Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry milestone

I wondered when it would happen. I wondered IF it would happen. I wondered if someday I would need to sit him down and deconstruct the magic, and I dreaded it.

Then, last Easter, Bud started laying the groundwork and testing the waters of disbelief. He didn't come out and ask, and I didn't come out and say, but together we danced around the idea of the Easter Bunny and we opened the question for consideration: just how much overlap was there between the bunny and Mom?

Bud hasn't raised the question since, not even through the Christmas excitement that started for him before the Thanksgiving turkey was fully digested. He wrote a letter to Santa and has been talking for a month about all the things that the man in red would bring. I did nothing to dissuade him.

So, I'm not sure what brought about today's turn of events. I'm not sure if kids at school have been talking about it, or if Bud has been processing it internally, or if he just suddenly had an epiphany, but this morning, as we talked about tomorrow being Christmas morning, and as he peppered me with questions to confirm that, in fact, the living room would be full of presents when he woke up, he paused, then asked me casually, "Are you going to be Santa tonight, Mom?"

I answered nonchalantly, but honestly: "Yes, I am."

He didn't flinch. "And you'll bring presents for me?"

"I sure will."

"You'll have a sack full of toys and come down the stairs and put them under the Christmas tree?"

"That's right."

He was quiet for a minute, and I didn't know what that meant. "How do you feel about that, Bud?" I asked.

"I feel good," he said.

About an hour later he approached me again and said with authority, "Santa can't fit down my chimney."

"No, he can't," I answered.

"You're going to be Santa?"

"Yes, I am."

He has confirmed it at least fifty times over the course of the day, but with no sign of dismay or disillusionment or disappointment.

Tonight, as we were getting ready for bed, he asked, "And you hide the Easter eggs?"

"Yes, I do."

"You're the Easter Mom?"

"I'm the Easter Mom."

I've wondered for years how this chapter would end. I always imagined that it would be emotional for him, but it doesn't seem to be. I never considered how bittersweet it would be for me. But it really is. He is still fiercely devoted to the Teletubbies. He is still so innocent in so many ways. But I think that today, right in front of my eyes, Bud officially became a Big Kid.

It's a wonderful thing. It's developmentally appropriate, which means that, for Bud, it's probably an indicator of great things to come. And yet, I can already feel the little empty spot inside me that will never again be filled in quite the same way.

It's hard; but it's good - and this is a time to focus on the sweet and not the bitter. So, Merry Christmas, my friends, to those who celebrate. And all the best of the season, from my big kid and me.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'd better go.

I've got a stocking to fill.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Heart prints

Winter has finally arrived and the year's first snowfall meant that we had to haul the winter garb out of storage before we could make a trip to the grocery store. Bud pulled on his boots and climbed into the car, but we were only a few feet into the store before he let out a howl of pain.

"Ow!" he yelled. "My foot!"

I leaned down to pull off his boot. "Where does it hurt, Bud?" I asked.

"My heart hurts!" he wailed.

My own heart skipped a beat. "Your HEART hurts?"

"My FOOT heart," he said, grabbing his foot and pointing to the bottom.

And then my own heart melted.

"Oh, honey," I said. "Not heart."

"Not heart?"

"No, not your heart. Your sole."

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Every smile a memory: Cassidy, Dierks, and the transformative power of friendship

Have I got a story for you.

You need to sit down, for two reasons:

First, it's a long story.

And second, if you've been reading this blog for a while, then my opening line is going to knock you off your feet.

Okay, are you ready? Are you sitting? Here it comes:

Bud met Dierks Bentley.

I know. I KNOW!

Bud!!!

Dierks Bentley!!!

I know!!!

But it's so, so, so much cooler than that.

So, let me back up.

Bud had a tough summer, behaviorally speaking. First it was tough. Then it was tougher. Then it was nearly unlivable. I'd been working closely with Bud's doctor all along, but when we reached "unlivable," our problem-solving kicked into high gear and we made some significant medication shifts.

And, at just about the same time, Dierks and Cassidy Bentley rode to our rescue.

Dierks was touring with Brad Paisley and had a show scheduled at a venue that's just a couple of hours from our house - an easy drive on country roads. The show was at a county fair, which, I knew, could be a double-edged sword: a high probability of a family-friendly environment, but also a high possibility of sensory overload, with crowds and rides and animals and activity. But still: Bud and I were stuck in a no-win cycle of troubling behavior (his) and inadequate responses (mine). I felt like we needed something to shake up the pattern.

Something big.

If there's one thing that I've learned as the parent of a child with autism, it's this: when somebody says "Please let me know if there's ever anything I can do," what they really mean is this: "Please let me know if there's ever anything I can do." Seriously. Lots of people offer support and empathy. Lots of people say things like "I don't know how you do it" and "My heart really goes out to you" and "That sounds really tough." And I really, really appreciate their support. But those people who say "Please let me know if there's ever anything I can do?" They mean it. Now, they might not be willing to give you a kidney, but they really do want to help if they can. Take them at their word, and - trust me on this one - if there's ever anything they can do, please let them know.

Luckily for me, Cassidy and Dierks are "Please let me know if there's ever anything I can do" people. Because this year, as the tour swung close to our house, I had a hunch that there was something they could do. I contacted Cassidy and, after acknowledging that I was quite aware that it's bad form to respond to someone's generosity with a request for more, I floated an idea. I gave her the background on the tour's proximity to our house, and I told her that I thought that Bud was probably not ready to manage the concert environment. But, I said, I thought he might be able to manage a meet-and-greet. And, I said, the reason I was willing to boorishly plow in and make the request was that I had a hunch that if Bud found himself face-to-face with Dierks Bentley, it would be an "Anything Is Possible" moment for him. And if Bud needed anything at that time, it was an "Anything Is Possible" moment.

Cassidy responded right away: "Yes. Absolutely." I told her that I wasn't at all confident that I would get Bud through the gate, that there was every possibility that we'd drive two hours and he'd refuse to get out of the car, that he would panic at the entrance and we'd have to call the whole thing off. She said that was fine, that Bud's comfort was the most important consideration, and that we could give it a try knowing that everyone would be flexible and take their cues from him.

I know. Incredible.

As the day approached, I watched Bud closely. We'd just made a huge shift in his medication. I tried to assess its effectiveness and predict his ability to manage a meeting with his hero. A couple of times, I nearly called it off. The night before our scheduled meeting, Cassidy sent me a reassuring e-mail, and I had the sense that, though she was back home in Nashville and wouldn't be there for The Meeting, she was still as nervous and excited as I was.

And then, the big day came. I woke to Bud's face in my face, his body curled up next to mine. "Can we go to the dinosaur museum today, Mom?"

"No, Bud," I said. "Not today. We're going to do something else today."

