Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Trap

I should not have been there and I knew it. But I wandered over to the magazine section just to take a peek, because I was curious. "It's a trap," I heard a voice say, "don't do it."

I ignored the voice, picked up the October special issue of Family Fun magazine, whipped it open and rapidly scanned the pages. With one look I was impressed with the clever cupcakes and the creative crafts and my mind began to race with possibilities. Ohhh, milk jug ghost luminaries. I can do that! Mummies fashioned from craft sticks, craft spoons, wire snips, muslin, glue and googly eyes. Easy! Would you like to know how to turn your entire house into a House O' Lantern with strategically cut and placed paper in the windows? Why yes, I would. And what's this? Oranges hollowed out, cut like jack o' lanterns and filled with fruit salad. Thematic AND healthy. I continued to turn pages and marveled at the enormous amount of ideas presented to me.

Jackpot. All the crafts and recipes I would need to make our Halloween party a smashing success were right here, in one nifty magazine. I placed it in my cart and headed toward the craft section to score supplies for those mummies. And then that little voice inside my head said, "Have you lost your mind? Put that magazine back right now. You know better than this." And the voice was right. Because the voice recalled the night I frosted and re-frosted a cake three times until it was "perfect". The voice also remembered the time I wasted hours trying to make my own mummy costume but abandoned the idea once I realized I looked less like a frightful mummy and more like the Michelin Man. And the voice remembered that I have painstakingly removed certain colors from a container of multi-colored sprinkles because they didn't go with my theme. The voice reminded me that when I get these grand ideas I also get grandly stressed because they don't always work out. Oh the voice knows me too well.

It's not that I'm opposed to arts and crafts and clever concoctions, it's just that I have to set limits for myself. I'm not knocking Family Fun magazine at all. With their help I made a space shuttle cake for Jake's 7th birthday that was out of this world. Pun intended. I'm simply saying that sometimes what women see in magazines can make them feel bad about themselves and that's what happens to me if I stare too long at creativity on parade. Plus all those smiling children in the photos, so happy, living it up because their mommies made cool snacks and crafty crafts. The pressure, the trap.

I put the magazine back on the shelf and held my head high on the way to check out. We are having a Halloween party and my boys are psyched for Saturday. We won't be making mummies and our house won't look like a jack o' lantern but there will be food and families and fun. And a trick or treasure hunt. And a giant moonwalk/slide for the backyard. And creepy cupcakes whipped up by the good ladies at the grocery store's bakery. Crafts scmafts.

My boys won't know all the neat things that could have been. They will only know that their mummy had snacks and treats on the table and she welcomed their friends and smiled and bounced and it was the best party ever.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Zach likes his cereal dry. Probably because he is not a big fan of milk but he seems to be a big fan of buoyancy. I've watched him examine Jake's bowls of cereal with milk somewhat in awe. But still he stuck with ordering his cereal dry.

A while ago he asked for "cereal whip milk" and I thought OK, here we go, cereal with milk just like the other kids. I filled a bowl with Alpha Bits, added the requested milk and served it right up. "I want more milk," he said. I poured. "I want more milk, please." Like I said, a fan of buoyancy.

Zach didn't eat the cereal whip milk. He sunk letters and watched them float back up. He did put the spoon to his lips but couldn't do it. Must have been the milk. Back to dry cereal.

Tonight I poured myself a bowl of Frosted Flakes, topped it with milk and secured the bag of cereal with a chip clip. (Just had to say that.) I sat down to enjoy my dinner and Zach took an interest. I offered a bowl but he declined. "No, no," once for cereal , once for milk.

The phone rang and I left what was left of my meal, just a few maverick flakes and a decent amount of milk. (My milk to cereal ratio was off. I hate when that happens.) Zach moved in and I watched. He picked up the spoon loaded with milk but then poured it back into the bowl and then he did it again, and again. The call ended and I joined Zach at the table. I watched as he captured a flake in a spoonful of milk. "Gotcha!" he bragged. And then he ate it. Cereal whip milk. Just like the other kids but exactly like Zach.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

True Tales of Growing Up Southern: Baseball and a Mother-In-Law

The November issue of Southern Living magazine arrived in the mail yesterday and I took a few minutes to flip through it. I skimmed articles I'll read later and dog-eared the pages of recipes I'll never make. Enjoyed the "Southernism of the Month" which is "dressing". I felt very southern indeed knowing there is a difference between dressing and stuffing. Admired a beautiful photo of Caddo Lake and thought of the times I fished there with my dad.

The article that really brought back some memories featured great diners in the south including Strawn's Eat Shop in Shreveport, Louisiana. I recalled the last time I dined at Strawn's, spring 1986. I was sixteen years old and dreaming about Mr. Right.

