Saturday, June 28, 2008

Unity, or: What I did on my summer vacation

You know how sometimes you're just in the right place at the right time? I had a lot of that this week.

First I discovered that my vacation schedule was coordinating well with the work schedules of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, making it possible for me to join them at their historic unity rally in the tiny, rural town of Unity, New Hampshire.

Then I discovered that friends of mine were equally available and equally up for the adventure.

We spent an extraordinary amount of time simply getting to the event. No cars were allowed in town, so like everyone else who attended, we drove to a ski area, stood in a long line to board a school bus, then rode, rode, rode across the back roads of New Hampshire to reach the tiny elementary school that was hosting the rally.

When we arrived, we discovered that most of the other 4,000 people in attendance were already there. My friends and I hiked about a third of a mile to find the end of the line of people waiting to walk through the metal detectors to enter the field. We'd been in line a short time, chatting and soaking up the atmosphere, when a woman with a hand full of wristbands sidled up to me and said in a low voice, "Are the three of you together?"

I couldn't imagine where this was going, but I told her that we were.

"Would you be interested in sitting on the bleachers behind the podium where Barack and Hillary will be?" she asked.

"Yes, we would," I answered, as I turned to my friends in disbelief.

She handed us red wristbands, then we joined a small party of other folks she'd pulled out of line as she marched us past the throngs of people waiting to enter and up to an entrance for special guests. We entered at the same time as Carol Shea-Porter, Congresswoman from New Hampshire.

We continued on with our little group of wristband-wearers and travelled through a maze of barricades and bouncers, until we reached the front of the field - a small bleacher section set up directly behind the stage and directly in line with a bank of news cameras.

The pied piper of wristbands passed us off to another campaign worker, who looked the three of us over, sized us up on I-don't-know-what criteria, then said definitively, "Okay, this row - first you, then you, and then you on the end." I was the "you" on the end.

It was surreal.

More campaign workers came out, handing us signs, working up the energy, and reminding us that we were the "face of the campaign." The energy built to fever pitch when Barack and Hillary took the stage, and we spent the better part of an hour applauding and hooting and chanting and holding up signs and - mostly - continuing to marvel at our outrageous good fortune.

When Barack and Hillary left the stage to work the crowd, we left the bleachers and made our way down to the field, with very little thought that we'd actually make contact. But - since that's just how our luck was running - we did, and now I can say that I shook the hand of Barack Obama, the next President of the United States.

Then it was over and there were 4,000 of us waiting to climb back onto school busses to make our way back to our cars. We decided to take our time and not fight the crowds, so we wandered back through the maze of barricades to try to find one of those hamburgers we'd heard the Kiwanis Club of Unity was selling.

On our way, a woman with a video camera stopped us. "Could I ask you a few questions?" she asked.

Well, of course she did. It was that kind of day.

She interviewed both of my friends, who were characteristically thoughtful and articulate - the kind of interviewees the camera loves. As she said goodbye we asked who she was with, knowing that she could easily be there representing the local cable access channel.

Not so. Her response: "Associated Press."


By this point we were downright giddy. We ate our burgers and talked about whether or not we would ever again wash our Obama-shaken hands and watched as slowly, slowly, slowly the crowd thinned as the campaign staffers loaded school busses and sent them off to their lots - a round trip that meant it would be an hour before each bus would return to reload. We were among the last hundred or so to board the busses - which we did, not in ordinary rain, but in a downpour of epic proportion (so much for never washing our hands again...).

I spent the evening surfing the web and looking at footage from the event - "Bud, look! There's Barack, and Hillary, and Mom!"; "Hey! Hillary and I are making the same face in this picture!"; "Why am I the only person in the crowd who is acting like she's at a rock concert?" MSNBC, ABC, CBS - I was everywhere. It seems that the campaign staffer did me a big favor by insisting I be the person sitting on the end. I was in direct line with the cameras, unlike my friends who were visible when the cameras panned the crowd, but were cut out when they zoomed in on the candidates. I felt bad for a minute - felt like the bad spotlight-hogging friend.

Then I remembered the Associated Press.

Yes. My friends are in syndication - close up, larger-than-life, and articulate as ever. Our fifteen minutes of fame has already lasted an hour and a half.

And the rally itself?

Outstanding. Inspiring. Invigorating. Motivating.

Unity. Hope. Change.

Fired up. Ready to go.

Yes we can.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Now that's a lot of good

I mentioned previously that Bud likes a certain Trace Adkins song. Apparently, I didn't realize just how much he likes it.

We were driving in the car the other day and Bud was sitting silently in the back seat, listening intently to his iPod. Suddenly, his voice rang out and filled the car with a passion-filled declaration:

"Ladies Love Country Boys is MILLIONS of good!"

Then he fell silent again, as he calmly returned to his focused listening.

Millions of good, people. And to think the download only cost me ninety-nine cents.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


It seems there is another MOM-NOS out there posting on the web.

I stumbled upon her posts through a Google search and discovered that "MomNos" is a "Senior Member" of the Autism Speaks community and has been an active poster on their boards since June 2007. I also discovered that she and I have radically different philosophies: she lists her interests as "fighting autism" and her occupation as "helping my child recover from autism."