"Like what?"

"Well," I started, "today we're going to meet Dierks Bentley."

Silence.

I looked at Bud, whose face was buried in the pillow. His body didn't move. The silence continued. And continued.

I started to wonder if he'd fallen back to sleep.

Finally, when I couldn't stand it any longer, I said, tentatively, "Bud?"

He kept his in the pillow and replied, "I don't think so, Mom."

I paused a moment, weighing my options. To push or not to push?

"Oh, I think so, Bud," I said, trying to keep my tone casual. "Dierks is going to be at a fair near here, and he would REALLY like to meet you."

"I'll just stay with Nana and Papa," he said.

"Well," I said, grateful that we had several hours before we'd need to leave home, "let's just think about it. We don't need to decide right now."

We laid there quietly side by side, each of us trying to make sense of the situation and figure out what to do next. After a long time, Bud spoke.

"Dierks would like to meet me?"

"He sure would," I said. "Look, Bud, I want to show you an e-mail that Cassidy sent me."

I powered up my laptop, pulled up her e-mail, and read it out loud as Bud sat next to me reading along silently. Then, I highlighted the things I wanted him to think about. "Look, Bud. Cassidy says three important things. First, she says that Dierks' friend Chris will find a quiet place for us to see Dierks, so even though we will be at a fair, it won't be noisy. Second, she says that the most important thing is for you to feel comfortable. You can do whatever you want to do, and you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. And third, she says that if you want to, you can see Dierks' tour bus."

I waited. I knew that the tour bus was the ultimate carrot. One of Bud's favorite videos on dierks.com features Dierks giving a tour of his bunk on the bus. Bud loves it so much that he convinced me to string up a curtain by his bed so he could have a bunk of his own. I knew that the idea of seeing the ACTUAL bunk would be almost irresistible.

"I could see the bus?" he asked.

"That's what Cassidy said."

"I could see Dierks' bunk?" he asked.

"Well, maybe," I said. "His bunk is on the bus."

Bud didn't say anything. We finished up our morning routine, then headed down the stairs for breakfast. From the kitchen, I could hear Bud open the door to the room where his grandparents were sleeping.

"Hey, Bud," Nana greeted him. "What's up?"

"I'm meeting Dierks Bentley," he said.

Score one for the tour bus.

As the morning progressed, Bud's excitement grew, and soon he was dressed in a Dierks Bentley t-shirt, considering whether or not to bring along his guitar, and firing questions at me about what length Dierks' hair would be, whether or not he'd have a beard, and what sort of shirt he'd be wearing. In other words, Bud had found his groove.

I did my best to prepare him, though I wasn't sure what to expect myself. But I played it out this way: We would drive for about two hours until we got to the fairground. There would be lots of cars, and we might have to park far away and take a shuttle to the gate. We would wait in line at the gate to buy tickets to the fair (but, I was quick to add, we would not actually have to GO to the fair). Then we would walk through the fairgrounds to get to the area where Dierks was. Dierks' friend Chris would meet us there, and he would bring us to a quiet area. Then Dierks would come and say hello. I carefully avoided the specifics of what would happen when he met Dierks, so that I wasn't setting up false expectations, but in my mind I pictured 5-10 minutes of contact, during which Bud might or might not make eye contact, might or might not say anything, and might or might not let me take a picture of the two of them together. And of course, maybe we would get to see the bus. Then, we would head back through the fairgrounds, make our way back to the car, and drive two hours back home. And I knew that if our day was anything even close to that, it would be a dream come true for Bud.

My first indication that things might not play out exactly as I'd imagined came as we drove up the highway toward the fairground and my cell phone rang. It was Chris Alderman, Dierks' tour manager, calling to confirm our meeting time, to let me know how excited they were to have us visit, and to reassure me that they were all prepared to play it by ear. He told me that he'd put my name on the list for backstage parking so that we wouldn't have to worry about dealing with the fair crowds. At least 50% of my anxiety lifted in that moment.

"And, hey," he said, "why don't you guys plan on grabbing some dinner from catering with us as well? Then you won't have to worry about that either." I'd packed a peanut butter sandwich for Bud, but eagerly agreed to the plan.

I said goodbye to Chris and filled Bud in on the latest development. I was relieved to know that we wouldn't have to face the potential landmines in the parking/gate/fairground process. Then it occurred to me that there was another piece of information I should share with Bud, because if we were going to be in the backstage area eating in the catering tent, then...

"Hey, Bud," I said. "Just so you know, there's also a chance that we might see Brad Paisley."

Bud's response was immediate and decisive. "No. Just Dierks."

I knew what he meant. He likes Brad Paisley, but really, enough was enough. What was next? Hey! Watch me pull Kenny Chesney out of my hat!

"You don't have to talk to him," I said quickly. "You just might see him around. Walking by or something." I dropped it, but thought to myself, how is this my life?

Before long, we reached the fairground. Having no idea how to find backstage parking, I chose the gate furthest away from it. I texted Chris to tell him we'd be there soon, then wound through slow-moving traffic, talking to a steady stream of mostly kind parking attendants as I fumbled through an explanation of what I was trying to do. Finally, I got to the parking attendant stationed right by what appeared to be the backstage entrance. I don't know if he'd been getting a lot of stories like mine or what, but he was not buying what I was selling. Bud started getting nervous in the back seat ("But, Mom, where is Dierks?"), and I was just about to start to panic, when I heard a friendly voice approach the car: "Hey! You made it!"

It was Chris, who had a quick chat with the parking attendant, then motioned to me to swing my car around and through the now-open gate. Relief washed over me as I pulled through and Chris motioned to a spot just inside the gate. As soon as the car stopped, Bud and I climbed out, and I was about to start thanking Chris when a voice to our right said "Hey, guys!"

We were parked next to Dierks Bentley's bus. And Dierks' head was sticking out the window.

"Bud, look," I said. "Who's that?"

Bud glanced up, then turned his back to Dierks, stared down at the ground, and said "That's Dierks."

I looked back at Dierks, who motioned to me - Should I come out?

I shrugged and nodded (I don't know; I think so.), and in a flash he was with us. "Hey, Bud! It's nice to meet you!"

Bud kept his eyes down, but lifted his hand and said to the ground, "Hey, Dierks!" I wasn't sure how to read him. Was this moving too fast? Did we need to slow down?

I put my head next to his and asked, "Hey, Bud, what do you think about this?"

He answered softly, but clearly: "I think it's really cool."

We all exhaled, and I said, "It is cool, Bud."

Dierks asked Bud if he'd like to take a walk around, Bud said that he would, and then we were off. The ice was broken and we were all, surprisingly, getting comfortable quickly. We walked through the grounds, as Dierks and Chris gave us the lay of the land, pointing out tents and trucks and trailers until we were at the back of the stage area. As we approached the stairs, I saw a familiar face heading down them.

