Friday, December 28, 2012

Much to Ponder in my Heart

No, I haven't died.  Here's the short list why I've been largely absent here:

7th grade homework (need I say more?)
Bowling league
Social skills group
Wrestling (middle school) (!)
CYO basketball (four games this week)
PREP (homeschooled)

Cub Scouts
Beginner Orchestra (violin)
music lessons (piano and violin)
Bowling league
Social Skills group

Cub Scouts
Managing all the above

The obvious question is: Am I nuts? (and the obvious answer is yes).  There is a method to my madness, however. That Nic is involved in middle school and CYO sports is already a huge win, since I never thought these things would ever be on the table, let alone something he'd be doing.

Let's be clear: he's never going to be a rock star athlete. That's not why he's doing it. He's doing these things because he's learning more about social skills, teamwork and sportsmanship than in any environment. It's not pretty. Sometimes, it's really hard to watch. Nic gets out there and does his best--and those games (10 points against St. Albert the Great a couple weeks ago--which included two free throws) get his whole team pumped.

Likewise, Gabriel announced during dress rehearsal for the winter concert: "I don't feel like doing this." Nonetheless, not only did he play his instrument well during the concert, he looked just like any other kid up there.

"I really didn't feel like playing," he confided at bedtime. "And that's what made it so awesome," I answered. "You went up there and did it, anyway. And you did really well."

I deliberately under scheduled this week because, quite frankly, as I reflect on our summer and fall, we've all been running hard. The kids appreciate hanging out and building their lego kits.  Nic's been grumbling that I am making him work out this week (and I'm glad for the basketball tournaments); however, he perks up when I remind him that he's lost 7 pounds since wrestling started and that he looks good.

External motivation is still key for Nic; there is an elevator road trip in his future if he completes his wrestling seasons successfully (success here simply means that he participates and competes; anything more than that is gravy). And for Gabriel, he simply enjoys everything he does. Which is the point.

Another important development this fall is Nic's new friend.  After about two years of correspondence, J's mom and I decided it was time to introduce our boys. And you would think they were friends forever the way they interact with one another--really great for them both.

As we finish this year, I am grateful yet again for the great strides both boys have made, and find myself, as I often am, raising bars, re-setting expectations, and wondering what to change, and how to change it.

I'm already looking ahead to our track season and working on Nic to get out and start training now. And since he's already training for wrestling, it'll be a much easier sell than previous years. Not that I expect him to be a champ; I just want him to be fit and healthy.

And you have to start somewhere.

Happy New Year.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Shatter the Glass Wall

"Give up," my husband said to me the other night.

He surprises me, sometimes.

This is the context: we took Nic to get certified for weight class in wrestling the other night. Nic left before they did the BMI test, so his submission was incomplete.  His coach called and asked us to come back.

Nic was in his flannels and tee shirt for the night. Hubby was done, in more ways than one.

I am not one to let a minor detail like that stop me.  I told Nic to get his jacket on, we're going.

He was too surprised to protest.

So we entered the phalanx of kids in the middle school hallway, Nic oblivious of the stares, and I suddenly get what hubby balked over. I am that mom, and Nic is that kid. And there was nothing left for me to do but hold my head high while I waited for Nic to complete what we came for.

The silence that followed us down the hall as we left was deafening.

And hubby was predictably mortified.

But for all this, there are several things to remember. People are going to talk anyway. People will look for things to talk about, anyway.  So why disappoint?  Who cares?

The reason I want Nic to do this is because he needs to learn teamwork. Wrestling is something he's shown interest in. He *wants* to try this. And I think that the pay off, that he will at long last create a peer group for himself at school that will not look at him as *that kid*, but as a fellow teammate, some one to watch out for,  and maybe Nic could learn to watch out for his friends, too.

The only outcome I expect is that he enjoy himself. And if this doesn't work, there's theater. And skiing. And track.

All of the sudden, what lies on the other side of the driveway somehow does not look unobtainable, anymore. Not to say that we don't struggle, or won't continue to struggle, but when I see what we've already been through, I'm pretty optimistic.

It helps that both kids have parties to look forward to the next couple of weeks. My little one has been invited to more parties in the next two weeks than he has the three years leading up to now. And Nic's new friend invited him and Gabriel to a family gathering next week.

We're getting there.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How High Can You Count?

It's been a while since I've had an update; it's not been for the lack of activity so much as the lack of time to sit down, reflect, and write. The days are packed, and I'm re-evaluating current programs for both kids.

Nic is doing well in 7th grade, in spite of himself. Predictably, Executive Function is tripping him up, as is his lack of social finesse. But he's gone to two dances so far this year, bowls, swims, plays soccer and just started CYO basketball. I'm trying to talk him into giving wrestling a try.

Gabriel takes violin and piano lessons in addition to scouts (top popcorn seller in his Pack for the second year in a row; top seller in his den third year in a row). bowling (no bumpers: in Nic's league this year), swimming and soccer. He starts CYO basketball next month.

Sometimes, the social deficit thing overwhelms me. I remind myself constantly to stop comparing; no one is on this particular road but me and my boys; everyone else has his or her own journey, and I don't know what their journeys are about. So stop.

It's so hard to stop when the grass looks greener on the other side of the driveway. But I must.

I can almost hear every teacher I ever had telling me, "Keep your eyes on your own paper."

Yeah. It's like that.

I am amazed at how much ground we've covered; I am painfully aware of how much farther we need to go.

And there is no choice but to keep going.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Guest Blog today

It's been a busy little while here, but I am happy to introduce Heather, who is here to guest blog in my stead. Thanking her in advance for sharing her courageous story!

Mesothelioma at 36

The words, "You have cancer" flood your being with intense fear. The first time I heard that dreadful phrase was during a point in my life when everything seemed perfect. I'd just given birth to a healthy and beautiful baby girl a few months before, and here I was, being told that I've got a deadly illness. I was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a form of cancer that comes from exposure to asbestos.

