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!

The Rice Krispie Suit

Fifth grade was a bad year for us. Puberty added a whole new set of problems and behavior issues.

One particularly bad morning, my daughter did not want to go to school. I had to make her go – you see, there is this idea she has: If she gets away with something once, she expects to get away with it every time. There is no going back; no reclaiming authority if you give her a break. I used to introduce myself to her grade school teachers and say, “I am her mom. I want you to understand you cannot let her get away with anything. If you do, you will never get it back. Do not cut her any slack.” Most of them listened; the one who didn’t – well, let’s just say that was a VERY bad year.

But back to that one morning – My daughter sat down on the kitchen floor. I asked her if she was going to walk to the car or be carried to the car. She grabbed the box of Rice Krispies off the table, dumped it on the floor and rolled in it. Her black school uniform was covered. Her hair(that was a bad hair day!) was covered. I think there were even Rice Krispies in her shoes.

I really think she thought that I wouldn’t take her to school looking like that…but I did. I walked her into school, told her teacher it had been a bad morning. The teacher kindly said ‘I’ve seen  worse.’ She took my daughter by the hand and said, ‘let’s get you cleaned up.’ This event was near the end of her regular schooling. Shortly after that, my daughter was recommended for home instruction because she had become too difficult to manage in a classroom.

I had her get up everymorning, put on her school uniform and took her to work with me. My employer was so helpful – allowing me to bring her along. I worked part-time at a church, so I parked her in the youth room to nap, read or draw while I worked my four hour shift. All the doors at the church have chimes – so I didn’t have to worry about her running out a back or side door.

Home instruction meant she was with me all day, everyday, save 2 hours in the afternoon, four days a week, when a teacher would work with her one-on-one. Often, I would just sit in my car and nap during that time – I had to stay nearby in case there was a problem with her behavior.

I had her evaluated again during that time – she had not yet been diagnosed as autistic – despite sensory issues, pervasive developmental problems – she always tested just a litte too high. It would take a domestic violence incident, juvenile court / jail, and a six-month stay at a residential behavoral unit to finally get the autism diagnosis. This was just the beginning of a very bad time for our family.

Hair care

I am white and have long straight hair. My adopted daughter is black and has very curly, very thick hair. It is the kind of hair that some folks would call “bad hair.’ Not me. I think her hair is lovely.

My daughter has a beautiful, dark face, gorgeous eyes, dimples, perfect skin and a contageous smile. If I looked like her, I would have my hair cut extremely short and wear it natural. Sometimes she does that now. She has her own sense of style – and it is really good. I take her to a salon when I can; she likes having her hair washed in the sink. I hold her hand, sometimes she  wants me to – it can be scary. But I let her tell the stylist what she likes and wants, like any other teenager would do.

When she was little, I braided her hair, styled it, bought hundreds of barrettes and thousands of beads. I took a class to learn how best to care for her hair and keep it healthy. I consulted with neighbors and other moms at school. I understood that to some people, having hair that looked unkempt meant you weren’t well loved. My daughter was always well loved.

We briefly tried straightening – I would not recommend it – it made her healthy hair weak and it did not give her what she wanted, which was ‘wiggly hair.” Long skinny braids with beads on the ends gave her the wiggle she wanted…so we spent many Saturday afternoons watching videos and braiding. I spent far more time and money on her hair than I ever spent on my own.

Were all my styling attempts successful? No. There were days when my daughter was having problems far greater than a bad hair day; days when it didn’t seem that important to have her hair ‘just so;’ days when her teachers kindly let her wear a scarf because she couldn’t stand to have her hair fixed. These were the days I dreaded having a mom approach me after school and say, ‘You should fix that girl’s hair!” Or, being offered advice by someone – how can I say this nicely – someone who needed to take their OWN hair care advice…or at least look in the mirror before leaving the house. These folks were NOT helpful.

When I see someone who is having a bad hair day, or whose child is having a bad hair day, I smile at them and offer a kind word, like ‘love your shoes.’ Now THAT would have been helpful.

My son, the idiot.

Sometimes, when your kid misbehaves, it is hard not to laugh.

I want you to understand that my daughter loves my son. If you ask her who her favorite person was – she would say, ‘my brother.’

It has always been that way. From the time she came to stay in our home at just seven months, he was her favorite. It’s not that they are close in age and were playmates – he is seven years older. He just has a nice way with people – children, older people. He was a really kind boy and now he is a really kind man.

One day we were driving in the car – my son and I in the front seat, my daughter, then about 8 years old, in the back seat. I do not for the life of me remember why she was upset with him, but she was really, really mad. And she yelled at him, “you’re not my brother, you’re an idiot!”