"And there's Brad Paisley," said Dierks, as Brad walked toward us and Dierks made introductions.

Brad said something. At least, I think he did. I know his lips moved. All I could really hear, though, was the voice inside my head yelling to Bud, "PLEASE don't offend Brad Paisley!" And Bud must have heard, because he answered the questions Brad asked him, then stood by patiently as Brad talked shop with Dierks.

When they were done and Brad said goodbye, we turned back to the stage, which was swarming with crew members wheeling equipment and instruments, shouting to be heard over cranking music. Dierks surveyed the scene in front of us and without missing a beat said, "Hey, Bud, would you like to see the bus?"

"Sure!" Bud replied, and they walked side by side, their comfort with each other already visible, as they headed back toward our car.



And then, we entered the promised land: the tour bus. Dierks gave Bud the all-access tour, opening cabinets and drawers to show Bud where they store the peanut butter and where they keep their shoes, a view of each guy's bunk, and - the best part for Bud - Dierks' bunk - the very bunk that Bud had seen on video so many times. Bud was delighted. Dierks explained that the other guys were out playing golf, but would be back soon, and then he asked Bud if he'd like to go get some dinner. Bud was quick to agree.

We made our way to the tent where the catering staff had laid out a ham dinner buffet. Bud looked at the ham, potatoes, veggies, and other decidedly non-Bud foods, looked at me warily, and said, "Mom?"

"You know, Dierks," I said, understanding Bud immediately, "Bud has a peanut butter sandwich in the car. He and I will just run and grab it, then we'll meet you back here."

"Why don't I just bring my dinner and we can eat on the bus?" Dierks suggested. "Would that work?"

"YEAH!" Bud cheered.

We headed back to the bus, and Dierks and Bud settled down at the table and started chatting.


It was about that time that I realized I could easily slip out and get my nails done and the two of them would carry on just fine without me. But I wasn't about to miss a minute of it, as I sat slack-jawed and watched my son not just respond, not just interact, but actually initiate real conversation by seeking out topics that he thought might interest his friend.

"So, Dierks, I was just wondering," Bud started, "what does Jake and George (Dierks' dogs) like to do with you?"

And then:

"So, Dierks, I was just wondering, does Evie like to watch PBS Kids?"

And for each question Bud raised, Dierks had an answer, and they bantered back and forth about all the topics that really matter - how great peanut butter sandwiches are (Bud's looked so good that Dierks made one for himself), what music was on Bud's iPod, and, of course, which country artists they liked. GAC was playing softly on the big-screen TV, and from time to time Bud would identify a face that popped onto the screen.

"Look, Dierks! It's Keith Anderson! Do you know Keith Anderson?"

"Oh yeah," Dierks replied, "he's great."

"Yeah! He's great!" Bud agreed happily. And so it went - Rodney Atkins, Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney - Bud was thrilled to know that Dierks knew all the same guys he knew. Bud kept an eye on the TV even when other things had his primary focus, and every now and then he'd shriek "LOOK! It's YOU, Dierks Bentley!," and we'd all shift our gaze to see Dierks, larger than life, filling the TV screen.

After the peanut butter had been eaten and the country singers discussed, Bud thought of another question. "So, Dierks, I was just wondering," Bud asked casually, as though he had not seen several of them on the bus, "do you have a guitar?"

"Well, yes, I do," said Dierks. "Would you like to see it?"

"Oh, sure!" Bud said, with feigned surprise.

Dierks grabbed a guitar, sat down, and strummed.

"So, Dierks," Bud said, "I was just wondering - do you know a song, 'So So Long'?"

"Well, yes, I do!" said Dierks - which is not surprising, since he wrote it. And then he started playing it, while Bud shivered with excitement, and pounded his feet along with the music.

"Are you drumming, Bud?" I asked.

"No," he replied, incredulously. "I'm tap dancing!"

But of course.

And then, it was Total Request Live, as Bud shouted out songs and Dierks played them - "Settle for a Slowdown," "Sideways," "Wish It Would Break," "Midnight Radio" - even an encore of "So So Long." The hits just kept on coming.

Then Bud said, "How about 'I Wanna Make You Close You Eyes'?"

"Oh yeah!" Dierks said, "You mean the song I wrote for Evie?"

"Yeah!" Bud cheered.

"Wow, Bud, you were right!" I said.

"What?" Dierks said, off-handedly. "Did somebody guess that?" And then he launched into the song and, to Bud's complete delight, changed up the lyrics to make them unmistakeably about his baby girl. Bud even laughed out loud when Dierks got to the part about her leaving a trail of dirty diapers for him to follow.

When Dierks stood up to get something, Bud couldn't hold it in another moment. He stood up, too, threw his arms around Dierks and squealed "You're the BEST, Dierks Bentley!" (I have to say: I couldn't have agreed more.)

A short time later, we heard voices coming from the front of the bus, as the members of Dierks' band returned from their golf game. We all looked up as the first person walked on to the bus.

"Hey!" Bud shouted, "That's Tim Sargent! He plays steel guitar!"

Dierks and Tim both exploded with cheers for Bud's accurate ID, as the next band member joined us.

"There's Steve, Bud," Dierks said. "What does he play?"

"He plays drums!" Bud said, to more cheers.

But I knew that Dierks was setting the bar low. "Wait, Bud," I said. "Steve who?"

"Steve Misamore!" said Bud, spotting the guy on his heels. "And that's Robbie Harrington! He plays bass."

The guys were delighted, and though I knew there was one more band member yet to join us, I also knew he'd be the easiest one for Bud. He walked on to the bus, but instead of his trademark cowboy hat - the hat he always wears on stage - he was sporting a baseball cap.

Bud froze. He turned quickly to me, "Who's that, Mom?"

"Take another look, Bud," I said. "You know who that is. He's just wearing a different kind of hat today."

Bud looked again, then turned back to me more insistently, "Who IS it, Mom?"

I leaned over and said softly: "Well, he usually wears a cowboy hat, and he plays guitar."

"THAT'S ROD JANZEN!" Bud shrieked, and the rest of the bus cheered in response. Bud had officially won them over.

The guys made their way to the bunk area at the back of the bus, and Rod returned seconds later with his cowboy hat in hand. He plopped it on Bud's head and said, "Bud, I'll need this for the show tonight, but you can wear it until then." Then Cowboy Bud sat down next to Dierks for an impromptu guitar lesson.

Dierks suggested to Bud that they go back and check out the stage area, and Bud readily agreed. We left the bus, and the two of them fell into step together, chatting as they walked. I trailed a few feet behind, marvelling at how naturally they were interacting and at how quickly they'd become friends.

