Saturday, September 30, 2006

Trouble ahead, trouble behind

We're continuing to have weather-related ups and downs around here, and we're carefully monitoring the effectiveness of some new interventions. My attempts at writing about them have made Bud sound like a lab rat, which is not fair to him. So we'll be weathering (groan) this challenge privately for a while.

The good news is that it hasn't all been bad. Bud has the delightful tendency to balance tough times by throwing himself wholeheartedly into fun times when those opportunities arise. And these days if the opportunities haven't arisen on their own, he's worked hard to create them.

So it was one evening this week when he suggested that it was time to take a train ride.

I am starting to learn to ignore the initial negative parental responses that pop into my head at suggestions like this: "Honey, we don't have a train... It's almost bedtime... You're being silly," and instead we put on our jackets and waited to find out what kind of adventure was in store.

Bud was delighted. He gathered engineer hats for each of us and ran to find his slide whistle, then we all headed into the moonlit yard. The set-up was surprisingly easy, and after the sidewalk chalk train tracks and beach chair engines were in place we were ready for our trip.

My husband and I were in charge of the chugga-chuggas, and Bud - our faithful caboose pulling up the rear - was responsible for the choo-choos, with occasional slide whistle toots thrown in for effect. As neighbors drove by slowly (we could imagine, but not see, their bewildered faces), my husband called out cheerfully "Just playing train!"

Bud played tour guide from the back, letting us know where we were headed and calling our attention to the sites as we passed them. It was a lovely trip through the neighborhood (where we saw moose, deer, and snakes), the jungle (where we saw monkeys and an elephant), the North Pole (where we saw a polar bear), and even the ocean (where we saw a whale). Our last stop was Dunkin' Donuts, conveniently located by our mailbox, where we gobbled Munchkins greedily and refreshed our weary-traveler bodies with delicious beverages - coffee for me, a Coolatta for my husband, and apple juice for Bud.

Then it was back on board for the long journey home. As we settled into a comfortable rhythm, our bellies heavy with imaginary donuts and our spirits high from the thrill of adventure and the crisp night air, our chugga-chuggas gave way to melody as my husband and I channeled the Grateful Dead and sang home our little-engine-that-could:

Driving that train, high on cocaine,
Casey Jones, you better watch your speed.
Trouble ahead, trouble behind,
And you know that notion just crossed my mind...

Trouble behind? Most definitely. Trouble ahead? Most likely. But somehow I think we're on the right track. We're sure to reach the station eventually, just as long as we keep chugging along together and following the lead of our intoxicating little boy.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Privacy rights (and writes)

Blogging has been difficult lately for two reasons:

1. Bud is going through a difficult time, and

2. Bud just turned seven.

Seven is old. Seven is big kid. Seven is time to renegotiate the children's bill of rights and start adding amendments.

At the heart of my struggle is this question: To what extent is it fair for me to post private information about Bud in a public forum?

Where does my story of life as a parent become his story of life as a person? And how much of his story is mine to share?

I feel very comfortable sharing the good stuff - the triumphs, the proud moments, the crowning achievements. But the harder stuff, the darker stuff... there, I type with caution.

On the surface, I am writing about my own parenting struggles and shortcomings in the face of difficult times. But on a much more significant level, I am writing about the challenges that are at the core of Bud's being, about the things that overwhelm and frighten him, about the places where life feels beyond his control.

I think about the times in my life when things have felt beyond my control, and I wonder how I would feel if I learned that someone else had changed my name and a few identifying details, then posted my life story, complete with all the most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking moments.

I don't imagine I'd be pleased.

I wish I could ask Bud about it, and get his blessings before I hit "publish." But we're not able to have conversations like that; not yet. In the meantime I'll continue waging the internal battle, make my best guesses at what is appropriate to share and what should remain outside the blogosphere, and keep my deep respect for Bud at the center of everything I write. For now, that will have to be enough.

And, for now, I'll say this: We are doing well, but - for now - I'm staying quiet.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

With apologies to James Lipton

I've been tagged by Aiden's Mommy to respond to the Bernard Pivot questionnaire that James Lipton gives his celebrity guests during their appearances on Inside the Actor's Studio.

1. What is your favorite word?

Heiligenschein

2. What is your least favorite word?

Heiligenschein

3. What turns you on? (creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?)

Strong, hot coffee; great writing; Paul McCartney live from the twentieth row

4. What turns you off?

Cliches and platitudes

5. What is your favorite curse word?

"Crat!" (This is Bud's curse word, which began as a misheard "crap," then developed a life of its own.)

