Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

As a good friend of mine pointed out this past week, I really grew up this year.

So, in keeping with that spirit, I vow to continue to be honest with myself, compassionate with others, and to show mercy when it can and should be offered.

I will continue to cherish and accentuate all the positives in my life with an eye toward improving all that I can improve about myself. While I can't promise to stop procrastinating, I am going to make a good faith effort to try.

And I am going to try to be more patient.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Maturity Rocks!

Having spent most of my life coming to grips with the fact that my head just isn't wired the same way as everyone else's, it's kind of nice realizing that the kids and I aren't so different from everyone else, after all.

Yesterday, my neighbor called to tell me that a group of the bus stop moms were going out for dinner and a movie, would I like to come?

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I quickly cleared it with hubby and helped figure out the when and where of it. Then the boys and I went out to donate the 10 bags of toys I sorted and bagged over the last month and went to Costco for a very late lunch and shopping.

(There went dinner, so I drank while everyone else ate, but I was totally okay with that, because remember: I am different and cool like that.)

I don't think I was mature enough to do this with this crowd 5 years ago. But last night was nice; six of us sat around and took turns dipping into different conversations. And as I sat there, the lessons of my sons' inclusion in their school, in the neighborhood, finally sunk in. My kids are more alike than different from the rest of their kids--hell, I always knew this on some level.

But I always thought *I* was so different. And the reality is, I'm not, really.

I was quite happy to just sit and listen. But one after another, each of the women at the table took turns asking me about myself, my family, the kids, what we do, and even though we as a family are not *quite* as integrated into the fold as the rest of the people representing their families at the table, it's a huge step ahead of where we were even three months ago.

And the movie was fun.

It was a lovely evening.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bigger than a Bread Box

Our day after Christmas was pretty much Christmas minus the unwrapping. There is nothing in the universe nicer than not having to BE anywhere.

Eventually, we all got a little stir crazy, so we got dressed. Hubby took the kids to the library; I told them to meet me at church when they were done, since I had to lector.

Fr. M was clearly bothered by something--even in joking around before mass, there was an unhappy edge to it.

I lectored, and hubby and boys showed up during the homily (and I was glad I didn't go with them to the library). Nic sat with me, and I saw hubby and G out in the congregation when I did the petitions.

The homily took me back a little. It was not scripted, and whatever he was feeling was pretty raw. It was an act of bravery, and he got his point across. (To me, anyway, but he always does).

After, the boys stopped over to see Fr. M, who clearly was happy to see them.

I asked him if he was okay, and he replied that he understood the torment my kids must go through, being different, being teased, and related a story about a relation he must have seen over the Christmas holiday.


So we had a micro counseling/bull session, wherein I told him that everyone has issues, that life is hard for everyone in different ways, and we all have different crosses to bear. "If it's easy, it's probably wrong, it's that simple," I told him.

He laughed, and it was a real laugh, as if I were able to physically lift the burden off his shoulders.

Some gifts are too big to be wrapped. And usually they are the ones that get missed altogether.

Unless, of course, it's something in particular you are looking for.

Had a Merry Little Christmas

And learned that less is indeed more.

The kids had a great time. We spent Christmas Eve in the company of ALL My sibs and their families this year. It made for a packed house, literally (27 people in a NE Philly row house), but it was a good time. We stopped by to help my uncle decorate his tree on the way home.

I was up before everyone yesterday am and came down and did some last minute 'Santa' work before the kids came down.

We bought much less this year, but the kids loved what they got. Perhaps because they don't want much to begin with, and perhaps because this year they could tell us exactly what they wanted.

In any case, I said we'd keep it simple, and we did. And it worked out fine.

We went to mass at our own church this year, and as usual, Fr M knocked it out of the park. We all stopped by to wish him a merry Christmas. Then off to BIL's.

We have nothing planned this week except dinner with my friend K on NYE. Nic has lost his puter until after the New Year--which is fine, because he is reading instead. We are also going to finish memorizing the damn multiplication tables.

YEAH. I'll finish cleaning up around here, and then time to relax. :)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Frog in Gradually Heating Water

Either there is something wrong with me or I am almost completely done holiday stuff, because I am not panicking.

It's the first. Still haven't even thought about holiday cards and need to purchase baking stuff. Still need to run out and get Nic's aide's gift. And I have two more interviews to do before the holiday (Nic blew up spectacularly while I was on speaker phone yesterday. It was not a good evening).