I was there with my boyfriend's mother and his sister. "Boyfriend" isn't completely accurate. The boy and I had spoken on the phone a few times and talked about going on a date. But it was baseball season and the boy played for a high school team and didn't have much free time. But the boyfriend's (let's just call him that anyway) mother invited me to go with her to watch his game. I offered all the details to my parents (as required) and asked if I could go. The answer was yes because the boyfriend came from a "good family" and this is important in the south. We knew of his parents and where they worked, we knew the family's church affiliation, we knew their exact address and more. All of this is easy to know in a town of five thousand people. If you needed a background check on anyone, just ask your neighbor about him.

His mother picked me up and I slid into the front seat of her car, a place of honor that day for the new girlfriend. The boyfriend's little sister had been relegated to the back seat and I was certain I felt her staring at the back of my head during the drive. I was very uneasy that day, imagining what his mother might be thinking about me. I wasn't completely sure how I felt about her son but I wanted to make a good impression just in case. The drive into Shreveport was long enough for more than small talk. His mother asked me questions about school and my family, cheerleading, summer camp plans, etc. She was probably sizing me up, seeing if I were worthy of her son's attention. But I was sizing her up too.

We had time before the game to grab a bite to eat. Strawn's Eat Shop was not far from the baseball field and an easy choice. His mother, his sister and I ate cheeseburgers with slender fries and drank Cokes and iced tea. Conversation continued between his mother and me and the sister just watched. We got strawberry pie slices to go. I would've eaten mine there but thought I should wait, show some restraint.

At the game, his mother introduced me to all the other players' parents, making me feel very special. As we watched the game she pointed out each player and told me all about him and what his family was like and where he might go to college. His mother had something nice to say about everyone and she cheered for those boys like they were her own. Of course when her own was up to bat or made a play she cheered even more loudly.

We passed the time driving home with more conversation. That lady could talk! The boyfriend's sister was quiet in the backseat most of the drive. I wondered what she'd tell her brother about me later. I got out of the car and thanked his mother for a nice time. And it was a nice time. I didn't know how she sized me up that day but she had fared very well with me.

The boyfriend and I did go on one official date and by the end of the night, I knew he wasn't the one. He took me home early and it was just as well, he cared more about baseball than anything else and didn't have time for a girlfriend. I wasn't too sad. He wasn't the greatest guy ever but that mother sure was nice. I would miss her.

Over a year passed and old boyfriend called. We talked and I liked him. We got together for a movie and I loved him. Turns out he is the greatest guy ever. Seems the boyfriend still liked baseball but he liked me more. His mother was happy to see me again and I felt the same way. Five years later the boyfriend became my husband, his little sister became my fabulous sister-in-law and his mother became my mother-in-law. My wonderful, caring, energetic, supportive mother-in-law.

Over two decades have passed since that lunch at Strawn's and the baseball game that followed. My mother-in-law is coming to visit on Friday. She is coming to watch her boy coach and my boys play baseball. We'll probably get some burgers and fries before the game, iced tea for her and a Coke for me. Then we will sit together in the stands, cheering loudly for all the players but especially for our boys.

One day I imagine I will sit at lunch with a young lady who has my son's attention. Maybe it will be a cozy diner like Strawn's. Maybe we'll be on our way to his game. I'll treat her kindly and make her feel welcome but size her up as well. And if I don't like what I see I'll drive her to the middle of nowhere and let her out, no, no I won't really do that. Maybe she will be the one for my boy and I will love her as much as my mother-in-law loves me.

Check back for next week's installment of True Tales of Growing Up Southern: Daycation at the Dump.

The School Nurse Called...

and she was able to take Zach's blood pressure today. Whoo hoo! He was very calm about it and then put the cuff on the nurse's arm and checked hers.

Mission completed.

Monday, October 26, 2009


A special operations update.

We've had a breakthrough with Operation Blood Pressure Cuff Desensitivity.

"Big giant mama," he said. Zach and I were taking turns placing the cuff on each other's arm in an attempt to get comfortable with it. Big giant mama?


"Big giant mama," he repeats.

Big giant mama? Big giant mama? Why does that sound familiar? And then it hits me. "Big giant mama" sounds almost exactly like "big giant beach ball" which is what Zach says when he wants a beach ball inflated. With the hand operated air pump we keep in the garage. With a hose attached to it. Which we operate with a repetitive motion. Which makes a whooshing sound. Which makes the beach ball grow larger and larger and get tighter and tighter. Which is very similar to the sights and sounds of the blood pressure cuff.

I heard Andy pull into the garage and I ran out to tell him what Zach said, "Big giant mama!"


"Big giant mama. Sounds like when Zach says 'big giant beach ball' and then we inflate the beach ball and that's like the blood pressure cuff."

"What are you saying?"

"Zach thinks we are trying to inflate him!"