6. What sound or noise do you love?

Bud's heartbeat

7. What sound or noise do you hate?

Rolling thunder

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Doula

9. What profession would you not like to do?

Dental hygienist

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

"Your kids can't wait to see you."


Though, as I've said before, the tagging dynamic makes me hyperventilate, I am breathing deeply and tagging: Daisy, for what it's worth, mumkeepingsane, Gretchen, Tara, and anyone else who'd like to play either by posting the answers on their own blogs or leaving them here in the comments section.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bud's Pal

My son is not turning seven today.

He should be, but he's not. His brother, Bud, is turning seven all by himself.

I don't write very much about my son Pal, Bud's identical twin brother, even though he is never far from my thoughts. But he's been on my mind all day today, the day that should be his seventh birthday but is, instead, the seventh anniversary of his death.

I didn't know him long, but I miss him. And, in his memory - in his honor - I want to tell you a story.

For the first trimester of my pregnancy we believed that our twins were monoamniotic - that they shared a single amniotic sac - and were therefore at high risk of having their tangled umbilical cords cut off their blood supplies. At 16 weeks we were delighted to discover that they shared only a placenta, and each baby had his own amniotic sac.

At 20 weeks, we got the difficult news that Pal had spina bifida, the same condition that had taken our daughter from us a year earlier. But, we were told, his condition was mild and his prognosis was good. The pregnancy was high-risk, but it progressed well.

We were shocked, then, when I went into labor at 38 weeks and during the planned C-section our doctor discovered that Pal had died in utero. We thought we had heard his heartbeat only moments before.

We hadn't. The heartbeat we'd heard had been an echo of Bud's.

In the recovery room we got to spend some time with Pal, to meet him, and to say goodbye. A short time later, the perinatologist joined us to talk about our loss and to speculate about what had happened. In fact, he didn't know what had happened. Pal's death was inexplicable.

But the perinatologist did know this: Because our boys shared a placenta, if Pal had died sooner, before Bud was ready to be born, he would probably have taken Bud with him.

I will never know why Pal couldn't stay. But I do know that for nine months he stayed with Bud, snuggling around him, bouncing against him, helping him grow. And then, when Bud was ready, Pal left.

But he never really left. Not really.

That heartbeat we heard in the hospital, moments before Bud was born? The heartbeat that was an echo of Bud's?

I still hear it every time I put my head against Bud's chest.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Good day, sunshine

Bud enjoyed his birthday party yesterday.

He had been very clear about the guest list: Mama, Daddy, Nana, and Papa.

He had also been clear about the specifications and agenda (most were a direct lift from Dora, but it was heartfelt all the same): Balloons, streamers, party hats, blowers. Pizza, cake, candles, ice cream, treats. Pinata, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Goodie Bags, Musical Chairs. And, of course, presents, presents, presents. We also threw in a treasure hunt for good measure, and Bud delighted in calling the shots and orchestrating the event.

When the scheduled activities were finished we had a family dance party, in which we followed along with Bud as he acted out every song on his Dragon Tales cd. Then Bud had a music concert for us, pulling out all his instruments and becoming a one-man band.

After a very brief rest, round two began with a game of hide-and-find-the-toy-animals, and then I was recruited as his sidekick as we built Wacky Wild World in the backyard. I think we were recreating a Blue's Clues episode, as we built Cardboard Land, Bubble-opolis, The Clay Desert, and Puzzle World and dashed back and forth between the house and the yard to gather supplies and accessories.

Through it all, Bud didn't mention storms a single time. But as dusk began to settle, his anxiety started to return - did the darkness mean that bad weather was coming? We went for another walk to find the pink sky that would tell us that tomorrow would be a sunny day, and that seemed to reassure him a bit.

But, really, it's one day at a time around here right now. We just try to take each one as it comes, and do our best with whatever it brings. And that day - that birthday day - that day full of smiles and adventure and song - that day with only a hint of worry - that was one day that was very easy to take.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Dark days

It has been a dark week at our house, both literally and figuratively.

The skies have been overcast and dreary, and Bud has been unable to rebound from last weekend's bone-rattling thunderstorm incident. He has spent the week with his eyes riveted to the skies, watching for signs of an imminent storm and perseverating on the possibility.

All day every day this week - and I am not exaggerating here - ALL day, EVERY day, ALL week - from the time he woke until the time he fell asleep, Bud verbalized the rollercoaster of anxiety he was experiencing:

There's no storm. Is the storm is all gone? There is no thunder. Just clouds. Just dark clouds. Is the storm coming? There's no storm. The storm will not come. Just what? Just cloudy day. There's no what, Mama? There's no storm.