The house is clean, thanks to an impromptu dinner invite and the scramble that follows. Hubby usually hates me while we're cleaning, but ultimately he is happy a) we had a reason to clean and b) we socialize, and I think we need to do it more often, because it would keep us motivated to keep the place clean.

I'm looking for Nic's library book, which is rather pointless, because I don't think it's here. He's lost the computer until the new year because of his antics yesterday.

I have about 10 more questionnaires to get through for G's 6-year eval tomorrow.

And I need to finish a draft of my article--for me, if for no other reason.

I dunno. I should be stressed, but maybe I'm just beyond stressed. G's class party went fine yesterday, but he really does not feel like he is part of that class. And no wonder, all the kids in his class know each other from preschool. Bleh. I hope he has a different mix of kids next year.

Speaking of whom, here he is. Time for breakfast.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Answer is No

God always answers prayers, but it doesn't mean you'll like His answers.

The mix of yesterday's events reminds me that everything happens for a reason. At around 3:30 yesterday, I received news that I had on some level been expecting. There would be no 11th hour reprieve for the kids' pool. It shuts January 1, and their lessons for the rest of the year are canceled.

Taken with an early am invite for the boys to go to a neighbor's house in the pm, things balanced. It was clear by the last-minute nature of the invite that the issuer wasn't sure she wanted to make it. After all, what if I accepted?

Anyway, I told Nic about it when he got off the bus. Initially, he said no, G could go and he would be quite all right by himself.

I promised him hot dogs for dinner if he went. Grudgingly, he accepted the deal.

G was happy to have an invite for a playdate.

So I walked them around the corner. I reminded Nic of the rules. I think he was happy to be invited, but understandably nervous.

I was surprised when mom threw me out. I made sure she had my number before I left.

This was a first. This is the first time I left one--let alone both--boys at some one's house for a party or a play date.

Of course I sat the whole time with the phone in my lap.

When I got them a little over an hour later, my neighbors were already there getting their kids--and they were going to bring mine home. And hosting mom approached me and told me how wonderful my boys were--and they were welcome any time.


So when I pull back on the pool thing and look at the bigger picture, it *MIGHT* be possible to think that my kids are ready for township aquatics. The pool just opened, it's zero-grade entry, and by all accounts, the only thing it lacks is the play area their pool had. Considering both boys are swimmers now, it may not be a deal breaker.

SO. I'll be contacting the township next week and looking to fill the gaps left by the program that no longer exists (it does, but for my purposes, it's off the table, as it won't come back--if it does--until September).

I still don't have an answer to my neuro problem, but one crisis at a time.

Oh, Nic is also managing the bully situation. He's friends with B again, has his bodyguards, but his teacher would not let him go to the principal about the other ASD kid who suddenly can't seem to leave him alone. I told him to stop by and see her on the way to class Monday am.

I know the teacher doesn't want Nic to get the other ASD kid in trouble, but bullying is bullying--REGARDLESS of who is doing it. And it needs to get dealt with.

Friday, December 18, 2009

'Don't give up on me'

I really need to finish clean out operations. But the truth is, I am overwhelmed.

One part of me would very easily like to resolve this by sticking everything in a trashbag and out to the curb and let the landfill deal with it.

The more socially responsible (and OCD) part of me wants to get pieces of toys ALL together neatly and donate.

In short, the second part is really screwing me. Especially since toys and parts are scattered among three floors, multiple containers and even the stuff I thought I had all the parts for (and have given away) are turning up.

It's enough to make any OCD person insane.

Anyway, thinking on my friend M this am. We talked at length for the first time in months yesterday, and I am haunted by her words as we hung up--"Don't give up on me."

How many times in life have I given up on people? More often than not, I'm the one who is given up because I am not as bright, popular, flashy or pretty as some. Lest I sound bitter, I'm not--I'm resigned to the fact that I am one of those 'friends for a reason or a season.' My two best friends have been with me longer than 20 years, so I don't much care--I'm not a people collector.

But for some one to say that to me? I guess she knows I'll be here when she's ready.

She just wants to make sure. And that's okay.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Last Time

Generally speaking, you can remember your firsts and lasts.

To this day, I have no idea when the last time I saw my father was. I have maybe a half dozen memories that could be 'it', but I don't know for sure.

I didn't get to say goodbye, which also is something I have a hard time with.

Anyway, last night I got into the pool with the boys because I'm not sure there will still be a pool after break--at least this particular pool. So instead of my customary laps (I only got in two), I spent a good half hour rough housing with them both in the play area. You can tell they are good swimmers now--Nic doesn't exactly match me stroke for stroke, but he comes close.