Andy agreed with me. This made perfect sense. Perfect sense if you think like Zach and not like everyone else. Now our mission includes convincing Zach that he will not get bigger when his blood pressure is taken. It's not the same as inflating a beach ball.

We're working on this but haven't made much progress. Yesterday Zach placed the cuff on brother's arm and said, "Big giant Jake."

Pick Your Battles

The perfectionist in me would like to call a family meeting and demonstrate the proper operation of a chip clip.

Apparently there are people in this house who think a certain level of staleness is acceptable. Or there are people in this house who know someone else will come along and tidy this mess right up. But I am not going to call that meeting. I am a recovering perfectionist and I will let this go, after I post it on this blog with photos.

Good mother (and wife) or subconsciously filing this away and will bring it up later?

Quotes I Love

"Have a little faith."

Jake's response to me when I said we probably weren't going to win the $10,000 cash prize from the Subway peel and win game.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Other Mothers

I like doing things my way. I like to run a tight ship, keep everything under control and manage any situation that arises. My attitude is if you want something done right then let me do it. I understand that people are different and there are more ways than one to run a life but honestly, my way is the best way. I have it all figured out.

Good plan except that it didn't work. Sure there were moments of success but then something would happen and my plan would get tested. Still I battled through until I could get life back to neat and normal. By myself. Because when you know exactly what you're doing, you don't require any help. Then my tight ship sprung a leak.

3 1/2 years ago when Zach was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, I found myself in need of help, lots of help. The pediatrician, the psychologist, the therapists, the teachers, the diagnosticians all offered their type of help. And that was great and still is because Zach has made enormous gains with their help. But the help I came to depend on most came from other mothers.

Mothers whose children shared my son's diagnosis. Mothers whose children weren't like Zach but had another diagnosis. Mothers who had been where I was and were not only willing but happy to share their experiences. Other mothers. I hung on their every word. I listened as they told me what worked and what didn't. I rejoiced when their children made gains. It gave me hope that Zach could one day be where their children are now.

A couple of days ago I spent the afternoon in the home of another mother. Her name had been passed along to me by a teacher who raved about this mother's knowledge and the difference she's making in her child's life. Her daughter has the same diagnosis as Zach but is a few years older. I'll point out that although their diagnosis is the same, there are differences in behaviors and characteristics. The same diagnosis will not look the same in each child and a child's personality always plays an important role in behavior. Having said that, the other mother and I found many things in common for both our children.

We spent hours sharing the various therapies and treatments we've tried. What worked and what didn't, what we regret and what we still might do. So much in common, an instant connection. She understands. Her honesty in admitting mistakes she'd made gave me a chance to learn from someone else's experiences. Anytime she began a sentence with "If I had to do it again.." I took notes. I also wrote down the computer programs she uses, the books she's read and the websites she checks. When the other mother shared specific things to watch for at school, I wrote those down too.

Before our time ended we had connected in many ways. We wrapped up the visit discussing how blessed we are to have children who are different. What if they weren't ours? What if we had missed the chance to see life through unusual eyes? What about the parents who were expecting a typical story, like we all do, and got a mystery instead? Will they spend a lifetime trying to re-write it?

I thanked the other mother profusely for her time and we agreed that we must have lunch soon, just for fun. As I drove toward school I went over all that I had learned and my head was swimming with ideas and information. But mostly I was overwhelmed with inspiration. That mother is incredible. Her attitude, her knowledge, her heart. Her willingness to share. I am encouraged.

I'm sad to think what I would miss if I were trying to do this alone. I am grateful for the other mothers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

All (most) Aboard!

Sunday we drove 5 hours round trip for the experience that is Day Out with Thomas. We had planned the trip weeks ago, bought tickets via the Internet and counted down the days on the calendar. "Ride Thomas?" Zach had asked daily.

We arrived at the station and there was Thomas in all his baby blue glory, smiling at the thought of hauling happy children up and down the track. Zach ran right over. He moved in close but not too close, examined the wheels, searched out the engineer, looked down the row of coaches. Jake was cool about the scene. He's eight (and a half) you know. Thomas once took his breath away but not so much anymore. The day was really about Zach. Andy helped me situate the boys on the plywood box placed in front of Thomas for a perfect photo. Zach was a little nervous having his back to Thomas. I think he wanted to keep an eye on him. Jake placed his arm around his Bebe's shoulder and the photo was snapped. Look closely and you can see Zach's apprehension.

The engineer blew the whistle and Zach covered his ears. We moved to the side of the track and watched as Thomas pulled away from the station. I explained to Zach it was not our turn to ride Thomas, we were on the next trip. He didn't seem bothered that Thomas had left without him. This should have been my first clue.

