Thursday, November 30, 2006

Mission accomplished

About halfway through the semester, I was certain that I'd made a mistake when I'd agreed to teach a writing course, and I wondered how I'd make it through to the end.

About halfway through NaBloPoMo, I was certain that I'd made a mistake when I'd signed on to publish a post every day for the month of November, and I wondered how I'd make it through to the end.

But somewhere along the way, I experienced a shift in both areas of my life. With just two weeks left in the semester, my class has hit its stride. My students still don't love writing. In truth, most of them still find it painful. But the classroom atmosphere has changed. The students are more engaged. The conversation is more lively. The experience is more pleasant.

And today, as I publish my final NaBloPoMo post, I feel like I have hit my stride as well. I still don't love the pressure of posting every day, but I no longer find it painful. And the routine of writing every day has changed me. I feel more engaged in the process. My internal monologue about writing is more lively. And the experience is more pleasant.

I'm still eager to welcome December, scale back my posting, and wrap up my class. I'm looking forward to reclaiming my former life, both online and off. But, as often happens, I won't be stepping back into that old life; I'll be stepping forward into a new version of it.

Not bad for one month's progress, eh?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Day by day

I haven't broken out the Advent calendar yet, but Bud's official countdown to Christmas has begun. Each evening, Bud wants to talk through the flow of the days ahead. Though he knows the days of the week, he is less interested in discussing that tomorrow will be Thursday, and then will come Friday, and is much more interested in talking about the meaning of each day in his life. He has just recently started identifying which activities at school go with which days of the week: Mondays are gym days; Tuesdays, music; Wednesdays, art; Thursdays, library; Fridays, gym again. Saturdays and Sundays are Mom and Bud Days.

Tonight, Bud reminded me that Wednesdays are not just art days; they are also pizza days - the one day each week when Bud buys his lunch at school. Every other day, he brings his lunch from home and just buys milk in the cafeteria.

So at dinner this evening, when Bud wanted to talk through the days to come, I had some trouble keeping up.

"Mama, what tomorrow is?"

"Tomorrow is Thursday."

"No, Mama."

"Library day?"

"No. Milk day."

"Oh, of course. Milk day."

"Then another milk day, then Mom and Bud day, then Mom and Bud day, then milk day, then milk day, then pizza day."

So, for the record, and for those keeping score at home, that means we have 14 milk days, 3 pizza days, and 8 Mom and Bud days until Christmas.

But who's counting?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

By the numbers

Milligrams of melatonin Bud had before bed last night: 1.5

Time Bud fell asleep: 8:00

Time I finally crawled into bed: 11:55

Time Bud woke up to start his day: 1:40

Additional milligrams of melatonin I gave Bud: 1.5

Additional minutes of sleep Bud got: 0

Hour I dozed off and on while Bud sang, danced, played, jumped, talked, and twirled my hair: almost 5

Minutes late I was running by the time I finally got out of bed: 30

Hours I expected Bud to make it into the school day before he fell asleep or fell apart: 2

Warnings I issued to school professionals regarding suspected difficulty: 3

Classroom aides who usually work with Bud: 1

Classroom aides who went home sick today with strep throat: 1

Reported problems that resulted from Bud being overtired and having no aide: 0

Minutes early that Bud left school: 0

Minutes of nap time Bud got in the car after school: 10

Hours Bud had been awake by the time he went to bed tonight: 18

Seconds it took Bud to fall asleep: 4

Posts I've completed for NaBloPoMo: 27

Posts left to complete for NaBloPoMo: 3

Hours remaining today in which to post: 4

Ounces of energy in my reserve with which I could compose a post: 0

Posts completed today: 1

Monday, November 27, 2006

Dynamic duos

I've mentioned previously how flexible Bud is in his pretend play. His favorite activity is acting out tv and movie scripts with his characters. If he has the actual toy versions of the characters in question - the Blues Clues crew, the Teletubbies, the Sesame Street ensemble - then he uses them. If he doesn't, he improvises.

Here are some of my very favorite improvisations.

The first characters Bud needed to create on his own were Chris and Martin Kratt, the hosts of the PBS show Zoboomafoo. Here's what Chris and Martin look like in real life:


And here's what they look like at our house,

as played by the Fisher Price family dad and mom. (NB: The mom always plays the role of Martin. I'm not sure, but I think it's because Chris wears the green shirt.)

Bud is also a fan of Moose and Zee, the cartoon hosts over at Noggin:

Except that in Budland, the roles are played by a moose puppet and Norville, the bird from Clifford's Puppy Days:

Sometimes Bud likes to play with Smooch and Winslow, the marmosets from It's a Big, Big World, who look like this on TV:


And like this in Budland:

And, of course, we can't forget the ever-popular Curious George and The Man With the Yellow Hat:

as played in Budland by BJ (of Barney fame) and an anonymous stuffed monkey. (You may also take note of the clever roller skates on George's feet, created by Matchbox cars and twist-ties.):


Bud's current passion is the new Noggin program, The Upside Down Show, starring "brothers" Shane and David, whom (for obvious reasons, when you realize that you're looking at Shane on the right) Bud calls "Shave-it and Dave-it":

This is what they look like around here, where Zoboomafoo stars as Shave-it and Woodstock stars as Dave-it:

And, finally, the piece de resistance and my personal favorite, Charlie and Lola, as they appear on the BBC CBeebies website,

And as they as they appear in our bathroom (That's Charlie on the left):

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bud and Mom's excellent adventure

Last night Bud and I enjoyed an elaborate pretend adventure, in which we sailed on a boat that hit an iceberg, narrowly escaped being destroyed by an oncoming ship, got swallowed by a whale, swam with penguins, and were chased by a herd of elephants. When it was all over and we were safe at home and ready for bed, we decided to write the story down. Bud dictated and I wrote, doing my best to refrain from prompting or editing. Unfortunately, we started writing after the evening dose of melatonin so, by the end, our sleepy narrator began to wander and became a bit script-dependent. I like to think it gives the story a kind of Kerouac On the Road vibe.

See what you think:

We rowed our boat. Then we saw a dolphin. The boat has a hole in it. We put some tape on it. Then we saw a big ship coming at us. And it bump into us.

"Hurry!" shouted Bud. He was so scared and he eat it.

"No, ship!" said Bud.

"I said 'need it', not 'eat it'!" shouted Mom.

He was so mad because a ship was coming up. Because Mom is alright. Bud is new here. The big upside down cap!

We heard someone calling.

"Bud? Mom? Bud? Mom?" It sound like Sumbah. Now he called him again. How he take them back?

"How?" said Mom.

"I don't know," said Bud. He was not accepted. She was all right. And it was correct. He put it in his pocket and they went inside.