If this is a last time, I want the kids to remember it.

And if not, it's just another great memory.

Ah, life. It goes by way too fast.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Crazy productive

I sent the initial contacts out for my next assignment this am. And the rest of the day has been a buzz of productivity.

The van needed major service, so I left it and went to get work set up for our roof, which has apparently seen better days. So, we are in the queue for that and getting the gutters cleaned. What fun.

Then I spent the next two hours in Marshall's. It was so nice to be able to look at things in leisure and not have to worry about one kid or the other breaking something. I picked stuff up, put it down, wandered around the whole place two or three times.

Confession time: this will be a decidedly unfun Christmas. I just spent the better part of the last two weeks cleaning out toys bought with the very best of intentions that have seen little actual play and a lot of floor/clutter time. Time to give things to kids who will play with them and appreciate them.

So what I'm doing is quite novel--actually, for this generation. I do this anyway to some degree, but this year, my gift are by and large utilitarian. A coat, gloves, boots, sleeping bags for both boys. Sure, there will be books and music, but there is not one thing that neither boy will not use.

This actually feels pretty good. And my little one actually wanted very little this year, so I know he will be happy with what he opens on Christmas morning.

I know it's not about the stuff. Hell, I don't even want anything (but for my kid's pool to stay open, that would be pretty schweet). But, I know from talking to them both about this that it's going to be a good, happy day.

Because, beginning and end, we'll be spending it together, with our families. Thank God.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mercy and Second Chances

I just heard that Nic successfully handled another bus situation this morning. The kid has truly learned to fight some of his own battles.

That used to be a big phrase when I was growing up: "Fight your own battles." That was usually said when reinforcements were brought in, and I needed all the help I could get.

I realized while having breakfast with a good friend this morning what a huge, huge deficit I ran my entire life without my father around to coach me. I am here, and I can coach Nic, because I understand the unique challenges he faces.

My dad understood the challenges I would face, but he also knew he wouldn't be around to coach me.

Thirty-five years and change later, I get it.

In other news, I've had a little holiday cheer and mercy come my way. I know mercy when I see it, and I promise to try to deserve it.

I have my marching order, and now to get it done.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lessons from the Big Bus

Nic happily reported when he came home yesterday that "B listened."

What this little exercise established:

1) It took care of the immediate bullying problem, but it also

2) Established to all and sundry that Nic will not be a target--and that Nic will deal with this problem, not mom running to the principal on his behalf.

3) Showed Nic that he does indeed have control over some things and most importantly

4) Gave his self-esteem a huge boost. Next time it happens, he has a script and a course of action.

You should see him, when he smiles, he is lit from the inside. I am so proud of that kid.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Making My Peace

I excel at crazy-making prognostication.

It usually starts with an itchy, anaphalactic feeling at the back of my throat and spreads like a fever, until it has me jumping out of my seat and pacing the house like a caged animal.

Sometimes my worst fears are realized; other times, it's just PMS.

Right now, I find myself rocking in my seat and wondering where the latest threat is coming from. Health concerns, house worries, economic woes--I have a little of all these on my plate right now.

I should be pleased with the fact that my older boy is suddenly wise beyond his years. He told his chief tormentor this am (I saw him do it from the bus stop) that he has a choice--leave him alone or he goes to the principal.

I'm teaching him to fire a warning shot across the bow before attacking. There are reasons that this is necessary, but he doesn't necessarily know them. Nor do I, but hard knocks have taught me that it's so, regardless of the reason.

He smiled at me from his seat, and waved, as the bus drove away.

That's a first.

He's going to be okay. Regardless of whatever happens.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


I'd be remiss if I didn't write a few lines on my big guy and the strides he's made.

Seven years ago, his future was a tabla rasa, or as good as. He had no speech and a diagnosis of autism.

Five years ago, he had little or no conversational speech.

Two years ago, he still tantrummed when words failed him. And they frequently did.

As recently as September, he was still unable to tell me when things were going awry in school or on the bus. Then we made the transition to the big bus.

And boy. Has he been schooled.

Kids with autism miss social cues. Nonverbal cues. They are literal. If some one tells them that he or she is their friend, they take them at their word, because it doesn't occur to them to say things for the sake of saying them. Speech makes it true to the child with autism, even if it isn't.

Nic has figured this piece out, and it wasn't clear to me that he had until I was giving a talk on Creating a Vision for Your Child. I described what happened with the laser pointer the other day, and while I was giving the talk, my phone went off.

