanging on me like an octopus on a fish. I don’t believe I gave her the fear or dislike of clowns – I don’t think I reacted to that clown at all, since I recognized him – I even tried to explain that it was just Mr. Helper with his face made up. But she was NOT buying it. We ended up leaving the picnic celebration early.

My daughter had similar reactions to Santa, the local baseball team mascot, a Hokey Pokey Elmo doll and the robot rat at Chucky Cheese.

Chucky Cheese. That is not the place to take someone with sensory issues, I know. My daughter had so desperately wanted to go to the birthday party of a classmate – and it was at Chucky Cheese. So we went. As long as the automaton Chucky was not singing – she was ok. But anytime that robot rat started talking and singing, she stopped playing and ran to me. Of course, I was never very far away from her because I needed to keep an eye on her to keep her from wandering off. Overall, the party was a success. The fallout after – well it was like the day after Christmas – exitement withdrawal.

She has largely outgrown her fear of mascots, battery operated dolls and Chucky – but clowns? No, I don’t think I will take her to see a clown anytime soon.

Christmas Overload

My family and my ex-husband’s family are Christmas crazy. The grandmas in our family go WAY overboard with presents and food. So do the aunts and uncles.

Because of this, Christmas seemed to last for days. Days of disrupted schedules (although we did our best to keep the schedule as normal as possible) changes in diet, too. And excitement. Did I mention the unbearable level of excitement?

My daughter would do ok through the exciting holiday celebrations. But on the day after Christmas – well, it was not pretty. It was like excitement withdrawal. I don’t know how else to explain it. It made the holidays less enjoyable for me, knowing I would have to deal with the fall out.

As my daughter has gotten older, it has gotten better, the fallout less intense. It encourages me to hope that she will experience developmental improvements in other areas, too.

Reflections

There was a period of time when my daughter was afraid of reflections. Not a direct look in the mirror – no she liked looking at herself in a mirror. She liked that a lot.

What frightened her was the distorted image in a window (back then some of our windows still had old wavy glass), or in the glass over a picture on the wall. Even a reflection in a shiny, chrome-like toy upset her. I’m not sure exactly what it was that frightened her so; the distortion? the movement she saw when she walked past it? She could never really articulate what she was afraid of, but she was obviously afraid. This started about the time she outgrew her crib and it happened more frequently at night.

The solution was easy. In her room, the curtains hung down over the glass windows. The posters and photos in her room had the glass removed. Shiny toys could be scuffed up a little so they no longer shone. Additionally, I got her a bed tent. The first one was a little flimsy one I picked up at Christmas-time. It helped a lot.

When she outgrew that tent, I constructed a larger one; a large rectangle, longer than her bed, high enough for her to sit up in bed. The supports were pvc pipe and the tent sides and roof were old sheets. It was NOT beautiful, but it was functional, economical and sturdy, and until she outgrew her fear of shiny, reflective things, it served us well.

Scheduling

I am adaptable.

When my former husband worked nights, I adjusted to his schedule.
When my son was born, I adjusted to his schedule.
When my son started school, I adjusted again.

My daughter’s schedules were constantly changing – different appointments, preschool, naps – all integrated with my son’s and husband’s schedules.

When I went back to work, there was another schedule to add.

I still have to consider other people when I schedule my time. But less, much less. I am still working – at least for another year and a half. My daughter’s facility schedules weekend visits and calls only – so on those days I have to consider her schedule. My parents are starting to need more of my time and I’ll be adapting again.

One thing I have learned – No matter what changes come, I have to schedule some time for myself. Oddly enough, this is the scheduling that has been most difficult for me to do. I have to give some thought to why that is!

Where’s your mommy

One day, when my daughter was still my foster child, I took her to the county offices to have a supervised visit with her birth mother. My daughter was more than a year old. As I did with all my foster children, I took a camera to the visit to take a picture of mother and child (before cell phone camera days) and told the mother I would bring copies of the photo to her. This is one of only two photos we have of Birth Mother. The other photo, which she gave me to keep, was taken in a bar – with some rather inappropriate signage in the background.