We made the rounds at the gift shops and then walked back to the station anticipating Thomas' return. Zach was so excited to catch sight of the engine and watch it grow bigger and bigger as it neared the station. The passengers unloaded and it was our turn to ride. Tickets in hand, we moved toward car number 42 but Zach stalled as the line formed. We tried talking to him, we tried pushing him toward the train and we tried threatening him ("Do you want a new Thomas movie? No train ride, no movie.") all to no avail.

Jake and I took our seats and Andy and Zach waved from the platform. As we pulled away I watched Andy gently wrap his arms around our boy. I could tell Andy was whispering something in Zach's ear. Something just between them. Jake and I made the most of the brief train ride designed to thrill people much younger than either of us. We bet money on how fast the train was traveling. I said, "Fifty miles per hour." He said, "Fifty-one." The conductor settled it by informing us of the train's top speed: 17 m.p.h. I looked at Jake and we busted up laughing.

Zach was waiting at the station holding his new wooden train whistle because our threats of not buying something are usually empty. He ran to greet us and skipped around the track as we left, taking one last look at the blue engine he loves best. " Zach," I said, "you didn't ride Thomas."

"Ride Thomas," he parroted. "No, that was the ride, you didn't ride Thomas," I clarified. But he was not concerned with specifics. He blew his whistle and ran toward the golf cart whose driver had offered us a ride to the parking lot. I think this ride was the highlight of his day.

Andy asked, "Can we get our money back on those two tickets?" I checked the fine print, "No refunds." Oh well, plans change. And speaking of changing plans, we'll need to re-think the 4 tickets I purchased to ride the Polar Express.

The Meaning of Meaningless Conversations

"Does Ms. B still need a new pencil sharpener?" I asked Jake as we walked into school.

"No, maybe. We have two pencil sharpeners in the room," he answered. "There's one that plugs in and then there's the, you know, school one."

"I was just wondering if anybody had brought in a new pencil sharpener because I read on Ms. B's website she'd like a new one."

"Well the one is pretty good and then the other one, like with a, um, what's that thing?"

"Crank?" I offer.

"Yeah, crank, well it's good if you want to sharpen colored pencils but not good for regular pencils."

"Oh so you use the electric one for regular pencils and use the crank one, the school's, for colored pencils. Did your pencil bag come with a sharpener this year?"

"Yeah and sometimes I just use that one but not for colored pencils, just regular ones."

"Well that's handy to have one at your desk in case the line is long at the pencil sharpener."

"Oh yeah."

Meaningless conversation filled with meaning. Here's my theory on conversations with kids: keep 'em talking. If Jake wants to talk about pencil sharpeners today maybe he will want to talk about peer pressure tomorrow. I figure if he is comfortable talking and he knows I'm listening then I'll hear more and miss less.

Maybe I'm a little sensitive about conversations with my kids. Maybe it's because I have one child for whom conversation flows and another child for whom conversation drips. I don't take words lightly.

So if Jake wants to tell me scene by scene the latest episode of Star Wars The Clone Wars I'll listen. Even when there seems to be no point at all, there is.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Operation Silenced Parrot

Because when you have a child who is special, you need special operations. The first of 2 briefings covering our current operations

Zach's social skills teacher is floored that he repeats things, floored! "He can't do that!" she says. Oh but he can, I think.

"How has he gotten away with this?" she wants to know. The social skills teacher continues, "I said, 'Zach what did you have for lunch today?' and he said, 'What did you have for lunch today', but didn't answer the question, he just repeated what I said."

"Well sometimes Zach repeats because he doesn't know what to say but he knows he is expected to say something," I offer.

"Well he has got to stop," she states. "He may not know all the answers but he can do more than he's doing."

And with that she demonstrates the procedure for carrying out what I'm calling Operation Silenced Parrot.

Step 1. Ask Zach a question, start with something he can actually answer. "Zach are you ready for school?"

Step 2. If Zach begins by saying "Are you rea", hold up your hand indicating he should stop. (Confession- as the social skills teacher demonstrates this with a series of spoken stops, nos, shhs plus hand motions, I can't help but think of that scene in the Austin Powers movie where Austin shushes his teen-aged son.)

Step 3. Ask again.

Step 4. If Zach repeats, nip it in the bud and remind him that you've asked a question and he needs to give an answer, no repeating.

Step 5. Ask again and praise him when that sweet voice answers the question.

At home I inform Andy of the task we've been assigned. At school I share the new information with the teachers. We're all on it.

Operation Blood Pressure Cuff De-Sensitivity Training

Because when you have a child who is special, you need special operations.

Zach doesn't like having his blood pressure taken. Ok, he hates having his blood pressure taken. Maybe it's the giant cuff slapped onto a small arm, the weird tube attached to an odd-shaped bulb, the simultaneous sound of suction and tightening of the cuff, the not knowing if it will ever stop squeezing. No big deal because rarely did we need to know Zach's blood pressure. But now it's important to know and the doctor wants a record of it.

