. With Love, From The Mother 'Hood: 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009


Light Iris by Georgia O'Keefe

"Engrossed is the bee of my mind/on the blue lotus feet of my Divine Mother"

-Paramhansa Yogananda, yoga master

Looking at my blog tonight I realized I only have one post for December. One friend recently asked, "Are you still blogging?", and the answer is yes, very much so! But, that may leave you wondering why I haven't posted much, and the answer is, I have been busy watching the unfolding of my life, promising myself I would slow down a little, much like the unfolding of a beautiful flower. Irises are my favorite. Calling to mind the Divine Feminine, tall statuesque stems topped with the soft curl of petals that evoke delicate strength, both revealing and protecting the inner most beauty. Irises have captivated me since I was a very young girl, anticipating the rebirth of the bed at the front of my childhood home every year, waiting for the beautiful full bloom, the petals gently folding back on themselves.

I can't help but feel that the intertwining of my girl self, having finally found her feet, and my woman self embracing that girl and helping her on her way is the key to the good place I am in, enjoying this new sensation of moving forward instead of remaining mired in the past. At the recent yoga class I attended the instructor shared an inspirational quote, picked randomly by me from a set of cards. If I am remembering correctly, mine read: "When you marry action with intention, miracles happen". So reflective of where I am in my life. I loved the class and enjoyed inner peace, finding balance while providing myself with some much needed "me" time. I was going to say "On a side note" before this next bit, but I feel all of this is part of the bigger something I am moving towards, and "side note" sounds inconsequential. The yoga instructor is a friend from high school whom I haven't seen in 20+ years; and through reconnecting with her (LOVE facebook!) I have discovered we share mutual friendships, some of which have been rekindled because of our interactions on facebook. I am amazed we never ran into each other, minus the time I now know I saw her at the mall, but was too chicken to ask if we knew each other. This, along with discovering other old friends from home also live here or have connections in the area has been a grounding force. We hale from a VERY small town - still trying to wrap my mind around anyone from home living here or having family here. (I guess it is just the place to be - Us kids from WLSV are cool like that.) I could go on and on about the connections - It is like my own personal version of six degrees to Kevin Bacon.

This has been a year of discovery for Marc and me as partners and parents. With our recent major milestone reached, helping Max to gain independence from his TSS, (TSS = Therapy Support Staff; a woman that attended school with him full time up until this year to address behavioral issues and implement his treatment plan) I have been thinking a lot about the progress he has made in regards to his autism and all that we have overcome. I said to Marc, "I really don't know how I got through some of it" - it was that bad. I often didn't leave our house because it was just too difficult to manage his behaviors; he screamed about everything you can imagine from the tag in the back of his shirt, fluorescent lights in stores, the smells of the chemicals used to treat new clothing, to left turns made while driving just to name a few - and sometimes he would just scream for no apparent reason. The "tantrums" that would result from his sensory processing disorder were a 100 on a scale of 1-10 (many children have coexisting disorders with autism; Max also has Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD; please see http://www.spdfoundation.net/aboutspd.html for more information).

He is my third, so for quite awhile, two years in fact, I convinced myself he was just "the hard one" and I had lucked out with my first two. Deep down in my mom heart I knew there was so much more wrong, but it was easy to remain in denial when every time I approached the pediatrician about his milestone delays I received answers like "he is a boy, wait and see" or well meaning friends, trying to ease my mind would say "Oh my child does that too, sometimes". If you are reading this and have any doubts about your child's development don't "wait and see", it is the worst thing you can do. I am confident that all of the early intervention Max received is a huge part of his success. http://www.firstsigns.org/ is a wonderful site for info and if you have a child that is school age and need guidance, Wrights Law, From Emotions to Advocacy is a wonderful, easy to understand book detailing special education law, your child's rights and how to effectively advocate for them within the complicated system of public education. I hope my determination to be an advocate for my own children allows me to reach other families as I go.

I remember the day the Early Intervention team arrived at our home like it was yesterday. I had invited them, but definitely did not want them there. I knew before they uttered their heart crushing results, that everything was about to change. As I look back on their findings I am amazed at how far Max has come. He was 28 months old, and the results ranged from the highest, 22 months for Expressive Language, 17 months for Cognitive Development, 16 months for Social/Emotional Development, 15 months for both Physical Development and Receptive Language to the lowest - a gut wrenching score of 11 months for Adaptive Development (self help skills such as feeding, dressing, etc). At this point all we had was the SPD diagnosis, and the Occupational Therapist that evaluated him said he was one of the most sensitive children she had seen; not only was he highly sensitive, but the number of things he reacted to was remarkable. I remember Marc saying to me as we lie in bed that night, holding hands "Maybe it isn't as bad as they think" and me, tears streaming down my face in the dark saying "It is a thousand times worse than I ever imagined." Max hadn't even exhibited his worst behaviors that day, in other words, they had seen him on a "good" day. It would take another 10 months to obtain an official diagnosis of autism. By that time the diagnosis was something I was seeking instead of denying. I think any parent that has gone through this will tell you, there is a grieving process your mind has to go through, and denial is a huge part of it, and unfortunately some become stranded there, the enormity of realizing something within your child is "broken" too much to bare.

Milestones that we took for granted with our first two took on a whole new meaning with Max. We have reached many, and I truly believe we are better people and parents because of this journey. I know we are fortunate that he has come so far and I know in my soul that despite all the heartache I am a better mom because of it. Within the last month I connected with another old friend from home, and we have so much more in common than our roots. She is someone with an amazing amount of grace and goodness, although I don't think she feels that right now. As we shared bits of our lives, that opening, folding back feeling was immense and it was another moment that brought my life into perspective, and as I watch my son unfolding before my eyes, blossoming and becoming more than I ever dared to hope for, I know I am on the right path.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Call Me What You Will

What someone calls you isn't important, it's what you answer to that matters.
- Anonymous

I read this quote while visiting my sons' school. It was hanging in the hallway for all to read and I found myself wondering how many had read it and understood. I imagined the person that produced such a thought must be an open-minded individual, and likely a great communicator - too bad more people aren't. I'd be willing to bet that person knows how to handle life's curve balls, too.

We have learned to laugh at a lot of what life throws at us - a lot more fun than the alternative, wallowing in self-pity. What we can't laugh at we try to talk through, (Marc and I have made great strides these last few months, as we both have stretched out of our comfort zones, resulting in less fighting and more meaningful communication. An amazing gift not all are capable of giving - the willingness to look within and acknowledge faults and change them to better a relationship - so much easier to point the finger of blame than accept and change your part), but laughter is usually only a knowing look, gesture, or utterance away. It is one of the things I love about us most as a couple - our senses of humor are so in sync and we often use humor to diffuse tension. We jokingly refer to ourselves as "The Griswolds" (that is why "Holiday Road" landed on my playlist) because of all the whacky stuff we seem to attract. Marc and I have found and accepted, if it is going to happen, it usually happens to us. This isn't glass half full, we just come prepared with all of our "life experience". I am thinking about getting vanity plates for the bus I drive: "Griswold". I already have an embosser for gift tags that reads "Happy Holidays, The Griswolds". Cheap thrills carry a lot of weight around here.

Lately, in a round about way, individuals have been calling me, let's say, "chubby". Marley declared, "Mommy, you big butt!" as she, Sam and I were partying in the bathroom. Let me scar you for life, as I paint you a picture of me trying to pee, Sam climbing on my lap and Mars assessing my bare bottom as if it held the meaning of the universe. I fantasize about being able to "go" uninterrupted, in peace and without reference to my apparently big behind. Baby got back. Clearly it is time to call up those old friends, Weight Watchers and the YMCA and schedule some quality time; (as I write this, I remind myself that at one time I had, what I now consider, a very hot bod. In light of all the poor communication from those days of old, I will take confidence and healthy relationships over physical beauty any day, hands down, but since I have the improved communication under my belt, might as well go for the hot bod, too - or at least a new, improved version of the one I've got, right?). Add to Marley's assessment, the fact that my 7 year old keeps asking me if I am having another baby as he eyes my belly mush, and lest I forget, the cherry on top - the guy at the Chinese buffet we frequent, happily asking me "another one soon?" In my defense, I am minus a major abdominal muscle after having a freakish "aggressive and invasive" tumor removed along with the muscle itself in 1996(betcha didn't know Snarky Girl has a little bionic woman in her - a giant piece of mesh replacing the muscle) and it was after I had eaten and I was holding the baby, so the flab-abs were smushing out more than usual, but really? Didn't anyone ever teach buffet boy you NEVER, EVER ask a woman if she is prego unless you either:

A.) are 110% sure she is or
B.) you see a head crowning?