My first thought was, "Isn't asbestos illegal?" That's also what people usually ask me when I tell them. The other thing I'm asked is where I had been exposed. Unfortunately, the first question is answered with a resounding, "No." Asbestos is not illegal or banned. To answer the second question, I tell them I was exposed on a secondary basis. My dad worked around asbestos. He did a lot of work on drywall, mudding, sanding and taping it. The resulting dust got on his clothing and in his vehicle, which he inevitably brought home with him. We'd considered the white dust to be innocuous, but in reality, it was heavily laden with asbestos particles.

I was diagnosed at the relatively young age of 36, and according to the Mayo Clinic, at the time, there was only one other case of it in such a young person. The majority of mesothelioma cases consisted of older men who did skilled labor. HVAC, plumbers, electricians, mechanics and military personnel working on ships were all frequently exposed to asbestos due to the nature of their jobs. Later on, alarming numbers of women began developing the disease. These were mostly housewives who were exposed to asbestos from doing their husband's laundry and cleaning up the contaminated dust. Shaking out laundry, sweeping and vacuuming would send a plume of carcinogens into the air where they could easily be inhaled. Many women who got sick also did clerical work in schools that were heavily contaminated.

These days, however, a new round of mesothelioma victims is emerging. When I was diagnosed, I was at the forefront of what would become a frightening new trend. Increasing numbers of young people are coming down with this aggressive disease, even children. Kids who attended school in buildings with decaying asbestos tile and played in contaminated insulation in home attics. Kids, who excitedly jumped into their father's loving arms when he'd come home from a hard day of work, then don his asbestos-covered jacket to protect their clothes while feeding the animals. Even kids who spent quality time with their dads after the workday was over. Sadly, the more I immerse myself in the mesothelioma world, the more I'm coming across young victims. These are people in their 20s and 30s who are just getting started in life. They're men and women who are beginning relationships, marriages, jobs and families, only to feel like it's all being ripped away from them. Soon enough, the only thing they can focus on is fighting for their lives.

The upside to all of this is that medical advances are improving the ability to treat mesothelioma. Greater numbers of victims are beating the illness. Being told you've got cancer is an earth-shattering revelation, but I, and many others with mesothelioma, continue to retain hope. We unite under a common cause to share experiences, offer each other support and find a shoulder to cry on when things aren't going well. We also celebrate the victories when they occur. Some may ask why I share my story. My answer is to improve awareness. Without that, there will be no change. If telling my story helps someone who was just diagnosed, then I've done the right thing.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Waiting for Grace

A couple weeks ago, I couldn't shake the feeling that something really bad was going to happen. Didn't know what or how, just that something bad was coming.

I'm in it, now.  It's not anything  I could have predicted, and really, there's not much I could have done in any case. There's a certain level of peace that comes with that.

But the other side of the coin is that sheer terror that comes with the realization that I may now be living my new normal, which comes with incapacitating pain.

I'm not a afraid of the pain; I'm afraid of the spiritual and emotional erosion that comes with it. And of course, there's always the fear that I am no where near as bad as it's going to get.

So today, with my shoulder singing its siren song, I found myself telling my kindergarteners that I was waiting for grace. I have a Grace in the room, and she asked why I was waiting for her.

So I found myself describing what it felt like to have my arm in a sling (they did ask), and while I talked, I reflected on the what and why of pain, what lessons there are to be learned, and finding grace and peace in the spaces between the pain.

Somehow, I feel like I have leveled up to a whole new set of challenges. And I pray to be equal to them.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


There are rules, and then there's the gray area. Most of us on the spectrum have no problem with the rules; it's the gray area that gets us into trouble.

In the landscape of middle school, the gray that lies between the black and the white often forces arbitrary choices about how close to black or white all that gray is. And any ensuing explosion will be the result of that arbitrary choice. You can almost set a watch by it.

BUT...opportunities exist to explore and negotiate those gray areas for those willing to take the time and energy to do so. And this week, one of Nic's teachers took the initiative to see where this teachable moment would go.

It all started with a classmate, who approached Nic and offered him his place in an activity Nic wanted to participate in. Nic was told he wouldn't be allowed to switch, so he approached his teacher with his dilemma. In the past, he would have been told 'no,' and fireworks would have followed.

Yesterday, the teacher told him, "You committed to this other activity, but if you can find some one to take your place, you may switch."

So Nic approached some girls he knew and explained his dilemma. None of them could switch, but they might know someone who could.  So they fanned out, and Nic approached no less than two dozen people before he found some one to take his place.

On the surface, this is no big deal--how often do we find ourselves negotiating this kind of dilemma on a daily basis? We have a committment, we need to trade off, and we make the phone calls, emails, or have the conversations to negotiate our own scheduling conflicts.

But when you talk about a kid who has to LEARN how to do this......and when you give that child the OPPORTUNITY to learn this skill--and practice it, and execute it.....amazing things happen.

The excitement in the teacher's voice as she related these events to me tells me that she finally gets what I've been saying all along--you have to KNOW the teachable moments when you see them, and all things being equal, ALL moments are teachable.

She knew that she could cram several lessons into this particular teachable moment--and she made sure that she did.

And the pride in Nic's voice as he told me in his own words what happened yesterday tells me that none of these lessons were lost on him, either.

And that his peers helped him out?  We're getting somewhere.  :)

Friday, September 7, 2012



I always land here when I consider the boys relative successes.

It started with an invite to hubby's boss's house for a swim and a barbecue. "The boys can invite their friends," he wrote.

I stared at the email with pursed lips. Friends?  What friends? They have each other. For better or for worse, that's the truth.