Last check up we, the doctor and I, tried unsuccessfully to takes Zach's blood pressure. There was quite a bit of resistance on Zach's part so the doctor and I said soothing, reassuring things and took turns putting the cuff on our own arms with smiles on our faces indicating it is safe AND fun to get one's blood pressure taken. Zach didn't buy it. We gave up when Zach cowered in the corner protecting his arms. As the doctor pointed out, any reading we managed to get would be higher than normal and therefore inaccurate.

I promised the doctor we would work on this at home, maybe enlist the help of the school nurse, and get Zach comfortable with the cuff. Desensitize him, make this seem so very normal. The next day I visited the school nurse's office and explained the situation and the plan. When Zach visits her office, she will attempt to take his blood pressure. Initial resistance is fine, this may take some getting used to, but consistency is key. The nurse agreed to be part of this mission. I asked where I can get an old cuff to use at home and she told me she'll send one home in his backpack. Super!

At home, Jake, Andy and I randomly pick up the cuff and place it on our arms. We squeeze the bulb and listen to the sounds. "Cool, this is fun!" we say. Jake does a great job wearing the cuff and acting as if it's the neatest thing ever. Zach warms up to the idea and we manage to get the cuff on his arm for a few seconds and I consider this a small step in the right direction. When we're done, I leave the cuff out, highly visible, in the family room, on the ottoman. See, nothing scary here. Just a blood pressure cuff lying around.

All part of the plan.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Same But Different

"My son was asking if Zach can hear? Is he deaf?"

The question catches me off guard. "No, he can hear," I explain to the mother of Zach's classmate, "but he is language delayed and he is behind in social skills too."

"Oh," she says, "I was just wondering."

"Sure, no problem, I'm glad you asked." This reminds me that a visit to Zach's first grade class is overdue.

Just a few days later I visit the class to talk about Zach's differences. Having spoken to the teacher, Mrs. W, ahead of time, I have a sense of what the other children are noticing and questioning about Zach. I am prepared with an array of simple drawings to illustrate my points and I've brought along a book about bad habits.

I walk into the classroom and Zach comes over to me and says what he always says when I show up at school. "Get your backpack and go home?" Sweet boy. "3 o'clock," I remind. "Mom is here to read a story."

The first graders are sitting on the area rug and I take my place in the rocking chair. Zach tries to sit still on the back row but ends up pacing around the room. I begin my story about Zach by explaining that their school is named for a boy who was different. A boy whose body didn't work the same as theirs and he lived in a bubble. A boy who was different. "Zach is different too," I tell the attentive classmates. "But first let's talk about some of the ways he is the same."

Using the simple drawings I talk about how Zach has a family who loves him, a big brother too. Hands shoot up. "I have a big brother!" someone blurts out. "Me too," another adds. "I have a sister but she's little," another admits.

Oh good, audience participation. "Yes, lots of you have brothers or sisters and that's just like Zach. That's one way Zach is the same."

I talk about how Zach is learning so much this year and that he really likes to read. I mention his favorite books and a few kids are compelled to mention theirs. I share some photographs of Zach doing some "normal" things, things they might do too. The photos grab Zach's attention and he paces my way to take closer look. Zach riding a horse, Zach playing baseball, Zach on his scooter, Zach with his brother. Same type of pictures the other kids might take. Same.

"In lots of ways Zach is the same as you, right?" I ask. They nod yes. "But let's talk about some ways that he is different." And with this I launch into a list of differences and offer explanations without ever mentioning a diagnosis. I start with the obvious- Zach's lack of language. Simply put I tell them Zach just doesn't have as many words as they do. "He's still learning and he has more words than last year but Zach needs extra help to learn words." I look at the four classmates who were with Zach in kindergarten and they confirm that Zach does know more words than last year. "Zach sometimes leaves the room and goes to another room just so a teacher can help him learn more words." Zach comes over to me. "A present?" he asks. "No, Mom is talking to the class, it's not time for a present."

Next I bring up eye contact. "Have you noticed that sometimes when you talk to Zach he doesn't look at you, he doesn't look at your eyes?" A resounding yes from the crowd. "It's like he's not even listening isn't it?" Yeah. "Sometimes Zach isn't looking at your eyes because he is thinking and for him to understand what you're saying, he has to look away," I explain. "But sometimes he really isn't listening. He's daydreaming, thinking of something else and that can be frustrating for you. I know because it happens to me all the time!" They giggle.

"Have you ever seen Zach get really excited about something?" I ask. Lots of nodding. "What does he do when he is excited?" Many students begin whipping their arms around perfectly mimicking Zach. "That's right! When I get excited about something I clap or cheer but when Zach gets excited he whips his arms around and sometimes jumps up and down. He is so funny when he does that, isn't he?" Yes they all agree. He's funny, not weird, not strange, funny.