When I said "no" he said "Oh, just kidding." Riiigght. The food wasn't so great that visit either, so I paid for crappy food and being called fat. We haven't been back since, but it was the food, I swear.

"So, are you going for number 6?" is the other thing I keep hearing (these people obviously received the memo that my belly is the result of the 5 kids I already have, not one on the way). I usually laugh and politely say "no" (and I really MEAN it this time - I am, like dinner, DONE!!), but what I am really thinking is, "Are you on crack!?" Some might call me crazy, but I'm not that crazy - I have hit my limit with #5. It isn't that I don't love my kids - anyone that really knows me will tell you, I love them tremendously, and I truly love being called "Mom", but that title is hard earned. "People say we will miss this someday." Marc always says this to me, during the worst moments with our kids, and we both look at each other knowingly and kind of snort - those "people" don't know jack. My kids could scare most mortals into not having children. I have offered them up as natural birth control on more than one occasion -call me if you want to give it a try and we can work something out. (**Warning: Marley can scream at a pitch that may render you temporarily deaf.)

Words can be powerful, but they only hold as much power as you choose to allow them. Sticks and stones and all that (talking adults here - children are another beast entirely; their skin soft, hearts tender - teach and treat them well). Life is short, and there are instances I swear I can hear the whisper of precious time slipping through my fingers, but I remind myself, as I think of the hard year mostly behind us - can't change the past, only move forward on a better path. I look at my beautiful family and all we have overcome, and I know what is important. I am making conscious choices to change or eliminate what doesn't work in my life - I have too much I am juggling not to. Negativity and the people that harbor it will suck the life out of you - Twilight has nothing on these real life vampires that roam the earth, often in the form of miserable narcissists. It is amazing how much better life is for Marc and I with the recent positive changes we have made. Right now I would call myself "Happy, Content" and above all "Confident" - confident in the love I give and receive and especially confident in those whom I choose to call "friend". I have been called many things throughout my life, thankfully, most of them cherished names assigned with love. I will answer to a lot, good or bad, so call me what you will but if the bad outweighs the good, I'll be taking my Griswold self on down the road.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Before and After

** Just an FYI note - I think you may be able to choose what song you want to hear while reading if you scroll to the bottom of the page to my player and click on your choice.**

This is a long post, but I have been MIA for awhile - amazing how much time sick babies, laundry for a family of seven and diffusing tantrums can suck out of your day. Before the school year started my kids were all well, but now that they have returned to The Germ Pool for 5 days a week, it has been non-stop coughs and a fast flowing river of boogies here. Marc said "There is just something about this time of year for us," and he is right - far beyond simple colds, it has always been a defining time in our lives. We are usually fine before it hits, bringing with it more than falling leaves as we struggle with issues across our relationship as partners and parents, but each year we have managed to get through whatever pops up and move on after, despite the bumpy ride.

Life with kids is one big series of befores and afters - the obvious one being before I had kids and after, but each day is filled with these moments. "Brush your teeth before bed, wipe your hands after you finish eating, put on your coat before you go outside....you get my drift. Yesterday, I took Mars my 2.5 year old to have her hair cut, wedging the appointment in before nap time after lunch. Before we arrived she was pretty good and she was mostly ok in the chair, considering her age. After the cut is another story, as she progressed to near tantrum level (my kids are not the average bears when it comes to meltdowns - they are exceptional at it) while we waited for the agonizingly slow woman in front of us to pay and make her next appointment. I was trying to keep Mars next to me when she yanked herself free. It was all I could do not to say, "Could ya speed it up a little, lady?!" as I managed to avoid a trip to the hospital by catching Marley's head before she hit it on a glass shelf full of hair products. I sensed bigger trouble brewing as I payed and Mars attempted to leave without me. Twice just before exiting, and again as I was opening the door, I reminded her to hold my hand, but still had to grab her as she broke away and nearly ran into the parking lot. I was also balancing the baby on my hip during all of this. Thankfully I was smart and bought myself a cute messenger bag that I can wear the strap of across my chest - one less thing to juggle, making my efforts to not drop the baby in these crazy situations successful.

Mars, still intent on escaping, was NOT happy with me when I reeled her back in. I've developed pretty quick reflexes with five kids (I think managing a 2.5 year old and a one year old in public should be an event in the Olympics with a special category when you toss in autism, AD/HD and whatever else is waiting around the bend for us - I would so win Gold). She was adamant that she was NOT holding my hand, NO WAY JOSE, continuing to pull away from me as I tried my best, literally single handed, to keep hold of her and move her forward without hurting her - (I am always so afraid of dislocating an arm in some way when they pull in the opposite direction so insistently), all the while imagining launching her across the parking lot. I am pretty sure I may have a cracked molar from all the tooth gritting and grinding I have been doing.

A few more steps and she decided to hit mach level tantrum, throwing herself down, landing in a puddle - actually pausing for a few moments in her tirade to paw at the water. At this point I am trying to pick her up without dropping her or the baby (score two for my smart mom bag that did not end up in the puddle) and I manage to scoop her up on the second try into a superman position (now I can really imagine her flying across the parking lot - "Up, up and away!! or better yet, "To infinity and beyond! Come back when you can be nice to your mom!") and finally get her to the car. I set her down and she attempts to run again, so I have to pin her to the car with my knee, giving me a free hand to fish my keys out of my bag (this is one of those moments when the ability to sprout those extra arms would be great, hellloooo evolution?). I get the car unlocked and meet my goal of getting her in before she can run kamikaze into some unsuspecting driver's path.

I am sure to the casual observer it probably didn't look very much like I was being a good mommy, with me, grabbing the waist of her pants and a handful of her shirt to pick her up with one hand, laying her on the floor of the small bus I drive and with Mars, screaming as if I were beating her, but when you are one handed trying to protect your kid from getting squashed you do what you need to do and get her in the car, even if it means looking like a kidnapper. I am beginning to think the baby has learned the fine art of ignoring her. He happily babbled through it all, even after I buckled him in and I restrained the screaming banshee that is my daughter in her seat. We finally left the lot, and she was nearly asleep less than 5 minutes later - the kid can go from zero to sixty and back again amazingly fast when she wants to - I wish my frustration would dissipate so quickly - I was focusing on not clenching my teeth.

I dialed Marc on my cell before we left, looking for his sympathetic ear. During our conversation he told me "Two kids died last night in that accident." Suddenly, my day didn't seem so bad as I said, "that's terrible," thinking immediately of their mothers and remembering the crash we missed by a minute or two at the most. We were driving home, sans kiddos, from a quick trip to buy new cell phones when we came upon 3 or 4 cars stopped on the road. It appeared traffic had stopped the other way as well. It was a dark stretch, no street lights, so it was hard to see what was going on. Marc said "Maybe it's a deer." As I watched more closely, a man urgently paced up and down along the shoulder while on his cell phone and I said, "I think it is more than a deer". I imagined we would be there for a very long time if we couldn't turn around, and I wanted to get back to our kids. Thankfully Marc was able to maneuver a 3 point turn and we were on our way, but not before I saw, illuminated by the first stopped car's headlights, a mangled pile of metal and the silhouette of a tire pointing towards the dark sky . An unnatural spotlight on a nightmare come true. That image will remain with me for a long time. It was one of those things you see that takes you a few seconds longer to comprehend, and when you do, it is still hard to wrap your mind around what you are seeing because of the enormity of wrongness present. I remember asking Marc, "is that car upside down?" but before that, before we came upon the aftermath, when we were still driving unknowingly toward it, I had asked him "what was that big noise?" He said he didn't hear it. I think it was probably the sound of the SUV (that according to the news, carried 6 young men, boys really), colliding with an oncoming car after the SUV hit an embankment, flipped, and landed in the opposite lane, causing the head on crash. I haven't been able to stop thinking about those boys, and especially their families and how the rest of their lives will be defined by before and after that night. The silence of their sons' lost voices must be deafening.