I never allow name-calling. I expect my kids to be nice – but for some reason, and I really can’t figure out why – this cracked us (my son and I) up. We were trying not to laugh, trying really hard to control ourselves. Besides not wanting to encourage name-calling behavior, we didn’t want my daughter to think we were laughing at her. I think it must have just been a relief of the tension; a release of whatever it was that had made her upset.

We think of this event regularly and joke about it – all three of us. Surprisingly, my daughter doesn’t remember what she was upset about either (she rarely forgets anything involving people and places). All we remember about it is the shared family joke that it has become.

I recently told my son, “Whenever I hear the word ‘idiot’, I think of you!” He took it in stride; he knew that I was referring back to this event.

My daughter shook her head when I told her what I said to him. Then she smiled and said, “good one, mom.”

Dad doesn’t have any cows.

Miss Literal.  That’s what we call my daughter sometimes.  To her credit, she has learned to ask, ‘Is that an expression?’ when we say something she finds confusing.

Back when she had speech therapy, pronouns were a problem. ‘Carry you me?’ she would often ask. You me.  She wasn’t sure to whom the pronouns referred. So, for a while we eliminated pronouns. We used the names instead. When you say, ‘Do you want mommy to carry (Daughter’s name)?’ there is no room for confusion. She could tell who was carrying and who was being carried.  After a time she began to understand the pronoun thing.

There were other word issues though.

When she said she wanted to eat a hammer – we could discern that she meant a hamburger, for instance.  That kind of word confusion was easy. If you couldn’t guess what she was referring to, you asked questions. Lots of questions. What color is it? Who was there with you? When was this, was it yesterday or yesterday, a long time ago? (To my daughter all past is yesterday – I will be posting more about her lack of a concept of time.)  What did we do there?  Was it fun? Is it something you eat?  Do you like it? You get the idea.  With enough answers you can figure out what someone wants – and as she grew older this kind of word confusion grew to be less of a problem – unless she is very, very tired.

Opposites were a problem.  If pepper makes things hot, then salt must make them cold.  It took a long time and eating a lot of salty food to convince her this was NOT true.  When my daughter gets an idea stuck in her mind – there is no changing it.

When I said to her “Don’t do that, your dad will have a cow,” she calmly informed me, “Dad doesn’t have any cows.”  You don’t realize how many idioms, how many weird expressions you use, until you try not to use them at all.

I have a sarcastic sense of humor. I love puns and clever jokes. So does my son – he gets that from me;  our senses of humor are very similar. And when my daughter asks “Why is that funny?” one of us explains it to her. It makes me very sad that she doesn’t know.

Often she looks at us to see if she should be laughing…and just laughs along with us.

I don’t want you to think she doesn’t have a sense of humor – she certainly does.  She can be intentionally funny, and every once in a while, she surprises us with a joke that is hilarious – and we laugh  because it is funny, and smile because we know she understands why.

 

 

 

How I got a dog with no name.

Our first dog was ‘Perry’ – my son named him. It seemed like a soft name for such a big protective dog. We got Perry as a puppy. His job was to protect us – we had a break-in while I was at work and some teen criminals stole my kids’ electronics and other items. The policeman who came out said a dog was the best deterrent to that kind of crime…so we got a dog. A dog we expected to be about 35# – but grew to 100#. He was a big handsome boy. When strangers came around(or anyone who didn’t live here at my house, including extended family), he would curl back his lips, show his enormous teeth and growl. No doubt he would kill to protect us.

Perry seemed to know that different family members required different actions on his part. Perry rough-housed and slept on the floor with my son. He followed me around like a puppy and lay on my feet to warm them. With my daughter, well, he seemed to know she needed quieter attention. He would run ahead of her, lay down and roll over so she could rub his tummy. That move was just for her.

While he was very protective of me, in particular, he never went after my daughter when she screamed at me or attacked me. He would go hide under the dining room table until the tantrum-storm had passed.

He did antagonize my daughter in one way, though. He had a taste for Barbies. He liked their little shoes, their children and their heads. We had more than one horrible Barbie massacre.

When Perry had to be put down(it was unavoidable), my daughter was away in a temporary placement. She was so very sad that she had not been able to say ‘goodbye’. When my daughter came home, we decided we would look for another dog when we were all ready.

I had in mind a handsome, mostly black, shepherd mix male…and we (my daughter and I) went to see what was available at the pound. They were running a special – all dogs over 45# were free for the cost of a dog license – all shots and neutering included. The worker asked what I wanted and I gave them the description I had in mind – adding that the dog needed to be ok with small children, this was to accommodate my daughter’s behavior. The worker asked if this would be an inside dog. I responded ‘yes,’ and before the ‘s’ came out of my mouth, she said she had the dog for us, the perfect dog for our situation.