Birth Mother loved her child very much, but due to her own developmental, substance abuse and mental health issues, she could not care for her child. Birth Mother was homeless. She had unrealistic expectations, no experience with children and no family to guide or support her. She was an adult, but seemed much younger.

As I was leaving the two of them alone with a social worker, I heard Birth Mother say, ‘Where’s your mommy, point to your mommy.” I looked back to see my daughter pointing at me, not Birth Mother. This was not the answer Birth Mother wanted. This was the last time she came to see my daughter.

My daughter was right, I have always been her mommy, the one who took care of her. The one who stayed at the hospital with her when she had RSV. The one who took her to appointments. The one who read to her and tucked her in at night. The one who did all the things that mommies are supposed to do. But I couldn’t help feeling sad for Birth Mother.

The Food Machine

When my daughter was a toddler, she was VERY chubby. When she turned sideways, you couldn’t see her cute little nose because of her big cheeks. She was already very chubby when she came to stay with us at just seven months old… wearing 24 month size clothes. She was never flabby, or suffered from poor muscle tone – she was just chubby.

Because she was so chubby, and so very cute, clerks were always trying to give her food.

One day at McDonald’s, the clerk gave her a box of animal crackers on the house. She gave my son one, too.

My son made this very loud announcement about his sister: “Mom, she’s a food machine!”

She slimmed down considerably once she started walking at about age 2, and has been at a healthy weight since. Still really, really cute. But no longer a food machine.

The make up incident!

Sometimes my daughter’s logic makes me laugh. I am not laughing at her – I laugh at myself because I can follow the logic she used to make a decision.

My daughter started getting body hair at around 10 years old. I encouraged her to shave her armpits when they became quite hairy – I did not want anyone making fun of her when she went sleeveless. Let’s face it – kids can be mean. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. I offered assistance, Nair, an electric razor – but she couldn’t decide. I told her to think about it and let me know.

A short time later, I went up to check on her and I could smell a familiar scent. It was Cover Girl makeup. My makeup. I asked what she was doing and she showed me. She had taken my pale foundation and spread it all over her dark brown armpits. “It covers stuff you don’t want someone to see, right?” she asked. Well, I understood her logic, but the make up did NOT make her armpit hair disappear. It just made the hair sort of pink. (When she was little she told me, “I’m chocolate and you are bologna.” That really is a pretty accurate description of our colors.)

We settled on a compromise: no shaving – short sleeves, not tank tops – and an old t-shirt over her swimsuit.

Oh, and since she had put the make up on her pits sort of like you put on roll-on deodorant, I threw it out. At the time, I couldn’t afford to replace it…so she did me a favor: I stopped wearing so much makeup, and never went back to it.

My Crazy Taste (part 2)

My house is not only colorful it is comfortable and quiet. My retreat. I had been working at getting the house just the way I like it for some time, when I had an epiphany.

I was talking with a friend. He told me he was very intentional about the image he presented. It dawned on me that I could choose how I present myself just like I choose how my house looks! This honestly had never occurred to me!

For many years, I bought a lot of my clothing at thrift stores. I still do. But now I consider how I want to look, what I really like – not just what fits and is appropriate for work, or what someone else likes. I like color, bright color. I have a little color blindness, maybe that is why. When the colors are bright, I see them clearly. Maybe that is why I prefer red in my house. For many years I wore navy or black dress slacks with print blouses and unconstructed jackets. Loafers or low heeled dress shoes. Conservative and very boring.

What I really like is jeans. I am still conservative – everything that should be covered still is, but I like jeans, peasant style blouses, flowing scarves and bright colors. Vintage purses. Comfortable shoes. I had quit wearing jewelry when my daughter was home(I never did wear very much). It isn’t safe to wear a necklace when someone will try to choke you with it or a bracelet when some one will twist your arm with it. But I like jewelry; not expensive jewelry. Costume jewelry. Gaudy, big, bright and jingly. When I am wearing a charm bracelet, I feel like I am wearing windchimes. The sound makes me feel happy.