When we reached the stage, I saw that though some of the activity had died down, it was still very loud and fairly busy, and I realized I'd left our supply-filled backpack on the bus.

"Bud," I asked, "do you want your earplugs?"

"Yes, " he said quickly.

"Okay," I replied, not wanting to interrupt the easy groove we'd all fallen into. "You stay here with Dierks. I'll be right back."

I turned and dashed back toward the bus - and then realized what I'd just done.

Oh my GOD, I thought, horrified. I just made Dierks Bentley babysit!

I paused, and for a fraction of a second I thought about turning back and getting Bud, but since I was already halfway to the bus, I decided to just own my faux pas and apologize when I returned. I ran to the bus, grabbed Bud's earplugs, and hurried back to the stage as quickly as I could.

Bud and Dierks were not where I'd left them, though. I looked around, and saw them together in backstage area, comfortably checking out instruments amid the noise and confusion. I stuck Bud's earplugs in my pocket and went up to join them, as Dierks asked Bud if he'd like to try on his guitar.


As I hovered nearby doing the mom thing ("Be very careful with that, Bud! Gentle hands! Not too rough, buddy!"), Dierks casually walked Bud out to the front of the stage, where he stood, front and center, his hero's guitar slung around his neck, star of the day as he basked in the glow of the imaginary audience that filled the still-empty stands.

After Bud returned Dierks' guitar, the backstage tour continued as they checked out the inside of a huge equipment truck. As I watched Dierks and Bud together, I was struck by two things: 1) Dierks seemed totally at ease. Unlike many people who look to me for cues about how to respond to Bud, Dierks' responses to him were casual and natural, and 2) Bud seemed totally at ease. I realized that since we'd arrived, I hadn't heard any scripts from PBS shows or computer games. His responses to Dierks were casual and natural.

We headed back to the bus, where the guys waved me off when I tried to apologize for invading their home. Bud seemed to thrive in this guy-oriented haven. "Hey, Dierks," he said, when Jack Ingram's video for "Barefoot and Crazy" came on, "Look! It's Jack Ingram! This is a bikini video."

"Yeah?" Dierks asked.

"Yeah," Bud said. Then he added conspiratorially, "Bikinis are great." And the guy fun continued - Dierks showed Bud how to drive the bus, they compared muscles - I swear, if we'd stayed any longer I'm certain that there would have been a burping contest. In this instance, though, I was more than happy to fade into the background until I was summoned - "Hey! You gotta get a picture of this!" - to find that they'd climbed into bunks (Bud on the bottom and Dierks on the top) and were already smiling for the camera.

Moments later, the guys beckoned us back to the front, where the video for "Every Mile A Memory" was playing on GAC. The video is full of concert footage, and it was more than a little surreal to sit watching the band with the band - Tim on the big screen, Tim on the couch; Robbie on the big screen, Robbie in the aisle... Bud, for his part, was completely unfazed, but thrilled to see that his guys - because, by now, they had surely become his guys - seemed to like all the same things he did.

While Bud was hanging with Dierks and the guys, Chris found me and asked about the show, to find out what I was thinking now that we'd been there for a while: Did we want seats in the audience? Did we want to hang out behind the stage? I told Chris that I was still fairly sure that Bud wouldn't be able to manage the audience experience, and that I thought we'd just need to play it by ear. He told me that the passes we had would let us watch from anywhere, so we could do whatever seemed best at the time.

Then, it was time for Dierks to get ready for his scheduled Meet and Greet, so Chris took over as our official tour guide. He brought Bud and me to his own bus, where we got to meet some of the crew and saw a whole NEW set of bunks. We visited the Meet and Greet area. Bud climbed into the cab of one of Brad Paisley's trucks and chatted with the driver about NASCAR. (Bud doesn't know what NASCAR is, but he held his own well enough that I don't think the driver even realized that.) And THEN Chris brought Bud to Dierks' jeep, and Bud climbed in and sat in the very same seat that Dierks had in the "Free and Easy" video - the video that, for us, started this whole wild ride.

When it was time for Chris to go help manage the Meet and Greet, he ushered us into the trailer that housed his office, set up his laptop, and asked Bud about his favorite website. Bud told him it was PBS Kids, then sat down to show Chris how he could make Curious George juggle fruit - and, I'm telling you, Chris responded with so much enthusiasm that he had me convinced it was the coolest thing he'd ever seen. Once we'd settled in and Chris confirmed that we were all set, he headed out to take care of business. Bud's anxiety flared once or twice, but he settled down when I assured him that he would see Dierks again.

Bud must have been processing the experience, because he was quiet for a moment, then turned to me and asked "Mom? I'm 'With the Band?,'" the meaning of the phrase clear to him for the first time.

"Yeah, Bud," I said, smiling. "You're 'With the Band.'"

Before long, darkness had fallen and Chris came back to collect us and bring us back to the bus, where the air was suddenly electric with pre-show energy. The guys were dressed in the clothes they'd wear on stage. Crew members zipped in with microphone cases and other important-looking things. I worried that we were in the way, but the guys were as relaxed as they'd been all afternoon. Dierks and Rod sat down with acoustic guitars as they all gathered at the front of the bus.

"Bud," Dierks said, "We thought we should practice a couple of songs before the show. Would you like to hear them?"

"Sure!" said Bud, sitting down on the couch in the middle of the room. And then, suddenly, the crisp acoustic opening notes of "Every Mile A Memory" filled the bus and I thought I might have forgotten how to breathe, as the guys launched into the most incredible version of the song I've ever heard. As they sang, Bud tap danced in his seat in time to the music. Nobody missed a beat.

As soon as the song ended, the guys launched into another -Bud's favorite - "Sideways." When it was over, there was commotion at the front of the bus as more equipment was loaded in and I thought for certain that it was time for the guys to take the stage.

"So, Bud," Dierks said, as he walked to the front of the bus to collect a large box that had just been delivered. "The guys and I were thinking that we wanted you to have something so you'd always remember this day."

Are you kidding? I thought to myself. This child will never forget a MOMENT of this day.

But Dierks continued. "So we wanted you to have something special, that was one of a kind - something that nobody else had."

"Okay," said Bud, who clearly had no idea where this could be headed.

Then Dierks opened the carton and lifted out a beautiful guitar designed with a Dierks Bentley Feel That Fire skin.

"Wow!" Bud and I said together.

"So, we were thinking," Dierks went on, "that we could all write our names on it for you. And then no one else would ever have one just like it. Would that be okay?"

"Sure," said Bud. Then Dierks handed him the guitar, and he held it like a real musician as each of the guys stooped down and added his autograph.

I thought I might swallow my tongue.