Bud said, "Next time, Mom, please enjoy yourselves."

Sumbah was taking them for bed.

Bud is a boy.

Is a Mom and a Bud.

The end.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Master Bud sends his regrets

The nice part about the fact that Bud still prefers commercial-free preschool-oriented television is that his echolalic scripts are entirely free from the impertinent backtalk you'd hear in the shows his peers are watching - Rugrats, SpongeBob, and even Disney movies. Sure, sometimes it means we hear the baby talk of the Teletubbies and Oobi. But sometimes, like this holiday weekend, it means he's far more polite that the average seven-year-old boy - even when he's disagreeing with us.

I'm not sure of the source of this particular set of scripts (Charlie and Lola, perhaps? Curious George?), but I'm finding them delightful. Here's a sampling of a few of our recent exchanges:

"Come on, Bud. Let's go upstairs and get dressed."

"I'm very sorry, Mama, but I'm very busy right now."
----------------

"Hey, Bud! There's a really neat parade on tv that has big, giant balloon characters like Snoopy. Do you want to see it?"

"Oh, I'm very sorry, but actually I'm watching Dragon Tales."
----------------

"Hey, Bud, your supper is ready!"

"Actually, I think I'd like some potato chips, please."
----------------

This phase may not be around too long, since even these fancy words are not yielding him potato chips instead of supper.

But it will be fun while it lasts. Actually.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The joy of baking

If you've not been over to visit Big Orange at The Vision Splendid today, you must stop by to see this post.

It is very, very funny... if it's not your kitchen.

Mean girls

I've been thinking today about mean girls. Where do they come from? Are they born mean? Are they mean as young children, or is their meanness some sort of mutant recessive gene that emerges suddenly when their bodies begin to sprout hair?

If you've ever been to junior high, you're probably familiar with the mean girl phenomenon. Mean girls are not just run-of-the-mill hormonal, dramatic, mood-swinging teenagers. They are a breed unto themselves - a breed with a tell-tale modus operandi: mean girls get to know you just enough to discover the place where you are most vulnerable, and then they use that information to exploit it. For fun. Just because they can.

Bud and I had an encounter with some mean girls today. Bud's been seeing the same hairdresser for several years - a woman who's in business for herself, which means that Bud is able to get his haircut without the typical beauty-shop sensory inundation of the sound of blasting hairdryers, the smell of chemical dyes, and the sight old ladies with their hair standing on end. When Bud gets his haircut, the only other people in the shop are Julie, the hair-dresser, and her daughter Meg, who is often in the shop waiting for her mom to be finished so that she can get a ride to soccer or basketball or the movies. Meg has always seemed like a nice enough kid - in that bored, disinterested, angst-filled way that preteens are nice. She has been especially helpful in getting the shop ready for Bud's arrival, by whisking the family dog out of the main room and into the back, or - if the dog is having a high-energy day - into the car, where his barking will not disturb Bud.

Julie has recently moved her shop out of her previous store-front and into an area on the ground floor of her home, and today was the first day that Bud and I went there for his haircut. I'd explained the move to him, but when we pulled up to what appeared to be a stranger's house, Bud was tentative about going in. He stood in the driveway refusing to go any further until Julie came out to greet us. Then he followed her in slowly and uncertainly, and he remained on edge throughout his haircut.

Julie, who has come to understand Bud in the time she's been cutting his hair, remained unfazed by his skittishness, and happily chatted to him as she gently snipped away at his hair. Meg walked through the shop several times during our visit, accompanied by a friend. The shop, it seemed, was in the path from one area of the house to the other, and the girls made frequent trips back and forth, whispering conspiratorially. Each time they passed through, Julie reminded Meg to keep the door shut, giving her a look that we both recognized as "Don't let the dog in here or Bud will get upset."

Julie finished quickly, much to Bud's relief, and we were able to head back to the safety of the car. As we walked down the driveway past the rear of the house, a loud bark emanated from a second floor window.

The bark was not quite canine; it sounded suspiciously like the tone of a thirteen-year-old girl.

Bud feigned fear with a half-hearted "Aaaaaaahhhhh!" that was really more feigning than fear, but he moved quickly toward the car, more eager to put this unsettling new hairdressing shop behind us.

"They are just playing a trick on you, Bud," I said loudly in the direction of the open window. "They are just playing a very mean trick."

I imagine the experience was less than satisfying for the girls. But I've spent the rest of the day wondering: Why did they go out of their way to do that? What did they hope to achieve? What element of superiority did they expect to walk away with? What could they possibly gain from besting a seven-year-old autistic boy?

And all I can come up with is this: they did it just to be mean.

Bud was unaffected by the experience, and I'm sure he stopped thinking about it moments after it happened. But I've been thinking about it all day. When do mean girls turn mean? What about the delightful little girls who have befriended Bud at school? Do any of them show the early signs of developing into a mean girl? Will Bud - trusting, loving, innocent Bud - someday turn to his friend Sophie or his friend Kelly, only to discover that she's the mastermind behind an elaborate joke made at his expense?

Meg and her friend thought they'd have a laugh by capitalizing on Bud's fear of dogs. Their plan fell flat, and they probably noted that they'd have to come up with a better scheme for meanness when they found their next victim. I wonder if they'd be satisfied to know that they hit the target with me and that, by barking out an open window, they left me feeling exposed and vulnerable for the rest of the day. That ought to be good for a laugh or two, right? It ought to be a downright scream - you know, if you're a mean girl.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Simple thanks

I started my Thanksgiving Day by reading this post on Autism Vox, and learning of the murder of 12-year old Ulysses Stable in Bronx, New York yesterday. Ulysses was autistic. He was murdered by his father.

My mind turned instantly to Katie McCarron, the autistic girl who should be four years old and should be celebrating Thanksgiving today with her family. But she is not. Katie was murdered by her mother last Mothers Day weekend.

I thought, too, of Marcus Fiesel, of Scarlett Chen, of Ryan Davies, of Christopher DeGroot, and of William Lash.

It is all too much to bear.

So my Thanksgiving post today is a simple one.

I give thanks for Bud.

I give thanks for every moment with him.

I give thanks for the privilege of sharing his joys, his heartbreaks, his soaring triumphs and his daunting challenges.

I give thanks for the opportunity to share my life with him.

I give thanks for the honor of having him share his life with me.

I give thanks for Bud, autism and all.

Today, and every day.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sour dreams

I don't usually dream at night - or, rather, if I do dream, I don't remember it in the morning. Based on my experience last night, I guess I should be grateful.