This stream of reporting, with just a hint of anxiety, would continue for hours, building slowly in magnitude, it's force swirling below the surface, until suddenly and without warning the levee would break:

MAKE THE CLOUDS GO! NO DARK CLOUDS! MAKE THEM STOP, MAMA! MAKE THE STORM STOP! MAKE THE CLOUDS GO AWAY! MAKE THE YUCKY STOP, MAMA! MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP!

Then he would cry, sometimes loudly, sometimes quietly, but always with a heartbreaking intensity. After some time, that phase would pass and Bud's anxiety would return to a slow rumble:

There's just clouds. There's no storm today...

As the week progressed Bud became increasingly nervous and tuned-in to sounds and sights. The washing machine. A light flicking on. My husband's footsteps. The flutter of fluorescent lighting. A door closing. The flicker of the computer screen. A truck rolling by. The everyday sounds we hear all day long; the shadows of sights we usually filter out. Every single one of them triggered Bud's startle reflex - "WHAT WAS THAT?"

By the end of the week, we were all exhausted - without question, Bud most of all. On Thursday he started coming down with a cold and the combination of feeling sick and living on an emotional edge resulted in a hard day at school. Thursday evening was very difficult, with Bud's perseveration and anxiety at full-tilt.

It was no better when we woke on Friday. There was mist and fog outside, and Bud sobbed and pleaded with me to make it go away. Instead, I called the school to let them know he wouldn't be coming in, then bundled on his raincoat and boots over his pajamas and took him for a walk through the neighborhood. As I had hoped, the quiet misty neighborhood was quite lovely at 6:30 a.m. and the long walk temporarily calmed Bud's anxiety. I brought him to work with me for a few hours, but the fluorescent lights and copy machine/printer/co-worker noises were just too much for him.

In the afternoon I called the doctor's office. I knew Bud's pediatrician would be out of town until next Tuesday, but hoped maybe somebody else could talk to me and give me some shred of helpful advice. I ended up with a nurse, who chided me for calling at the end of a Friday afternoon, when no one was available to talk with me.

"Maybe you could distract him with a favorite book or some music," she suggested.

She asked if I could "make it" until Bud's doctor was back on Tuesday. I couldn't even answer her (define "make it.") She told me to bring him to the ER if it got too bad. I told her to leave a note for the doctor in red ink with a lot of exclamation points. She hedged a bit at this directive ("Well, I'm not sure what else the doctor will have on her schedule when she returns...if you don't hear from us by Wednesday..."), so I'm composing an e-mail myself.

I'm concerned about this specific round of anxiety, of course. And I want to be prepared for future incidents of bad weather. But, more than that, I want to investigate what this means. This is brand new. This is not something we've ever seen from Bud before. So what is it?

Is this what OCD looks like in a young child?

Is this an anxiety disorder?

Is this an indication that his Strattera dose is too high? (If Strattera is helping him focus, would too much make him hyper-focus on the wrong things?)

The sun came out today, and Bud's internal storm waned as the external one departed. We've been awake for three hours and Bud has only asked about a storm five times, each time with decreasing intensity. He has shifted his focus to his birthday party, which we'll be having this afternoon, and I have spent the morning thanking God and the universe and the angels who watch him for letting him celebrate his birthday under sunny skies.

We've got a reprieve, and we plan to infuse it with a mega-dose of joy. Maybe we can somehow build our emotional reserves - squirrel away as much of the happiness and the calm and the carefree spirit as we possibly can - and save it for a rainy day.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Feeling like the high beams

I taught my first writing class yesterday. I've taught first-year students before, but I've never had a class of made up of first-years exclusively until now.

Three words: deer in headlights.

Their faces were wide-eyed and bewildered and they registered no feedback whatsoever. So if nothing is coming out, I had to wonder, is anything going in? Is this just what they look like on their second day of college? Is it me? Am I freaking them out? Can they hear me?

Is this thing on?

Instead of having them keep "writing journals", as most first-semester-first-year college students are required to do, I made them start blogs.

I think they think I'm crazy.

It will be interesting to see how many of them show up tomorrow with drop slips in hand.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Where were you when the world changed?

I was dancing with Bud when the first plane hit.

Of course we didn't know it was happening at the time. We were wrapping up a Kindermusik class in a lovely multipurpose room in a quiet church in the woods, physically and psychologically far from the madness unfolding in Manhattan. Bud was not yet two and not yet diagnosed, but already very much himself. We tapped sticks together and danced among our classmates. The others danced in unison, in rhythm with the bouncy melody coming from the CD player. Bud danced on the periphery, in rhythm to a music all his own. I danced between them, to a mash-up of the two, and tried to bridge the distance. We all had a wonderful time.

