Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Autism, need I say more?


Wonder Twin Powers ACTIVATE

Autism, need I say more? Yes, there’s a lot more to say actually. My three and a half year old twin boys are teaching me this everyday. Our beautiful boys were born to us with no complications at birth, at least not any that we were aware of. They were strong, healthy, and ACTIVE. They both walked before they turned one, they ate like champs, and always had a special bond. Then the gap of communication began to divide them like the parting of the Red Sea. Trevor’s language soared, Darren remained silent. Don’t get me wrong, Darren laughed, cried, and made certain unrelated sounds, but no words. How could this be?
Autism, need I say more? Yes, Darren was diagnosed with Autism. Trevor is not at all autistic but he is also living with Autism as is our entire family and circle of supportive friends. This diagnosis was a life changing experience for us all. Of course, as with any situation, we all deal with things differently. It hit me hard at first, so hard that at times I felt I couldn’t breathe. After touring a potential school for Darren, I actually gasped for air. That day changed our lives. We became pro-active from that day forward. What does this have to do with superheroes?
Autism, need I say more? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were some autism fighting superheroes to save all the children affected by this epidemic? In my eyes, Trevor is just that, and together, they create Super Twin Power. They have always had each other. They, from day one, have been in this together. Together they fight this epidemic with true brotherly love. I have always said that I learned early on to let go of preconceived dreams in regards to these boys. Just when I think that I am teaching them, they are teaching me more. Their unconditional love is breaking down walls. Darren has begun to use simple sign language, yes, so has Trevor. (I have to laugh because anyone who knows Trevor knows that he would have made me say that) He learned 6 signs in a week’s time. He is making wonderful, purposeful sounds. Just hearing his voice make real sounds is just amazing. It takes my breath away.

Autism, need I say more? Yes! I’ve started running almost every day. It seemed like the fastest and easy way to exercise. But it’s become so much more. I now run for clarity and for Darren. Running is about breathing, about control, about strength, about endurance, and about pushing yourself that much further. Today I could have run around the world. Some days, my body is so tired. On those days I say to myself, keep running, keep fighting, Darren is. Right before my run, Trevor suggested that we go downstairs and work with Darren. So tonight, my run was a little later than normal. I’ve decided to never turn down Trevor’s request, it means a lot to him, which ends up meaning a lot to Darren. I relate it to my asking my dad to play catch, he never said no. He knew that if I asked, then I really wanted to do it. Life lessons seem to come full circle these days. The world seems to be full of real life superheroes: Parents, teachers, therapist, family, friends and brothers.

Autism, need I say more? Lastly, yes. We feel so blessed to have our Super Twins. We are also so thankful for all of the love and support that we have received. Breakthroughs are worth sharing. This is one that I wish I could shout from the highest mountain top. Love to all!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Being a good parent is not always easy, and more to the point being a good person is not always easy. But I do believe that a very simple rule of thumb can be followed and if done so with a strong intention to succeed, you likely will. Our children are in a way mirrors of ourselves and just like our bathroom mirrors we have to look them in the face every day and confront who and what we are.

Here it is, my bold wisdom that I share with my kids and that I try to apply to myself – “Don’t be a jerk.”

The truth is that it takes more energy and more effort to be a jerk than it does to be a good person. It is not always easy to do the right thing, but in the end I think that most of us are more inclined towards right than we are towards wrong. We are somehow, as humans connected by this mutual need for survival and mutual benefit – our world political leaders not withstanding.

I have just returned from a business trip to the Midwest – Chicago to be exact. I always find that the time spent alone and away from my family brings in to sharp focus what is important in life, and also allows me to examine the people in my life who act in direct opposition to my above mentioned rule. There, unfortunately a great many people who simply do not get the fact that being an asshole is not conducive to a well lived life, nor is being a mercenary for money or power. But you might be surprised by just how many people are willing to suppress a certain amount of “right” in order to achieve a goal in which money is a goal. Business, like politics can simply bring out the worst in people, but I just do not believe that it has to be that way. I don’t believe that “nice guys finish last”. I think in short, that is bullshit.