Last night it seemed like I had permutations of the same dream all night long. I say "it seemed," because you know how blurry dream-reality is: I was at your house, but it wasn't your actual house but I knew in the dream that you lived there. And then Tom Cruise showed up, except that he was your Uncle Mel...

Anyway, through my dreams I seemed to spend the entire evening in my office in conversation with a friend/colleague. And in a chipper voice, all night long, she said things like this to me:

"I don't know why people always say you're such a sourpuss. You're not like that at all."

"I mean, really, I just don't see why you get such a bad rap for being so grumpy. Where does that come from?"

"Because, seriously, that's all people talk about. You'd think from the way they talk that you're just an ogre. It doesn't make any sense."

"Of course you're in a bad mood sometimes - everybody is. But, really, why should you have such a reputation for being so grouchy? It's just not fair..."

All. Night. Long.

The first time it happened I woke up, thought "that was weird," and rolled over and went back to sleep.

But there she was again: "You're just not that difficult to deal with. You don't deserve that."

By the time morning came, I wanted to kick her in the teeth.

I don't know where it came from. She and I have a terrific relationship. There's been no significant tension at work. Maybe I just feel like I've been grumpy lately.

We're both at work today, and I've spent the morning wanting to walk into her office and say, "What was all that about, anyway?"

But then I remember that she wasn't actually there last night.

So, instead, I'm going out of my way to be perky and cheery and full of holiday spirit.

'Cause, you know, I don't want to get a reputation...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The new H.A. Rey

I am pleased to unveil a delightful series of Curious George illustrations by our own resident artist. I have transcribed their captions exactly as he dictated them. They are all scripts, as heard by Bud.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you... Curious George!

George is a monkey, so he can do things you can'ts do.
I really like the boat he build, and we're going to make some, too.

Curious George is a monkey, so he can do things you can'ts do.
George pull out the spaghetti so he can scratch the soft the mystery.

George is a monkey, so he can do things you can'ts do.
He got all the skins back on the wrong fruits.

George is a monkey, so he can do things you can'ts do.
He's getting all the mosquitoes back in the grass.


Curious George is a monkey, so he can do things you can'ts do.
He build a world tree for the pigeon that actually stand up.

Curious George is a monkey, so he can do things you can'ts do.
He found his way home by following sounds.

THE END

Monday, November 20, 2006

Dissed

I'd been dreaming up creative openings for the blog post for a year. I was thinking about: Have you seen the startlingly attractive woman talking about her autistic son on Paul McCartney's latest DVD, The Space Within US?

But it's not to be. Paul McCartney's latest DVD is on the shelves, but it doesn't include me.

Last fall, I went to see McCartney as he toured the country promoting his most recent album, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, and like all slightly manic fans I waited patiently by the gated back entrance to catch a glimpse of him as he zipped past in his limo. While I passed the time with a crowd of warm-hearted, like-minded crazies, McCartney's videographer (I recognized him - how pathetic is that?) wandered out with his cameraman and started interviewing some people in the crowd. I listened from afar, and imagined what I would say if I had the opportunity. The videographer said to the cameraman, "Let's do one more," then he looked up and, from the other end of the crowd, locked eyes with me. Horrified, I instantly broke eye contact and looked away, but he walked directly up to me and said, "Can I ask you a few questions?"

Yikes.

He asked me some sort of open-ended question about why I was there that evening, and I started telling him about Bud - about how much Bud loves Paul McCartney - about how Paul's music is something that Bud and I share, something that connects us - about how Bud watches Paul's last concert film constantly - about how, though language has always been a struggle for him, music has been second nature - about how, even before he could talk, Bud could sing Band on the Run - about how, even though Chaos and Creation had only been out a few weeks, Bud already knew all the lyrics - about how, despite all this, the sights and sounds of a concert would be scary and overwhelming for Bud - about how I was there that night for both of us.

Halfway through the interview, the videographer asked me to stop and start again with a clear opening that would make a good soundbite ("My son Bud is six-years-old, and he has autism...") I don't remember exactly what I said, but my friend says I was concise and articulate. I've spent the last year trying to convince myself that with the thousands of hours of footage they'd taped I wouldn't have a chance of making the final cut. But I secretly hoped that when Bud and I sat down to watch the DVD, he'd see the camera cut away from Paul and cut to me talking about Bud.

I haven't watched the DVD yet (I'm saving it as a special Thanksgiving weekend treat to share with Bud), but my best McCartney-concert-going friend has watched every second, and has scanned all crowd scenes for even a glimpse of us.

Bupkis.

In happier news, VTBudFan sent me a link to some recent photos that show Paul looking better than ever despite some very messy business in his personal life:


Discerning fans will note that Paul has abandoned the light brown hair dye for a more natural, more flattering dark brown.

Now all he needs is a better video editor.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Anxiety medication and medication anxiety

It's hard to say out loud that I give medication to my young child.

It's hard to say it out loud because I imagine that I'm often saying it to people who regard medicating young children as a cop-out, an attempt at a quick-fix, and the result of an unwillingness to do the hard work of actual parenting. In other words, people who think the same way I used to think about the issue.

When Bud was three-years-old, I brought him for his annual visit with the developmental pediatrician who initially diagnosed his autism, the director of a child development clinic at a nationally-recognized teaching hospital. In our debrief meeting at the end of the hours-long visit, Dr. K explained that he is extremely conservative about recommending medication for young children, and that he always errs on the side of withholding it. That being said, though, he recommended that I meet with a child psychiatrist who specializes in autism to discuss the possibility of using an anxiety medication with Bud.

I was reluctant to follow his advice, so I spoke privately with the Speech and Language Pathologist who had been involved in the meeting, and who worked very closely with Dr. K. She said that he was not exaggerating when he said that he was extremely conservative, and that she'd rarely heard him recommend medication in a child so young. I agreed to meet with the psychiatrist, but when I called his office I learned that I'd need to wait at least a year for an appointment. I contacted Dr. K to let him know, and he had us booked for an appointment the following week.

The appointment with the psychiatrist was helpful. He was willing to write a prescription for Bud, but also said that he didn't think we'd be taking a significant risk by taking a "wait and see" approach. We decided to hold off on medication and we booked another appointment in a year's time.

We had a similar meeting when Bud was four, and once again we decided to wait. Then, the summer before Bud turned six and just before he started Kindergarten, we took him to a child psychologist for testing and decided that the time was right for something. Instead of focusing on Bud's anxiety, we focused on his attention and distractibility and we ultimately landed on Strattera, which has helped significantly with his focus and his ability to engage with people and tasks.

Then, this fall, Bud's anxiety level reached an all-time high. His anxiety transformed him emotionally and physically - he worried incessantly; he perseverated about the weather; he was anxious about leaving the house; he grew pale and sallow; the circles under his eyes deepened into a bruisy purple; he didn't eat very much; his face became gaunt. In desperation, I called his pediatrician and told her we were ready to try a medication for anxiety with him.