I hope we never, ever experience a before and after moment of that magnitude; the violent silencing of life. I don't think I would be able to breathe and I imagine my heart would shatter into irreparable pieces. Seeing what I did, and then hearing the news of what had taken place, gave me pause to consider that as hard as my kids are, there are things in life so much worse than raging tantrums and autism, things like a permanent void. Doesn't mean I won't still complain, cry or yell when things are at their worst with them, I'm only human, but this Thanksgiving I am grateful for the intenseness my children bring into my world because it means they are with me and alive. There are days I count us as very lucky that AD/HD and autism are the worst things to have come our way. Today is one of those days. I'll take all the noise and craziness that comes with my life of living with a moody teen, Linda Blair and The Cruise Director, and two babies who are determined not to be left out of the mix, I think to myself as the babies are settling, albeit loudly, for their naps. All of the super hard, loud, in-your-face stuff with them is just part of our life. I turn up the monitor all the way so that I may listen to their reassuring breaths and hear them wake after they sleep.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Life In The 'Hood

Marc looked at our new Last Supper table and said, "We even have room for one more kid." Baby factory is Closed, with a capital "C", remember Honey? I know I gave him one of those "you're not funny" looks, as the kids poured cereal and the craziness that is our mornings ensued. It went something like this: Marley became upset about, (well, as far as I can tell), life (what's new, right? Must suck being two - probably why we are unable to remember that age) so she starts singing Lady Gaga's "My Poker Face" in a very angry tone (I am not making this stuff up, and one of the hazards of having children ages 1 all the way up to 15 is that the little kiddies sometimes listen to the teen's music and whatever mama forgets to censor in the car - Lady Gaga slipped through the cracks along with everything else we listen to, and probably shouldn't within their earshot), then the baby sneezes and Jack says, "Ewwwww! Mom, can you get that?!"
"Get what?" I ask, moving in to see what is the big deal. "Sam blew a snot rocket!" Jack says, with glee of course - what 8 year old boy doesn't love a snot rocket? I look on the tray of Sam's high chair and see only a piece of mushy cereal, the apparent "rocket". I wipe it up, telling Jack "It's just cereal" and he says "No, not there, there on his pajamas!" I look where he is pointing, "Oh, that is a snot rocket" I say, as I giggle and clean said booger off of the baby, before it ends up somewhere it shouldn't - like on my furniture. (Wouldn't be the first time a stray booger found it's way there. I apparently do have a sixth child, goes by the name "Not Me", and he does all sorts of disgusting little boy things like wiping boogers where he shouldn't and missing the toilet when he pees, forgetting to flush all the time and the list goes on and on...... Not Me does a lot of unsavory things around this villa.) Back to our morning - Jack is being his usual "Cruise Director" self, trying to tell Max what cereal he can or cannot have and why. Haylie rushes out the door, grabbing lunch money, pecking my cheek, and wearing no coat because the one she has is definitely no longer "cool". The baby is still in his high chair, minus one snot rocket, fussing for more banana which he has rubbed through his hair, and Marc and I move around each other like two synchronized swimmers, dancing a crazed kitchen ballet as we weave through the river of children, both eyeing the coffee maker to see if that magical brew is done yet. Max, beyond expressing his frustration with the Cruise Director, was blissfully calm this morning - I DO NOT need a repeat of last nights exorcist-esque tantrum from him. Glass half full, Missy - find the good stuff.

I finally get our coffee poured (I make Marc's for him too - he likes the way I make it and I like doing something that makes him happy - just a little thing, but it is special to us). Our coffee maker makes great, although nuclear hot, coffee (not to be confused with hot coffee, please try to keep up), and one of us in our haste to caffeinate almost always forgets how hot it is, ending with me actually spitting my mouthful out on the counter one other recent morning. I meant to do it, really - I was trying to make Marc smile. Riiiiight. He smiled and laughed at me that day, alright. All fun and games until someone burns her mouth on the nuclear coffee. Don't worry, he's had his fair share of mouth scalding brew, and we both laugh at each other when it happens - we have had the stupid thing long enough to know better. Add to the glass half full - no spewed coffee this morning!

Soon it is time for Marc and the boys to head out to the bus, and I am doing my happy dance because the Cruise Director and Linda Blair are under the watch of someone else for the day. Before you go labeling me "Crappy Mom of the Year" for feeling this way and admitting it to the world - my kids are hard (I once joked to my dad that I could be the poster child for birth control - hey, they are my kids, and I've already made it very clear PC is out the window with this crowd), and both older boys need a lot of extra help in the form of specialized instruction, and in Max's case, his therapies as well. There are some things better left to someone else, not because I couldn't do a lot of it, but because of the "Mom factor" - my kids tend to let it all hang out with me, but are able to pull it together for school - it works out for all involved. I get a break and they get the extra help they need, without the meltdowns. I also spent about 3 years having therapists come to my house for Max, and for the moment it is such a relief not to plan my weeks around therapy schedules.

I am left for the day with Mars, our crazed-two-year-old-warrior child (the level her tantrums are reaching has me reaching for those all too familiar phone numbers to start scheduling evals - I guess on an upnote, I don't know them by heart, yet), and Sam, our baby that we are watching very closely because he has some delays (they both just want to join the fun, be part of the group, I jokingly think to myself). Sam's delays are minor compared to what we went through with Max, and he is being monitored monthly since he hasn't qualified for full on services (again there is that nagging yet). I find comfort in the fact that, if either of them is diagnosed with some developmental glitch or another (likelihood is high) I have weathered these storms already, and know exactly what to do. I dread it becoming a reality, but have no doubt I will fight for them as I did the older kids if it does become another chapter in our lives. Marc and I are so far ahead of the game this time around. As I finish this up, the babies are laughing with each other, and I smile thinking of all the crazy and funny things my kids say and do - all the great things that make the really hard stuff bearable. I know Marc and I will continue to find the laughter and get through it all with our newfound strength, one day at a time, coffee mugs in hand as we make our way, learning to love this life in The 'Hood.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Maybe It's Not Home Sweet Home....

ADJUST. Marc is way better at this than I am - he is the one that has dragged me kickin' and screamin' from the dark side to his optimistic, glass half full view point, although he sometimes falls off the edge into that great river, Denial - and then I have to pull him out and remind him that everything does not "cost 20 bucks, take 5 minutes, or just magically happen". Our entire life together has been about adjustments - some the natural course of any relationship, and some, things we have learned to laugh in the face of, (for those of you brand new to the 'Hood, Marc and I have had more than our fair share of crazy hard stuff with our kiddos) because if we don't, they would suck us into a black hole, and we've learned it is so much easier to avoid those damn black holes rather than have to claw your way back out.

One of the biggest adjustments we've made was moving to our new neighborhood and a big reason for the move (besides the fact that due to my role as baby factory, we had outgrown the old place) was to give our kids a place to grow up with other children** the old house was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by woods, and I am now convinced was in another dimension after all the crazy shtuff that went down there, and the whacky neighbors, can't forget them - twilight zone really has nothing on that neighborhood!). Ok, I had my own selfish reasons for wanting to move, and pretty much told Marc - we're movin'. In true form, he went along for the often bumpy ride (multiple houses loved and lost) of finding a new house and selling the old (I could write a whole book about that little journey). We eventually landed here and it all worked out for the best in many ways.

There are things I love about this house, like the fact that it is huge (by my standards at least) but I hate the fact that it looks like every other house on my street and I have to drag charm in the door, since the former owner opted for "builder basic" (I have a house full of brass - do you know how much I hate brass?). The previous owner also had a thing for brown and a color I can't really describe - well, maybe I can - mauve cat vomit - there's a paint color name for you. My family room, before we painted, was a cave like brown with the cat vomit color on the ceiling. She must have loved that cat vomit color, because she painted the ceiling in not one, but two rooms (actually the powder room is cat vomit, floor to ceiling - on our list of projects, believe me) plus an accent wall in my teen daughter's bedroom. Nothing major, just stuff that makes me say "huh?" - and we are slowly doing what we always do, making changes and adjustments as we can. Making it "us". (Funny side note: at closing the woman asked me how I liked the cat vomit cave. Bet you can tell by now I am not a very good faker - I think I said something like "It is a little dark and I'll probably paint". She had just painted it to look "cozy" - exactly what I think of cat vomit filled caves - "cozy".)