She brought out the ugliest dog I have ever seen. Half the hair on the tail and ears was missing. She(not even a boy dog!) had just weaned puppies. Her white hair was thin and you could see through it – black freckles on pink skin. Her face had no expression and she seemed to be saying ‘duh.’ She was skinny, sadly underweight. But this dog let my daughter walk her on a leash and was completely attentive to my daughter. This dog never flinched when we walked past loud, barking dogs or mewing cats. This dog never stopped looking at my daughter for direction. And this dog pranced when she walked like she was a fancy french poodle. Well, of course, my daughter was smitten.

The pound had given her a name – just for the website. It was the same name as my niece(my lovely niece was really not interested in having an ugly dog named after her). Since I call everyone ‘sweetie’ anyway, we began calling the dog ‘Sweetie’ – and we never bothered to pick a real name. The pound waived the adoption fee even though Sweetie did not meet the weight requirement. I think they were just happy to adopt out this homely pitbull mix dog. Apparently, no one played with Sweetie when she was a pup, so she doesn’t play. She only recently (she is six years old approximately) started barking – she learned that from our other pound dog. Sweetie is like a big(60# now), lazy cat. She wants to sit on your lap when she feels like it.

On the plus side – she has NEVER had any accident in the house and was completely housebroken from day one. And she never developed a taste for Barbie flesh or fashion.

On the way home from the pound, my daughter started crying, actually weeping; she mumbled, “I love this dog so much.” Now my daughter is away in a residential placement; my daughter was only here with Sweetie for about a month (I will write more about that later), but she loves this dog. And I have no doubt that Sweetie remembers my daughter. Every time I visit my daughter, Sweetie sniffs my clothes and wags her tail. I think she knows that I have been hugging her real master.

About Runners – It is a real problem.

I have a 24 year-old son, a 17 year-old daughter and two rescue dogs. I don’t have any special insights to offer, but sometimes just sharing my experiences can be helpful – helpful to me, that is.  And maybe, if you have some of these same experiences, you’ll realize you are NOT the only one – that bit was really helpful to me a couple years back.

I decided to blog about my parenting and care-giving experiences – and maybe a little about self care, too.  This first entry in the blog is about running – running away – without consideration of safety – it’s a real and often misunderstood problem.

My autistic daughter is a runner – I had alarms on the doors – exterior and all the bedrooms; hooks out of her reach on all the exterior doors when she was little. We had to consider bars on the second story windows – she thought she could jump out the second story window and not be hurt – like in a cartoon.

One day she climbed out the little bathroom window because she decided she did not want to take a bath – to her this was a rational choice.  She was on the back porch roof, naked, in November. She was thirteen and had wanted her privacy in the bathroom, so I closed the door. But it did not occur to her that being outside naked was NOT private and not safe. It was a cold draft coming through the house that alerted me to the situation and I was able to coax her back in. Needless to say, that was the last time she was afforded bath-time privacy: after that,  I stood outside the open door while she bathed with the shower curtain drawn.  (I remember telling an acquaintance that someone at my house climbed naked out on the back porch roof – they asked if it was me! I laughed at the thought – they were serious and didn’t understand why I laughed.  Sometimes you just have to laugh so you don’t cry.)

My daughter has no common-sense fear and would be an easy target of whom to take advantage. She is beautiful, and a joy to have around – most of the time. Her demeanor can change in an instant, without warning, and often without an identifiable trigger.

I could accommodate all her sensory issues, keep her on a rigid schedule and overlook any behavior that was just quirky, not safety related. But safety became an increasing concern.  Due to her increasingly dangerous attempts to run, and increasingly violent outbursts (she was born drug affected and has related IQ and behavior issues in addition to autism.  Let me add she is adopted; I was not the one who took the drugs.) it became unsafe, for her, and for me, to have her here at home.

The police were always wonderful – you can specifically ask for a Crisis Intervention Trained (CIT) officer when you call 911 – this information has been invaluable to me. Unfortunately, it was difficult to get real, substantial help without the juvenile court being involved. I ended up opening a voluntary case with Children’s Services so that they could arrange an appropriate, safe placement for my daughter.  They have been truly helpful. Her social worker and MRDD worker are both very dedicated – and I am grateful for them.

My daughter is currently in a residential placement in another distant county. I drive up to see her about twice a month – one of those is an overnight visit, and talk to her on the phone often.  She is working toward HS graduation – she may graduate as early as age 20 – and her behavior is improving slowly in a highly regimented program. It is hard to have her away; she is only 17 – but I know she is safe, not running, not hurting herself or me.  I am hopeful that she will continue to do well and be able, eventually as an adult,  to live closer to home, in a supervised setting.

Recently, a policeman knocked on the door  and asked if I had lost a family member – they found a developmentally disabled youth wandering nearby and wanted to know if she was mine. They had been here so often with my daughter, they just assumed it was her again.

There are so many more people in this situation – with a disabled child that will run away with absolutely no concept of the danger – more than you might realize.