I tried to gush. I tried to say something. But this moment was not about me. This moment was about them - all of them. And it was a truly incredible moment.

And then, as soon as the last name was on the guitar, it was time for the show.

"So, Bud," Dierks said, "will you walk us out to the stage?"

"Sure," said Bud. And then he walked hand-in-hand with Dierks in the middle of the pack as the cheers from the audience grew closer.

When they reached the stage, Dierks said, "Okay, Bud. We always huddle to say a prayer and a cheer before we go on stage. Will you join us for it?"

And he did.

Then, one by one, each of the guys took the stage as the audience went wild, until only three of us were left backstage.

"Okay, Bud," Dierks said. "I just need your help with one more thing."

Then they climbed the stage stairs hand-in-hand and Dierks grabbed a microphone, leaned down and said to Bud, so that the whole audience could hear: "Does anybody want to get Sideways?"

Then the band started playing, and Dierks took the stage, and the audience went completely out of their minds.

Bud and I stood in stunned silence for seconds.

And then, as the show continued, Bud totally lost it. In fairness to Bud, I'll skip the details on that, but if you live with a child with autism, then you can probably fill in the blanks. It might have been the incredible volume, or that it was already long past bedtime, or that he had to share his new friend with an enormous crowd of people, or simply that he had held it together so beautifully for so long through so much that day, that now that we were alone and it was safe to let it out, the intensity of his emotions spilled over in the only way it knew how, and he melted.

Luckily, because we all had a hunch that this might happen, Dierks had told me to feel free to head back to the bus if we needed to, so that's exactly what we did. From the bus, we could still hear the show in the distance, but Bud had some privacy to let his emotions escalate and play out. By the time the band was starting their final song - "Free and Easy" - Bud was spent, but was even again. I suggested that we walk outside to hear the last song, so we listened to it from behind the stage as I started wondering how in the world I was going to get Bud to leave Dierks without prompting a repeat of the emotional meltdown we'd just experienced.

When the song ended, the guys left the stage and headed back to the bus, and Bud and I lingered outside as I tried to develop a game plan. I decided to try to stay as close to our regular bedtime routine as I could, and hope for the best.

"You know, Bud," I said, "it's really getting late. It's about time to put on your pajamas and head back home."

We went back to the bus, where the guys looked about as exhausted as we were, and told them it was almost time for us to leave. Bud and I headed to the back, where he changed into his pajamas, took his medicine, and called his dad. Then I packed his clothes in his backpack and looked up to speak to him - but he wasn't there. Robbie pointed me to the front of the bus, where I found Bud and Dierks side by side, both looking like they'd had a long day.

I told Bud it was time to go, and he said goodbye to the guys and packed up his gifts - which now included the drumsticks Steve had played with that night, a guitar pick from Rod, and a couple of t-shirts from Dierks. Dierks carried the prized guitar out to our car, loaded it into our trunk and then loaded Bud into the backseat, where his pillow and blanket were waiting.

"I had a great time, Bud," Dierks told him. "Thanks for coming to visit. We'll do it again next time we're here."

"Thanks, Dierks," Bud said. And that was that. We pulled out of the fairground, and Bud was asleep before we hit the highway.

When I got home, I found two new e-mails from Cassidy in my inbox. She'd sent the first one in the afternoon, twenty minutes before we were scheduled to meet. "I'm really hoping it goes well," she wrote, "but no matter what happens, I'm really glad you guys are trying it." And she'd sent the second after we left the fairground: "Just got the play-by-play... wanted you to know that my heart is so happy..."

The next day, Bud was in a daze, as though he couldn't quite believe that it had all actually happened. But in the days and weeks that followed, it became clear that the experience had been powerful for Bud. He moved with a new kind of confidence. In the early weeks, he'd often ask "Dierks is my friend?," but as time passed, so did his perspective, and now, almost daily, out of the blue, he makes a declarative statement: "Dierks is my friend."

It may seem like a small thing, until you realize that Bud has never really been interested in having a friend before. We refer to the other kids at school as his friends. They call him a friend. But he's never really been interested in having a friend. He's refused the idea of playdates and, when asked, he's named his friends as Mom, Dad, Nana, and Papa. Until now. Now he has Dierks. And Chris. And Rod, and Tim, and Robbie, and Steve. Now, he calls people friends. Now he knows how cool it is to have friends. And, my hunch is, now he is probably on track to want more of them.

I've thought a lot over the past weeks and months about the transformative power of friendship. I've thought about the kind of friendship that Dierks and Bud developed - the kind of camaraderie that's created when two strangers "click." I've thought about the kind of friendship I have with Cassidy - the same kind that I have with so many of you, who I know only through my computer screen, but to whom I feel connected at the heart. And I've thought about how those friendships affect us, anchor us, empower us, change us.

I've also been reminded about the power of kindness - about the power of doing something not because we must, but simply because we can - about how when that kind of kindness goes out into the universe, it doesn't just add up; it doesn't just multiply. It compounds exponentially. It transforms.

So.

That's the story. It's astounding, right? I told you it would be. Thanks for sticking with it. Thanks for sticking with me. Thanks for sticking with us.

Now, please - go download some Dierks Bentley music.

And, really - I mean it. Believe me when I say this, and then go out and say it to somebody else:

Please let me know if there's ever anything I can do.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The purplest

I keep thinking about Barbara Joosse's book I Love You The Purplest. In it, two brothers ask their mother which one she loves the most. She explains that she loves one of them the reddest and the other the bluest. Together, she loves them the purplest.

Why has that been on my mind?

Well, today is Bud's tenth birthday. Ten years old. A decade. He understands the significance of this milestone. Last night as we cuddled before bed, he asked me if I'd still cuddle with a ten-year-old. (I assured him I would.) This morning when he woke up, he was surprised to find that he still had his nine-year-old voice.

But this story really starts two days ago, when I picked Bud up early from school to take him to a doctor's appointment for medication management. On the agenda: a discussion about altering the timing of his mid-day medication in hopes of easing what has been a bumpy transition to fourth grade. Though the transition this year has not been as difficult as it's been in some other years, it has been marked by Bud's resistance to being in the classroom. It's clear to me that he likes his teacher, Ms. Walker, and the paraprofessional who works with him, Mrs. Nee. He likes the children in his class. He likes being in school. But, I think this is the year when the developmental gap between Bud and his peers has felt daunting to him. Though the atmosphere in his classroom is wonderful, the rest of it - the language, the concepts, the higher-level academic focus - has all been confusing for him. Even during down-time, his peers are all High School Musical, and he's all Clifford the Big Red Dog. It has been easier for him to choose to spend his time in the nest he's created in Special Ed with the team who is familiar, predictable, and comfortable.