She prescribed Zoloft - a half dose for the first week, then a full dose after that. Within days, Bud's disposition started to change. The color came back to his cheeks. His appetite returned. He started to think about things besides the condition of the sky and his calculations about the likelihood of a storm. He started to play again, and to rediscover the things that brought him joy. With each day that passed, he worried about the weather a little less. Then the worry subsided into simple conversation about the weather.

Simple conversation.

Conversation.

Remarkably, since he started taking Zoloft, Bud has started having more actual, engaged, back-and-forth conversation. He's using more language, more effectively. His grammatical structure has gotten more complex; he's even started correcting himself.

I was goofing with him the other day, and said, "Look! I'm a monkey!"

He laughed and said "No, you not..." but his sentence trailed of and he caught himself, thought for a minute, and said "No, you... isn't."

"I'm not?" I asked.

"No, you're not!" he laughed.

Conversations that used to end at Question-Answer now take several turns. I put Bud's sandwich down on the table yesterday and he asked, "Mama, can I have potato chips with it?"

"We don't have any potato chips, hon," I said dismissively, expecting that he'd either drop the request or shift it to pretzels.

"They taked them?" he asked, indignantly. (I'm not sure who "they" were...)

"No, nobody took them."

"I ate them all," he said, suggesting what seemed the only plausible conclusion.

"Yes, you did."

"That's okay. We can buy some more."

His experience-sharing language has also grown exponentially. When I ask about his favorite part of his school day, I no longer get the same one-word answer: "Recess." Now I hear about Writer's Workshop and counting in math and the painting he did in art.

The other day he named all of the children who go to "Word Study" (the special ed group) with him, and he taught my husband and me one of their exercises. He held up a word card, and we had to say "letter-word-sound" - "B. Bell. Ba. K. Kite. Ka." He corrected us gently when we mixed up the order, by stating it correctly and looking at us intently until we repeated him. When we got through the stack, he said "45 seconds! Great work! And you're doing very good sitting, Mama."

He's calmer. He's more engaged. He's more interested in other children. He's using lots and lots of spontaneous, conversational language. All since he started taking Zoloft.

Of course, for every positive thought I have about Zoloft, I have two nagging thoughts:

What are the long-term effects of a powerful medication on a developing little body? and, conversely,

What would his development be like now if I'd followed the doctor's suggestion and started him on anxiety medication four years ago?

I know that dwelling on the "what ifs" is rarely helpful or productive. I really do know that. But the fact remains: Zoloft has had a significant effect on reducing Bud's anxiety, but it's left me stranded with a whole lot of my own.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Saturday in the park

According to my son, Saturdays and Sundays are "Mom and Bud Days." Each week, somewhere around Thursday, we begin discussing the agenda and making plans. I think the planning gets us both through our weeks.

Today's Mom and Bud day involved:

1. A visit to the library so that Bud could fix all the clocks (a la Curious George).

2. A stop at Dunkin Donuts for munchkins (him) and medium-coffee-skim-milk-one-sugar-and-a-caramel-flavor-shot (me).

3. Playtime at the park.

We were having a lovely time at the park when a family of four arrived with their dog. Bud was nervous as they unpacked the car, and became visibly agitated as their dog frolicked near them.

"Don't worry, honey," I said, loud enough for the family to hear. "That doggie won't come near you."

"It's okay - he's friendly," the dad shouted over to us.

"We have a dog phobia here," I shouted back, in as kind a tone as I could muster.

The dog barrelled toward us, as if to prove just how friendly he was. Bud darted away with his hands on his ears, shouting "No doggie! Go away!"

"A very, very, severe phobia!" I shouted over my shoulder, a bit less kindly, as I chased after Bud spewing comforting words.

The dad moved to catch his dog and said, in an attempt to reassure Bud, "Yeah, but - he's very friendly."

I stopped when I caught up to Bud, then turned to the dad and said, "Yeah, but - he's autistic."

"We'll keep him on a leash," the dad assured us. I thanked him, and the family moved to a different area of the park.

Bud and I continued playing on the slide, climbing inside the big plastic tube together and copying each other as we drummed out rhythms on the sides.

Later we went for a walk. Bud stopped at every hole in the ground to check for prairie dogs. Then he headed for his favorite stream so he could "skip some stones" (or, more accurately, hurl stones into the water.)

All things considered, it was a very good day.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Picture this

In comments to a post from earlier this week, when I wondered aloud how I would continue to post every day for the rest of the month, Kristina suggested that I post photographs when I get stuck and Neil suggested that I share some of Bud's artwork.

So today's post is a photo essay of the artist at work.

Paint:


Still Life (this one is titled "Happy Birthday, Tinky Winky"):


Performance Art (in two movements):



And, of course, photography:



Thursday, November 16, 2006

Coffee nirvana

The tag line on my blog promises writing "on raising a son on the autism spectrum, progressive politics, pop culture, and coffee addiction". I write a great deal about my parenting journey and about the interesting twists in the road that my son's autism provides. I throw in a healthy smattering of political views from left of center, and I've added in a few suggestions about books, television, music and movies along the way. But, I have to admit, my coffee addiction has been woefully underrepresented on the blog.

The same cannot be said for my actual life, in which only parenting supersedes coffee as a draw for my time and attention.

So here it is - a post about my newest coffee-related addiction: Dunkin Donuts flavor shots.

They're unbelievable.

I'm a late-comer to this particular party because I'm not usually a fan of flavored coffees. What I've discovered, however, is that I'm not a fan of coffee made from flavored coffee beans. Flavor shots are completely different. Flavor shots take an already fantastic cup of coffee and add a little bit of heaven.

There are nine different flavors available: French vanilla, toasted almond, raspberry, hazelnut, coconut, chocolate, cinnamon, caramel, blueberry. I've not yet tried them all because as I was making my way through the list - coconut (yum), chocolate (not bad), caramel (ooo!) - it occurred to me that I was probably adding 600 calories of fat to my daily caffeine intake. So I asked a worker for some more information about them, and she told me that they were sugar-free and added a mere 20 calories per cup. (The bad news is that there is probably not a single ingredient in them that actually occurs in nature. But, you know - whatever.)

And here's where I get to the good part. In addition to answering my questions, the worker gave me a life-changing piece of information: the flavors can be combined.

"Try the Almond Joy," she said.

"The Almond Joy?" I asked.

"A three-way combo of chocolate, toasted almond, and coconut."

"Really? It's good?"

"Trust me on this one."