My latest addition for the house is the above pictured sign which now hangs prominently above the kitchen window for all to see. I laughed out loud in the store - it is so perfectly, us. When I saw the $3.99 price tag, I knew it was coming home with me. My son asked "What does that mean?" It means a lot of things - it means if life isn't working for you make some changes, rise to the occasion, work with what you've got, appreciate the good stuff and be thankful - it could be much worse (to my kids - stop your bitchin'! Life is good, dammit! Don't make mommy launch into one of her speeches about "When I was a kid"!). Joking aside, I truly am a mom that fights like hell for her kids needs, and Marc has worked so hard to give us the wonderful home we have, so it is also a little tongue-in-cheek wink. For me, it completely embraces that we've learned to survive all the really hard times this crazy life has brought us with love and laughter; that Life is what you make of it, and if it isn't sweet, ADJUST.
**Post note - I meant "among" other children, "with" sounds like I farm them out, although I am seriously considering offering a certain two year old up for loan as natural birth control to anyone interested because of the tantrums.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Running Full Circle

My 15 year old daughter grouses about being the oldest (she is really preaching to the choir on this one - mama is the oldest, too), the one that has to "break me in" as Mom, but I think I have done an ok job in some most areas, especially in teaching her to face issues head-on instead of running from them, which is my tendency - like I said before, trying to raise winners, here. (It is hard to break habits that hail from childhood, but I'm workin' on it. The chicken suit is off, just don't know if I am ready to throw it away just yet.)

Running and I became intimate friends the year I was 12 and discovered my town summer track program. It was perfect - I could easily walk the mile to the cinder track from my house, I thought the ribbons they gave out were super cool and it was seemingly, FREE. I was hooked. Glory called as I imagined how many ribbons I would win, and I coveted that silky blue. Around and around she goes. Elusive silky blue passed by time and time again, and soon that track wasn't enough. I found myself running through town all the time, and the steady beat of my cheap sneakers on old, cracked sidewalks in harmony with my rhythmic breathing carried me away. Cut-rate ribbons quickly lost their allure, becoming nothing more than faux gold-stamped, polyester reminders of what I chased. Those ribbons are long gone, but I still have cinders in my knee from a fall on that track. Three little dots you can barely see, but I know they are there. Sometimes I can feel them through my skin.

I continued running on that same track all through high school, long after it stopped being fun - secretly dreaming of running fast enough to capture my worth. The off track runs were different - I became great at that kind of running. Those open road journeys became my go-to escape when things weren't right in life, but no matter how far I ran, nasty ol' self-doubt was always right there, nipping at my heels. It's no wonder I was so skinny back then. Often, my treks took me down Main Street at night, stolen glances affording a glimpse into the windows of grand old homes, and the perfect lives I imagined contained within them. Facades often misled me in the coming years, but I eventually grew to know deep down is the home of what matters.

In the 17+ years we have known each other, Marc and I have done our share of running in circles with each other. Once again, with the help of our amazing therapist we have explored how our childhoods affect us as adults and partners - looking at all the shtuff we bring to this crazy love - and how to effectively communicate and move past emotional roadblocks from our youth. Like I said in my previous post, we've learned sometimes "it isn't about you", but when it is - own it. This maxim has proven pivotal to our growth as a couple and parents.

This brings me around to the recent split from my best friend of the last 12 years and although this has been hard for Marc (we were friends as couples), he understands where I am coming from. Without going into all the really gory details, I'll just cut to the quick of it: this divide was building for quite some time, and would have eventually happened in its own time, but a landslide succession of events sped it up, culminating with me having the Grand Mal Mother of all anxiety attacks after 3 scary nights spent in the hospital with our son, arriving days late to our less than ideal (I'm being extremely generous here) shared vacation locale (her choosing) following weeks of her telling me “this is how we do it, and it works really well for us” while trying to hash out details of the "vacation". We tore out of there after Marc made an executive decision (I love him so much for this) to rescue what was left of our break and head to a better locale with his extended family to finish out our trip. That vacation ended up costing way more than we planned but in the end it bought us the precious realization that we needed to make some major changes, and we're working on them.

For me that friendship has run it's course. I have a really hard time with people who can't recognize and own their part of something and say "I'm sorry". This is HUGE for me - own your shtuff - loud and proud! (Yeah Marc!!! - for working so hard towards becoming better at this!!! Compliment about awesome Hubs - Check!) After we returned home I emailed a lengthy heartfelt explanation and apology to my friend and also shared without blaming her (I even had my therapist look it over to help me eliminate anything potentially blaming), where all of my built up hurt feelings had come from and the response I got was definitely not "Sorry my words made you feel this way", but rather something along the lines of "maybe we will talk in a few months and find the friendship we used to have once you (that would be Zoloft poppin' me) are feeling better." Huh.

Well, I feel great. Marc and I are the best we have ever been together in so many ways. I can honestly own my feelings and say, with confidence, “I don’t miss her”. Speaks volumes to me.

I recently began running again and it has been wonderful - a much needed break for me as a mom, and the pounding of my feet and sound of my breathing are welcome old friends, but instead of feeling like I am running away, trying to escape life, I feel strong, knowing I am running in the right direction, at peace with the recent choices I have made to eliminate what isn't working. (I have spent far too much of my life trying to squeeze myself into acceptable molds, hiding in that damn chicken suit. 1 ugly chicken suit shed - CHECK!! Again, this is me, take it or leave it.) I often think of all Marc and I have overcome, especially in regards to autism, and it pushes me along on these runs as I silently chant my mantra I am bigger than this. I am stronger than this. I imagine myself this whacky heroine and my super power is my snarky sense of humor - it certainly has carried me this far. I even have a blue t-shirt with a big "S" for Snarky (okay, it is Marc's Superman T we gave him for Father's Day that I scammed after it shrank in the wash, but it works).

Now, looking at the beautiful young woman my oldest daughter has become, and the amazing life Marc and I have built together despite all the hurdles (and those we have yet to cross, as I sit here writing, watching Max's increasing stims**) I know in my soul I have arrived exactly where I belong, and wish I could go back and tell that 12 year old girl: keep running dear heart -you'll get where you are going and speak your truth, even if you are the only one listening, and one day you will own it all, loud and proud. Maybe I'm ready to throw that chicken suit out after all.

**For those of you wondering what "stim" means: to self-stimulate; (specifically) among autistic people, to fixate on a comforting or compelling thing or action (such as rocking or humming); to perseverate. Also n., a (self-)stimulating thing or behavior. Max's stims have evolved over time, and presently he exhibits a complicated combination of hand and eye movements often combined with sounds.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Getting To Know Me Redux, Part II

25 More Random Tidbits About My Whacky Life.....OK, if you want to get technical, there are way more than 25 things because of my hyper-drive thought process, but this is me, take it or leave it.

1. I unfortunately have intimate knowledge of what a terrible combination bunk beds and stomach viruses are.

2. Because of this combination, on more than one occasion my boys' bedroom looked like a scene from CSI. I am convinced after cleaning up said scenes (although not the worst I've ever cleaned - we had a poop smearer for awhile - that task would bring me to tears, sobbing the whole time I cleaned it up, day after day "this...isn't...my...life") I could be a CSI, or maybe a Saint - thankfully we don't live in that house or twilight zone-esque time of our lives anymore. I hated that house --which I realized on the first full day we lived there after meeting the Neighbor from Hell at the bus stop (she is a blog unto herself)-- but I giggled last night when Max said "Mom, remember the time Jack was sleepwalking and peed in the hallway at the old house?" It is funny now because I'm not living it, but the sleepwalking was scary, and we had to lock Jack in at night after the morning we woke to find cheese and jelly on the table (disgustingly funny combo) and the front door wide open --not remotely funny, especially since we lived in the midst of miles of forest and game lands adjacent to a state park. I can laugh about that house with ease now that I am not imprisoned by it and all the bad stuff that went down in it (autism paved a very rocky road for awhile). On a side note, while recently looking under the bottom bunk for some lost something or other, I noticed some splatter we must have missed - ewwwwwwww, two year old vomit splatter, get the clorox wipes!

3. Most days I dream of running away to a tropical island for some peace and quiet not because I don't love my kids, but because I know I would be a better mom after such a break (it has been about 5 years since we last had a kid-free getaway - much too long. Addt'l. note to self: Run away, far, far away). Thankfully, after nearly 11 years of marriage and 14 years together I still want to take Marc with me.

4. Sometimes locking myself in the bathroom with a bottle of wine works in a pinch, but I can still hear them through the door .

5. For those of you who don't know me well enough, #4 is complete sarcasm not child neglect; I use it often and believe it helps keep me sane with 5 children - sarcasm that is, not neglecting them.