As the week progressed, we did much as a family; trip to the beach, kayaking, zip-lining, swimming, fishing, camping. When we sat in our group Sunday morning, the issue I raised (we were all entitled to one) was community acceptance.  "We make our own community," I have told hubby time and time again over the years. "They have friends....."

Maybe this is me trying to convince myself.

That night, hubby said, "well, what good is it if they don't go to school together? How do you expect anything to stick? Face it, most kids have friends where they go to school."

Tonight at the ice cream social, we were alone. I don't mind being alone, and looking at my kids, they don't seem to mind, either.

But, I know better. My kids are, after all, my kids, and they have learned to put a good face on for the sake of putting on a good face.

I'm listening to them in the other room together, sharing stories, happy to be home.

Is this good enough?

There are some days that I'm not sure what good looks like, anymore.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Perhaps this is the wrong word, but this is where I begin. Right now I am listening to the sounds of August, and have allowed myself, perhaps for the first time, to fall in love with this month, this moment, this eventide of perfect breezes.

August, for me, has previously been owned by all my baggage. I did once love it, the sounds, the smells, the light in the evening and morning skies. And it I can't believe how good it feels to be back in that moment of love once again. It's been a long time.

I think, perhaps, this is what happens when you finally let go, and really mean it, of everything that ever saddened you or broke your heart. You do heal. You do move on. You do dream new dreams. And you arm for battle and do battle, as needed.  What a comfort it is, in some ways, to have lived this long. Because nothing is ever as bad as you think it is, and even if it is, you roll up your sleeves, and you get on with whatever needs getting on with. You do live through it. And you do learn to appreciate the calm between the storms.

A lot of this has to do, I think, with the friend Nic made this week. Even if it doesn't last, this is still something he did on his own, without me.

And now I know for sure that it can happen. Because it did.

And that's good enough for me.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

10 Years After

I'm actually a little premature writing this post; Nic's 10 year dx anniversary is still several weeks away. But, in the eye of eternity, 3 weeks is nothing, and I'm pretty sure what I am moved to write now will still be true on August 15.

Looking back over the last decade to the day that changed everything about our lives, I find myself humbled and grateful by the many teachers, therapists, friends, and strangers whose kindnesses, great and small, have helped my family adapt, adjust, progress, grow and thrive. I still wince when I remember some episodes and encounters with people who were less than kind, and I wince when I think of all the times I lost my temper or composure in the face of unkindness, ignorance, and prejudice.

By the same token, I look on all of our experiences with life on the spectrum with gratitude and wonder, and am floored by the sheer number of blessings that this life has revealed to us. I often pride myself on my ingenuity at all the opportunities I have created for both boys, but at the same time, I know that ingenuity has its roots in the countless conversations I've had with other parents who have already been there, blazed those trails, carried those weights. And I find myself paying it all forward to parents who are just getting to some of the places my boys have already been, lighting their way, guiding their footsteps.

Autism changed our lives forever. But finding those hidden blessings on this long and rocky road has altered the way I live--for the better. I remember a point about 5 years ago where I was quite bitter about the person I had become--I didn't ask for any of this, and this was not the person I was supposed to be, or so I thought.

Then life intervened, various crises needed to be sorted out, and I kind of forgot that thought until yesterday.

If I had the chance to talk to the me from 5 years ago, I'd give her a good shake. And kick her ass, for good measure.

I've had a lot of really good role models to learn well from. And I have had the weight of my own experience to balance what my gut has told me at any given point. And I have lived long enough to know that nothing lasts.

So, as I listen to my chatty young men talk between themselves, I'm thankful that they can talk to one another, that they love each other, and that they have each other. And I am thankful that I have them both. They have made my life a fuller, richer, and much more interesting place than it might be otherwise.

And I can't believe how far he's come. Not that he doesn't still have a long way to go, but that he's where he is now is always a source of amazement.

I can't wait to see what the next 10 years bring.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Concussed and Other Altered States

It begins with an industrial-sized bottle of laundry detergent.

I'm not sure who put it on top of the clothes washer; I know I didn't. But it matters not. The fact remains that some one put it there.

The reason we don't put things on top of the clothes washer is because stuff "walks" when the washer goes into spin cycle.

So Wednesday night, I ran a load of whites, and the industrial-sized bottle of detergent took a walk--straight off the edge of the washer onto the floor and split, spilling copious amounts of clear fluid onto the kitchen floor.

How slick is this stuff? Slick enough to send an adult woman's feet where her head was only a split second previously and send her head, neck and shoulders slamming to the floor in less time than it took to think "Holy s----."

The boys came running in and laughed at their upended mom, who never lost consciousness but did briefly see stars. Older son is directed downstairs to get a bucket while mom tries to process a dozen different  directives.....and is surprised that she literally can't think.

Hubby, finding confused mom on her knees when he arrives from work, sends her upstairs to clean up and wants to send her to the ER. She refuses.

Sleep comes easily and normally. For me. But the ride to work next morning ("I'm fine, hon, really.") becomes a white-knuckled affair. Traffic on the turnpike seems less predictable than usual. I opt for the longer route through Valley Forge from the turnpike to collect myself.

And I feel fine. Until I was required to do my usual multi-tasking in meeting. And that was much, much harder than I could have imagined. Stuff got done, but a few times my anxiety and panic that things were somehow harder than usual for me nearly got the better of me. I text my co-worker that I need to leave after I'm done the meeting. I feel terrible. It's hard for me to admit this.

As the meeting wraps up and everyone talks among themselves, he's at my side asking "What can I do?"

At that point, I am gritting my teeth. "I'm good," I lie. "Almost done" Not a lie. "Let me finish up."

"Go home."

I nod. He vanishes.

I finish up. Call my husband, who insists on taking me himself to the ER. And wait.

Long story short, I have a concussion, which I already knew by that point, but the good news was that I didn't have anything worse. Miraculous, considering my head and neck took the force of my weight when I landed.