My clothing choices are now just as crazy as my choices decorating my home. I have never been happier, more confident about the way I look.

My crazy taste.

I know many people who have modern streamlined tastes, great rooms and open floor plans; a few who love antiques, or old-fashioned furniture and decor. I don’t know anyone who shares my my eclectic (I think crazy is a better word to describe it) decorating taste…maybe Fred Sanford – do you remember Sanford and Son? That is my living room furniture/style, only in red, rather than avacado green.

When I was married, my then husband preferred matching; pairs of lamps, sofa and loveseat(same fabric pattern) and drapes. He liked dark hunter green. I made the house look nice within those confines. Back then, it was more important to me that HE liked it. I am a person who finds it easy to be content – and it never bothered me, that the style wasn’t my own.

When it was just me and my kids, the house was set up to be convenient. A door on the kitchen to keep the dogs out and to afford some separate spaces for homework. Some things had to be stored away in order to be safe with my daughter. There had to be alarms on the doors. I had too much to do to consider just what would please me as far as decor went. I replaced things that got broken with found furniture or thrift store/yard sale bargains; function and safety were always more important than form.

Decorating my house the way I like it has become some kind of weird self-care.

Now that I live alone, everything is MY way. (Almost everything, my son is still storing stuff in his old bedroom and the basement!) I like red, so there is a lot of it. I have a beaded curtain in the doorway – because I like it. I hang items on the wall that make me smile….things that remind me of places and people I love, and who love(d) me: I have a toy piano in the living room – my aunt brought it home on a bus in a snow storm. She did that just for me. The toy train my uncle bought lives on my window sill. I have a lot of cardinal birds(our local high school team ). I have a deer head on my living room wall – not a real one, although I would like one – but a stuffed animal deer head that a friend picked up at a garage sale, because it made her think of me; I smile whenever I see it. I have old things that were my grandma’s or her sister’s; old photos, old needlework. I have porcelain enameled tables in the kitchen, with vintage linens to use when a friend comes for dinner. I have old fashioned rugs on the floors, with a plan to refinish the hardwood underneath when I retire. I frame and hang my children’s artwork.

The style reflects me, only me, and it is extremely comfortable and cheerful. I never imagined I would enjoy the kind of freedom of expression that I currently have in my home.

Say “Thank you.”

I look for the good in people and circumstances.  I am genuinely thankful – for friends, my biological family and my church family.  Is everyone helpful to me ALL the time? of course not. I’m sure I am not always helpful to them either! But by and large, they have my back. And when I look back over my life, I see a lot of things that people did for me that were helpful to me. Often I didn’t know at the time that their kind words, advice, or actions would impact me later in my life.

Two years ago I participated in a personal thankfulness project.  It was not a stretch for me – I routinely write thank you notes to people for all kinds of things.  But this project changed my life. It started out as a way to thank some teachers, some old friends, some new friends, acquaintances and even a bailiff at the domestic court, for their help during some very difficult times.

The bailiff is a good example. On what  until that time was the worst day of my life, he did more than was required to help me navigate the mysteries of the county courthouse. I didn’t even think to ask his name, I was so frazzled at the time.  I went back to the courthouse eight years later and found him. I shook his hand and thanked him for his help. At that time he didn’t remember me.  I suspect he is kind a lot, and I was just another case coming across his desk.  But he remembers me now: Last time I was at the courthouse, he said, “I know you – you’re the thank you lady.” Apparently no one thinks to say thanks.  Thankfulness matters.

I ran into a classmate at a my 40th high school reunion.  This classmate, who I didn’t know well, had done something very kind for me when I was in high school.  I never forgot it – it was not something big, just kind at a time when I needed someone to be kind.  When I said ‘thank you,’ at the reunion, it was the beginning of a friendship; a friendship that would not otherwise have developed.