"And have you noticed that Zach sings songs and talks about TV shows when he should be working?" Oh yeah, they've noticed. I explain that Zach has a big imagination, same as you, but instead of keeping lots of thoughts inside, like you do, he lets them all out. Different. So when he's thinking about a birthday party, he starts singing the Happy Birthday song and when he's thinking about a favorite cartoon, he says all the words to favorite episodes. A few kids throw out characters they've heard. Thomas the Tank Engine, Barney, Handy Manny, Wow Wow Wubzy. One boy says, "Zach really likes Mickey Mouse." Someone agrees and adds that Zach sings the Hot Dog Dance song alot. I mention that Zach does a great Goofy impression and I hear it randomly at home. "Gowsh," I say in my best Goofy voice. The kids crack up.

Zach climbs on the bean bags piled behind the rocking chair and I continue. " I know that you've asked Mrs. W about Zach's fingers so let's talk about that. Do you know what a habit is?" I explain that Zach started biting his nails months ago and that led to biting his fingertips. The kids are very aware of this because the behavior is intense and the intervention has started. The kids noticed the specially designed chart encouraging Zach not to bite. If he doesn't bite his fingers for a specified time, he earns stickers which are traded in for time of the computer. "It's just a habit," I explain. "Like tapping your pencil, twirling your hard or chewing your lip but the teachers are helping Zach with his habit because it keeps him from doing his work." They nod. They get it.

I glance at the clock and begin wrapping things up. I finish by saying that Zach is so special because he is different but that they are special too. "There are lots of things I can teach Zach and there are lots of things Mrs. W can teach Zach but you are extra special because you teach Zach how to be a friend. He is watching you and learning from you everyday. He likes to come to school and he loves it when you play with him, especially chase at recess. So you all are very, very special."

A kind boy from last year's class raises his hand and I call on him. "When I see Zach on the playground, I open my arms and Zach comes up and I give him a hug and then I say 'Come on Zach!' and he chases me." I have managed not to get emotional as I talk to these children about Zach's differences but this beautiful, simple illustration of compassion and friendship nearly does me in. I take a breath and say, "You are a good friend."

Finally I read a Berenstain Bears' book about breaking a bad habit. Zach takes interest in the book for a few seconds then roams a bit more. He is anxious when I'm in the classroom but always settles down after I leave.

I thank the kids for listening and for being good friends to Zach and they are prompted to thank me for coming in to read. Zach asks once more, "Get your backpack and go home?" I kiss him and say "3 o'clock".

The day is coming when the kids won't be so kind, right? Isn't there an age when discrimination takes root and one child's differences are good enough reason for another kid's bad behavior? I've heard some heart-breaking stories from moms of children who are different. It gets harder as they get older they all say. But for now my Zach is a different dolphin swimming in a sea of goodness.

Grown Up

Yesterday Jake and I went to the dentist. He was scheduled to get sealants on his four permanent molars. As we pulled into the parking lot I assured him, once again, that this would be an easy appointment. Even easier than getting your teeth cleaned. "When you're finished," I promised, "we'll go right to the store and buy candy." Jake was all for it.

Jake settled into the dentist's chair and I took my place in the corner on a small, rolling chair. The hygienist started the procedure and things were going well, for about 3 minutes. Then came the placement of a cotton roll and another type of absorbent pad and Jake started to whimper. The whimper escalated to a low intensity wail as the hygienist repositioned the cotton roll and pad and reminded Jake that she can't put the sealant on if his tooth gets wet. She worked a minute or two despite Jake's mild wailing but then stopped, looked at me and said, "I can't do this if he doesn't settle down," with frustration in her voice. I rolled forward, wiped a tear away from my boy's face, said a few encouraging things then I rolled back into my corner.

An assistant was called to the scene and they started again, positioning cotton and drying the tooth but before the tooth was properly cleaned, Jake began crying again. The hygienist and assistant assured him that nothing would hurt and he should just relax. This bit of information didn't comfort Jake and from the corner of those big, blue eyes dropped a couple of real tears. I looked at him lying stiffly in the dental chair, scrappy legs, scuffed sneakers, hands tucked nervously beneath his body and I knew he needed to be rescued.

We're outta here Jake. Those cotton rolls are the worst. I remember the way they taste from my own childhood. And that other cotton pad has those sharp edges that cut into your mouth. Ouch. They're pulling your lips and telling you to open big and commanding you to not swallow. It's all too much. I hate this place. Everything smells weird and there's too many mystery tools on that tray behind your head that you can't see. Don't look at it, just trust me, it's scary. Let's make a run for it, we'll go get that candy and pretend all this never happened. Who needs sealants anyway? I didn't have them when I was a kid and look at me now. Those fillings in my molars are holding up just fine. On my count, we bolt for the door. Are you ready?