So, I'm in the process of healing. And taking things slow. And easy. And I don't handle this well.

"I'm not a baby." I respond repeatedly to varying admonishments to stop or slow down.

"The opposite," agrees hubby. "But you need to stop."

Taking my younger son to the labyrinth yesterday, I find myself asking a whole new string of questions. And I'm somewhat confused by the answers. And I wonder if my confusion lies in the fact that I am asking the wrong questions.

I think back to Friday when I had a lengthy conversation with one of Nic's team.  She called me at home and we rehashed his summer so far, my concerns, and we re-wrote parts of his IEP over the phone. Clean slate for September. And I was able to do this despite my temporary disability. I can still think quickly and reason things out, but it feels as I am doing it through layers of insulation.

But, my emotions are just as strong and incisive and distracting as ever, and I wish the insulation extended to cover the sharp edges of my own feelings. Kindness tends to throw me. And I'm thrown, in more ways than one. Another thing to recover, more to think about, ponder in my heart, and all that good stuff. Why do I have to make so much of small things? So much better to simply pay things forward and not think so much.

Ask me not to think, however? You may as well ask me not to breathe.

But for the sake of those who love me, I'll stop for a while. 


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Leveling Up

The latest, in no particular order:
  • Nic survived his first year of middle school
  • Gabriel enjoyed his week of tae kwon do camp--new actitvity? We'll see
  • Nic is playing township basketball in our neighboring township--and enjoying it
  • Hubby has volunteered to coach CYO soccer
  • Gabriel played his first piano recital
  • Mom ran her first Warrior Dash
  • Mom's also trying her hand at something new professionally

    We've been a little busy. Nic also went over the township pool on his own last week and made a new friend. Sounds like a minor thing, but in my world, all these signs of emerging competence and independence are huge.

    I celebrate my birthday this year by celebrating all the milestones that, 10 years ago, I never thought I'd see. And as my kids discover new skills and abilities, I, too, am finding ways that I need to grow and develop. That we are learning and growing together and individually in tandem with one another is a beautiful thing.

    I haven't figured it all out--I probably never will--but there is a growing peace within me as I recognize a bit more readily what I can control and what I can't.  And understanding that there is very little I can actually control has been very liberating, indeed.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


A few months ago, I had dinner with a dear friend, and the subject of volunteerism came up. She remarked that she was amazed that I took on as much as I have (and this was before track picked up and took over my life for the last two months).

I sighed. "Hubby says I have volunteeritis and that I need to learn to keep my hand down. But here's the thing; if I am running the show--whatever show it is--NOBODY can tell me that my kid can't participate. On the other hand," I sighed again. "Damn, this is exhausting."

My bright-eyed friend grinned at me from across the table. "You are so blessed, and you don't even realize it."

I frowned. She waved me down.

"No, no, I KNOW you know you are blessed THAT way. But did you ever think of how lucky you are to be so involved in your kids' lives?" I guess I still looked confused, because she went on. "How often do parents drop off their kids at your activities? And you stay in, stay involved, and not only do you get the benefit of the time with your kids, you get to hang out with a lot of other cool kids. And how great is that? To have that kind of impact on all these kids' lives?"

This conversation popped up in my head on Sunday at the Area meet. We advanced one of our 11 to the finals. Still, I was struck time and time again over the course of our season what camraderie, what teamwork, what sportsmanship each and every one of my kids displayed. Our little team was a TEAM, in every possible sense of the word.

And because we have such a great little team, I want to make it the best possible experience for all of them as I think about next year. I discovered over the last few weeks that I may not know that much about track and field, but a lot of what I need to know about being a positive adult role model, I've already been doing. And our coaching (my partner knows what he's doing, thanks God) and their teamwork has made this season a good time for us all.

And, I'm finding that what I've learned here can be generalized in all my other volunteer activities--as well as all my adult interactions.

So, as I come back to that conversation over dinner with my friend, I realize that not only was she referring to everything I've already done, but all the fun and adventure that lies ahead.

And yes, I am THAT blessed. And doubly grateful.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Smells Like Competitive Spirit

My life as my son's track coach calls my relative virtue into question.

Never have I been more conflicted, given more pause, or otherwise perturbed by the sheer level of competitiveness I feel like I am biting back at every turn. Hubby, however, laughs at me.

"You? You are one of the most competitive people I've ever met."

I don't see myself in this light, but I trust his assessment. He sees everything. And I often ignore anything that's not right in front of me.

I can't ignore the competitive thing right now, though. I took on track responsibilities to ensure that our kids had their own team. And yes, I wanted Nic to be a part of this team--for many reasons. And the right reasons--after all, he's learned more about teamwork and friendship these last 6 weeks than he has in the last 6 years. He's had fantastic modeling from his peers, who regard him with bemusement much of the time.

My reaction to Nic relegated to alternate status for the Penn Relays bugged me--after all, it was supposed to be all about the friendship, right? But here I was, annoyed that Nic wouldn't be able to run the relays again. Never mind he ran last year and was lucky to do it. And never mind that he was FINE being an alternate. And as luck would have it, the fourth slot opened up, and he ran again this year. And you would think that would be enough for me, right?

(You know what's coming....)

So, as I created the rosters for the upcoming champs, I looked at everyone's best times and assigned events accordingly. And I filled out Nic's events, with a small amount of regret, knowing that his season would end decisively on Sunday.

That is, until I saw the preliminary roster.

The top six slots in individual events advance to areas. And there were only 6 runners in Nic's age bracket for the 1600.

I could scarcely believe it. I had motivation for Nic to run. AND, he'd get a medal--a small payoff for the work I subjected him to, but hey, 6th place? Cool.

Although, in the back of my mind, I knew another school would see the opening. After all, Nic is legend for his lack of speed.