Luckily, I am, by nature, a trusting soul.

I'm trying to pace myself. I'm trying to limit myself to one (or two) a week, so I don't flame out too fast. But, really. Almond Joy. It really is all that.

Trust me on this one.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

All in the family

In a comment on yesterday's "the tedium of me" post, MothersVox left a list of compelling topics she'd like to see me cover as I struggle to fill bandwidth during the NaBloPoMo experiment. One of those topics jumped out at me immediately. She wrote,

More on how you and DAD-NOS navigate household and childrearing responsibilities together. You both work, so how to you navigate all the housework. Just curious.

It's simple, really. We have a secret weapon: live-in grandparents.

For obvious reasons, this is not a solution that would work for everyone. And there are many folks in our inner and extended circles who are incredulous that it works for all of us. But it does. And mostly - most importantly - it works for Bud.

Interestingly, the journey toward cohabitation began when we discovered that we were expecting twins and our heads started swimming with questions about how we'd manage it. My parents lived a state away from us at the time, and we had no relatives who were local. But my mom was approaching retirement age and my dad had been retired for years, so they started making plans to move away from the town in which they'd both been raised to buy a house around the corner from us.

They were in the final stages of planning their relocation when Bud was born and his twin brother, Pal, died. But, even though we were no longer facing the daunting prospect of having two babies at the same time and even though we were not yet aware of Bud's autism, my parents moved forward with their plan to move to our neighborhood. When I look back at it now, I recognize that it's yet another gift that Pal gave us.

In the early months of Bud's life, I worked days and my husband worked afternoons and evenings, and we had a complicated choreography of shift-work childcare, which involved drop-offs and pick-ups and fly-by visits for nursing. As Bud got a little older, my husband switched to a daytime shift and Nana and Papa took on the full-day responsibility of caring for Bud. In a short time, and as a result of a complicated series of events, it became clear that consolidating our households would make the most sense for all of us. So the summer before Bud turned 2, just before we got Bud's "official" diagnosis, we pooled our resources and bought a big house with a lot of levels and a great deal of elbow room.

As with any shared-living experience, there are negotiations and compromises that have to be made. There have been some tension-filled moments. But there has also been a house filled to the brim with Bud-focused energy and insight and love.

It's hard to imagine what Bud's early years would have been like without Nana and Papa in his daily life. The reality is that before the day he started first grade (at almost seven years old), Bud had never spent more than four hours without at least one of the four of us. His life has had the kind of consistency and predictability that he's needed to feel safe and to build a sense of competence. Though he struggled with language for many years, he was always secure in the knowledge that his Big Four would be able to read him.

But Bud hasn't just gained a sense of stability from our arrangement. He has also developed a genuine flexibility and an understanding of human difference. At a very young age, it was clear that Bud understood that Mom is different from Dad who is different from Nana who is different from Papa. He knows us all well, and he has developed a unique relationship with each of us. He navigates the subtleties with ease - he knows what works with each individual: when to turn on the charm, when to push the issue, when to use humor, when to back down. We provide a real learning laboratory for the art and science of human interaction every single day.

And we benefit from having four sets of eyes and ears and hands; four minds; four hearts. We problem-solve together. We worry. We celebrate. We hope. Times four.

Is it a challenge? Of course it is. But we all keep our eyes on the prize. And our prize - our grand prize - makes the challenge seem very small.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sick of myself

Are you as tired of me as I am?

This NaBloPoMo commitment has had me posting every day for two full weeks. Two weeks - fourteen posts in fourteen days - and it's nothing but me, me, me! (Or, as my friend Kay would say, "But enough about me; let's talk about you. What do you think of me?")

I gotta say - I'm just not all that interesting.

In a good week, I've got about one worthwhile thing to say. In a great week, I've got two. But it takes me months to work up to fourteen thoughts that are worth sharing.

And despite that, I keep posting and preparing for the dust bunnies that are sure to start collecting in my comments section. I can almost hear you moaning as my site loads and you groan, "What - you again?" And I've still got 16 posts to go.

But a commitment is a commitment.

I have to wonder, does anyone have something significant to say every single day? I've been surfing around on the NaBloPoMo Randomizer and it seems that a lot of people are... er... struggling for material.

I'm thinking we should re-name this endeavor NaBlahBlahBlahPoMo.

Or maybe it's just me.

Monday, November 13, 2006

No guarantees

A young woman and her mom visited my office today to get some information about the college. They explained that the young woman would be enrolling as a new student for the spring semester and that she had recently withdrawn from another institution because she'd had a negative experience there.

I asked a vague question about the nature of the experience, giving them plenty of latitude to evade the question if I was treading on sensitive territory. But they offered an explanation freely. There had been two rapes on the campus, they explained, and shortly after that the young woman got frightened when she believed that someone was following her as she walked to her car.

"I called Campus Police," the mom recounted incredulously. "And they told me that they couldn't guarantee my daughter's safety." And with that, her daughter decided to withdraw.

I didn't ask, but I had to wonder: Did someone on our campus guarantee her daughter's safety? Would anyone here be bold enough - foolish enough - to make such an outrageous promise?

And what would make a parent believe that we could deliver on it?

What would make a parent believe that it was a reasonable question in the first place?

I ask for a lot from the professionals who work with Bud. I ask them to listen to my concerns and to respond appropriately. I ask them to think critically and creatively, to collaborate, and to work as hard as they can for him and with him. But I don't ask for guarantees.

In fact, I think if they offered guarantees I'd quietly pack my things and move on.

I worry about this young woman's upcoming transition to our college, and I wonder if, through an unreasonable set of expectations, she's already set herself - and us - up for failure. When we met today, she and her mom told me exactly what they needed from me. They outlined their expectations at length and in detail.

I listened. I affirmed. I clarified. I suggested.

But I didn't guarantee.

If this woman enrolls in our college in January, I'll follow her closely. If all goes well, we'll have four years together. And I hope that, at the end of those four years when I watch her walk across the stage in her cap and gown, we will have done our job as educators and I'll be watching a woman who is more confident, more secure, and more comfortable with uncertainty. Because as she crosses that metaphoric platform, she may be thinking that she's headed for a particular kind of career, a particular kind of family, a particular kind of future. And perhaps she will be.

But there are no guarantees.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Butt seriously

Officer Brock is on the staff of Campus Safety at the college where I work. He is a retired firefighter, and his responsibilities include running fire drills in the residence halls and then, when he has the group of residents gathered together, doing a post-drill reminder about fire safety protocol.