And it’s not just ‘thank you.’  All of our words, AND our actions matter.  Somewhere across your path today, someone is having a bad day, going through struggles you may not recognize – do the kind thing. Say a kind word, be nice, it matters so much more than you realize.  And if you think of someone who shared some kindness with you, thank them. No matter how much time has passed, thank them.

 

Yesterday, A Long Time Ago

 

Sometimes the way my daughter describes things is just lovely.

Yesterday, a long time ago.

Because she has no concept of time, she calls everything in the past ‘yesterday.’ Yesterday could mean, well, yesterday, but it might also mean last week, last month, or when she was a baby.

Having no concept of time has helped her adjust to residential care. When she said to me, ‘I’ve been here a really long time,’ I held my breath. Was she aware that it was almost two years?
‘I’ve been here years, no months, no weeks. Yeah, weeks! I’ve been here weeks!’ ‘Weeks’ was the biggest unit of time she can imagine.

Having no concept of time meant that time outs were not helpful. Having no concept of time made bedtime a problem in the summer when it was light until 9:30pm. Having no concept of time meant that and hour or four hours at the local library were the same to her. “No, mom, we just got here.”

How many opticians does it take…

How many opticians does it take….

This is not a joke. I love to read. I read the paper, I read books. I read everyday. And I wear glasses – bifocals.

I am blessed to have coverage through Medicaid – they pay for my eye exams and glasses. My eyeglass fashion choices are limited, but that’s ok, I’m very grateful for the glasses.

My daughter knows I like to read, and knows I need my glasses to do so. She knows I value them, take care of them. So when she became angy at me and wanted to hurt me, she grabbed my glasses – and threw them out the window of our car – on the highway.

I had her pay for a new pair with her birthday money. She was miffed. A few weeks later she was angry at me again. This time she grabbed my glasses and bent them into a little mound that looked like a scissors. I started wearing readers from the dollar store….I kept my new replacement glasses out of her reach, wearing them at work.

Glasses are not the only thing she has intentionally destroyed. The list is very long – window screens, our front door, my bedroom wallpaper, the dishwasher, the oven, fans, furniture, jewelry, pictures and the walls in her room. Just typing the list makes me sad; not because my stuff was destroyed, but because this was such a horrible time for our family. Stressful, scary, disrupted, dangerous – all these words apply.

 

Enough

My daughter has no concept of enough. I don’t know if it is related to the lack of number sense or something else.

But there is no satisfaction in her – there is never enough. Whatever she has, she wants more. Whatever she doesn’t have, she wants…and wants more. It is not a matter of being ungrateful – it is something bigger. Something I have a hard time understanding.

She could never understand Goldilock’s declaration: This one is just right.

It makes me sad that she doesn’t experience contentment.

She has a hard time, too, with the concepts of more or less, bigger or smaller, nearer or farther, above and below.  I think that not understanding  these concepts is all related for her – but I am not sure how.

How do you make someone understand “enough?”

The evil that is math.

Not that I think math is REALLY evil – I am a bookkeeper – I use math successfully all the time.

But my autistic daughter –

Number sense is what they call it. My daughter doesn’t have it.

At seventeen, she cannot tell time, make change, keep track of days on a calendar, add, or subtract. The numbers just do not mean a thing to her.

Whenever a teacher or tutor suggested a method, we tried it. It just doesn’t connect for her. At least not yet. I will always remain hopeful that one day, basic math will just come together for her.

In fact, I imagine that one day my daughter will ask, ‘Mom, why didn’t you tell me…..?’ and I’ll have to wonder why I didn’t explain it that one way that she was able to understand.

 

UEN is here.

Unexpected Empty Nest – If you asked me ten years ago about being an empty nester, I would have said, “Never gonna happen. My daughter will always be at home.”

Now, I find myself living alone. And loving it. Most of the time.

It’s not that I disliked having my children here. Not at all. I just always felt you raised your children to be independent, self-supporting adults.

Like my son. He works hard and takes care of himself, and has done so since he graduated from high school.

