Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pity, Party of One, your table is ready

I haven't been very funny lately. I know, I know. you come to this space to find the tongue-in-cheek witticisms to distract you from life, and I have been letting you down. in my defense, things aren't hilarious right now. And, since this space is all about me, it's well, all about me.

What changed, you ask? From the fight with the spider to zombie conversations...what made life So Serious? About a week ago, I realized: This is My Life. Just like that. I actually see it in caps. this is what I live. It is what it is, and it won't really get any better. I won't write the Great American Novel. I won't be rich, or glamorous. I won't rise to the top of the glass ceiling. I know, that doesn't seem that important, and I really don't want to conquer Corporate America. But I still want the option.

When you are young, the world is your oyster. Pearls are there for the taking. At twenty, you aren't a bestselling author..it's ok, there's time. In your forties, Time Is Running Out. You're old. You're washed up. You're irrelevant. Leave it to the youngsters, they have more energy, and why don't you just go and find yourself a nice rocking chair there by the fire? Yeah. NO.

I am usually a fairly positive person, though I bitch a lot. I can always find the "blessing" (how I hate that word..how pious it seems, but really, no better word can be found) in the mess. There is always a silver lining. For example: In 2006, we had a house fire. The structure was still standing, but we lost damn near everything.

We had to move out into a rental for six months, with little more than the clothes on our backs. We found ourselves wandering WalMart at midnight on a Sunday because it was the only store open, and we needed underwear, people! How do you put your life back together after that? We had to buy clothes, and pajamas, and toothbrushes and and and. I was in shock. It was awful. I would never wish the experience upon anyone. BUT. And here is where I am crazy: I was blessed. My faith increased, my family became closer, I learned gratitude. I started over. Now I try to keep only those things that as William Morris put it, "...you find to be useful or believe to be beautiful." And my house was completely redone, from top to bottom. For the first time, I had real bedroom furniture! And dishes that I didn't inherit from my mother! And a home that was completely my style, and brand new everything! And that was the silver lining. I didn't blog about it, the emotions were too raw. In fact, I didn't blog at all for almost two years. That experience helps to keep it all in perspective.

Cut to this last Sunday: I had one of the worst days that I can remember. Right now, JNerd is out of town, along with JBug. It's just me and the two youngers, fending for ourselves. Sunday afternoon, our cat started yowling and lying on the ground. He wouldn't walk, and something was wrong. So to the ER vet we went. Verdict: urinary blockage. LIFE-THREATENING emergency. Exactly the reason that vets exist. The vet needed to do some things that required sedating the cat, so I took the kids to Taco Bell for a quick bite. When I went to start the car, my battery was dead. I had to call AAA to come jump it, and hope that, since it was after hours and I couldn't call the vet, they would be understanding in case I was late. (thankfully, they were, and I wasn't). Because the battery was dead, I had to keep the car running while I picked up the cat. Environment be damned. I wasn't going to get stuck there...I had a sick cat to get the after-hours clinic for overnight treatment. And let me tell you, you haven't lived until you have pumped gas with the engine running for fear if you shut it off you will be stranded.

Finally got home after 9 p.m. and my kids were a wreck. Tucked them in. Made myself a drink and opened my laptop to find: nothing. The screen was black, but I could hear it was on. I tried a whole lot of tech support stuff ("Did you turn it off and one again??") but it was unresponsive.

So, a recap.. cat, battery, computer. It comes in threes right?

My point, people, and I DO have one... that day sucked. The next day sucked as I had to get up at the buttcrack of dawn to get the cat from the Night ER vet to my regular vet. Thankfully, I had my husband's car. Once I did that, I had to get my van to Costco so that they could explain to me why my battery had failed after less than two years. Turns out Costco doesn't install or remove batteries, but it doesn't matter because we don't have yours in stock right now anyway ma'am and there's an auto store down the street that can probably help you, have a nice day. Well. Fine.

I drove my van, which by some miracle started, to Pep Boys (who I cannot say enough nice things about, you guys!) Bought my battery. They took pity on the poor married lady who was abandoned by her husband for greener conventions, and took one look at the small ragamuffin in tow who was heat-bedraggled, and had me in and out of there in fifteen minutes! Fifteen minutes! New battery, yay! And, Costco gave me a full refund on my battery that failed.