Thus, I shouldn't have been surprised when there was a seventh name behind Nic's in the final event program--a kid frequently called in to run whenever Nic is running because he can beat Nic.

So, I sat there before my computer screen, seething. Wondering why this coach couldn't allow my kid a scrap of recognition. And knowing that if I were in his shoes, I probably would have done exactly the same thing.

I have to ask myself the question--do I make Nic run an event he doesn't want to run, anyway? And why would my answer change over the enrollment of one kid? He should run it just because.

"I don't like running," he told me a few times this season. "but I do like my team."

I have the schedule. I have my own assignments. Nic has his.

He knows what I expect.

Or he thinks he does. I wonder what I expect, because my own expectations are suspect. I did this for one reason, yet others...let's just say I surprise myself. And not in a good way.

He will run. Or he will choose not to run.

There comes a point where I need to step back. And let him choose.

And I'm here. This time.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Showing up

90% of life is just showing up.
~Woody Allen

Nic ran his second Penn Relays Tuesday night.

I had an email from Jr boy #4's mom last Thursday letting me know that he was too busy for track. Thus, Nic moved from alternate to teammate. On the train ride to the relays, Nic was right there in the crush of teammates (4 to a 3-seater bench, two deep), sharing his Big Nate book and cracking wise with the rest of them.

I was also aware of the subtext; Nic was sitting with the senior boys, who were setting the example for the junior boys, who look askance at Nic. He's physically slow, he's different, and yeah, he's going to slow everyone down, but he's still a member of the team. And guess what--if he didn't run, none of you would be running.

Nic, alas, can't see any of this.

I do my best to reinforce what he can't see.

I strike a deal with Nic; if he surrenders his hat AND doesn't look over his shoulder, he gets money to buy a snack.

He surrenders his hat. He runs with focus.

But he is a good 10 seconds slower than his teammates in the 100s--an eternity, comparatively speaking. Nevertheless, he runs his heart out. And his team runs theirs. And they come in last place, by 1.24 seconds.

I think of the woman who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom and the whole ethos of "If you can't be in first place, why bother?"

I bother because place here is not the point. This is the one area in my son's life where he gets to experience first hand what teamwork looks like. He doesn't always get it, and he often makes loud, tactless comments that warrant correction on the subject. Fortunately, this is a fairly forgiving bunch of kids who are not afraid to correct him when he needs it, especially if I am not there to do it myself. I have modeled for them what correction looks like, and they are all phenomenal mentors for him as a result.

He is learning something I couldn't possibly teach him on my own. Likewise, he is teaching us all things we couldn't possibly learn without him.

We all win.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Where's the off switch?

I'm sitting in the confluence of several events.

In my volunteer life, I made a major deadline by the very skin of my teeth. I forwarded an email that is the equivalent of a bomb. And I answered an email with a smiley face in spite of my desire to spew invective.

In my work life, I answered a challenge with a bald question. And chased that with a balder (is that possible?) statement of fact. The inquisitor folded like a house of cards.

In my mom life, I marvel that my adult life dealing with idiots mirrors my kids' experiences. I am not happy about this. I worry.

Hubby laughs, because he's been telling me so for what, 20+ years? My eureka moments make him laugh. I'm reaching for the dark chocolate and wine. And wonder what I was thinking.

I don't have to wonder; the reality is this. I volunteer as much as I do because the result is that I get village elder status. Nobody can tell me--or my kids--no. And the truth is, I can do this village elder thing.

But the last 48 hours have left a bitter taste in my mouth. My near miss damn nearly cost us a lot; my kids are an afterthought, in more ways than one; and the new alignment in one of my volunteer efforts has me seriously considering tendering my resignation.

I have to ask the question: What's it going to cost?

Meh, it is already. I just have to figure at what point that I need to cut my losses.

Or just say no.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Geocaching my life

Geocaching is a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using GPS-enabled devices and then share their experiences online. (the offical definition from geocaching,com)

This past weekend, we had a conversation with a couple who have taken up geocaching with their teenage son. Using a GPS, they find a container, leave their name, and a little something behind.

I had an online chat with a friend last night that made me think of our lives as sort of a real-life geocaching adventure. We were talking about our respective challenges and our responses to them. And she commented that I am changing our little area of the world, and she is lucky enough to see it.

Which led me to think--yeah, I've always been one to seek opportunities for both of our kids. And wherever one has not existed, I create. It's just the way I roll.

It's sort of a geocaching for life. We find our moments, we leave our names, our marks, and little pieces of ourselves. And move on.

And others can find their ways in our footsteps, if they need to. And where they strike new paths, we can find our ways within the steps of others, as well.

It's a beautiful thing.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Waiting for Morning

"Mom, remember the night I couldn't fall asleep?" Nic asked recently.

There was no one time that immediately sprang to mind, and I said so. Truth is, Nic didn't sleep through the night with any kind of consistency until about third grade. He persisted.

"You know, that night where I tossed, and I turned, and I ended up at the foot of the bed."

OH. THAT night. And I do remember him at the foot of the bed, finally asleep.

"How old were you, Nic? Do you remember?"

*shrug* "First grade, maybe?"

"And why couldn't you sleep?"

"I was just waiting for morning."

The phrase jars me in a way Nic's random proclamations often do, and haunted me in the early morning hours as my little one climbs into bed with me and falls asleep. Lately, he's needed me more at bed time, and often wanders in the wee hours like a little ghost looking for me. And this morning, I realize with a great deal of dismay, he's grinding his teeth in his sleep.

Nic has ground his teeth in his sleep ever since he's had them. Gabriel has not. Until now.

So again, I find myself seized with fears in the darkness, wondering yet again if I am doing enough for him, what am I missing? What else do I need to be thinking about? Has the bus stop ruined him for life? How can I fix this? Is he already broken beyond repair?