6. I am not a winter weather person (Marc says I am solar powered) and I avoid going outside in this type of weather if at all possible. The fact that I grew up in Upstate New York and ran around back in the day without nearly enough clothing on, oblivious to the frigid temps, helps me in no way to withstand the cold now. I do force myself to go to the gym despite the cold. Since my tropical getaway isn't happening, I have to go somewhere to search for my sanity.

7. I believe little boys are genetically programmed to rip holes in the knees of all their pants, pee on the back of the toilet (and sometimes on the floor - or apparently in the middle of the hallway on the carpet if they sleepwalk), pick their noses and wipe their hands and faces everywhere except the napkin, placed ever so thoughtfully by me, directly in front of them.

8. Sometimes I miss my pregnant belly, but I definitely don't miss all the discomforts that came with it. I LOVE Babies and shamelessly fawn over newborns (I'm careful not to fawn to the point of creepy "I want to steal your baby" - believe me I have enough of my own!), and if I could bottle that newborn smell I would wear it as perfume.

9. I really like love writing, but find it extremely difficult to share what I write with others (obviously I am overcoming that fear as I blog away, revealing all of my deep, dark secrets), and when reading aloud turn a deep shade of red. Any sort of public speaking terrifies me - not exactly sure what I expect to happen, but if I have to give an actual speech I'm like Cindy Brady in that episode when the camera light comes on and she goes deer-in-the-headlights on everyone. In the same episode Mama Brady says "You shouldn't put down a loser, Cindy, because you might be one yourself someday. Just remember that." Nice. Thankfully I don't plan on giving any speeches in the near future, except to my kids - "Mommy speeches" are a whole 'nother beast, and I'll bet if my kids could find the words they would tell you I am the Queen Mother of the "Mom speech" all too apparent from their typical response "I KNOOOWW Mom!" Which I often promptly respond to with "NO, you don't know because I just told you!" Trying to raise winners, here.

10. I hate when people watch me eat - one of my anxieties that likely heralds from some deep seeded memory better left forgotten from my childhood - no idea what it could be, though. I love food and have grown to accept the mushy abs. I used to have A LOT of anxiety for a really long time - say, since approximately birth- about way too many things- so many things it would probably be quicker to list what I didn't have anxiety about - and am so thankful for the little pill I take everyday. I am a much better version of me with my Zoloft - just ask Marc. Neither one of us wants the other me to come back - she wasn't very much fun.

11. I wish I could become organized - this I am afraid is something I am not genetically programmed to be, but I am working on it. Thinking we might have to call a professional in on this one, too.

12. I believe when I run into people by chance, repeatedly, or when there is so much coincidence surrounding our connection --like an old friend I just reconnected with from high school in NY via facebook (which I love) and a new friend I met, that both happen to live here in PA and are also friends with each other, as well as both having connections to other people I know, combined with the fact that I think they are amazing women-- means these people are supposed to be in my life - no brainer. There are exceptions - the people from Crazytown I seem to attract and run into repeatedly (must be my sweet, understanding demeanor)- not so sure this rule applies to them.

13. My husband won't play checkers with me anymore because I always win. He says I cheat - I don't.

14. I hate to lose. I have come to appreciate that the losses and bad stuff in life make the good stuff all that much better, though.

15. I can't stand white walls. I also can't stand what a mess my house is, but I can no longer use the excuse, "We just moved in" when it has been about a year and a half. I would call the professional organizer a friend recommended if I could find her number in the mess that is my desk.

16. I love good wine and I don't think it has to cost a fortune to be good, but I think box wine is disgusting and it gives me a killer headache. Upon sharing this with a wine aficionado friend, she said "Oh sweetie, don't ever admit that you drank box wine." Well, it was just that once (and that was all that was offered), and in the interest of writing the blog I will put it out there - really the least of what I'm letting out of the bag these days, wouldn't you say?

17. I also enjoy beer, but never in a can - also disgusting.

18. I don't like beer in a can and many other things because I have a very sensitive sense of taste and smell. I am also sensitive to certain noises - ok, I have sensory issues, but we all do (some of the kids have sensitivities that can be frustrating, but I get it). Thankfully Marc tolerates mine - or at least is very good at pretending to.

19. My husband can't smell anything. Makes me wonder how he is able to cook so well. He also "forgets" things. We joke about this all the time now - beats the alternative of fighting about it, although at some point his memory will get so bad that he will forget that too, and I will be able to yell at him all I want.

20. I loathe cooking most of the time (I do enjoy cooking with Marc. I don't enjoy cooking for children who complain about what I've made and who think a PB & J sandwich is sooooo much better than pasta with chicken and homemade creamy parm cheese sauce with just the right amount of garlic and peas thrown in, that is one of my specialties), and cleaning the bathrooms (there should be no question about this given the fact that I have boys and I married one), folding socks (do you have any idea how many socks a family of 7 has?!), telemarketers, and people who knock on my door looking to "share" their religion with me. Also, after what my kids brought home from trick-or-treating, I dislike the handing out of religious pamphlets at Halloween. If you don't want to participate in the devil's holiday then turn off the porch lights and don't answer the door.

21. Even though I hate to cook most of the time I am not a bad cook, but if it weren't for my kids and my husband's fabulous meals, I would live on sandwiches, granola bars and cheese sticks.

22. I have by choice given birth to 4 of my 5 kids without drugs or epidurals, even after 18 hours of labor with #5 (what the heck was his deal!?! - I thought he was never, ever coming out), but I still think people that run marathons are insane or on crack - no offense, but we all know that like Whitney, I think crack is whack!

23. In Redux Part I, I said I really miss my brother - I should add I really miss my sister, too, but now she lives much closer so it isn't as hard to see her and we love spending time with her and her Hubs. I love both siblings tremendously and we laugh A LOT when we are all together.

24. I believe in ghosts.

25. When I was little I wanted to be a nurse, then for a brief stint a neonatologist, and then going into college an art therapist - always the mother, I guess I found the right job. When my kids are bigger and I have to get a "real" job I know it will be doing something that helps others, but for right now I'm happy being "Mom" (sitting here enjoying the music of Journey as I write, but not so happy to be listening to the weird, new sound the toilet is making when flushed) and of course legend in my own mind that I am, happy to be, "Blogger Extraordinaire".

Getting To Know Me Redux, Part I

Bit of a remix of random things about me from my facebook - it is changed up enough if you are reading for the second time it shouldn't be a snooze and if this is virgin territory for you, it will give you a peek into what life is like at Villa Vallino, and further insight into my sometimes warped mind.

1. Answer to World Peace in a nutshell: Everybody play nice. I am really bothered by inconsiderate people, and parents who don't teach their children to treat others with kindness, or at the very least, respect. Especially bothersome (because it hits so close to home) are kids that make fun of peers that are atypical or have special needs. I tell my kids, "No big deal if you don't like someone, but it isn't ok to be mean." I believe everyone is entitled to their opinions, but not entitled to force feed them if we differ on our views. No mistake, I'm not raising a bunch of doormats - they know it's ok to stand up for themselves, but to also consider that people who are jerks might not have the best life - sometimes it just isn't about you.

2. I already established I am not always PC (making fun of my own kids is fair game if it gives me something to blog about), and I probably swear too much (although I do refrain in front of the kiddos, little parrots that they are. Marc is the one that has a harder time remembering this, and the kids tattle about all of his bad habits "Mommy, why don't you drive fast like Daddy?" Love you Hon - slow down!). It is also completely ok for me (I've earned it), my family and friends to laugh at the crazy-ass stuff Max does because of his autism (A friend and I looked like two lunatics one night while out to dinner as we swapped stories of our sons' behaviors and "stims" -some things you can't explain unless you actually act them out, so the two of us were demonstrating for each other - needless to say we laughed until we cried) but if anybody laughs at him in a cruel way, the reason my family nicknamed me "Roller Derby Queen" will become all too apparent. Don't mess with my kids. Ever.