When I finally got home, and was reflecting upon the events of the last coupIe of days, and it was all feeling a bit like being pecked to death by ducks. Then it hit me... (here is where I get all treacly) I really am blessed. Talk about First World Problems! We had enough money and resources to treat our sick cat. I have an auto club so that I don't get stranded when I have a problem. I have an extra car so that I could get my cat and not rely upon the kindness of my friends. I have enough money to get a new battery, and the resources to get it installed. I am rich compared to much of the world. That thought shut me up. I really have nothing to complain about. No one is dying. These are all transitional worries. I realize how obnoxious this sounds. Who really appreciated when Dad said, "Eat your peas, there are children starving in Africa?" And honestly, I got smacked when I once retorted, "Well, then, send the peas to THEM!" (made sense at the time) I am not telling you to eat your peas. I'm really not. I am telling myself. I am reminding myself that though I just turned forty_ahem ...life is not over. Life is still beautiful. My body may be changing, and my youth may be fading, but life is still good. Life is always good. Sometimes I just forget it for a bit.

As I write this, the cat is still at the vet, and will probably be ok. It will just be expensive. And I hate having to spend the money. But I love the fact that I have the resources to make the decisions that are required. I am not loaded monetarily by any means. It will be a stretch and we may eat cheese sandwiches for dinner for a bit. (more or less) but I am rich, in all the ways that count. And that revelation? Is priceless.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Homeschooling is not what you do, it's how you live

As the school year winds down, I am reminded of an exchange I had recently with a colleague. We were discussing our blogs and our families, and school came up. “Oh, that’s right, you homeschool. When do you finish?”

That question took me by surprise, not because it was asked, but because I wasn’t sure how to answer it. I mentioned something about summer, and how we had activities planned, and changed the subject. I don’t think she even noticed. The truth is, I never “finish.”

You know that awkward review time that teachers have for the first couple of months after summer break? Where they can’t really teach anything new for fear the kids don’t remember what they were taught the year before? I don’t have that. I learned long ago that my kids don’t retain much over the summer if we take a 2 or 3 month break. So? We don’t break.

We scale back, maybe. Do less than we would normally, but we keep on keeping on. And my kids progress. Don’t get me wrong, we do all the fun things over the summer that you do. We go to the park. We go to the beach. We swim. We just do our school first. And sometimes, we even do it at those places. It keeps my kids in a routine, and when it comes to autism, routines are good.

If I gave my son a months’ long break? I would never get him back into schoolwork again. He is all about what he always does and a week of the same thing means it's a habit. He needs that structure. If I allowed my little one to take a break that long? We would lose much of the ground gained in her reading and math. She continues to see her speech and reading tutor throughout the summer. She also does vision therapy.

I suppose my oldest would be fine; but I have never had to push her academically. She pushes herself hard enough for the both of us. But she putters around and will finish her Psychology and get a jumpstart on her math for next year. I also expect she will pre-read some of the books for her government class next year to make it a bit easier.

How does year-round school work, you ask? Don’t the kids get burnt out? Not really. For once, we don’t worry about taking a break here and there. I take a break for almost a month around the holidays. (we always keep our foot in something, to keep up routine) and if we want to take off on an impromptu visit to the grandparents in another state for a week, we can. If we travel, we can throw in some area history, or a museum visit.

Here’s the thing: homeschooling isn’t just schooling at home. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of looking at life, to see what you can learn. Every experience can teach us something. My daughter learned to count at the grocery store. My son learned about life science through gardening. Is it more work to live this way? I don’t think so. I am actually one of the least-motivated people you will meet, to be honest.

I attend homeschool conventions and think, “When would I have time to do that? Formal planning doesn’t work really well here. At the beginning of the year, I do a master lesson plan for each child. We rarely finish it on the schedule I set. That’s not the point. The plan is the point. And we eventually do get done with those books, and those lessons and that plan. We just move on to the next plan. I am a learner. I am happiest when I am learning. I want my children to discover that joy of “Aha! I didn’t know that!” Showing them that learning is a way of life is how I do it.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

It wasn't about the dog park, it's about autism

One of the advantages of having a blog (not to include the adoration, popularity and buckets of money being thrown my way) is that I have a forum where I get the last word. Sometimes, that's helpful. So I can tell you about my run in with the crazy woman at the dog park last night and that might be healing.