So, let me just clarify for anyone who might read both this blog and the Autism Speaks boards, and who might be thinking I have a split personality:

She is not me.

I am not her.

We are interested in and occupied with entirely different things.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Jeremy Cabbage: A hero for our time

Children's author David Elliott creates characters who are much like the author himself: full of humor, full of heart, and just the tiniest bit subversive. I know this for two reasons: first, because David is a friend of mine, and second, because I never miss an opportunity to fall in love with one of the characters he's created. My love affair started with Roscoe Wizzle, the boy who took on corporate greed and corruption when he discovered that fast food was turning him into a bug in The Transmogrification of Roscoe Wizzle. Then it was Evangeline Mudd, the intrepid daughter of primatologists, who taught me the word "brachiate" (now one of my favorite words - you'd be amazed how often it comes in handy) in Evangeline Mudd and the Golden-Haired Apes of the Ikkinasti Jungle. And now there's Jeremy Cabbage.

Jeremy is the hero of Jeremy Cabbage and the Living Museum of Human Oddballs and Quadruped Delights. When we meet him, he is an orphan living at Harpwich's Home for Mean Dogs, Ugly Cats, and Strey Children, a joyless institution in a joyless city - the Metropolis, under the miserly rule of Baron Ignatius Fyodor von Strompie III, whose own sunny and luxurious home at Helios stands in stark contrast to the dilapidated and colorless world beyond its gates.

As we get to know the Baron, we discover that the conditions in the Metropolis have developed less because he is purely evil, and more because he is short-sighted and focused solely on his own self-interest - which makes his style of leadership seem all too familiar in the modern day and makes the plight of the citizens of the Metropolis hit just a bit too close to home. Through their response, Jeremy and his friends - which include a sapient pig, a wuman cannonball, and a couple tattooed with every word in the English language - remind us about the danger of passivity, the insidious nature of intolerance, the power of community, and the responsibility we have to choose to do what is right over what is safe.

There's another theme in Jeremy Cabbage that also hits close to my heart. It explores how we, as parents, hold dreams and expectations for our children when they are born, but sometimes discover as our children grow and develop that our real-life children are very different from the children of our imagination (does this sound familiar to anyone else?) Jeremy reminds us that our mission as parents is to love our children not in spite of who they are, but because of who they are. As one character explains, when asked why he'd want to adopt a waif like Jeremy, "Why does anyone want a child? To love, of course." To love, indeed.

You'll be hearing a lot more about Jeremy Cabbage in the future; the movie rights were optioned by Fox 2000 long before the book was published. But don't wait to be introduced to Jeremy and his friends on the big screen. Get to know them now, in depth and on paper - and be prepared to fall in love.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ladies love country boys

Ask Bud who his favorite singer is, and he'll give you the same answer every time: "Dierks Bentley."

But put your head next to his while he's listening to his iPod these days, and it's likely that you'll hear a different voice singing these lyrics:

"Now she's riding in the middle of his pickup truck, blaring Hank Jr., yelling "Turn it up!"..."

It's Trace Adkins belting out "Ladies Love Country Boys." Bud can't get enough of it.

For weeks he's been asking me to download it and I've been resisting. I'm not even sure why. The song isn't offensive. It's just - well, it's just such a guy song and, as I've mentioned before, I'm not sure that I'm ready for my little boy to turn into a guy.

I'm afraid there's not much I can do about it, though, especially when I consider the note that Bud brought home with him before his last school break. I'd unpacked his backpack and there among a stack of math and spelling worksheets was a folded scrap of paper with tattered edges, adorned with stickers of bunnies and raccoons, and labeled "To: You Bud."

Inside were more stickers and a handwritten message:

hope you have a Happy vecashion
Love Kelly
P.S. You are so cool
I like contry to
I like Dirks Bently,
talor SwiFt, Carie
undr wood.

So in the face of this irrefutable evidence, I think I have to admit that Trace and Bud just might be right.

Ladies really do love country boys.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Storms, inside and out

I've been following the online weather forecast closely, loading and reloading the page, willing it to change. But so far, it's not working. Every time I check, it tells me the same thing - that this is what is headed our way today:

This is what's in store for us tomorrow:

This is what Sunday will bring:

And this is what's coming Monday:

If you're a long-time reader, you may recall that two years ago Bud developed an overwhelming fear of thunderstorms. Last year, it got so terrible, so consuming, so all-encompassing, that it got in the way of Bud's ability to function day-to-day. It made medication a necessity instead of an option.

So, though I complained incessantly about the record snowfall around here this winter, I was also glad that the winter brought with it respite from thunderstorm season. But it's nearly summer now. And the thunder has returned.

I knew it was coming, of course, and we have been preparing for it. We've been talking about how sometimes things that scare you when you're younger aren't as scary when you're older. Bud's been talking about thunder with his psychologist, Dr. Susan, who helped us develop an alternative thunderstorm plan that would give us something to look forward to - we decided on a cookie party, as both Bud and I know well the restorative power of toll house.