I had planned the morning carefully. When the class ended, my husband would be waiting in the parking lot and we would bundle Bud into his car so that I could head to the college, to work. It promised to be a busy day. It was the first day of classes, and I was scheduled to start the morning with a rare staff meeting with the college President. I'd have just enough time to get to my office, change from my Kindermusik jeans to my meeting-with-the-President skirt, grab my folders, and head to the conference room.

The plan started off without a hitch. My husband was waiting, and Bud joined him happily. I drove straight to the college and found a parking spot in the first lot I checked. As I walked toward my office I spotted a friend and colleague hurrying across the quad.

"At this rate, I think we better just go directly from Convocation to Commencement and start again next year," she said, rolling her eyes. She looked at my puzzled expression, and explained, "Oh, you haven't heard? It's crazy. A plane flew into the World Trade Center." She said she was headed to the campus center to check out the tv coverage. I pictured a disoriented pilot in a single-engine Cessna, and wondered how he could have made such a horrible miscalculation.

We walked together across campus and as we approached the campus center another colleague came out and said, "There were two planes. Two planes hit the twin towers."

My God, I thought. Something is wrong. There must be a problem with the airspace radar system.

And then, But why would they both hit the same building?

At that moment, a third colleague rushed out of the building and said, "They got the Pentagon."

My mind went blank.

I hurried to my office, my stomach churning and my head spinning. I pulled up Yahoo and read the headline, but the story wouldn't load. I heard my colleagues in the hallway through the pounding in my head, "Def Con 3"... "Pennsylvania"... "other planes"... "terrorism."

As my head began to clear, my brain began searching for local coherence, and I focused intensely on a single issue: Should I still change out of my jeans and into my skirt?

Will we still be meeting? Of course we won't be meeting. Why wouldn't we be meeting? It's not like there's anything we could do. But of course we'll have to do something. No, no. Everything has changed. I don't need the skirt. I should put the skirt on anyway. Maybe I'd better keep my jeans on in case I have to do something. But what would I do? Maybe we should all go home. I can't go home. I have to meet with the President. If I don't change now, I won't have time to do it before the meeting. Should I even go to the meeting? I shouldn't go to the meeting. There won't be a meeting. No one will care what I'm wearing. Maybe I should just keep the jeans on and go to the meeting. No, I should put on the skirt. Just in case. Right?

Then I started to cry, and I don't remember much that happened after that.

I remember that we had a meeting with an entirely different agenda, but I don't remember if the President was there.

I don't remember where I went when the meeting ended.

I don't remember if I was still wearing jeans or if I had changed into the skirt.

But I remember very clearly the fog rising off the lake as I left home on that crisp, clear, almost-autumn morning.

I remember the carefree joy I experienced in my final moments in a world in which some kinds of horror were still unthinkable.

And most of all, when I think of September 11, 2001, I remember dancing with my son.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Thunder is dogs times ten

I'm afraid of thunderstorms.

I'm afraid of thunderstorms because Bud is afraid of thunderstorms.

No, that's not right.

He's afraid of dogs. He is terrified by thunderstorms.

His anxiety has been building all summer, and it has gotten a little worse with each storm we've experienced. For the past month, his anxiety has started surfacing at the sight of dark clouds. In the face of actual lightning and thunder, his anxiety turns to outright terror.

We had a thunderstorm yesterday, and Bud worried and obsessed as the sky darkened. He pleaded with me to tell him that night was coming, and that there would be no storm. The rain followed and we could hear thunder in the distance. Bud started to cry.

As the storm moved closer, Bud's fear grew. By the time the lighting and thunder and pouring rain were outside our house, Bud was in a raging panic - sweating, crying, shrieking, shaking. His heart was pumping so hard and racing so fast I was afraid he might pass out or go into cardiac arrest. After each crash of thunder he pleaded with me to tell him that the storm was over.

"MAKE THE STORM GO, MOM! THE STORM IS GONE NOW! IS THE STORM IS GONE NOW? PLEASE MAMA, PLEASE THE STORM IS GONE!"

I wanted desperately to tell him that the storm was gone. But I couldn't. It wasn't. It would be worse if I lied to him.

"I think it's almost over, Bud. I think it will be gone soon."

"NOT SOON! NOT ALMOST OVER! I DON'T WANT THE STORM! I DON'T LIKE IT! IT'S ALL GONE NOW, MAMA! MAKE IT GO!"