It has been apparent to me for some time that it would not be that way with my daughter.

My daughter needs constant supervision. She needs more than I could ever provide here at home. So she is away at a school/residential facility and headed for a group home after. I will be retiring right around the time she graduates from high school. It is highly unlikely that I would outlive her – I am an older mom; I was 36 when my son was born and 43 when my daughter came to stay – so an independent living situation is in her best interest. Still it is hard to have her away.

But living here alone has made me think….about what I want. What I want! That has been the lowest priority on my list for a long time. Now it is suddenly at the top of the list. What do I want?

Our local university has a 60+ progam. When you are 60 or older, you can audit classes for free. So I am going back to school for my own enjoyment. Learning new things, keeping my mind active. Survey of Economics is my first class; it’s a good start. School is fun without the pressure of exams and homework.

Other changes will come, too. Maybe dating. I have a gentleman friend(both of those words carry equal weight). Maybe I am ready for something more.

And my house. My colorful, eclectic house – I decorate to suit myself, only myself, now that I live alone. There will be more about that in another post.

How did she learn to read?

You have to understand, I always read to my kids. Goodnight Moon, Dr. Seuss, all the usual books. I read a lot. I read enthusiastically, with all the funny voices, pointing at the pictures. The whole bit.

My son and my daughter both started reading in kindergarten. They were always among the better readers(aloud) in their classes.

One day, on the way home from school – third grade, my daughter says to me, “Mom, why didn’t you ever tell me the pictures go with the words?”

“What do you mean?” I asked. And the answer was horrifying to me. My daughter, to whom I read so often, had never understood that the pictures in the books went with the words. I pointed at the pictures, I asked her questions about the pictures, but I had never said outright, “Daughter, these pictures go with the story I am reading to you.” And she had not been able to make that connection herself.

While I was horrified that she had not understood that the pictures went with the words, this gave me some insight into how she thinks/understands things. And it made me realize that I needed to explain things to her VERY directly.

For the life of me, I can’t understand how she learned to read.

If you asked her to read aloud to you today (she is 17), she would read with the correct inflection, pronounce every word correctly, even words she doesn’t know or hasn’t seen before. I would bet you that her reading aloud would sound better than the reading aloud of most of the adults you know. But she would understand very little of it. She would understand any direct statements – but if there is something suggested – she will miss it. Neighbors complaining about barking, in a story, would not make her understand that there is a dog in the story, because the dog wasn’t mentioned, only the barking.

“Well, that was unusual” – a victory

My daughter is loud. She is the loudest person I have ever met. When she was little, I went to my neighbors and said, ‘if you hear her screaming, and you will, please feel free to come over and check on her, or call the police – whatever you feel is the right thing for you to do.’

She is also often loud out in public – as every parent knows, loudness will be in direct relation to the importance of being quiet.

For example, we were invited not to come back to the library in a neighboring town, after my daughter had to be carried out under my arm, screaming bloody murder because she wanted more books. And when our congregation moved into a new church building, she could be heard screaming, ‘they’re everywhere, spiders are everywhere!’ when she saw the sprinkler heads on the ceiling. To her credit, sprinkler heads do kind of look like spiders.

And then there are the embarrassing questions, asked at the top of their little lungs. ‘Mommy, why does that lady have a beard?” (Man with a ponytail gives me a mean look.)

It took a lot of coaching and reminding to get her to wait until we were in the car, doors closed, before asking any questions that might hurt someone’s feelings. But we had a victory here!

We were at a store south of town when a van of little people, six or seven of them, dressed in Amish or Mennonite garb, parks next to our car as we are walking out of the store. I am waiting for a loud, rude question – but nothing is said. Once we are in the car and the doors are closed, my daughter says, ‘Well, that was unusual!” I asked if she had any questions about little people, or plain people. We had a nice question and answer session about both subjects. And I thanked her for waiting until the car doors were closed to ask the questions.

Her response – “Mom! I didn’t want to hurt their feelings.”  Victory!