3. I have a child with autism and two with AD/HD, and two more with at the very least some serious attitude - time will tell with them if it is more. Wild things other than my children come and go, all of them "special" in their own way. Currently, we have Stella, a 10 year old 80lb freak golden retriever I am convinced has OCD, (Stella is the perfect name for a dog that you have to yell at all the time -"STELL-A!" Much more fun than "Sparkles" which I immediately vetoed all those years ago, knowing I would probably be the one chasing her through the woods at the old place. I didn't need yelling a sissy dog name like "Sparkles!" added to my list of "Things That Make Me Look Crazy". Good thing I had that foresight - Not long after, the boys were born, 18 mos apart, and I was dished up a full plate of crazy, complete with a child that pitched fits of epic proportion everywhere we went because of his sensory issues. Yep, I had more than my fair share of stares from people, who I am sure were making assumptions about what a crappy mom I must be to have a kid like that - definitely didn't need to add 1 crazy dog named Sparkles to the list.), a fish that begs for food (he really does) named Swimmy, a.k.a Lucky Bob (lucky he lived to go from feeder fish, to Fun Fair fish, to being our fish), and a hamster, first name Patches (by the kids) surname O'Hoolihan (by me, a la Dodgeball). She is my favorite and I love her (way more than my dog). Go figure - best pet we've ever had is a rodent. Used to have 2 cats (at different times) but I have very little tolerance for animals that bite my kids or pee all over my house. When Marc tried to place the one cat with a rescue organization the woman there said "Well, you wouldn't just get rid of a child if they misbehaved." I told Marc he should have said "Depends on the day, lady - just ask my wife, and my kids don't bite people and pee all over the house when they misbehave!" (well, sometimes they do pee where they shouldn't, but I don't have biters). Oh, yeah and a dog that was a pee-er, growler, and would-be biter - to let you know how long she lasted, my kids often just remember her as "that little dog". (Any animal lovers that wish to chide me, go ahead, I can take it - I'll just tell you now, I'm a kid lover and my kids (and what is left of my sanity) come before the pets, always.)

4. I am a better mom because of autism and all the other crazy shtuff my kids bring to the table.

5. I love that my husband cooks - he missed his true calling as a chef. Men that can create amazing meals are sexy (I should start keeping track of when I compliment him in my entries - in the event we have a spat I can say "But I said "x" about you in my blog", and sexy holds a lot of weight. Note to self: throw random complimentary comments about handsome husband into blog. Check.).

6. When I decide to compete in/at something I am very competitive.

7. I am running again - sort of. I can run a mile in about 9:17 but fantasize about running like I did as a teen. That 5:52 mile I ran long ago doesn't seem so slow now.

8. I need to lose weight, and I have lost 40lbs so far (sadly, all baby weight from #5. Some people are "all baby" when they are prego, but I am "all I-ate-everything-under-the-sun-with-complete-utter-abandon-and-it-shows", but I'll get to the baby weight from the other four - eventually). Goal for the coming year is 25lbs more, so I can attempt #9 without achieving a runner's high due to lack of oxygen to my brain.

9. I want to run a 5k (my first) once I am strong enough.

10. I love that Marc and I make each other laugh so much and that we have grown so much as a couple over the last few months.

11. I wish I played piano - my daughter does and I love hearing her play.

12. I am thinking of going back to school bed.

13. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up but "writer" has risen to the top of the list.

14. I am afraid of certain breeds of big dogs - they seem to like the way my daughter and I taste. To my dog lover neighbor, who allows their "friendly" dog to roam the neighborhood (I've already addressed it in person once), from this kid lovin' Mom: the next time Mr. Crazy decides to charge, growling and snapping at me and my babies in their jogging stroller, he is going to get a face full of pepper spray -the dog, not the neighbor.

15. I love that my new house is big enough for our BIG family; I don't love that it isn't the quaint, old house I dreamed of. I also love that it is finally starting to feel like "us" instead of like we are living in someone else's home - it is coming together bit by bit. Latest addition - a kitchen table large enough to host The Last Supper. My friend said if Jesus decides to show up to make sure he brings the wine.

16. I wish I could go back and do it all over only to tell the younger me to be kinder to myself - to tell myself stuff like "great abs - you'll wish for them some day after five pregnancies turn them into mush!"

17. Mushy abs aside, I love my kids more than I could ever have imagined.

18. I used to say "I'm never having kids!", now I have 5. You were right Dad (isn't that music to your ears Jimbo?), but I didn't quite meet your prediction of a dozen - no reality t.v. sized family for us! We are done. Unless Mother Nature has some sick, twisted joke up her sleeve, I really am done this time - which is what I said after #4, but I wouldn't trade my "Surprise #5" for anything - Sammy, my sweet little "shy guy". I wouldn't mind trading certain body parts in though - mushy abs are just the tip of the iceberg.

19. I can't stand snobs or people who look you up and down. Whatever.

20. I really miss my brother - he is much too far away.

21. I want to write a book and now I am going to try with NaNoWriMo - google it.

22. I want my daughter's red beautiful auburn hair - it is the perfect shade.

23. I have a painting in my head, now if I could just find the time to paint something other than walls. I also have some I want to buy - maybe someday when I become a rich and famous writer, but for now I buy prints we can afford. Marc and I fell in love with a painting we found on our summer vacation until we saw the price tag - 4000 smackers - not really in the budget, 5 kids or not.

24. I wish someone made a great california roll here - I would pay really good money.

25. I want to go to Italy, instead I am going crazy most days .....

Monday, October 26, 2009

China, Peanuts, Flip Flops and Hot Coffee

**Note this entry was edited post-publication to include further explanation of "Hot Coffee" since so many of you asked so nicely; other minor changes were made for continuity.

Oh the things kids say! I am sick right now, and Jack must have sensed I needed some comic relief this morning. He had one sock on and asked me to help him find a match in the mountain of unfolded laundry on the couch. I quickly located one and handed it to him. Jack followed me into the kitchen and said "Thanks for finding it Mom, I didn't want to be "One Sock Jack" and without missing a beat he said "It is a really good thing my name isn't Scott; "One Sock Scott". Now maybe this isn't the funniest thing you have ever read, but in that moment it was very funny to the two of us and was exactly what I needed.

All of the kids make us laugh and each seems to be developing their own sense of humor, even the baby who laughs at just the right moment with the rest of us when we joke around at the dinner table. Marley though has been on a roll lately, and rarely does a day go by that I don't say to Marc "listen to what she said today!" At 2.5 years her language and speech are still developing, so not everything is crystal clear but her pronunciations and train of thought (when you can follow it) have provided endless laughs. In a previous post I mentioned her new boots or in Marley-speak "boobs!" and her favorite, her bright pink flip flops - well, lets just say that "flops" sounds distinctly like another "F" word (which we definitely don't say lest anyone sick the potty mouth police on me ((ok, we are both guilty of the occasional "F" bomb, but only said under duress and not in front of the kids (((well, except for that one time Marc slipped and Jack ran around saying "F?" "What "F" Daddy?" Good job, Honey))) but being the not always PC mommy I am, I find endless amusement in asking her about them.
"What are those on your feet?" I ask, "My Flip F@!#&!!" she proudly proclaims (I know, bad mommy, but I only do this at home).

Recently while changing the baby, (whom Marley insists on calling "she", as in "she needs hers diaper changed, Mommy" even though "She" is Sam and he is definitely a boy; we're working on pronouns) Marley looked at Sam's penis and said "what is that?" I don't believe in assigning silly names to body parts, so we call things what they are. "His penis" I told her to which she promptly replied, "His peanuts?" and then proceeded to point to her own diaper and said "My china?" (These are the mispronunciations I LIVE for!) Stifling my giggles all I could manage was a "mmmm-hmmmm" until Marley said "His peanuts, for Patches?" and with this I let out a whoop of a laugh. Marley's mispronunciation and thought process in that moment were comedy perfection. Patches, you see, is our hamster and the kids feed her peanuts as a treat - it took me a minute or two to stop laughing at that one.

As I sit here sipping my coffee, writing this I remember when Jack was learning to talk and we were teaching him "hot". I had coffee every morning back then too, and often I would say "hot coffee". Jack said "hot" perfectly, but "coffee" didn't come out quite right, in fact the word that came out of his mouth was nowhere near coffee. It was a word no mom wants to hear her child say. **Now, I wasn't going to tell you what "coffee" sounded like when Jack said it, because I worried it may be a bit too vulgar for some readers, but my friend Andrea pointed out to me "it's what it sounded like, not what you were teaching him to say," so here goes: "Coffee" sounded just like a slang term for a certain female body part, rhymes with "wussy". My husband found it hilarious and he was the bad, not PC daddy saying "say, coffee!" and then "say, Hot Coffee!" (part of why we are still together after all these years - we share the same twisted, sarcastic sense of humor).