I think Bud thought I was making a choice - that I could make the storm stop, but I wouldn't. Or maybe he realized that I was as helpless as he was and that terrified him even more. All I know is that with each round of thunder, with each failure to receive reassurance that the storm had stopped, Bud's fear escalated. He trembled, he gasped, he screamed, he sobbed. It was terrifying to watch. It was heartbreaking to experience.

We did the only thing we could think to do. Nana, Papa, Daddy and I formed a tight huddle around Bud. I dropped to my knees and put my face near his, and while he shrieked and wailed I talked softly, trying to comfort him, hoping that he would focus on my voice as we waited for the storm to end. My husband got a pillow and we wrapped it around Bud's ears as we sheltered him. Nothing seemed to help.

The storm finally passed, and Bud slowly calmed down. The rest of us continued trembling for several hours. Since then, we've been trying to come up with a plan for next time. We haven't thought of one. My only plan is to pray for good weather.

But I'm really afraid of thunderstorms.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The smaller hands people

Bud had an amazing week at school.

That's the word they used: "amazing." It was - he was - amazing. He participated, he transitioned, he talked, he engaged. He played with other children.

There is magic happening in that classroom.

Without question, Bud is performing some startling feats himself. And, also without question, the entire professional team is conjuring up great things. But there is a group of smaller, but no less able, players who are also making magic.

As Bud and I walked to his classroom on Friday, he chatted his way through a script about birthdays, announcing "This is my favorite day of the year! It's my birthday!" A little girl sidled up and fell into step with us, pulling her backpack-on-wheels behind her.

"It's his birthday?" she asked.

"No, he's just pretending it's his birthday," I answered. "It will be his birthday in a couple of weeks, though."

She informed that her birthday was in July, her name was Molly, and she was in Bud's class. I told her it was very nice to meet her, and we continued on to the classroom together.

At the end of the day, Nana waited for Bud at the side door of the classroom, where he is dismissed to us early so that he can avoid the hubbub of the crowd at dismissal time. Bud bounded out the door as his aide reported on his fabulous day, then he returned unprompted to the classroom to shout "Goodbye, Mrs. Parker. Thank you, Mrs. Parker. I had a great day!"

Several of his classmates overheard him, and rushed over to say goodbye. Kelly flew outside first and threw her arms around him as he leaned in for her hug. She returned to the classroom and a moment later our morning friend Molly came out.

"Bye, Bud!" she said, eyeing him, and then backing up slowly as Bud's old friend Sophie appeared.

"Bye, Bud! See you on Monday!" Sophie said, wrapping him in her arms.

"See you Monday," he replied happily.

Then Molly, emboldened as she watched this scene unfold, approached Bud while Sophie returned to the classroom, and she too gave him a big hug and wished him a good weekend before skipping back inside.

It may be that Bud is becoming a ladies' man. My hunch, though, is that he has developed a bond with some classmates who have a strong mothering gene and who are seeking him out to care for him, nurture him, and encourage him.

I already knew that Bud was in good hands; I just had no idea that the hands came in so many different sizes.

Scholastic veers off The Path

Good news: Scholastic has dropped its connection to The Path to 9/11 and will not distribute the film for use in classrooms.

Thank you, Scholastic, for doing the right thing and refusing to become a part of the propaganda machine.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Path to 9/11 paved with falsehoods?

It seems that the six-hour docu-drama being aired this weekend on ABC, The Path to 9/11, takes a great deal of poetic license with the 9/11 Commission Report and ultimately plays fast and loose with the truth. The final product, it seems, is nothing more than a right-wing propaganda tool designed to influence the outcome of the 2006 midterm elections through misrepresentation and fear. (Now why does that strategy sound so familiar?)

Below is the e-mail I received today from my good friends at Working Assets. If you'd like to act for change yourself, please drop a line to the folks at ABC and Scholastic.


ABC's 9/11 Distortions Get Even Worse

Tell ABC and Scholastic -- Cancel Your Slanted "Docu-Drama"

ABC has decided to honor the national memory of Sept. 11th by giving six hours of prime-time coverage to a fictional, "blame-Clinton" account of the events leading to that day -- and Scholastic, Inc. plans to show it in 100,000 classrooms. Tell them to drop these plans.

On September 10th and 11th, ABC is planning to air a "docu-drama" called "Path to 9/11," which is being billed as "an objective telling of the events of 9/11." In fact, the film was written by an unabashed conservative who twists the facts to blame President Clinton.

And since we wrote you on Wednesday, new details have emerged that show even more distortions and intentional conservative slant to the program.

Tell ABC to cancel this show -- and Scholastic, Inc. not to distribute it in our nation's schools.