I once again draw a parallel between the rules we try to follow as adults and the way children act as common practice. We went to a party yesterday hosted by a family who has children in school with our kids. They are lovely people and they have a spectacular home on the water. They throw a mean party. They have a pool and an outdoor living space complete with fireplace, an outdoor bar complete with fridge and icemaker (oh and bartender!). They also had a water slide, the big blow up sort that three men deliver in a huge truck and take an hour to set up. There were about 30 kids there ranging in ages from 2 to 14. There was a lot of activity between the slide, the pool, the running, the falling, the tree house, the popcorn machine, etc. There was at any given moment a tremendous opportunity for arguments and disagreement. The line for the ice cream, the line for the slide, the rafts in the pool, or the line for the popcorn all resented a chance for one kid to butt in line, to push another child, to take someone’s place on the raft. It did not happen. Not once. Rather, there were kids helping each other up to the top of the slide, helping smaller kids reach their ice cream, pulling each other onto the raft. They worked together without prompting and none of them acted like jerks. It made more sense for them to help each other, the mutual benefit for all of them out weighing the singular benefit of any given one of them. If one kid needed help at the bottom of the slide getting off and out of the way, the other kids helped. Can you imagine the implications for Rush Hour traffic if adults employed the same mind set when letting cars change lanes and merge? Amazing outcome might be – less traffic backed up because people are not “being jerks”.

After all it does take more energy to keep your car at exactly the right speed as to discourage the guy next to you from moving ahead of you and taking your place at the next red light. Doesn’t it?

I have worked with so many people over the years who subscribed whole heartedly to the belief that being a jerk is required to succeed and that being nice will actually derail your express to success and the good life. These are dangerous people to deal with. They will screw you over as soon as look at you and they will look you directly in the face when they do screw you over. My question is, does this allow me to forego my commitment to myself and others to not be “a jerk” in an effort to keep the game even? I submit that it cannot be. It is part of being a good parent to teach by doing, and in order to do that sometimes you have to take it on the chin. Sometimes the jerks do win. That is a very hard lesson to teach your kids, and it is exactly why being a good parent is so hard – because in the end being a good person can feel darn near impossible if you let the jerks make you think that their way is easier. It isn’t.
Just ask their mirrors.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Tears of a Clown

Tears of a Clown.

At some point during this past weekend both of my children told me that they “were leaving”. My son came and stood in my closet, looked around and said; “can I borrow one of your bags?” I asked why he needed it and he told me that he was leaving.
When I asked why, he left the room and went upstairs only to return with half of his hanging clothes in his arms. I must admit that I had to turn my back for a minute because I was laughing and I was still not clear as to whether or not he was just goofing around.
This went on for the next 20 minutes or so. He would declare his intention to leave, I would ask why? What had happened? He would go back up stairs and return with more clothes.
Now I have to provide a little background at this point, his morning did start off pretty horribly:
he awoke
he turned on some part of one of the Star Wars movies
he ate
he was informed that I was taking him and his sister to see a movie
he played a video game and played with his sister and I helped them clean their rooms
he got dressed and played some more
he was informed that the movie started at 2:40, and it was now 12:00 noon
he melted into a puddle of “I can not possibly wait two whole hours before you take me to the movies and buy me food you would not normally feed me”
At some point during this absolute horror show of parental neglect and obvious abuse, my daughter chimed in and tried to make him feel better about his time in purgatory – the waiting!

That was it! That was the last straw, for him to be quieted by a 4 year old was more than he could take and THAT ladies and gentlemen was why he had to leave. Wait….it is because….
“Ingrid sometimes annoys me”

That was the answer he gave me after I followed him around the house begging for justification for his desire to leave us all and join the circus. Because his sister sometimes annoyed him, my god, will the injustice of life give him no rest?

This of course resulted in hurt feelings. My daughter was upset to think that her brother would actually leave because of her! This seemed like the perfect opportunity for me, the mother in search of a reason to make a point, to teach a lesson, to share my wisdom, to address the topic of family love and forgiveness. There have been many times after all that I wanted to leave and join the circus and I know that my husband has gone so far as to send for a DVD on tight rope and trapeze for beginners. We have all at some point wanted to run away.

I looked at my son and asked him if he had any idea how miserable I would be if he left. He looked at me. I asked him if he knew how much Daddy and Ingrid would miss him. He looked at me. I asked him if he know how much Piper, our Corgi, and Duke our cat that sleeps with him every night would miss him. He burst into tears! It is always the animals that evoke the tears.

Anyway, we sat down and talked it all out and I explained that families are pretty likely to annoy each other because we spend so much time together, but that the love that we have for each other gives us the strength we need to stay. To not run away. To not join the circus. To not seek legal advice. Love makes us stay.