He always uses the opportunity to tell students about another issue he encountered frequently in the line of duty - responding to motor vehicle accidents that involved moose. We live in a rural area, and it's not uncommon to be driving down a dark country road and suddenly see a moose looming in your headlights. If you are moving fast and the animal is standing still, it often becomes a contest of moose vs. metal - and let's just say the metal doesn't always fare very well. And, often, neither do the people riding in the car.

So Officer Brock offers an important safety tip to students every time he does a fire drill. Ask any student on our campus what to do if you think you're going to hit a moose, and they'll do their best Officer Brock impersonation, admonishing you with a growl:

"Aim for the ass. Moose don't back up."

It's a running joke on our campus.

But two weeks ago, a shaken student arrived at the Campus Safety office looking for Officer Brock. He'd just been on the road and found himself headed straight for a moose. Officer Brock's words rang in his ears and he swerved for the moose's backside. He walked away rattled, but unharmed.

I don't know if you're likely to see moose where you live. But someday you may be on vacation, and you may find your car speeding toward a hulking mass of animal. And if you do, just remember Officer Brock and these words that could save your life:

Moose don't back up.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Language family

I knew that Bud and I had a thing with words, but I didn't realize the extent to which my husband shares it.

One morning this week I was standing in the kitchen making Bud's breakfast when my husband entered the room and greeted me with a hearty "Thabosefolosha!"

"What?" I asked.

"Thabosefolosha!" he repeated.

Uh-oh, I thought, recognizing the tell-tale signs. "What is that?"

"Who. Thabo Sefolosha. He plays for the NBA. I can't stop saying his name. Thabo Sefolosha. Isn't it great?"

And that was that. I've been Thabosefoloshing ever since.

I imagine that if the government had an illegal wiretap monitoring conversations in our house they'd suspect they'd stumbled on to some sort of code-speaking sleeper cell when they heard the kinds of things we walk around saying:

"Thabo Sefolosha!"

"Heiligenschein!"

"Chinese Applefarm!"

But our Blogosphere friends know the truth. We are not part of a terrorist network.

We are from France.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Blog envy

Because of my involvement in NaBloPoMo, two things have happened:

1. I've spent a lot of time looking at my own blog, and

2. I've spent a lot of time surfing other blogs on the NaBloPoMo Randomizer.

And because of these two things, one other thing has happened:

I've developed blog envy.

There are some very cool blogs out there. There is good writing, of course, but I'm not really talking about that. The blogs that have sparked my interest are the one that are visually interesting, that have character, individuality, pizzazz.

I'm looking at my words on the standard, unoriginal template Blogger provides for the technically challenged, and I'm feeling boring.

I'm stumbling across hundreds of other blogs with the exact same template as mine and I'm feeling generic.

Mostly I'm feeling like an eighth grader who is not cool enough to sit at the popular table in the cafeteria.

I've upgraded to the new beta Blogger, which promised to give me more options, but really just gave me a messier version of my boring, generic, run-of-the-mill template.

So I'm going to play with it. If you drop by in the days and weeks to come and things are looking wacky around here, you'll know why.

And if you have particular skill in this arena and would like to send some suggestions my way, I'd be awfully appreciative.

And my inner eighth-grader would be thankful for the lunch date.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Where Bob Wright and I agree

Bob Wright is the CEO of NBC Universal, the grandparent of a child with autism, and the co-founder of Autism Speaks, an organization designed to raise funds and "quicken the pace of research" to "cure" this "devastating disorder." In their introduction on the Autism Speaks website, Wright and his wife Suzanne describe the "heartbreaking moment" when their grandson was diagnosed with autism and they "watched him slip away into the cruel embrace of this disorder."

Suffice it to say that Bob Wright and I have fundamental disagreements about autism advocacy - both the ends and the means.

But Bob Wright and I do have something in common: We're both fans of Aaron Sorkin's latest TV drama, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

A couple of weeks ago, rumors were flying that Studio 60's cancellation was imminent. Then an entertainment columnist reported that Bob Wright wanted to keep the show on the air (and, yes, I realize I'm linking to Fox News here, but any port in a storm, you know?). The reporter quotes Wright as saying, "We'd never get that kind of cast together again. I think it will go on."

And he's right. Studio 60 has a stellar cast. Matthew Perry is the clear standout, in a role that helps him prove his talent as an actor by requiring him to be funny without bearing a slight resemblance to Chandler Bing. But Steven Weber, Amanda Peet, D.L. Hughley, Ed Asner, Bradley Whitford, Timothy Busfield, Sarah Paulson, and Nathan Corddry (who you may not know now, but who is certain to become a break-out star) are an outstanding ensemble.

The acting is tight. The writing is sharp and clever and fast-paced. Early episodes took a lot of time to set the context for the characters, but the plots are beginning to take off.

All this show needs is an audience.

This week's episode was the first of two parts. You can watch it in its entirety on the NBC website.

Why not find out if you agree with Bob Wright, too?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

For those keeping score at home

It was a very good night.

An update on the races I mentioned previously. Those in blue were victories for the Dems.

California: Phil Angelides for Governor - but did anyone really think it would happen?
California: Francine Busby for Congress
Connecticut: Ned Lamont for Senate
- but Joe Leiberman won, so that's the second best option
Connecticut: Diane Farrell for Congress
Florida: Jim Davis for Governor

Florida: Bill Nelson for Senate
Idaho: Jerry Brady for Governor
Massachusetts: Deval Patrick for Governor
Minnesota: Amy Klobuchar for Senate
(thanks, Anonymous)
Missouri: Claire McCaskill for Senate
Montana: John Tester for Senate
New Hampshire: Paul Hodes for Congress
(and Carol Shea-Porter too - did anyone see that coming?)
New Jersey: Robert Menendez for Senate
Ohio: Sherrod Brown for Senate

Pennsylvania: Robert Casey for Senate
(thanks, Moi)
Pennsylvania: Patrick Murphy for Congress
Tennessee: Harold Ford for Senate
Texas: Nick Lampson for Congress
Virginia: Jim Webb for Senate

West Virginia: Robert Byrd for Senate

Wisconsin: Jim Doyle for Governor (thanks, Daisy)
Wisconsin: Steve Kagen for Congress (and thanks again, Daisy)
Wyoming: Gary Trauner for Congress - stay tuned

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day pleas(e)


Today is Election Day in the US, and to those readers in the States who are eligible to vote I make these requests:

If you are inclined to go to the polls, please vote for a Democrat.

If you are inclined to vote for a Democrat, please go to the polls.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Cite unseen

Bud's class recently published a First Grade Magazine. Each child in class has one submission, and each submission includes a picture drawn by the child and the typed text of a story written by the child.