Among the latest developments:

  • Approximately 900 copies went out to conservative bloggers and media personalities such as Rush Limbaugh -- but the producers flat-out refused to send a copy to former President Bill Clinton for review.
  • The show's producers have reassured conservatives that "blame on the Clinton team is [still] in the DNA of the project."
  • ABC has teamed up with Scholastic, Inc -- a textbook publisher -- to offer this propaganda with an accompanying "study guide" to 100,000 teachers across America.

It's simply stunning to think that as this fall's election approaches, a major television network (which pretends to be politically neutral) would devote six hours of prime-time programming to air such a slanted and wildly inaccurate program. It's unacceptable -- and we all need to take action to prevent it from happening.

Tell ABC and Scholastic to cancel the broadcast airing of this show, as well as its distribution to schools and teachers.

Want to increase your impact? Share this message with everyone you know who's interested in fair media and unbiased reporting on the events that led to Sept. 11th, 2001.

Thank you for working to build a better world.

Will Easton
Manager, ActForChange.com
Working Assets

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Who was that crazy woman?

Has anyone seen my cool? It seems I lost it yesterday.

After a good first three days of first grade, Bud had a three-day holiday weekend. By Tuesday morning, he had decided that he wouldn't be returning to school. It started slow - "I'm not going to school today" - and then, over the course of 90 minutes, it built to a loud and emotional crescendo: "I AM NOT GOING! I AM GOING TO EAT YOU! I DON'T WANT TO GO! NO MORE SCHOOL!" Bud resisted physically, digging in his heels, hiding behind the couch, and pulling away forcefully as we tried to pry him out, as the clock ticked and we got later and later for school.

Enter Monster Mom.

I loaded our bags into the car, then marched back into the house and bellowed loud enough to be heard several states away, "BUD-NOS! GET IN THE CAR!"

He stopped in mid-screech and walked to the car with me, dazed and rattled, then dissolved into tears of abject misery. "You're mad at me! You yelled at me!" he wailed, as my anger was quickly replaced by guilt. His tears flowed, his nose ran, and his anguish grew. "You took my iPod! Give it back, Mama! Give it BACK to me!"

Though we were already late, I slunk back into the house to retrieve his iPod, thinking that it might help him get regulated on the drive to school. I grabbed an orange juice box on my way back out as well, hoping that perhaps a little bribery might assuage my guilt.

We drove to school in silence while Bud sulked, listening to his music and drinking his juice, and I silently beat myself up for reacting so ferociously. We arrived late and I delivered him to an already-settled classroom with a murmured "we had a hard morning..."

I spent the day at work wondering if Bud would be speaking to me by the time I got home, and was relieved when I walked in at dinner time and he said, "Hi, Mom! What's up?"

I held my breath this morning wondering if now Bud would now see tantrum-throwing as a regular part of his morning routine. He tested the waters half-heartedly as he got dressed: "I'm not going to school today."

"You need to try again, Bud. We don't want to do that again."

Bud considered his options for a minute, then decided not to risk a re-reun of yesterday. He finished getting ready for school and climbed into the car right on schedule.

I guess sometimes a little crazy goes a long way.

Creativity, thy name is Bud

I have mentioned previously that I am continually amazed by Bud's creativity, and by the level of "flexibility in his rigidity."

The other night in the bathtub, Bud was lining up his foam letters to make the alphabet when he discovered that he was missing the letter "I."

"Where is the I, Mom?" he asked.

"I'm not sure, Bud."

"Can you help me find it?"

We dug through the bubbles and pulled up letter after letter, but there was no I in the tub. Uh-oh, I thought, here it comes. I braced myself for some heavy perseveration on the missing I.

Then I heard Bud's voice: "This could be the I!"

I looked up and saw that he was holding up a whale-shaped cup where the I should be.

"It sure could be the I," I said. We hung a suction-cup hook in the spot and Bud dangled the I in place:

As he continued through the alphabet, he announced that he'd be substituting an upside down 7 for the missing letter L and a 3 for the missing S.

It's this kind of flexible thinking and creative problem-solving that makes me think that, even with all his challenges, Bud is going to be just fine.

On second thought, make that "ju3t fwhalene."

Monday, September 04, 2006

PumpkinQuest 2006

Bud is a boy who loves what he loves. Among his favorite things: Teletubbies, elephants, planets, hats of all description, balloons, and pumpkins.