I think of people I knew, and one person in particular who my mom said was a troubled soul.

I thought for a moment. "He was always a troubled soul, mom."

She was quiet a moment. And agreed.

So to what depth troubled? To what extent broken?

I find that I, too, am waiting for morning.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why Bother?

Sometimes I have to ask myself the question: why bother?

Sometimes, these moments, where Nic's teammates help him run in the 1600, are the reason.

I remember the same place cheering Nic's completion of his first 400 last year and thought that moment would be a hard one to top. But when I heard one of Nic's teammates ask an official "Can we run with him?" as Nic struggled into his last lap, I could have cried. And watching those three boys--who had just finished their own 1600s--trot alongside him in the last 300 meters, it was all I could do NOT to cry.

But I do feel the unasked question: why make him run? Why do this when you know he'll never finish first?

He likes his team. He likes to be near them, even if he isn't always sure how to interact with them. And he can outrun most of the kids in his gym class, which has its own set of bragging rights, even if the people in the stands don't know that.

Why bother? Because Nic is a part of a team that would not be the same without him.

And that's a good enough reason for me.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


"Mom, it's okay if I'm an alternate." Pause. "What's an alternate?"

Thus begins my first stage/sports mom experience. Last year, a small team enabled my elder son the experience of Penn Relays; this year, a larger team relegates him to 'alternate.'

Don't get me wrong; as a coach, having alternates is a good problem to have. The downside: all the senior boys got to run last year. This year, there will be disappointment.

"We're doing this on times," I told the kids at the end of practice yesterday. "Fastest kids go. I'll be posting everyone's times every week."

We had a fifth junior boy join yesterday, which pretty much guarantees that Nic is not going to run. The force of this disappointment surprises and vexes me.

"But mom," said Nic, "You still have to coach, so we still have to go."

It occurs to me that the other alternates may not feel this way, and that Nic, who can either run up or run down this year only, is peculiarly situated to be an all-around backup, if need be.

And he is absolutely okay with this. Isn't that the very essence of teamwork?

And isn't it awesome that Nic gets that?

As much as I model for him, he models right back to me.

And I am okay with that.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Super Powers

I always wanted to be invisible. This seems as good a place as any to start. I am--have always been--painfully shy, an observation that makes people who think they know me laugh out loud. But no, I spent the better part of my life wishing I could blend better into life's furniture and background. But God had something else in mind.

Because there is Nic, who is the antithesis of shy and retiring and is everything and more than what I was at age 12. Nic has all my tectonic force and emotional storminess minus the female circumspection and decorum. He lays everything bare without any thought of what it could cost him.

Which led me to ask the question: where the HELL did he come from?

My answer came to me this morning while I drove into work, thinking of conversations I've had with colleagues and a conversation I had with a fellow mom last night about some one who feels compelled to move because of her family's ostracism from their neighborhood and my response: "I know what this looks like--can you have her contact me? Email me? I'd love to talk to her."

This was one of those moments where I was saying the words, but they were as new to me as they were to my listener. Because as I listened to this stranger's story, I heard my story. I watched my little one perambulate around the room, humming to himself, and I noticed a few sets of eyes looking at him.

Yes. Ostracism. I know something about this.

For all the self-flagellation I engage in about not being a better model to my boys, I realized this morning that Nic is OUT THERE because I am OUT THERE. For the last 10 years I've been knocking myself out--sometimes literally--to ensure that my boys are part of the community. And the pains I have taken are starting to pay off.

Take the sacraments. All I had to do at any point in the last 5 years is ask Fr M to administer sacraments to Nic. It's been my preference, however, that he receive the sacraments in the community, just like every other kid his age in the parish has done. Nic's behavior posed a big limiting factor to this; Gabriel's does not. Gabriel, consequently, will make his sacraments on the same timeline as his peers. And I just got the green light for Nic to make his sacraments of Penance and Communion with G. Nic will then make confirmation with his class next fall.

The point here is that my boys do this with the community. And it looks like, at long last, this will happen.

I look at all the other things we have going on right now: track, scouts, swimming, bowling, music, and I realize that all these years I have been throwing myself out there, getting thrown to the mat, picking myself up and dusting myself off, Nic has not only been watching, but he is also doing. For better or for worse. I am teaching him how to be a proper warrior. And he's learning. He is not always right, or quiet, or neat, but there is nothing half-hearted about the way he rolls. Not even his laugh.

I asked for invisibilty; I got armor instead.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Slouching hopefully down the mountain

I'm sitting here at G's weekly music lesson, trying to wrap my head around the last little while. We went skiing last Friday; metaphors swirl around the whole idea of edging to the top of the hill, taking a deep breath, and then letting the speed and wind of racing downhill take your breath away.

It's some of that; realizing that once and for all we have found something that Nic can do and, reasonably, leave him to do on his own and he'd be fine. And realizing that slowly, he's coming to do all the things we'd expect a boy of 12 to do on his own.

As I told our story again--for the first time in 18 months--to back to back classes yesterday, I realized anew that my children are both wildly surpassing everything I ever hoped they'd be at these respective moments of their lives. We're up to 5 team meetings so far for Nic this year--and we all laugh. Because the kid has a sense of humor and is writing his own story--that someday he will tell in his own way. That he tells every day in the way he lives.

At our encampment with scouts at the Battleship NJ, we had our first uneventful encampment--ever. It was exciting for what didn't happen. My boys carried on just like the rest of the pack, and Nic even got to run a television camera during one of our many stops throughout the ship.

I did an interview with Dr Dan Gottlieb for Voices in the Family just about two years ago, and at that time I told him that our family looks just like any other family. It feels that even two years from that moment, that statement is, possibly, more true now than it was when I said it.