I rolled up to my boy and asked the hygienist to please give us a moment. I pulled Jake to a sitting position and put my hands on his saying, "Take a breath, Jake, just breathe and let's talk about it." He tried to nod and breathe slowly but wasn't quite ready. "It's OK Jake, nothing they are doing hurts but I know the cotton tastes bad, doesn't it?" He managed to nod yes. "And that other cotton pad feels sharp in your mouth, right?" Again with the nods and Jake began to breathe easier. "It's very important that they keep your tooth dry because the sealant paint won't stick to a wet tooth. If you can't settle down then we need to leave. That's OK if we have to leave but then we will go to the other dentist (referring to the pediatric dentist) and you'll need to drink the special medicine (a wooze-inducing potion) for him to put the sealants on your teeth." I could tell that he was taking all this in so I kept going. "So you have to help me decide what to do. Do you want to try again here or do you want to go to the other dentist and take the medicine? It's your choice."

My big, little eight year old who wanted to be brave told me, "Try again. Stay here." "OK, let's try again." I squeezed his hands and helped him lie back down in position. I didn't roll back into the corner. I stayed really close and kept his right hand in mine. Small boy, big moment. The ladies began again and offered encouragement and left the frustration out. I gave a play-by-play for Jake and told him "Now she's got the mirror and you're feeling the metal part, now she's painting the stuff on and you're doing great keeping everything very dry, now she's getting out the special light to dry it and it kinda looks like a mini light saber." Doing great Jake, doing great.

I was overcome with pride for my boy's bravery which led me to ante up the reward from gum to something much better. "Jake I am so proud of you that I think you've earned a special prize. I'm thinking we'll finish up here and head over to Target." He squeezed my hand. Now you're talkin' Mom. "Maybe a new Lego set?" "Oh yeah," he managed to say through an open, cottoned mouth. Talk of the trip to Target got us all through the remainder of the procedure. Four teeth with sealants, done.

I gave Jake a hug and told him I was so proud that he tried again and did it. Maybe it seems like he is a wimpy kid and the tears were unjustified but it was real to him which means it was justified for me. We went to Target for that victory purchase and he cruised the Lego aisle debating over different sets. He settled on a very expensive set which I declined to purchase. "But Mom, it was FOUR teeth and it was hard," he reasoned with sincerity. Truthfully, the trip to the pediatric dentist and the magic potion would cost five times as much as that Lego set but I did have to draw the line. "Christmas wish list," I offered and then redirected him to some reasonably priced rewards.

"How did it go?" Andy asked when we got home. "A shaky start but Jake really pulled through," I said. And me too, I thought. Today was real mom moment. One of those times when I realize I am the grown up, I am the one who (supposedly) has all the answers, I am the one who (allegedly) makes everything better. I too pulled through at the dentist's office and my reward is watching my boy grow up right in front of my eyes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My Marathon

Back in the day (as my nephew says to describe events that happened a few years ago) the only people who ran marathons were marathon runners. Professional-type runners. People who are experts at running and who run all the time, not people who just up and decide "hey I'll run a marathon". But times are changing and regular people are running marathons. My neighbor ran a marathon or two and so did one of my close friends. Neither are professional runners and I've heard their stories of chiropractic visits and steroid shots but of the exhilaration that comes from trying something new, pushing themselves farther, reaching a goal.

I don't get it. Every time I see a runner on the edge of the road, sweating, looking determined yet tortured and wearing a belt of water bottles one thing comes to mind- crazy. I don't see the exhilaration. I don't see the goal. I'm not inspired to get my sneakers on, strap a water bottle to my waist and push my body to new limits. Why on earth would anybody want to run for miles and miles with no end in sight? Crazy I tell you. Crazy. I mean good for you and all if you're planning to run a marathon but crazy.

In January I announced to Andy that I was going to write a book. In fact, I had already started work on the outline, organizing notes I'd made for years, making good use of the quiet, long weekend Zach and I spent at home while Andy and Jake were enjoying the snow in Colorado. It was supposed to be a family trip but plans change and Zach and I got off the plane before it left the gate in Houston. I, wife and mother, formerly employed as an interior designer and then a teacher and having no formal writing classes or experience, began a project that was brand new and would push me far beyond my comfort zone. Really who just up and writes a book? Regular people don't, writers do and I'm not a writer, am I? I feel a case of crazy coming on.