Dr. Susan even created a beautiful Sesame Street book for Bud, in which Telly and his hamster Chuckie Sue confide to Baby Bear their fear of thunderstorms. Baby Bear comforts them and explains in very basic terms what makes thunder happen ("Thunderstorms happen when two big clouds have a pushing contest. When they rub their hands together, they make a loud noise.") The Count joins them, and explains that counting after a flash of lightning will tell you how far away the storm is. And, finally, Cookie Monster ventures along and announces "Me going to special thunderstorm cookie party. Me like to eat cookies in storm!" He invites them all along, explaining "Everybody eat cookie. Not mind thunder." They all go along to the cookie party and Telly and Chuckie Sue discover that they don't really mind the thunderstorm at all. Bud loves Dr. Susan's book, especially because it features some big bright illustrations of all his favorite characters, so it opens the door to conversation about the subject in a mostly nonthreatening way.

We've also gotten help from Dr. Donovan, the psychiatrist who manages Bud's medication. He has helped to tweak the dosage and timing of Bud's medications over the past several months to find the right balance for Bud to function at his best. And he also reminded us that though thunder is loud, we are too. He told us that we can make our own storms, and that we can be as loud as - and even louder than - the thunder. So, on beautiful sunny days when the forecast calls for nothing but clear skies, we've practiced making our own loud banging noises - rattling an entire roll of aluminum foil, stomping our feet as loud as we can, banging together on drums.

And when the thunder finally arrived last weekend, we were as ready as we could be.

I knew it was due sometime on Saturday, though I wasn't sure when. I didn't mention it to Bud, but planned on sticking close to home for the day. The morning was overcast, but the rain hadn't started, so I thought it was safe to take a quick shower. I was fully lathered up when the bathroom door flew open and I heard Bud's anxious voice asking, "Was that you, Mama?"

"Was what me, Bud?" I asked, though I was afraid I knew the answer.

"That banging sound, Mama? That was just you? That wasn't thunder?"

I started rinsing as fast as I could. Then I heard it: the big, loud, unmistakable boom of thunder.

"That was just you again, Mama?" Bud asked. I could hear it in his voice: he wanted me to say that it was just me. He knew it was thunder, but he wanted me to assure him that it wasn't. I hesitated for an instant, then wrapped a towel around myself and climbed out, dripping and still a little soapy.

"No, that wasn't me, Bud," I said. "That was a little bit of thunder."

Bud started to panic.

I rushed him into my room, pulled down the shades, pulled on some clothes, and put us both to work.

"We'll show that thunder, Bud," I said. "We'll show him that we can be louder than him!" We climbed onto my bed and started banging on the wall together. I heard the rumbling outside, but saw that Bud was too busy banging to notice it. I banged louder and shouted "WE'RE LOUDER THAN YOU, THUNDER! WE'RE NOT AFRAID OF YOU, THUNDER!"

"Let's be even louder, Bud," I said. "Let's stomp our feet, too." Bud was still too distracted to pay attention to what was going on outside, but it occurred to me that a single flash of lightning could redirect his attention and ruin everything.

"Bud!" I shouted. "We need lightning! Can you make the lightning?"

I kept up the banging and stomping and shouting while Bud threw open the door to my closet and flicked the light on and off. I listened for the thunder outside. It had stopped.

We'd made it.

I stopped banging and the sound of the rain - a light tapping when we'd started, but now a full downpour - filled the room.

"Mama, the rain..." Bud said, anxiety creeping back into his voice.

"Let me show you how to make a rainstorm, Bud," I said. And together, we rubbed our hands, flicked our fingers, tapped our legs, and stomped our feet as we simulated the rise and fall of a downpour.

As soon as our rainstorm ended, and before his anxiety returned, I asked "I forget, Bud. What fun thing did we say we were going to do if there was a storm? What did Telly and Chuckie Sue do?"

"Have a cookie party!" Bud answered.

I dashed to the kitchen and grabbed some cookies, then we cuddled together in my bed (Cookies in bed??? This must be a special occasion!) and celebrated a job well done.

"We scared the thunder, Mama?" Bud asked.

"We did, honey. We were even louder than the thunder."

"We scared the thunder all the way to Canada, Mama?" Bud asked.

"All the way to Canada, Bud," I said. "Then all the way to the North Pole, and then right back up to the sky."

"The thunder said, 'Eek! I'm afraid of those people noises!'" Bud said.

We'd survived the first storm of the season. Bud seemed to be managing well. All the same, though, for the rest of the day, and through the next day and most of this week, little signs of the old storm perseveration peeked through - jumping at the slightest noises, asking repeatedly about impending weather, and making proclamations and assumptions based on false correlations: "I'm not wearing my purple Joe shirt. That makes a storm." or "The storm was Saturday? There will be a storm next Saturday?"

And so I'm braced for the onslaught of foul weather headed our way. I'm hoping that homemade thunderstorms can continue to carry the day for days on end. I'm hoping that the thunder runs screaming to Canada at the very first sound of our people noises. And I'm hoping that no matter how many chocolate chip cookies we eat, they never lose their magic.