Last night was just like any other summer night. The days are so hot that we wait to take the dog to the park until evening. That works well, most of the time. Poppy was her usual boisterous self, bouncing from one dog to the next, having a grand old time. There is a smallish Austrailian Sheperd that is pretty obnoxious. It flits back and forth, trying to herd the dogs, barking in their faces. I have seen it there for the last week or so. It likes to bark at Poppy. She pretty much takes it stride, the way she takes it all in stride. She is big, bouncy, but harmless. She is big, and black, and that seems to put people on edge who aren't familiar with Newfoundlands. Read: just about most people. There is even a name for it among newfy owners: Big Black Dog Syndrome.

Poppy figures that since this dog is yapping in her face, she must want to play, so they were chasing and bouncing, so far nothing out of the ordinary. The little dog was on its back and Poppy was standing over it, the way dogs do. This crazy nut job went over and started kicking my dog! You need to understand, I am rarely more than six feet away at any given time, and usually even closer than that. I am the original "helicopter parent" when it comes to my dog. At any point, if she starts getting too rambunctious, or if the other dog looks like he isn't having fun, I pull her out of the fray, and we take a break. I am a responsible owner. I read books, I educate myself. I have learned dog body language and figured out what to watch for. My dog is not aggressive. And even in play, I would never allow my dog to go too far with another dog. So when this, for want of a better word, bitch, started kicking my dog I lost it.

I would never hit anyone. But I started yelling at her. She tried to say my dog was "biting" hers. Her dog was driving the play! Some other guy (I cannot call him a man) who was so good at watching his dog that I never even knew which dog was his (that's sarcasm) said it was my fault and I needed to get my dog under control. Know this: Poppy is at the dog park five or six times a week. She does not have a control problem. I can pull her out when the play gets to be too much. She takes a time out. After she was attacked by another dog (and I was bitten) I worked really hard on this. His accusations were completely unfounded.

One of the most frustrating things that I find about myself is that if I am in the right and I feel persecuted, I cannot have an argument when it gets heated. I lose all eloquence and cannot form a coherent thought. Basically, I sound like an idiot. This time, not only did that happen, I was going to cry. Time to get the hell out of there. My brain short-circuited. As I was leaving, I uttered words to make a sailor blush. I am not proud of my behavior, and I am furious at myself for acting that way. Fight or Flight kicked in and I lost it.

Once I got to the car, I burst into tears, and promptly had a panic attack. I couldn't breathe and I felt like my heart was in shards. I continued to cry after we got home, locked myself in my room, and just couldn't function. What the hell is the matter with me? I just don't know. But after sleeping on it, I think I know a bit more of what set me off.

I have a stressful life. It isn't anyone's fault; it's just the way the cards were dealt. Most of the time, it's ok. Last night, it just hit the fan. I was devastated that someone was rejecting my dog. While you may want to laugh at that, consider this: it was just one more special-needs "kid" in my family who was snubbed. In other words, it was a trigger for me.

For the last seventeen or so years, I have watched one or another of my children struggle to make friends, be accepted, be loved. I have stood by while being silently judged, "WHY can't you stop that child from tantruming/having trouble with social stimuli/being rigid?" I have endured the cold shoulder from parents who have decided that my child isn't worthy of their child's time because she is "different." I have watched my son embarrass himself in front of others and be completely oblivious of their reaction. I have seen my daughter be left out of social events because she doesn't like the same things as her peers, and watched her cry over her lack of acceptance. So, no, I will not apologize for losing it at the dog park when people who had no idea about actual dogs judged my dog as beneath theirs. I will not.

I realize how ridiculous this sounds. She's a dog. I get it. For me, it was about more than the dog. I had a reason to be angry over my dog's treatment, but the anger I really felt was misplaced. It was grief.

Over the years, I have had to come to terms with the fact that I did not give birth to cheerleaders. There is no Big Man On Campus in my home. Indeed, there is no campus. None of my children will get the lead in the school play, though they might be in the chorus. I did not give birth to "popular" kids. The phone doesn't ring for play dates much. I am actually ok with this. What I am not ok with is how others see them. They are smart, generally well-mannered (if you don't count the twelve year old and his twelve-year old boy behavior) and loving children. They deserve better. They deserve friends who like them for who they are. And they deserve grown ups, who should know better, that give them a chance and don't automatically write them off as playmate for their kids because they are "different." I am fucking tired of this. That's right, I just used "fucking" on my blog, for the first time, ever. I am done.

So. You are on notice. If you snub my child, I will call you on it. I will try to do it kindly, but I will do it. In an era when we are trying to pay attention to others' rights and difficulties, I will call you on bad behavior, leaving out my children simply because they have autism. I am done being nice. Now I am fighting back.

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