And so, as Bud left school early on Thursday, Ms. Walker seized the opportunity, scrapped her plan for social studies, and pulled the rest of the class together for a little impromptu planning session. Most of the children in the classroom have known Bud for a long time, though some of them have never been in his class before. Ms. Walker told them that Bud was reaching a milestone this weekend - double digits, the marking of his first decade. She reminded them how hard it can be for Bud to manage things like birthday parties and she asked them how, as a group, they might help him celebrate in a way that would be comfortable for him.

They spent the rest of the afternoon putting their plan together.

On Friday, Bud arrived at school to find that his classmates, Ms. Walker, Mrs. Nee, and the whole staff in Special Ed were wearing purple, Bud's favorite color, in his honor. A little later, Bud's friends presented him a book they'd made. The book is purple, of course, and it features a two-page spread of each person in his class - each child, his teacher, and his para. The first page has the person's picture and name, to help Bud get to know the people he doesn't know as well. And the second page has a birthday message - in purple ink on purple paper - to Bud from that person.

As a class, they had brainstormed a list of things that make Bud special, so there are a lot of reoccurring themes on the pages of the purple book - you bring joy to our class, you always do your best, you are creative. But there are unique messages in there as well: "I like being your friend because you are funny, cool, and a good dancer;" "the songs you sing are great;" "I think you'r specal becase you'r joks are hulareaes." Two of the children, Travis and Kelly, wrote "you are one of my best friends."

While Bud was engaged in something else, Kelly showed Ms. Walker a CD she'd brought in and together they snuck to the classroom's CD player to cue up a track. They turned the volume up slowly and watched for Bud's reaction as Dierks Bentley's "Every Mile A Memory" filled the room. Bud raised his head, smiled, and started singing along:

"Texas stars in a purple night,
Not seein' 'em with you, baby, oh they never do look right..."

Bud's classmates from last year smiled in recognition. His new classmates listened to him, then spoke up in appreciation - "Hey! He really can sing!"

Then they sang to him - but knowing that a cacophony of fourth grade voices might be overwhelming for him, this rendition of Happy Birthday was delivered in a loud whisper. And according to Ms. Walker, it was the rockin'-est loud whisper she'd ever heard. And then, finally, it was time to eat the cupcakes Bud had brought in, and he even got to bring the extras down to his friends in Special Ed.

The magic didn't end with the celebration, though. It spilled over into the rest of the day. During math, the other children worked on complicated math tables that were beyond Bud's grasp, but Bud sat at a desk with Mrs. Nee and created a different kind of math table. One by one, the children approached Bud's desk, where Bud greeted them by name, and asked "Which do you like better: cats, dogs, or birds?" Each child gave a response (and sometimes an explanation), which Bud tallied, as the other child left to tap another friend to join Bud.

The children in the class also worked together to help Bud complete a fill-in-the-blanks poem about himself, offering up their suggestions for how to complete each thought. The poem, which Ms. Walker printed out for me in purple ink, goes like this:

BUD

Who is fast, funny, caring, and cool

Who finds happiness in quiet, country music, and computers

Who needs attention, Mom, and friends

Who is afraid of "boo," thunderstorms, and sudden loud noises

Who would like to play guitar, hang out with Dierks Bentley, and go on a hike

Who likes to wear purple crocs, his dino vest, and earplugs

BUD

The class commemorated the day with a group photo, which Ms. Walker printed and pasted on the last page of the purple book. It's quite an image - a sea of purple, in shades from pale lavender to deep violet; teachers and support staff framing and scaffolding around the back and edges; the middle swarming with beaming children; and, in the center, Bud, his old friend Kelly leaning in by his side, and his new friend Kallyn standing behind him, her hands gently but firmly on his shoulders, making him feel centered, and making him feel safe.

If you looked at the picture, you'd be hard-pressed to figure out which child was celebrating a birthday. The smiles are wide from edge to edge - wide despite the fact that Ms. Walker had been frank with the children: this was not to be the standard procedure for celebrating birthdays this year. This time was different - because in this class, in this school, ""fairness" does not equal "sameness." Fairness means making sure that every person gets what she needs to succeed, and so, by definition, to be fair, sometimes we must have different rules for different people.

And the children, because they are a product of this educational environment, don't just get it - they celebrate it. They celebrate it because they know that in a school in which helping a classmate get comfortable and feel included is just as important as social studies, they can be certain that every person matters. And if every person matters, then they matter.

The children in that classroom know that they are loved. Some of them feel loved the reddest. Some of them feel loved the bluest. And when they come together in that classroom, they create the purplest community they could ever hope to find.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The summer of so much

It's a funny thing: when I go for long stretches of time without posting much on the blog, it's rarely because there is nothing going on. More often, I'm quiet because there is so much - so much to do that there's no time to blog; so much to say that it's hard to know where to start; so much that's complicated or sensitive that it's hard to know how to choose words and edit well; so much I need to capture without saying too much. This summer has been no exception. The blog may not reflect it, but this summer, there has been so much, so much, so much.

It's been happening on all fronts. At work, at a time when things are usually slow enough to take a breath and a little time off, there has been a perfect storm of conditions that has made the summer one of the busiest times of the year. Some of it has been stressful and some of it energizing, some of it the function of conditions beyond my control and some of it entirely self-imposed, but as a whole it has simply been so much to manage - breakneck speed from the start of the day to the finish, full days worked on half-day Fridays, vacation days used to plan the classes I started teaching this week. So much, so much, so much.

Home has also been busy, with both of my parents experiencing health issues we had not quite anticipated. My mom's situation has been logistically complicated but, thankfully, not serious. Still, though, there has been so much - so much scheduling, so much childcare shifting, so much wondering and asking and re-asking and confirming, so much phone-calling and doctor-talking and appointment-making - so much, so much, so much.

On top of her own health issues, my mom has been managing my dad's issues, which have been so much harder to take. My dad, the man who started aging one day in his eighty-first year, the man who at 79 was so young for his age, is now, at 86, so much older than his years. There is so much overtaking him at once - so much pain, so much sensitivity, so much exhaustion, and yet so much escaping him - so much missing, so much misunderstood, so much, it seems, forever lost. It feels as though there's so much I should do, so much I should say, so much intervention that I should make - and yet, it seems there is still so much I don't know, so much I can't learn, so much that a misstep might put at stake. I fear there is so much risk of pushing him further away, so much chance of increasing his feelings of vulnerability, so much more of him to lose. And so I sit, and I hover, and I wait, and I wonder, so much. So much, so much, so much.