Apparently, in Bud's mind, the first day of school signals the official start of Pumpkin Season, and each day last week when I picked him up at school he asked if I had a pumpkin waiting for him in the car. (I'd surprised him with one early in his Kindergarten career and, like his beloved elephants, Bud never forgets.) After the first day of school we tried to find one at the local supermarket but were told we were too early. Bud settled for Twizzlers instead.

But he didn't stop asking for a pumpkin. One of his summer projects had been lovingly caring for the pumpkin plant that he'd started as a seedling in his Kindergarten classroom, and that bloomed during the summer:


Unfortunately, thanks to our woodland neighbors who have taken to snacking in our yard, I don't think this particular plant is going to yield any fruit. Bud doesn't seem at all disappointed. To him, pumpkins aren't something that you grow in the yard; they're something you buy at supermarkets and farm stands. So once the air got crisp, the Macintosh apples showed up in the refrigerator, and I started bundling him off to school in the morning, he knew it was time to start trumpeting the arrival of pumpkin season. Each time he spotted a leaf on the ground he picked it up and announced: "The leaves are falling! Time to get a pumpkin!" Each day on the way to school he said, "Summer's over. Now it's fall. Let's get a pumpkin!"

So, I promised him that on Saturday we would set out in search of a pumpkin. September second is early, I reasoned, but the state fairs have already begun, and you can't have a state fair without pumpkins. They had to be out there somewhere. We kissed Daddy goodbye in the morning and set out, telling him that if we weren't home by dark it was because we'd continued driving north and were searching for pumpkins somewhere in Canada.

I wasn't far off.

Bud set the early agenda, and we scoured his favorite local farm stand with no luck. I ventured further north visiting every roadside farm stand and grocer's market I could find, but they were all pumpkin-free. Bud briefly toyed with the idea of picking up a watermelon instead. "Maybe this watermelon will turn into a pumpkin!" he said. I appreciated his optimism, but I just couldn't bear to give him any more false hope, so we carried on.

We traveled into the next state to visit a big open-air farmer's market that I was sure would pay off. It was pumpkinless. While we were in the neighborhood, Bud suggested that we visit a nearby children's museum, which seemed like a great alternative and a possible way to salvage the day. We spent a couple of hours hiking on their lovely, well-groomed trails through the woods and having a wonderful fresh-air-and-exercise afternoon. When we finally flopped back into the car, happy and tired, Bud said, "Now let's go get a pumpkin, Mom!"

And we were off again.

After coming up empty at the next supermarket we tried I told Bud that I was afraid we might just be too early. I suggested that we try to find a toy pumpkin instead. He agreed, and we headed to a nearby party store that was full of Halloween decorations - but no toy pumpkin that would fit the bill.

Bud was a good sport. No tears, no tantrums; not even a heavy sigh. But I was crushed on his behalf. We made the long drive home quietly, both of us lost in our own thoughts.

And then: success.

Fifteen minutes from home, as we drove by a little home-grown vegetable shack in someone's driveway I spotted a box with telltale stems sticking out the top. I pulled over and made a u-turn in the road.

"What are you doing, Mom?" Bud asked.

"Wait till you see," I said.

We pulled into the driveway and Bud saw them immediately. "Pumpkins!" he shouted. "You did it, Mom!"

I have never felt more like a hero.

Bud chose a pumpkin, for which we paid a single dollar, and he carried it home on his lap. It sat next to him through dinner, waited patiently at the sink while he had a bath, then spent the night sleeping on his bedside table until it was time to join him for breakfast in the morning. All weekend, the pumpkin has been Bud's constant companion, riding with us in the car, joining in on every adventure.

Today Bud took the pumpkin outside to decorate it, just as the Teletubbies' pumpkin is decorated in the live-action classic The Magic Pumpkin. It was just dashing:

This evening, Nana and Papa arrived at the house. They'd known that we'd planned on undertaking The Great Pumpkin Hunt on Saturday, but had not heard the outcome. So, just in case, they brought along two more pumpkins.

Bud was beside himself with joy. All three pumpkins had a merry reunion on the kitchen table while Bud, unable to contain his delight for another moment leaped into the middle of the room, threw his arms in the air and shouted,

"HAPPY PUMPKIN SEASON, EVERYONE!!!"

Let the celebration begin!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Local incoherence

I've been thinking about something since I finished reading Eye Contact. In a previous post, I wrote about the concept of "local coherence" as described by Kamran Nazeer in Send in the Idiots. Nazeer talks about local coherence as the propensity to focus on a small, manageable thing when faced with a large, overwhelming situation.

As I've already mentioned, Eye Contact was large and overwhelming for me. It was also gripping, and kept me reading furiously. However, as I sped through the climactic denouement of the story, I crashed headlong into something that completely stopped my momentum.