Most of the submissions are first-person narratives, and most are variations on a couple of themes. For example, it seems that many first-grade journalists subscribe to the philosophy "if it bleeds, it leads," and the magazine is rife with tales of injury and bloodshed. Jennifer writes of getting a bandaid after cutting herself while jumping on a wet log. Sophie writes of a curling iron burn. Lily writes about her dog's almost-broken leg.

Most of the others are "slice of life" pieces which offer a bit of insight into the child's world beyond the classroom:

"I was in the tree. Dad put a ladder up."

"I got out of the car and went to the apple festival."

"I saw some fire crackers outside my house. My mom was scared. My dad was happy."

"My cat was fighting with my dog. Then my cat just ran down into the cellar."

"I saw a rainbow. I was in Nana's house. It was raining. Then it cleared."

And then there's Bud - not just the only child who opted to write his story in third person, but also the only one who opted for fiction over personal narrative:

One day Bud woke up. He yawned just like Bud. He stretched just like Bud.

"I'm very strong. Wow! I've got to tell Sumbah!"

Sumbah's mom made pancakes. They fell on the floor and squished on everybody. And that's exactly what happened.

The bad news is that Bud pulled a bit of an Opal Mehta with this one and borrowed heavily from an episode of Pinky Dinky Doo.

The good news is that he recognizes the importance of plot, character, and dialogue in his writing.

Perhaps it's time to add to the list of educational acronyms to investigate for children with ASD. We already have RDI, ABA, OT, SLP...

But what about MLA?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A day at the races

I've been looking forward to Tuesday, November 7, 2006 since Wednesday, November 3, 2004. After giving myself a day to grieve the Kerry/Edwards defeat, I set my sights on the 2006 midterm elections and the possibility of Democrats winning back the majority in Congress.

The race is so close right now that it takes my breath away. I am hopeful - but, unfortunately, I've been hopeful before. And neither Al Gore nor John Kerry are in the White House.

So Tuesday night, once the polls have closed and the networks start calling races, I'll be glued to my tv. Here are some of the races I'll be watching:

California: Phil Angelides for Governor
California: Francine Busby for Congress
Connecticut: Ned Lamont for Senate
Connecticut: Diane Farrell for Congress
Florida: Jim Davis for Governor
Florida: Bill Nelson for Senate
Idaho: Jerry Brady for Governor
Massachusetts: Deval Patrick for Governor
Missouri: Claire McCaskill for Senate
Montana: John Tester for Senate
New Hampshire: Paul Hodes for Congress
New Jersey: Robert Menendez for Senate
Ohio: Sherrod Brown for Senate
Pennsylvania: Robert Casey for Senate
Pennsylvania: Patrick Murphy for Congress
Tennessee: Harold Ford for Senate
Texas: Nick Lampson for Congress
Virginia: Jim Webb for Senate
West Virginia: Robert Byrd for Senate
Wyoming: Gary Trauner for Congress

You'll notice that, like The New York Times, I'm endorsing no Republican candidates for Congress.

Then again, I'm not endorsing any Republicans at all.

I don't know who said it originally, but it still rings true to me: "Voting is a lot like driving. If you want to move forward, put it in D. If you want to go backward, put it in R."

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Haven't you always wanted a monkey?

These days at our house it's all Curious George, all the time.

Longtime readers will recall that though Bud's a huge fan of the Curious George books, he adamantly refused to go to the theater to see the Curious George movie. But earlier this fall, PBS began airing an animated Curious George series and a few weeks ago my husband brought home the Curious George movie on DVD, and since then there has been a decidedly simian vibe around here.

Bud's still interested in reading about Curious George, of course. And now he's also interested in watching Curious George. But, really, more than anything else, Bud is interested in being Curious George. Now, for those who may not be up on the Curious George plot lines, let me give you a quick overview:

George is a good little monkey, but he's always very curious. He lives with his friend, The Man with the Yellow Hat. On a regular basis, The Man with the Yellow Hat leaves George on his own for just a moment... and in that moment, mayhem ensues.

Like, for example, the time that George got his foot caught in the rungs of a chair. The Man with the Yellow Hat tried using butter to get George out, but it didn't work and he ended up having to call the fire department to free George.

Last night we were eating dinner. Bud, who was long finished, darted into the room and took a long swipe of butter on his finger. Not recognizing the context, we admonished him, wiped his hands, and sent him on his way. We heard rustling in the pantry but opted to finish our dinner instead of going to investigate.

A short time later I went to find Bud and the moment I entered the playroom I was overcome with the distinct aroma of... chicken soup. A few steps further in and I began to see the fairy dust trail of chicken bouillon granules that Bud had smuggled out of the pantry to use as a stand-in for butter (since, of course, they're both yellow.) Bud, having been freed (though we never actually heard the arrival of the fire department), had fled the scene, but his tipped, bouillon-covered chair told me everything I needed to know.

There's been a lot of that kind of thing lately: attempts at "fixing" clocks, applying "styling gel" (in the form of moisturizing lotion) to hair, proclamations shouted from the kitchen that he is making a cake and will need to break some eggs.

He has also incorporated Curious George scripts into his already complex echolalic repertoire. It took me weeks to figure out why, despite the fact that I sent him to school in layers to keep him warm on these chilly autumn days, he kept coming home from school in a short-sleeve t-shirt with his sweatshirt stuffed into his backpack. He'd been "playing" a favorite Curious George episode about a heatwave, and approaching his teachers as The Man with the Yellow Hat, exclaiming loudly, "It sure is hot today! It's roasting in here!" And, of course, they responded appropriately and helped him off with his top layer.

Weekends have become an adventure because each week, as we get closer to the days when Bud knows there is no school and no work, Bud starts hatching a Curious plan. Last weekend I asked him what he'd like to do and he announced that we'd be heading to The Big Hot City (which, incidentally, is from the same heatwave episode). I played along, wondering what he had in mind, and we found ourselves at the empty administration building at the college, where we walked the halls, rode the elevator, ate cookies, and did a whole lot of pretending about fixing the air conditioning system. The weekend before we went to the library, where we walked from room to room finding clocks for Bud to fix.

Today was a Bud and Dad day, because it was a Saturday when I needed to work. As I left the house this morning, I heard Bud announce to his father that they'd be going to the beach. I thought Dad might get off easy, as Bud had played an indoor version of Curious George Goes to the Beach earlier this week, by spreading a beach towel out on his floor, opening an umbrella as a parasol, rolling in a basketball as a beach ball, dragging in a sofa cushion to use as a rubber dinghy, donning a baseball cap and sunglasses, and preparing a picnic of fake food. Apparently, shortly after that, Bud decided that instead of the beach they should head to the country (which is not a big stretch, since we live in the country), so Dad took him to the children's museum where there are lots of lovely hiking trails.