Who knew when Marc and I set out on this amazing journey years ago that everyday things would bring such laughter into our lives? So often we get caught up in looking for more or focusing on what's not right when directly in front of us are these amazing moments that are "just right", moments that I think too many miss. With that, before I get too sappy, from The Land of China, Peanuts, Flip Flops and Hot Coffee I say, laugh with your kids it is good great for the soul or as my dear Dad would say "it's good for what ails ya". Indeed it is.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

May The Force Be With You

"Boys will be boys" and I know this all too well. Besides having three boys of my own, growing up it was me and my dear brother (I also have a sister, but she wasn't born until I was 13, and off in my own teen world). I could write a short book about our adventures, and living in a neighborhood full of boys. My brother was "all boy" which in short means he didn't own a pair of pants without holes in the knees (of which I was reminded this morning, looking at my son's brand new jeans with a gaping hole) and saw more than his fair share of our hospital's E.R. (thankfully we haven't seen as much of this, but among our few visits there was "the bean incident" - another post to come). I would wear a dress my mom had made, but no guarantees that I would act like a lady in said dress. Dress or not, I was likely on a bike, up a tree or racing my brother around the neighborhood or through the nearby field of milkweed (which I now know is poisonous if ingested; thankfully we didn't eat it and just made a mess by releasing all of the seeds). Usually I was dressed like the boys though, and hanging tough, dirty as any of them, and so far because of all my tomboy days, my boys haven't surprised me, too much.

As I sit here in my pajamas, sweaty and slightly feverish battling a nasty upper respiratory infection, I know two little boys I can thank for it. As a matter of fact, there is an entire school of little boys I should thank. With the recent flu outbreak, the school staff has done a great job of telling the children to wash hands, cough into a tissue and discard, or into the crook of the elbow, etc., but if most boys are like mine (and I'll bet they are) they need to be told to do these things, repeatedly. Little boys do things, gross things, when we aren't looking. Sometimes we catch them and tell them "GO WASH YOUR HANDS!!", but apparently at school this year there was a new game that went unnoticed by staff. Jack gleefully told me about it one day after school:

Me: "How was school - Do anything fun?"
Jack: "Well, everyone played a new game called "The Force".
I was intrigued - Max loves Star Wars, so this could be good; something they could bond over.
Me:"Cool, how do you play?"
Jack looked at me with a huge grin, promptly LICKED his unwashed hand, and shoved it in my face. "May the Force Be With You!" he shouted in triumph. Score one for the boys.

"GO WASH YOUR HANDS!!!!" was my immediate response. Score one for Mom. Before you start thinking I have a severe germ phobia, I don't, but with five kids it makes sense to prevent blatant spreading when possible. While he was in the bathroom I giggled to myself, and shook my head, remembering some of the far more dangerous things my brother and I did as kids. When Jack emerged, clearly disappointed I didn't see the greatness of "The Force", I explained why it wasn't such a good idea. "Ohhh-kaaay" was his glum response. If you read this story or have little boys yourself then you know as well as I do, the moment his little 8 year old body was on that playground with his friends again, everything that ol' Mom told him was out the window. I would bet my house that they were right back at their game, licking dirty hands and shoving them in faces, "May the Force Be With You!!" Oh, it is with me all right.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Greenest Grass

I was talking to a dear friend today about the struggles that can come with being a wife and mother and how as women we tend to put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect. Perfection is overrated, and exhausting to try to achieve. Marc has taught me to see that at the end of the day if my kids are fed, all snug in their beds and relatively happy and clean we are doing ok. Through a lot of effort (14years together has given us lots to work on!)we have learned what a huge difference effective communication makes. I once equated a successful marriage to a beautiful garden; both require a lot of love and care and sometimes the work is hard, (especially the darn weeding part), but the results can be fabulous. So often we get caught up in the day to day things with kids, work, and just LIFE that we can lose sight of our role as partners, and our sense of self. Inevitably at times stress rises,and communication can falter. Throw anything extra in the mix - unexpected shtuff like an ill child, a partner who has to work long hours or constantly travel for work, financial problems - anything that you weren't really signing up for when you said your "Happily Ever Afters" - and things can go downhill quickly. Suddenly, the grass is looking greener everywhere else.

I don't think anybody takes their marriage vows and thinks about the real situations we are promising to stand by each other through (really, would anybody get married then!?): "I promise to stand by you through countless weird medical issues with our family, autism, AD/HD, ungodly work hours that come with trying to build your own business, being poorer long before richer, and some whopper arguments that nobody wins, proving just how strong headed we both are". Marc and I probably would have looked at each other and calculated how quickly we could make a break for it - see ya! Thankfully we have weathered a lot and learned to find the good, even in the bad, or at least to let the laughs carry us through the stress. Our kids do make us laugh - Marley with her new boots running around saying "my boobs!" and Max running into the kitchen when I blew my nose saying "What sounds like [whipped] cream?" - these are the moments that make the hard ones easier. We have fought hard to be where we are and things look pretty good these days, but I know we have to keep an eye on those weeds.

One thing I want to share that has worked tremendously for us during times we are really disagreeing (in addition to our fabulous therapist) is email. It may sound really impersonal at first, but it cuts out a lot of reactivity. Marc tends to have "angry eyes" and my hands fly around as if I was born Italian instead of marrying one, and we both tend to shout. Email cuts all of that out, and allows you to really take your time to say things thoughtfully in a way that can be heard. The whole point is to communicate without inflicting further hurt - too often the message is lost in the hurt and anger of an argument.

With that I will say Happy Days! and for my dear friend - I love you and when you read this know that you inspired me. You are beautiful and worthy of happiness and you do have it within yourself to find it. Sometimes the greenest grass is right where you are, you just don't see it under your feet.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Happy Birthday, With All My Love

Today is my husband's birthday, and I have a gift for him - something he will enjoy, but it just doesn't convey everything he deserves on his special day. Birthdays are important to me - we are celebrating the day we entered the world after all! I think birthdays should be a celebration of all that person has brought with them into the world and reflected upon with some reverence. Racking my brain for a perfect gift, I thought what better way to tell him how I feel than to shout it out for all the world to "hear"? So here goes:

Marc, I am so grateful for this day! Because of you my life has known great joy and love. You are an amazing father and husband and I am so proud of the family we have created together. Things certainly rarely go "as planned" for us, but after all these years I think we have found our own rhythm and have learned that laughter can carry us through a lot, along with the hugs and more than a few tears. We have grown immensely because of each other both as a couple and as individuals and you have brought me strength through countless challenges. We have shared the amazing joy of our five children and I have no doubt that many more moments with them are waiting for us.

I love all of the thoughtful things you do, like helping so much with the kids or cooking fabulous meals (go ahead ladies, be jealous, he is a fantastic cook!! (Lest you think I don't contribute I can and do cook, although I would much rather get my hands dirty with spackle and paint - I paint a mean wall!) and especially for acknowledging how hard I fight for our kids needs. Most of all I want to tell you I am proud to call you my husband, my friend and the one I will spend my life with. I am so grateful for you in my world! Happy Birthday Sweetheart, With All My Love!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Grand Mal Tantrums and Life on Mars

Marley was the sweetest baby - chubby cheeked and happy with a thick crop of auburn hair. She slept through the night at about 7 weeks (before you hate me here, let me say I have paid my dues in spades with regards to lost sleep with my three boys) and she smiled and laughed more than she cried. Marley (as in Bob, not the dog) seemed like such a happy, laid back choice for a name. Marley at 2.5 years old still has tons of auburn hair, but now her sole mission in life seems to be world domination, at least of our world and her nickname "Mars"(as in the Roman God of War) is so much more fitting to her strong personality. Yep, "Mars" completely fits the bill, and let me tell you there are days with this girl I wish I could escape to Mars, just for some peace and quiet from her tantrums (never mind the fact that life isn't supported there - I am just imagining quiet!). I have warned Marc, "If you come home and I am gone, you know I couldn't take it anymore". Humor is what gets us through a lot of days with this crew.