When you think that you have had enough, when you are sure that one more moment of psychotic behavior from another family member will force you to do the unthinkable and bail, you remember that it is this same person , this crazy collection which you have opted to share your life with that in the end give your life meaning. It is this group of nuts that make you feel normal and who love you so much in return that they put up with you. What if we were able to find it in ourselves to remember that all the time? How about if we treated every day and every moment with the happy heart that decided NOT to join the circus and more with the happy heart that learned of someone’s decision to stay?
Maybe the craziness of a family would be less crazy if we did a better job of remembering how much effort it can take sometimes to stay, for all of us.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Negotiating with Terrorists

No Negotiating with terrorists…………or your child.

Governments often contend that they will not negotiate with terrorists and if you have ever watched the show 24 you will understand that translates to – we won’t talk to you, but you will talk to us or we will further plunge this Bic Pen into your knee. But, I digress.

Negotiating with your child is tricky business and can often set a precedent that may never in your life time, be undone. If your child is screaming at you in an attempt to convey their deep dissatisfaction with your decision not to serve chocolate ice cream to him/her in bed at 7:45 am, or any other completely reasonable demand that you are rejecting because you are mean and hateful, you may find yourself considering negotiations to end the terror. That example is probably a bit extreme but it has happened. Try this on for size…

Last night my daughter, my 4 year old daughter, came into the play room where my son and I were sitting reading Junie B. Jones (they are extremely funny books if you have yet to discover them.) with a bright and happy smile on her face. It was going on 9:15 and a few minutes earlier she was showing signs of an “I am up too late” melt-down quickly approaching, so I was naturally confused. I watched her as she walked to me with an air of confidence and a gleeful swagger and I realized that she was chewing gum. Gum is the Crack Cocaine of treats for 4 year old girls. She smiled and chewed her gum in a big old open mouth rythmic manner and said “look what I found!” I naturally responded with the following…”where did you get that? And you better not tell me it came out of your trashcan!”
No answer.
“Where did you get that gum?”
“It’s okay Mama, it was mine. I put it in there and I just got it out. It’s okay.”
“Yeah? no it is not okay. You just brushed your teeth and we are going to bed. Spit it out.”
Hysteria. Mayhem. Floods. Locusts.
The screaming was so loud that it pulled my husband from his book, downstairs.
“What the hell is going on up here?” he asked from the doorway at a safe enough distance for a quick departure.
“Gum” I said because I felt that it was a sufficient answer.
“Everybody hates me. Everybody thinks I am stupid.”
This is what my daughter says when she is not getting her way in an attempt to illicit pity and guilt. Sometimes it actually works.
“I told her to spit it out, and well, you can see for yourself that she wanted it.”
“But where did she get gum?” his confusion was understandable, but he clearly did not remember the resourcefulness of our little angel. Be advised she will take over the world one day, mark my words.
“From her trash can.” I offered no further explanation again because I felt that this was a sufficient answer.
She then threw herself on the floor again. “It is mine.”
He left the room. He just turned around and walked out, mumbling to himself as he walked down the hall. I wanted to scream “cut and run” at him, but as a card carrying Democrat I could not.

I was not going to negotiate with her. She simply can not take gum, god only knows how old, from a trash can and stick it in her mouth at 9:15 at night. Period. I began to read again and ignored her pouting puffs and deep breathing and occasional sniffle.

It was quiet again. I thought that she had fallen asleep on the floor. She had not. She was laying on the floor listening to me read and CHEWING THE GUM!
“spit it out.”
“spit it out.”
“but Mama….”
I put my hand under her chin, just like the nuns used to do, and told her to spit it out. She did, with a little effort and a lot of spit.
“now” I said, “take this and throw it out.”
More tears, but she was tired and she did not have much fight left in her. I was wearing her down. Jack Bauer would be proud of me.

Shortly after that I tucked her into bed and laid down next to her while she fell asleep. My husband finished the book for my son in his room and I felt victorious. I did not negotiate or give in.

This morning I woke up early. I let the dog out. I still have to go pick up that pile of poop. I got the paper and started the coffee and began my work day. Shortly after I had bellied up to my desk my son walked in and turned on the television in my office. He watched a little PBS and I started answering emails. We were happy.

My husband came in with coffee and asked where Ingrid was. Still asleep. She came in the room about 5 minutes later happy as a little lark. She climbed up in the chair next to my son and then it hit me. She WAS CHEWING THAT DAMN PIECE OF GUM AGAIN!