Andy could have said, "You, write a book? Why?" But he didn't. Instead my be-the-action husband said, "Good, it's about time." He knew I'd always wanted to do this, to write a book. He knew I had this in me. For years I'd dreamed about writing an incredible story, one that captivates the reader and makes her care and feel and think between the lines. I wanted to write something that would have a reader missing the characters at the end of the story wondering what happens next, why did that story have to end? But as someone who loves to read and who has pined for characters after the story ran out, I just couldn't imagine pulling it off. And really do we need another book? One trip to Barnes and Noble proves my point. Thousands of published books, some incredibly good. What would I write to compete for a space on the shelf? So I set the dream aside because I didn't have a story to tell.

I kept thinking about it though and over time I realized I had a story. My beautiful Zach was born on a Thursday and almost slipped away on a Saturday but he didn't and every day with him is a bonus. He will be 7 years old in a month. His life, his differences, the difference he makes, that's my story. I wrote entire chapters in my head before I ever wrote anything on paper. I wrote notes and phrases and ideas on scraps of paper. I jotted down possibilities for the title and colors to be used on the cover and then finally in early February I started typing. Just to make it real I told my family about the book. I shared it with a few friends too. No one said I was crazy.

The goal was to finish the book in 40 days. I didn't meet that goal. Even with a thorough outline and many chapters completed in my mind, it still took more than 40 days to get it on the computer. The boys would be out of school the first week of June and I barely got the book finished before summer descended. The day I typed that last sentence through tears I hit save, threw my hands in the air and pumped my fists much like a runner does when he crosses the finish line. Then I put my face in my hands and prayed.

It is exhilarating to take a dream and make it into a goal and then work to achieve it. It's scary too because my little dream of writing a book was safe in my head and I could visit that dream and it always turned out the way I wanted. Who needs the struggle, the moments of insecurity and the doubt that comes from actually chasing a dream? Add in the persistent thought that time could be better spent on something real not some crazy dream and I could talk myself out of accomplishing anything. But not this time.

So that was my marathon. I started running and didn't stop until the finish line, the last page, the end. My goal was to write a book and I did. But I'm getting ready for another marathon, I'll need to find an agent who thinks my book is good and who will sell it to a publisher. The odds are against me to get the book published but I am working as hard on this goal as I did the first one. I'm moving ahead scared about what may not happen but excited about what just might. Published or not, it won't diminish the fact that my dream of writing a book became a completed goal.

What's your marathon? Tell me I'm not the only one out here with a crazy dream.

Friday, October 2, 2009


I hear Zach upstairs. He is on the computer in the room right above me. I hear the Handy Manny theme song playing. He's probably going to play Watch Out Mr. Lopar on the Playhouse Disney website. Now he's saying phrases from the game. Sweet scripting. Now it's quiet, he must have logged off. Steps on the stairs and then the voice. "Mama, where are you? Mama, where are you?" I don't answer because I want to hear him say it again. I want to hear anything he has to say. What a beautiful voice my Zachary has and anytime he decides to use it
I am all ears.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Play Ball!

The fall season of Little League baseball has officially started. I'm buying lots of Gatorade and washing lots of baseball pants. There's red dirt all over the floor mats in my car and a baseball mitt being "broken in" under my mattress. Most of the emails in my in box are related to practice times, practice agendas, game strategies, game re-caps and snack sign-ups.

I have a friend who is new to the Little League world as this is her son's first season playing. We met for lunch recently and talk turned to our boys and baseball. I mentioned that we should get the boys together for BP and she said, "what's BP?" "Batting practice," I explained. "Oh," she said, "I've got to learn all the baseball lingo.

Well I know a little lingo from having a baseball-playing husband but I know a lot of lingo from being a baseball fan. There are certain things a fan needs to know in order to fully support her team, especially as each player comes up to bat. In honor of my new-to-baseball friend I offer the following list.

Things to Say at a Baseball Game to Your Batters

1. As your player comes up to bat- "Be a hitter!" or "Hit it hard and run fast!" or "Bring 'em home" (only appropriate if your team has a runner on base).

2. After your batter swings and misses- "Good cut!" or "Nice cut!" and vice versa.

3. After your batter swings and misses again- "Now you're ready" and maybe add "Hit this next one" also "Shake it off" if your batter looks stressed.

4. If the batter just tips a ball you can say encouragingly- "Got a piece of it!" and if he hits the ball but it goes foul then you can say "Straighten it out!"

5. If your batter strikes out- "Get 'em next time".

6. When the next batter comes up- "Start us off".

7. Men on base preferably one in scoring position, tell your batter- "You're the man, you're the one" and add "Bring him home!"

8. When in doubt you can always say- "Swing hard!" or "Put the bat on the ball" which would seem obvious but I hear fans suggesting it anyway.

9. Always remember that a "GO fill-in-the-kid's-name-here GO" works well too.

Well that should get my friend started. What did I forget? You tell me what you've yelled at a baseball game, in support of your team of course. Maybe another day we'll share things to say if you want to get thrown out of the ballpark and/or embarrass your child. I've heard a few of those sayings, too.