Bud enjoyed the hiking, but mostly he enjoyed standing in the center of the museum, shaking his tail, and belting out a song about being together.

We're not sure what episode that came from.

But doesn't it make you curious?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Disdaining the forest, enjoying the trees

I've mentioned before that I'm not particularly enjoying the writing class I'm teaching, and that the blase attitude that bounces back from the glassy eyes that fill my classroom has come to make me dread the approach of each class session. So I was feeling more than a little antipathy as I thought about the one-on-one conferences I'd be having with each of my students in lieu of one of this week's classes.

I just finished the last of the student conferences. How were they, you ask?

In a word: delightful.

We talked. We engaged. We solved problems. We discussed plans. We traded ideas.

They were honest. They were humble. They were thoughtful.

They were, in other words, entirely unlike the swarming mass of discontent that fills my classroom twice each week.

Huh.

Not only is the whole more than the sum of its parts - the whole is a different entity altogether. There's a completely different ethos at play - a different level of engagement, of relationship, of cooperation.

And so it makes me wonder.

To what extent is my classroom experience this year similar to Bud's?

He loves the component parts of his school experience. He likes the children. He likes the reading, the computer, the counting, the music, the art, the gym, the recess, the snack, the writing. He likes the staff. He loves his teacher.

And yet he's had a hard week. And each night he's told me "I'm not going to school tomorrow."

So I have to ask the question: When all the individual components of Bud's day are layered and compressed and presented together, what are they adding up to for him?

And how do we deconstruct them to rethink their organization?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

If it's snowing, this must be Christmas

We woke in the pre-dawn hours this morning to a soft tap-tap-tapping sound on the windows. Bud flipped on the outside light, looked into our backyard, and squealed "Mama! It's snowing! It's snowing, Mama!"

Sure enough, big, juicy snowflakes were plopping against our deck. Within minutes, a light dust began to gather on the grass, and soon every tree branch we could see had a coating of wet snow clinging to it.

"It's snowing! It's snowing! It's snowing!" Bud sang, as he danced through the house from window to window. He glided over to the kitchen table, where I sat willing my coffee to make its way quickly to all my extremities, and he put his face close enough to mine that the glint in his eye reflected off my glasses.

"It's snowing, Mama. Is it getting to be Christmas time?"

Ah, yes. It all comes back to me now. I remember this from last year: for Bud, the end of Halloween marks the start of Christmas. Add in a snowfall and it's practically December 23rd.

One moment at a time, though. "No, Bud. It's still a long time until Christmas."

"It's getting to be what, Mama?"

"I don't know - what, Bud?"

"It's getting to be Snow Time."

"Yes, it sure is. It's getting to be Snow Time."

And Snow Time is, in itself, a cause for celebration. Just ask Bud. This morning, he dashed through the house digging accessories out of storage and was dressed and ready for school in record time. Despite the fact that the flurries stopped after only a light dusting and despite the fact that the ground was still visible under patches of snow, Bud headed out the door in full winter gear - snow parka, fleece hat, scarf, mittens, snow boots. He even had his snow pants tucked safely in his backpack.

For recess.

Just in case.

'Cause it's Snow Time. And in Snow Time... well, you just never know.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween magic

I've never been a huge fan of Halloween before, but I have to admit - this year's festivities have left me feeling positively Wiccan.

In the past, Bud has shared my take-it-or-leave it Halloween attitude. There was not much about the holiday that appealed to him - the costumes, the talking to strangers, the gaggles of masked children making squealing noises. Even the candy was not a draw - for Bud, if it's not M&M's or Twizzlers, he's not particularly interested.

Not so this year.

Bud's excitement didn't really kick in until the weekend, but by Sunday he was ready to don his costume and start trick-or-treating spit-spot. We spent the next two days in a constant state of counting down and reciting each activity that would take place: Bud would bring his magician costume to school in a bag; after snack, he would put on his costume and join the costume parade around the school; then his class would have a Halloween party; after school, Nana would pick him up and take him home; after supper, Mom would come home and he would put his costume back on; then Mom and Dad and Bud would all go trick-or-treating. We also spent a great deal of time breaking down the trick-or-treating experience into its component parts: you ring the doorbell; somebody you don't know opens the door; you say "Trick or Treat"; they hold out candy; you open your bag; they put candy in the bag; you say "thank you"; we go to another house and do the whole thing again.

Of course, for two days as we recited this litany together I had a silent litany of Plans B, C and D running through my head: We would bring Bud's costume to school in a bag, and give him verbal assurance that he did not have to put it on or participate in the parade or go to the party at school; after supper, Bud would decide if trick-or-treating still sounded like a good idea; if it did, Mom and Dad and Bud would drive to a house; Bud would either go to the door or not; if he went to the door, he would either speak to the resident or not; he would either get candy or not; we would either continue to another house or not. If at any point trick-or-treating seemed to Bud to be a bad idea, we would head to Dunkin Donuts and get a treat we didn't have to work quite so hard for.

As it turned out, my silent litany was completely unnecessary. Bud was delighted when the time came to put on his top hat and cape and become The Amazing Bud. He marched in the parade. He attended the party. And he was absolutely giddy by the time I got home to pick him up for trick-or-treating.

Bud, Daddy and I drove to a lovely neighborhood with houses that were fully decorated for the season. Without hesitation, Bud strutted up the long driveway of the first house with his wand held high and he pressed the doorbell with gusto. He smiled as a woman opened the door, and then - out of the blue - a small dog charged around the corner and rushed up behind her at full speed. She jumped, Bud jumped, and I thought "Dunkin Donuts, here we come."

But she held the dog, and Bud held his ground. He collected his candy, thanked her, and walked away, saying "Let's go to another house."

And another house, and another, and another. Ring, stranger, talk, open, thank. Ring, stranger, talk, open, thank. With each new house his confidence grew. We approached houses with cobwebs hanging, houses with spooky music playing, and even a house with a ghost that popped out of a pumpkin. Along the way we encountered pirates and gypsies and assorted other ghouls. And Bud took it all in stride.

As we neared the end of the neighborhood, I realized that I hadn't thought through a Plan B for how we'd bring the evening to a close if things went well. I wondered if we were in store for a tear-filled finale when I told him it was time to go home. But Bud beat me to it, suggesting "Let's go home and have a treat!", and Dad and I agreed that it was a great idea.

I never imagined that a no-big-deal-holiday like Halloween could feel like such a significant milestone for us. It's funny. In the Celtic tradition, Halloween marks the time when we prepare for the dark months to come. I know that the calendar says that winter is approaching, and I know that it means that the days are getting shorter. But this year, for our family, Halloween felt like a step out of the darkness and like a leap into the light.