Then I watch my son with my father, and am so much in awe of the friendship they've forged. I see between them so much compassion, so much forgiveness, so much unconditional acceptance. I look at them - this man and this boy, the bookends of my life - as they look past the limitations and see in each other only possibility, as each in his own way struggles so much to find the words that escape him and works so much to understand the words spoken to him. I see between them so much unspoken, so much understood. I feel so much gratitude that each has the unwavering certainty of the other, and yet, I can't stop myself from looking ahead - a year, two years, ten years - and thinking, what then? So much, so much, so much.

For Bud himself, there has also been so much this summer, as so much growth has meant so much change, and so much new to grapple with. This summer, we added a new diagnosis to the list: OCD, the disorder of so much, so much, so much. For Bud, it has meant that so much of his anxiety has had an obsessive focus - All is not right with my world. But if I can just have this thing/do this thing/arrange this thing, then order will be restored. If I can just dothisthing-dothisthing-dothisthing-dothisthing-dothisthing-somuch-somuch-somuch... until it is done. But then I see that all is still not right in my world... and so I realize that the real answer must have been thisotherthing-thisotherthing-thisotherthing-thisotherthing... So much, so much, so much.

Bud's Extended School Year experience imploded on itself, as another perfect storm of so much -medication changes, the sameness-but-differentness of being in a familiar school with unfamiliar people, the inability to establish a predictable routine for himself - became too much for him to manage, and I decided to pull him from the program early, so we could focus on medication adjustment with an eye toward a smooth transition to fourth grade.

And now, with that transition just a week away, I worry about how it will go, because I have seen so much in Bud this summer - so much that is frustrating, and yet, perhaps, typical of an almost ten-year-old - so much argument, so much defiance, so much assertion, so much rancor. And then, mixed in and among the unpleasant moments, there is so much that is exciting, so much to celebrate. This summer, Bud has taken on so much in his own head and heart. He has conquered his longtime fear of dogs, now approaching strangers to ask if he can pet their dogs, and spending long hours begging for a dog of his own. He has learned to manage his fear of thunderstorms, drawing on so much courage, so much inner fortitude, as he names his fear and heads for the windowless bathroom with the overhead fan, riding out the storm with his iPod or DVD player, never once needing his anxiety medication. He has embraced swimming lessons, overcoming his trepidation with men and bonding with his swim instructor. He has visited our friend Kiki's farm, allowing her teenage son to help him mount a horse, then sitting calmly in the saddle as Kiki led them on a walk - all while I stood, snapping pictures yards away, my supportive presence entirely superfluous. So much, so much, so much.

And so, you see why I have been absent on the blog lately - why there has been so much empty space masking so much activity and movement. But I think of this blogging community often, and I lurk on your blogs to catch up when I can. And even when I am not actively reaching out or chiming in, I am still moving through my life secure in the knowledge that you are all out there, just a few clicks away - that the cavalry will be there when I need them. It's a reassurance that carries me, a certainty that buoys me, even in - especially in - a summer of so much.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Dream until your dreams come true

Okay, folks, it's time to rally.

A fellow autism parent sent me this link to a "Most Deserving Fan" contest on Aerosmith's website, where Sandy I. has submitted an entry on behalf of her fourteen-year-old son Jamie, who has autism and wants to be a rock star. If Jamie gets the most votes in his area, he'll get the chance to meet his heroes, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.

I know the kind of power that music - and the people who make it - can have with our kids, because I see it every day in Bud. As Sandy writes in her entry, "Yes, his autism still limits his world. But he loves the things that he lets into his world more deeply than most of us can appreciate."

So, if you want to help Jamie make his dream a reality, just follow this link, read Sandy's entry, and click on the little "thumbs up" icon at the bottom.

Rock on, Jamie. And say "hi" to Steven Tyler for us.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

This lovely woman, this lovely book

It seems that everyone I know is reading Vicki Forman's newly-released memoir This Lovely Life. Actually, it seems that everyone I know has already read This Lovely Life. I keep hearing, from person after person, that Vicki's writing is so forcefully engaging that once they started the book, they were unable to put it down. It is that good.

This Lovely Life has had the opposite effect on me. Every time I pick it up and start reading, Vicki's writing is so forcefully engaging that it literally takes my breath away, and I need to put it down - sometimes after several pages and sometimes after just a few paragraphs.

It is that good.

In This Lovely Life, Vicki writes about giving birth to extremely premature twins, Ellie and Evan, about Ellie's death just days later, and about Evan's life with profound disabilities, which started in the NICU and ended after eight years, a year ago yesterday.

Vicki's journey and her story are entirely different from mine, but - I realize as I read - there is significant overlap in emotion, in response, in moments etched in time and impossible to reclaim. My journey to and through parenthood has involved loss and struggle, but I don't write about it much on the pages of this blog - or, frankly, anywhere else. I have neither the talent nor the courage to give words to those emotions or to that history - to give it shape - to make it real - to offer it up to the world at large and say, "See?"

But Vicki has both extraordinary talent and unshakable bravery, and This Lovely Life is infused with both. It is remarkable writing from a remarkable woman, and it is not to be missed.

I usually wait until I've finished reading a book to endorse it, but This Lovely Life is a book that I will be reading for a long time, as I build up the courage to continue, and give myself time and space to be ready to move on. If you have grieved - especially if you have grieved the loss of a child - you may be startled to find that Vicki describes with extraordinary precision emotions and reactions you thought were uniquely your own and, even, emotions and reactions you weren't aware you had until you found yourself breathless with recognition and needing to put the book down.

And if you haven't suffered that kind of loss - and I truly hope you haven't - then go out right now and get This Lovely Life, and then clear your calendar for a couple of days.

You won't be able to put it down.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My country, 'tis of thee

Well, this is a treat.

This one is for all of my fellow left-wing friends who like to tease me about my affinity for country music by suggesting that it's a sign that I might be defecting to the right.

This evening, Michelle Obama (now, I'm afraid, forever Mother of the Year in the eyes of my son) hosted the White House Music Series: A Country Music Celebration, which featured Allison Krauss and Union Station, Charley Pride, and Brad Paisley, and at which -

wait for it -

Barack Obama quoted Dierks Bentley.

And speaking of country music and my fellow left-wing friends, I invite you to click here and listen to Brad Paisley's latest, "Welcome to the Future." Listen to the whole song, and as he gets to the final verse, think about how you felt on November 4, 2008 and January 20, 2009, and try not to get choked up.

I bet you can't do it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Career options

You know, I've gotta say, if the whole Rolf Saxon thing doesn't work out, I think Bud has a future as an A&R man for a record label. Seriously.

Remember back in February when Dierks Bentley's incredible new album, Feel That Fire, was released? Bud went on record at the time with his call for the album's best tracks: "Feel That Fire," "Sideways," "I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes," and "Here She Comes."

Let's review what has happened since then.

"Feel That Fire," the album's first single, went to number one.