“Are you chewing gum? Are you chewing that piece of old, nasty gum again?” I asked, knowing the answer but resigned to the exercise of being the parent here.
She smiled.
“I am a raccoon.”
“Huh?” please remember that I was only half way through my fist cup of coffee so my reflexes were a little dim.
“I am a raccoon. I dig what I want out of the trash and I eat it!”

I did not make that up.

What do you do? I laughed.

And I realized that she had felt the same self righteous gratification as I had the night before. She had not negotiated with me either – me being the imperialist usurper of all that is fun in the world. She had simply altered her devious plan.

She shook my hand and agreed that she would not make any more nuclear weapons but she never agreed to stop buying them from outside sources.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Waste Not, Want Not

Did your mother ever tell you to “clean your plate” or “finish your food because there are staring children in India”? I am happy to report that my mother did not, as she was not a food pusher. I on the other hand, find myself stressing both myself and my children about how much food they eat and attempting a compromise with such negotiations as: “eat two more bites of hotdog”. Both of my children are healthy, normal weight, and happy. They tend to prefer grazing to sitting down to a meal three times a day and I should encourage that. It is a healthier way to eat, after all – haven’t we all heard of the Six Small Meals a Day approach to healthy eating and weight loss? But, alas, I find myself scanning for the moving jaw and enforcing the ‘two more bites” terms for early release from the table. I have to stop. It is probably worse for me than it is for them, and they will certainly not starve or become malnourished.
As I seem to be developing a theme here, this approach to nourishment and to life becomes analogous to many aspects of adult life. Simply put, I should probably serve them less food and give them more when they are hungry rather than present a huge plate of food, half of which is destined for the trash can. The same should be recognized in my closet, my jewelry box, my shoe rack and my cosmetic drawer. I really don’t wear half of what I own in my closet and more than half of my jewelry sits, ignored and tarnished. Why do we need SO much? What purpose does owning 12 suits serve when I now have the luxury of working from home and only need a suit when I travel? I could donate them to the organization that helps women dress for interviews with donated suits. I have shoes that have sat quietly on the shoe self unworn and dusty because they hurt my feet. So why keep them?

Really, I like about 6 of my summer shirts and I wear the same six over and over again. The same goes for shoes as I wear flip flops and running shoes about 200 days out of the year. What is the compulsion we have with more? Why do I allow myself to believe that a closet full of unworn clothes somehow says something about me? Does it indicate that I am prepared? Rich? Fashionable? What? I do not get it. My own behavior is a mystery to me. And this seems to spread out and beyond into so many other areas of my life.

I love my home. It is far more that I ever thought I would have and yet, I look longingly at homes on the beach, homes with cedar shake instead of brick, homes in Coastal Living Magazine. I live better than 90% of the world and yet I long for more, for more what? Prosperity? Happiness?

One of the things I remember from high school psychology class is Maslow and the theory of self-actualization. The belief that as we gain access to the basics in life that provide security; food, water, shelter, love, we move up a ladder towards more lofty and nebulous goals. It is not too far back in my history that I had very little money. I did not have to worry about food, water and shelter but I was not living the way I wanted to live and it was most unpleasant. However, I still at that time had more than the vast majority of people in the world. What is it that leads us to believe that we actually NEED what we want, and when do we become capable of identifying the difference? Perhaps never, but it could be worth exploring.
I wonder if I try to use the clothes I need and want rather than serve myself a huge plate full of possibilities I would find that I do fine with what I have. I suspect that I will always be well dressed and comfortable and that the decrease in options may in fact simplify my life. This approach to life and simplification may become a better way to deal with my children’s food and mine! I attempt no logical end here, I am truly asking questions and requesting your feedback. That old adage – WASTE NOT, WANT NOT may have more wisdom in it than I have ever considered, but I might be inclined to turn it around – WANT NOT, WASTE NOT……….two more bites of hotdog, after all does not always mean release from the table, it may simply mean a tummy ache.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Independence Day

In the United States, Independence Day (commonly known as the “Fourth of July” or the “Fourth”) is a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from Great Britain. Fireworks have been associated with the celebration since 1777. (Wikipedia)

What if we were to find a way to celebrate Independence Day in the lives of our children? Not just the 18th birthday when they are legal adults, but the day on which they find their voice, their identity, their direction? Some of our kids might not celebrate that day until well into their 20’s, others perhaps their 30’s. What if the ability to self govern were actually a day that could be recognized and celebrated? How cool would that be?
“here you are now, you know everything that you need to know, and are ready to be an adult in the free world, congratulations!” Would that be great? ……maybe not.