But that's how it's been going. Bit by bit. Day by day. Year by year. The boys continue to gain ground; certainly not at the speed of their peers, but my God, to think that I ever expected--or dreamed--of any less.

Their success has always been a product of finding what works for them--throwing stuff against the wall, and seeing what sticks. Lately, lots of stuff is sticking. We're hard pressed to eliminate anything from their busy schedules, because they are getting so much out of everything.

Sooner or later, we will slow down, and take a deep breath. But for right now, all of us, we are just enjoying life. And each other.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Time for Inner Changes

They've already happened, apparently when I wasn't paying attention. And where do I begin? Let's start with a dead car battery...., I was making my daily endrun to get the boys with an added stop; pick up soft pretzels for the evening's Pack meeting. I did that first, then went to get the boys. Nic's pick up was uneventful; G's was until we got to the car. And the damn thing wouldn't start.

Nic immediately flew into dramatic overdrive. "MOM! WHAT WILL WE DO?"

I can't fault him; once, that would have been me.

I pulled out my work BB (my cell phone is officially dead from being dropped one too many times, and yes, I'll deal with that, eventually) and call hubby, and tell him to call AAA (after all, that's why we have it, right?) He says he'll be there as soon as he can.

Which would be at least 40 minutes. I knew it was getting on 6; we needed to be at the pack meeting before 7.

"Why don't you guys go over to look at the monster truck parked over there?" I had gotten out of the van, fumbled around for the hood release. The kids, however, lingered to see what I would do. I went around the back and pulled out the jumper cables, thinking MAYBE some one would stop. I see the pretzels in the back and wonder if they are going to get where they need to go.

Three cars passed. All the drivers looked the other way. The boys, seeing I wasn't going to do anything else for the moment, wandered off to the truck, arguing. Some one pulled over and parked to talk on her phone.

Which gave me an idea. I reached for my BB again, and this time dialed the cub master. "I have good news and bad news," I began. "The good news is that I got the pretzels. The bad news is that we're stuck over in the school parking lot."

Did he laugh? Probably later. "I'll be over as soon as I can."

Which was all the time it took to put on his shoes and drive over. By that time, the woman who had pulled over had driven her car over to mine. Two girls and a set of jumper cables with nary a clue between them about where to start: this is probably where S started laughing.

My boys ran back over. "Mr. R, Mr. R, what are you doing here?"

Giving mom an advanced tutorial. "First thing we do," he announced, "Is untangle the cables."

Yeah. Duh. Sorry.

"Kids, step back, this may blow up." And without missing a beat, he hooked up my car to my other good samaritan's (and cleared the trap of old leaves) and signaled me to start up.

"It died!" Nic wailed disconsolately.

"Nah, it didn't die, it's just tired," he answered.

I turned the key, and the engine roared to life, as did the stereo, which blared "Alone Again (Naturally)" I smothered a laugh at the irony. The kids cheered. S unhooked the cables and handed them back to me. "They're yours? Wow, prepared."

I handed off the pretzels. "This way, I know they'll get where they need to go. And thanks."

I called hubby back and told him to cancel the service call. The kids piled back into the van, and everyone went their separate ways. And I laughed.

"Mom, what's so funny?" Nic asked.

"You guys got to see what friendship looks like in action." And I didn't realize how true this was until I said it. "We had a problem, I asked for help, and I got it. A friend will help you, even if it puts him or her out."

Actually, my thought had been about the pretzels, and the last thing I wanted S to think was that I punted. And of course I knew that he would know what to do with jumper cables.

All this happens against the backdrop of conversations I've had with a colleague over the last few weeks, some one who wants me to look at things another way, to stop thinking 'either/or' and replace it with 'both/and'. In a somewhat related story, I've been thinking a lot of making better use of the gifts I've been given. Yesterday, I was tapped to give a couple guest lectures at a local university--something I had stopped doing for the wrong reasons.

Guess what? I'm back on the circuit. Thanks to another hero.

The larger story is that I'm finding blessings and opportunities in all the things that most people have come to regard as inconvenience (at best) and disaster (at worst). I know there are hundreds of inspirational quotes out there that urge you to think this way, but a vast majority of us really don't; we SAY it, hoping we get to a point where we may actually mean it.

But no. I realized in my drive home that I'm there. I'm really, really there.

And grateful, as always, for the people who show me the way. And remind me.

It's good not to be alone.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Feeling a lot of things right now. Gratitude sits on top. A lot of other things simmer below. I'm thinking primarily of our outing last night; Nic wanted to go to a fund raising event at a local eatery. We went; he knew some kids, we saw people we knew, but it was a zoo. On one hand. On the other, I saw a bunch of guys I knew from scouts there with their kids, like me, who weren't there with anyone else but themselves. One guy even sent his son over to us to offer their seats when they were done.

Nic went off to talk to some kids, and when I returned to our seats, he went off (I found out later) to stand guard at the kitchen for our order and bring the wait person over to our table with our order--a smart thing to do, considering the sheer volume of people packed into the small space.

That was his idea.

I've been quiet here because I've been processing a great deal on the subject of friendships and how they relate to me and the boys. That they do not have the same childhood experiences as hubby causes him anguish; I cope by telling him that their childhood was not all that different from mine.

Revisionist, much? Hell yeah.

I can write volumes on this subject, but to what purpose? Let's keep it simple; I keep the boys busy because it's easier for me to drown out sadness and hubby's angst and limit the kids' screen time all in one fell swoop. Oh yeah. Let's not forget alleviating my own guilt for not modeling better.

I need to write a few lines about this. Friendship did not come easily for me. I found myself casting a wider and wider net as I grew up, knowing that if I were to find like-minded people, I stood a better chance of doing so outside of where I grew up.

(It actually makes a weird sort of sense that my best friend was born on another continent and lived in another state the first 3 1/2 years of our relationship. But anyway....)