In the seven years since Max was born, I have seen some whopper tantrums, especially when he was younger and experiencing a lot of sensory processing difficulties (very common in kids with autism; so thankful he has very few tantrums these days and the sensory processing is a lot easier to figure out). I have carried that child out of many a place kicking and screaming "I want my mom!" I am your mom! I was often worried someone would think I was kidnapping him, but people probably thought "why would anyone other than his mother try so hard to take a kid that is pulling her hair out and clawing at her face?!", and that was before I tried to put him in the car - sometimes that took up to half an hour, ending with me battered and sweaty and Max screaming all the way home from wherever I was leaving. Unfortunately, the same was true of getting in the car at home, and he would scream from home to wherever I was crazy enough to attempt going to. Max's tantrums make typical two year old tantrums look like a party, but what doesn't kill us, right?

Marley's tantrums are thankfully not sensory induced, but they are still frustrating and challenging, although at times definitely humorous. I am calling the big ones - the meltdowns when she looks like she is attempting to break dance and do "the worm" across the kitchen floor (she does a mean version) - her "Grand Mal Tantrums" (told you I'm not always PC, but it's my own kid I'm making fun of, so....). She has seen more time-outs in the last couple of months than her oldest sister saw during her entire childhood, and if what someone told me about toddler behavior being a predictor for adolescence is true, then we are in for a wild ride with this one. She looked right at Marc one recent morning and said "You shut up right now Daddy!" - at 2.5!! I think her butt landed in the time out chair at mach speed that day. She also has the ability to scream at a pitch that I am convinced could be harnessed into a weapon of mass destruction should the sound fall into the wrong hands. Very challenging, indeed.

Maybe it's Karma - I was also a tough kid (although maybe not quite this tough!) and my Dad finds endless pleasure in the tales of our adventures with Mars, which we often refer to as "little Missy". One of my mantras is "she will be a strong woman someday", knowing that my strong personality has served me well, and has carried me through a lot of challenges, especially when it comes to parenting kids who are "more" everything. So, you go ahead Marley Grace - make your presence known in our world - Your mom is one tough cookie, and I can take it. These shoulders have carried far more weight than your 80's dance moves bring, but the world at large better look out - I have no doubt your already big voice will be huge someday, and if I do my job right, you will learn to harness all of that power and make a positive difference, loud and clear. I love you Mars - my little warrior.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Evolution and Elusive Binkies

"Ma-MAAA". He was awake again. Our one year old, Sam, loves his binky (for those of you not in the know a binky is a pacifier, but if you are reading my rambles you probably have kids, so you most likely know what a binky is). Anyway, during the last two months, since I've stopped nursing, Marc has been AWESOME about getting up with the kids, morning and night, trying to help me catch up on some zzzz's - the first 10 months with Sam were not filled with sleep for me. During that time, even more than his beloved binkies, Sam loved to nurse (big surprise, another boob man) ALL THE TIME, with no regard to the fact that this mama bear does not do well with less than 8 hours of sleep. When my mother heard of his sleeping habits (how could this child be genetically mine!?), my mom's instant reply was, "Oh honey, you so aren't a person that can function on less than 8 hours!" She knows me well, and at that point I was getting by on a meager 4-5 hours of uninterrupted slumber, fantasizing about running away to the closest place with a bed, sans baby and the responsibilities of being a mommy to five. Thankfully, at some point Sam realized the binky was a good second to the boob.

"Ma-mahhh". I was still up and Marc had already gone to bed, so I trudged in there to begin the search for the elusive binky. I gently moved my hands around inside the crib, hoping it had just fallen out of his mouth. Nope. Down on my hands and knees to begin the blind, in the dark carpet sweep. Even though he loves the binks, Sam has a bad habit of chucking them all over the room and under his crib. I shoved my hand and head under the crib (didn't we have about a dozen of these in here?! Where did they all go!?) and all I came up with was a lone sock and carpet fuzz stuck to my lips.

As I started the full body search of the floor, trying to find the darn thing before he woke into full blown Ma- MAHHHH Mecca Lecca Hi, Mecca Hiney Ho mode (maybe I'll get in trouble for my reference, but really what mom couldn't beat up Pee Wee Herman and Jambi? (I could just drop kick Jambi - Look Jambi, you can fly, too! - I know, totally warped), my thoughts turned to evolution (Yes, really - this is exactly how my tired, mommy brain operates, but if you live in the 'hood you'll keep up), and why, for instance, don't moms have night vision? Just "Blink!", night vision on, oh there is that pesky little binky" I mean, our bodies can do all this cool stuff - creating other people, and then producing enough milk to feed a small country in my case (I'm not a big girl up top, but grew to a DD this time around, and probably will write at some point about my amazing ability to reproduce and lactate; now that we are done nursing those DD's have skipped town though, so I guess I can strike "stripper" off my list of ways to earn some extra cash ). Or, another thought, why can't we just generate a couple extra arms when we are trying to juggle more than one child? - but maybe that is becoming a little clone creepy. Perfect for the older boys - they love creepy. I can hear them now, "Cool mom! Do the arm thing again!" Not the baby though, my little "shy guy" is quiet and sweet, except when he loses the binky in the night.
Sammy, I'd like to share a little about evolution with you here, buddy - we have developed these wonderful things called THUMBS! They are right there on your beautiful little hands, and they are soooooo much better than a binky because you can't lose them in the night. We love you so much and we would do anything for you, but Daddy and I want to sleep, so why don't you give it a try? All your siblings did it, but no pressure. I have to warn you, Mommy is tough love with things like pacifiers - one day I will say "all done", but for now sweet dreams, buddy. Oh, and here is your binky, right where you left it in the one spot I missed during the crib sweep.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Taking the Plunge

So, here I go "taking the plunge": Putting my words, life, dirty laundry and all, out there for all the world to see. Will I regret it? Maybe, but probably not. At this point in my life I try to not have regrets - We can't change the past; what's done is done, and really, either you get me and like me or you don't. Instead of regretting what isn't, I think aspiring to what may be is a better way to go about things. No point in beating yourself up about life - vent and move on. It isn't always easy to do this, but I'm working on it. (Let me say here that my therapist is worth every penny I pay her for helping me to attempt to get my shtuff together!)

A Little About Me:
I was going to say I am a blogger virgin, but I don't think "virgin" works as a descriptor for a mom of five kids in any capacity. I'm a perfectionist, but far from perfect. I tend to be sarcastic, and you may or may not get my sense of humor ( you definitely need one to live in this 'hood) and sometimes I may not be completely PC, but I mean no offense. I speak my mind, and when it comes to my kids those closest to me would probably tell you I have a "mama bear"ness about me. I have 5 kiddos ages 15, 8, 7.5, 2.5 and 1, so all in one day I know everything and yet, I know nothing. Each child is beautiful and unique, a little piece of my heart that I gave birth to, and love so much that it hurts sometimes. Then, there are days I wish I could gather them up and shove them back in my uterus, like one of those nesting dolls, in you go! for some peace and quiet, but that is what bedtime is for. I am truly thankful for a glass or two of good wine at the end of most days. My husband Marc jokes (to me folks, not the kids), "Mommy drinks because you cry".

The two older kiddos have what I would call "mild" AD/HD (no meds) and our third has autism (PDD-NOS or PDD depending on the day and who examines him, also no meds;), and we are watching the youngest two closely for any issues. We are very fortunate that our son with autism is "high functioning", and extremely verbal; a lot of people say "I would never know". You will see me write a lot about our journey, and see that if you lived it you would know all too well. We are so lucky that he has made the progress he has, and I am grateful that I have been able to appreciate the good things autism has brought into my life (yes, I said "good" - more on that later), but autism, and the struggles our life presented in the past tested our marriage on more than one occasion to a near breaking point. Thankfully, Marc and I both fight for what we believe in, and we believe in us and our family. I hope this doesn't come across as "woe is me" or hackneyed - it's my life and it is what it is. We try to make the best of it and have fun along the way, often poking fun and laughing at ourselves (better watch out for mama bear if you try to poke fun, though). I guess the first thing I will share (this is a big leap for me!), is a poem I wrote about my son with autism. I hope you enjoy!

Maxwell's Dance

Tip toe, to and fro-
Your hands flutter through the air,
jubilant butterflies
tethered at your wrists-
Hickory, dickory
try as they might
true flight denied.

Mind's eye tapestry woven,
gossamer wings whispering,
Light trip fantastic,
swirls of dust above your golden head,
a sunlight crown
streaming through the window,
sparkling shards winking,
a teasing spotlight on your world,
little king.

Perpetual puzzle,
born of my body,
longing for more than a glimpse
I imagine the creations of your mind,
rare, fine lace;
A spider's web adorned with morning dew,
unexpected jewels hang in offering,
as you dance your beauty
through my world.