I think that one of the most amazing things about life for mothers and for our children is the evolution of the process of living. The continual ability to wake up each new day and learn something new, experience something different, expose ourselves to something that makes us stretch and think outside of our more regular and common boundaries. Independence is at the end of the day, not to be truly sought, not for a country or a person.
We are none of us ever truly independent. I realized last night at a neighborhood Fourth of July party that if we were truly independent we would probably never need to grow. Reliance on others is exactly what forces the maturation process and the constant and shifting realities that allow us to develop values, and standards, goals and expectations. I watched my children as they ran around and played with almost half dozen other children. They were such a great mini society. There were leaders and followers drawn from both experience and personality, funny kids and straight men, screamers and whisperers, thinkers and inventors, fine tuners and team players. It was the dependence on each “member” to contribute that allowed for a game to develop, improve, continue and end with some sort of system and order. It was incredible. Together they figured out how to make it all work. Without that dependence and with out the acceptance of their own skills and limitations they would have been standing around in a circle staring at one another.
Can you imagine if adults, for a day or better, decided to let go of the need to feel strong and independent and instead rallied behind the wonderfully evolutionary process of dependence? I am not promoting the raising of a dependent child, but what I am suggesting is that we as mothers foster the appreciation for interdependence and the recognition and reward for talents in others.
This lesson from our kids is a strong message to all of us – remember that you really can’t do it all alone and because of that it is important to value every one. Maybe this lesson could spread beyond….we need each other for food, oil, clean water, technology, help, money, etc.

I guess that this is a good example of the wisdom of children and perhaps we should have a t-shirt that reads “my kid says…..ask for help when you need it”

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Wiping Butts

Do you ever get sick of wiping butts? I am just asking to make sure that I am not alone in this feeling of ass-overwhelming, and the concern that my children may never in fact be able to, well, wipe their own butts. I am sure that at some point my mother thought the same thing and I am here to tell you, that at age 40 I do pretty well myself. The reason I brought this up as we launch our new BLOG is that it seems to me to be the perfect analogy to motherhood as a whole. Not to reduce our lives and rear ends and poop, but here is my thinking- we are forever going to be cleaning up after our children based on what we put into them. And if you take that a step further, the world is going to be cleaning up after our children based on what we put into them. Good nourishing stuff or crap – it all comes out, and the bottom line is this, the attitudes we help form and grow in our kids are the ones that will influence an entire generation and ultimately the world. We all know that eventually my kids and yours will be able to manage themselves in the bathroom and elsewhere, but how well they are equip to do anything is wholly up to us.

My son attends a really nice school and at the end of this year his first grade teacher showed a slide show set to music of the year and his class. After the show ended I looked over at my husband who was standing next to another father and they both had tears streaming down their cheeks. I was proud of my son and of his father. Following the slide show they had an awards ceremony. Children received awards for outstanding academic achievement, perfect attendance, athletic excellence, etc. When the teacher began to read from my son’s certificate my heart swelled. He was given the award for Honesty, for demanding it both from himself and from his peers. Now, for obvious reasons I was proud of my son, but I was also so very proud of his teacher for placing such a high value on something that is not measured in terms of grade or execution. It is an intangible quality that IS my son. He, like his father, simply does not lie and he really has no tolerance for dishonesty in others. What my husband had put in to him, inadvertently, had come out and in all the right ways and in all the right places.

Neither my husband nor I had ever sat down and said to him “don’t lie and always be honest” and expected that to be all that was required to help build a strong affection for truth. It was part of what we feed him every day. We are NOT perfect parents and I would hope to never convey that. We make mistakes and screw up on a daily basis, but it was such a clear and wonderful illustration of this whole endeavor called parenting. It is subtle and elusive but it is constant – the digestion of information and values moves like any other process and the continual requirement for nourishment must be met by sound ideas and clear thinking from us.

Feed your kids what you want them to put out. Sometimes this is not what you put in front of them but rather what you mix in. I am sure that wiping butts will become a memory and at some point I may even miss that innocence of it and dependence on me, but I am sure that I will always be amazed and (sometimes horrified) by what comes out of them!