It was a typo.

Right there in the final, big moment, a main character is supposed to shout, "DON'T BE SCARED!"

Instead, in the poorly-edited edition I'm reading, the character shouts "DON'T BE SACRED!"

I stopped reading instantly. Sacred? Did this character really say "Don't be sacred?" Why sacred? It can't be sacred. It has to be scared. Who edited this book? This particular scene - this particular sentence - is critical to the plot. How could they have missed this?

I've been interested in my own reaction. Did I stop reading and focus entirely on the typo to regain my own local coherence? The plot was certainly overwhelming, and I knew that it was about to head into some action that would be hard to read. Did "sacred" provide the escape that I needed?

Or was it even more than that? Did this typo - this critical typo in the middle of this critical scene - allow me to give less credence to the book itself, and therefore to the warnings I inferred from its subtext?

Eye don't no, but it gives me paws.

Eye Contact

Cammie McGovern's Eye Contact is one of the latest releases in the growing "autism lit" genre. It's a good mystery story with realistic characters, interesting plot twists, and an unpredictable resolution.

I hated it.

I found it hard to focus on the actual plot of the novel because I was too distracted by the sickness growing in my stomach and by the panic rising in my chest. From my vantage point, this was not a mystery story; it was a warning:

Be aware that people will taunt, torment, harass and harm your child. They may even kill him.

Do not send your child to school. School is dangerous. Teachers and aides cannot possibly watch your child at all times and if they look away for only a moment, unspeakable things can happen.

If you take the risk and send your child to elementary school and he has the good fortune to survive the experience, do not under any circumstances send him to middle school.

If you are foolhardy enough to send him to middle school, do not let him ride the bus.

Do not let him go to the restroom unattended.

Do not let him walk through school hallways by himself.

Do not make him go to study halls.

Do not make him open his locker.

Your child is not safe.

This book is too well-written, so it pierces me in all the places I feel most vulnerable. This week, for more than one reason, those places were even more vulnerable than usual, and Eye Contact hit me with a full-force blow that knocked me to the ground.

That probably means it's a very good book. But I wouldn't recommend it.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Book tag

I've been tagged. Twice. This was a tough one for me. There are so many books that I love; it was hard to choose just one in each category.

One book that changed your life?
The Baby Book by Sears & Sears. This book sold me on attachment parenting, and taught me to approach issues and concerns by focusing on connecting with Bud. I decided that attachment parenting was the right philosophy for us long before I knew that Bud was autistic, and I think it would have been a good decision even if Bud was neurotypical. In retrospect, though, I can see that autism has made this philosophy, and this book, invaluable to me.

One book you have read more than once?
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. I'm a fan of "juvenile fiction" in general. Many of my favorite books were written for the 9-to-12-year-old market. But The Westing Game! Oh, how I love this book. I first read it shortly after it was released in 1978. I've read it many times since. And I'm really looking forward to sharing with Bud in a few years.

One book you would want on a desert island?
Gah! I've been sitting here staring at a blinking cursor for 20 minutes. This is an impossible question. Am I going to be on the desert island for the rest of my life? Am I all alone? Do I have only one book? I can think of only one way to answer this question: "I don't know. Surprise me!"

One book that made you laugh?
Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. Somebody gave me this book right after Bud was born and I read it while I nursed him, which was no easy feat because 1) he had an impossibly large head and I needed both arms and a couch full of pillows to hold it in place, and 2) he had trouble latching on, so once I had him in place I needed to stay as still as I could or risk disrupting the whole business. I spent most of our nursing time wondering how it was that other women made it look so easy, bemoaning the fact that I wasn't finding it easy at all, and thanking heaven for Anne Lamott, who made me feel normal, couch full of pillows and all.

One book that made you cry?
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. One of my favorite books of all time.

One book you wish had never been written?
The Starr Report: The Findings of Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr on President Clinton and the Lewinsky Affair by Kenneth Starr. Perhaps if Congress had not wasted 8 years and 40 billion dollars waging a personal attack on Bill Clinton, we would not be where we are today.

One book you are currently reading?
Eye Contact by Cammie McGovern. More on that when I've finished.

One book you have been meaning to read?
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Can you believe I've never read it? I was around Catcher in the Rye age when John Lennon was murdered, and it was revealed that his murderer was obsessed with the book and had a copy in his possession when he was arrested. I have tried to read it several times since then, but as a Beatles fan I just find that the association is too powerful and I can't get past the first page.

One book you wish you had written?
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Harriet speaks to my inner-ten-year-old.

Tag, you're it!