But how I got here....I spent a lot of time on my bike, riding far away from my neighborhood, a constant stream of daydreams running through my head. Actually, you could argue that my boys do very much the same between themselves, except they run lines from well-loved movies. And they sing. A lot. While I run them from one activity to the next. I come home, aching, tired, wanting to just sit with a glass of wine and a book, but then there's more to do to get them finished homework, bed time routines (they won't do these alone; every night it's like a whole new experience). Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Then I read this from Thomas Merton last night: "...self knowledge is impossible when thoughtless and automatic activity keeps our souls in confusion....we have to cut down on activity to the point where we can think calmly and reasonably about our actions. We cannot begin to know ourselves until we can see the real reasons why we do the things we do, and we cannot be ourselves until our actions correspond with our intentions and our intentions are appropriate to our own situations."

Here lies the intersection between my spiritual and secular lives; Fr M gave me the book (actually, all the PREP teachers got this book for Christmas), but some one I work with actually prompted me (unknowingly) to read it. And, suffice it to say, some things are coming together for me. I pay a whole lot of lip service to letting Go and letting God.

The trouble is, I have a hard time letting go. I'm beginning to get that. But on the plus side, the boys have something neither their dad nor I had growing up. They have each other. They are best friends. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

So. I have some decisions to make. And some cleaning to do.

Time to start putting my money where my mouth is.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


I predicate my entire life on balancing my kids' needs with the level of b.s. I need to experience to meet their needs. And sometimes, my tolerance for the b.s. wears thin, threatening activities that, you guessed it, are either helping my boys, are things they enjoy, or some combination of the above.

Right now, league bowling occupies the bete noir spot on my life's to-do list. I hate that Gabriel gets no coaching in his league (the other kids do); I hate that the other parents encourage their kids to bully Gabriel (which is why I now occupy his lane radiating all manner of hostility--it stopped the bullying, but hasn't fixed the coaching problem).

The situation in Nic's part of the forest improves weekly; although he and his teammate also get zero coaching, no do-overs (other kids do, and their more competitive parents allow it and dis-allow it for our boys), Nic's come a long way in curbing his behaviors and acting more like the almost 12-year-old he is. When a mom told her son that Nic has 'conduct problems', I called her on it. She didn't apologize, but she did backpedal. I'll take that.

Two weeks ago, I was on the point of pulling them both out for good, for all the above reasons and a whole bunch of other craziness and insults collected since September. Today, I was pleased to see Ry, Nic's teammate from many a Friday last year, join Nic and R to be with them for the remainder of the year. "He missed bowling with Nic," his dad said.

And Gabriel does enjoy rolling, oblivious to all the sturm and drang around him. I reminded hubby of these things as we had our weekly post-roll stew on the way home. "We have to remember that we can't change these people," I said. "And we can't let them chase us away, either."

Water off a duck's back. Years of weathering other people's judgment and insanity has hardened me, like it or not, to the point where I almost enjoy pissing people off by showing up. Because you know what? We have as much a right to be there as they do.

And let them make their judgments. I can see that my boys have both made huge strides since September. I see their progress. And their progress validates their presence there--and anywhere else they want to be.

Chew on that. I am.

I remind myself that these activities are not about me, although other parents sometimes sadden, frustrate and infuriate me. At some point, both boys are going to meet this hostility head on, probably sooner rather than later. And I will have to be there to teach them that life doesn't allow you to choose your interactions. So you have to be prepared to handle whatever comes your way.

They both handle adversity pretty well. I like to think I'm a good model. After all, kids don't always listen to what you say, but they will do what you do.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


It's time to slow down.

I've been consciously and obstinately ignoring all external indicators for, oh, I don't know, maybe the last several months. I hear or see these things, then double down, jaw clenched, and power ahead.

Then, a couple things happened on Friday. I heard the news that a former colleague lost her teenage son. That single event triggered a cascade of thoughts and feelings that I usually reserve for the dead of night when I can't sleep.

These thoughts take me to some interesting places in the light of day. News like this tends to make one hit the pause button, quickly chased by 'reset.'

In a way, death's easier if you can see it coming. You can slow down the clock, prioritize, get your affairs in order, get good with God, say goodbye. It still hurts--God, how can it not?--but at least in your head and heart you knew you did everything leading up to it the best you could. There are no regrets.

When death shows up unannounced, however, the recriminations and regret heaped on loss make the unbearable unspeakable.

I've spent the better part of the last three years living my life as if I were dying--enjoying my family and friends, working hard at my job and within my community, spending as much time in nature with my family as possible, and getting my spiritual house in order.

I started losing track of some of this about 7 months ago. I stopped frequently, course-corrected, struggled with some of the usual demons, adapted, adjusted, and moved on.

So, Friday morning's email arrived, and the only sound was the sound of the silk blindfold hitting the floor.

I went about the morning's business, attending to what I needed to attend to with the news and all its implications running various processes in my background. Mostly, scenes from my sons' lives in the last year played out in various ways, complete with my own internal commentary of what I could have done differently, how I should have handled things differently, what better example and modeling I could have provided for them both.

I always comfort myself with "I am doing fine; they are doing fine." And with "They are doing fine," I excuse myself.

And I know in my heart of hearts that THIS. Is not fine.

Which led to a text and a closed door conversation that went from business to the deeply personal. "I need to know," I concluded at the end of an uncharacteristic display of frustration, "what difference I am making. Because it feels like no matter what I do, none of it makes a damned bit of difference."

I think we all think this on some level. I think this is the first time I actually uttered these words to another human being.

There's no great reveal here. I always say in 50 years the measure of who you are isn't going to be what you did for employment; it's going to be the proof of who your kids are and what they are doing that will be the measure of your life. How did you live? What will people remember about you and how handled challenges and adversity? THAT is who you are.

I closed that door. And another one opened.