The voicemail left me told me that Nic did exactly what he needed to do. He told the principal what happened, and the kids involved were talked to, and parents were called.

No big deal on one hand. But these kids weren't banking on Nic sticking up for himself. I'm sure it came as a rude shock.

One mom said to me, "The big bus scares me, how can you let your child on it?"

I told her it scared me, too. "But he's learned more about social skills in three months than he has in social skills classes in the preceding four years. Living in the real world? THIS is where it all starts."

To any typical kid, this is easy. But to a kid with autism, they have to LEARN all the stuff typical kids just KNOW as a matter of course.

And by God, Nic's learning....

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Worst that Can Happen

It's been a banner week in autism central.

Nic had not one, but two kids try to shine a laser pointer in his eyes while waiting for the bus in the cafeteria yesterday. Instead of confiscating the laser pointer, the teacher threatened detention, and the owner passed it to some one else to torment Nic.

Guess who's going to the principal this am. I anticipate call #5 for the school year sometime this morning.

G's new nickname is Sluggo.

I am presenting this morning on Advocacy and Creating a Vision for My Child.

Why am I picturing both boys wearing chain mail?

Because like it or not, I'm raising a pair of warriors.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Other Shoe

I'm just about finished another project, giving a talk tomorrow, and cannot escape the awful feeling that something really, really bad is about to happen.

Part of it might be the leak in the roof (discovered at 11:17 pm last night). Damage has been contained, but it needs to get fixed. Add that to the fact that as of right now, I don't have a batter on deck.

Further add that no one is looking to do any extraneous work right now.

Things have been going well, which means we are headed toward the inevitable down cycle. These things are good because they keep us honest, relatively idiot-proof, and priorities in check.

They're bad because while they will end eventually, as does everything, we don't know how long we're in for.

Girding for weather ahead. Because there is. And we're in for it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's a burrito kind of night

Easy dinner. Nic is back in the posse's good graces. For today. G is a thug.

Just another day in paradise.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Paella Made Easy

It's easier to think of this more as a framework than an actual recipe. Paella is actually a very forgiving dish in terms of what you add and what you choose to substitute. I will provide the original listing of ingredients side by side with my improvisations. I recommend following the recipe to the letter the first time, and then as you get comfortable with making it, improvise! This has turned into my signature display dish.

1/4 cup oil (I use olive oil, less because I use fresh, hot dinner sausage, but more on this in a bit)
2 cloves garlic (I tend to use three or four, but you use what you like!)
2 c brown rice (I have used Arborio, jasmine and brown--arborio is AWESOME)
4 cups hot chicken stock (I STRONGLY recommend making your own, will include a recipe below)
1 or 2 T saffron (optional--this is nice if you have in, but totally not a deal breaker if you don't)
3 large tomatoes, cut into wedges (I have also used canned and frozen tomatoes)
2 cups peas, fresh or frozen
6 artichoke hearts, quartered (optional--but REALLY good to have!)
2 sweet peppers, chopped
1 chicken, cooked and disjointed (I usually throw in part of a rotisserie chicken from Costco--if you have chicken breasts or a package of legs, that will work fine, too)
1/4 lb of chorizo (I use a lb of hot dinner sausage)
8 shrimp or prawns (I usually use about a lb of frozen shrimp that I've thawed somewhat under cold running water)

The recipe calls for a large shallow two-handled frying pan, but my biggest one wasn't big enough. I use a stock pot.

Okay, so heat oil and garlic and remove garlic when brown (I leave it in). At this point I also add the chopped peppers, tomatoes and sausage and let that go until the sausage is browned and the peppers are soft and the tomatoes have reduced a little. Add the rice and brown; then add the stock (if you want to remove a 1/4 cup of stock and replace with white wine, that's actually a nice touch).

Cover and steam (LOW heat!) until rice is almost done. Add peas, (you can substitute corn!), artichoke hearts if you have them, chicken and shrimp, mix up, cover and let cook an additional 10 minutes or until shrimp are pink.

And that's it!

Chicken stock is easy to make; put your chicken odds and ends in a pot add a few sticks of celery chopped up and a carrot or two (also chopped) along with a bay leaf, cover with water, and simmer for a couple of hours. Chill the whole pot in the fridge over night and strain the next day, freezing whatever you don't need in 4 cup containers (or whatever you have). It's a great way to use a rotisserie carcass! And it's also a heck of a lot cheaper than buying stock.

Let me know if ??