A short time later, the album's second single, "Sideways," was released. It, too, went to number one.

And now, Dierks is releasing his third single to country radio: "I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes." For those keeping score at home, that makes Bud three for three.

Of course, from my Bud-centric perspective, I'm not sure how I feel about Dierks' new choice of single. Don't get me wrong - I love the song. I'm just thinking ahead to the video, which is certain to feature steamy footage that could potentially make the sizzling video for "Come A Little Closer" look tame. (You may recall that as Bud watched that one, he gave the play by play: "They're having a nap. They're hugging. They're... having a pajama party?")

Bud actually has a different vision for "I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes." Last week as he was getting ready for bed, we were talking about songs and the emotions they convey. (I've found that this is an especially useful tool to help my little music fan try to adopt another person's perspective to sort out how that person feels and why s/he might feel that way.) We were making our way through Feel That Fire tracks ("Life on the Run" is angry and maybe afraid... "Sideways" is happy, but the "HEY! now" in the lyric might be a little surprised...) when Bud asked "And what kind of song is 'I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes?'"

"Well," I said, "It's a love song."

"No," Bud replied. "It's a lullaby."

"A lullaby?"

"Yes," he said. "Dierks sings it to Evie when she needs to go to sleep."

I reviewed the lyrics in my head - the ones that, up until that moment, could only be about one thing - and suddenly I could see how, when taken from Bud's perspective, they could also be describing a daddy getting his baby ready for bed:

Girl I've been waiting on this long hard day to get over
So I can rest my head right here on your shoulder
I just wanna lay here and feel your breathe
Listen to the rhythm of your heartbeat...
We're wide awake, but girl I wanna make you close your eyes,

and how even the most overtly suggestive lyric could simply be about helping the baby with her pajamas:

And if you need a little bit of help from me,
Babe, there's not a button that I can't reach.

My heart just about melted on the spot.

So, okay, maybe Bud's not quite ready to be in charge of a video shoot; I still think he'd be a great A&R guy.

Just a very, very sweet one.


09/09/09 - Edited to add:
Hurray for Dierks and his new Bud-appropriate video! Check it out!



Saturday, June 27, 2009

Career planning

Apparently, Bud's been giving some thought to his future.

Last night, as we were sitting together before bedtime, Bud got quiet and seemed lost in thought, then finally spoke.

"When I grow up," he mused, "I want to be just like Rolf Saxon."

I thought I'd misheard. "Who, Bud?"

"Rolf Saxon."

Rolf Saxon?

I quickly thumbed through my mental Rolodex of PBS characters and country music stars. Nothing.

"Who is Rolf Saxon?"

"He's the narrator on Teletubbies. He tells the things the Teletubbies do."

Ahhh. Of course. THAT Rolf Saxon.

"You know, Bud," I said, "I bet you WOULD be really good at that. That would be a great job for you."

And I really wasn't kidding. Bud zeroed in on a profession that capitalizes on his passion (Teletubbies), his talents (an ear for dialect, an uncanny memory, the ability to mimic virtually anything), and his natural inclinations (the soul of a performer, who sometimes needs to be out of the spotlight).

I've advised college students who don't know themselves that well.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Glowing report

Yesterday was Bud's last day of school, which means that it was also report card day. I didn't have high expectations for Bud's report card, and his "grades" were exactly what I expected: "B" for basic skills, followed by an asterisk, indicating that the criteria for "Basic" was modified in accordance with Bud's IEP. In other words... no real indication of how Bud had done this quarter.

Luckily, Bud's teacher is not the type to settle for such an uninformative report and, as she has done every quarter, she attached a narrative to the standard report, summing up Bud's challenges and achievements this year. She wrote:
Bud has grown both socially and academically this year. Walking through the isolated hallways during movement breaks has given us an opportunity to uncover Bud the conversationalist. He makes total eye contact and is fully engaged in the conversation that is topic appropriate. Bud has developed a circle of school friends with whom he participates in short conversations. The most successful setting for this is small groups such as reading group, lunchtime, and recess. He also shares his humor, poetry, and singing with the class. One sharing time, he sang the entire song "Sideways" with a pretend microphone, and yesterday in PE, he sang the entire song with a real microphone to his classmates and they all clapped. Bud endears himself to his peers.

Transitions continue to be very difficult for Bud, yet we see him recovering a lot quicker than last year. At times working with Bud in the classroom becomes unproductive, so Ms. Brett takes the lesson "on the road" and Bud becomes engaged in the lesson again. This particularly works when brainstorming a writing topic and learning facts about a content area, such as the state. He is now able to work for short periods of time independently on math and reading worksheets. Type To Learn has been a very successful program for him and has enabled him to make full use of the Co-Writer program to write his own stories.

It has been a complete pleasure working with Bud this year.

Yes, it's the end of third grade.

And it's the beginning of everything else.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Super connectivity

Sometimes, I think things and Bud says them out loud. I've gotten used to it. But I'm still scratching my head over what happened a couple of mornings ago.

Bud crept into my room in the pre-dawn hours, as he often does, for his last few hours of sleep. I woke, saw him sleeping soundly, then fell back into a deep sleep and started dreaming.

I was sitting in the passenger's seat of a friend's minivan. The van was crammed full of furniture, and my friend had the back open and was trying to fit more furniture in. Just then, the van started rolling and I realized that it wasn't in park. I reached over to try to shift, but discovered that the minivan had a manual transmission, and I didn't know how to work it. The space between my seat and the driver's seat was so full that I couldn't climb over to step on the brake. The van picked up speed and was careening out of control, and I knew that it was about to crash when -

I woke up.

At precisely the same moment, Bud leapt out of bed, bolted to the top of the stairs, and shouted, "Are you okay, Nana?"

We both listened to the silence that told me that everyone else in the house was still asleep. Bud walked back into the room and said calmly, "Papa must have dropped something."

There are probably a lot of reasonable explanations here that don't involve mind-reading. But I have to tell you, there's only one explanation that makes sense to me:

Bud was awoken by the sound of the crash in my dream.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Love you like dishevel

Oh, how I love Bud's mondegreens - those misheard lyrics that are even more fun than the originals.

Bud and I climbed a nearby mountain today, and we had the trail to ourselves for most of the 3.6 mile round trip - so, for much of the hike, the woods were alive with the sound of singing. Bud chose the music - all Dierks Bentley, all the time.

I should tell you that sing-alongs with Bud smack a little bit of totalitarian rule. Bud is a lyrics purist and he has every note of every song he's ever heard committed to memory. (Okay, that's an exaggeration - but not by much.) Anyway, heaven help me if I sing a "so" when I should have sung an "and," or if I substitute a "whoop" for a "yep" - I am stopped, and corrected, and we start the phrase over from the top.

I've had theater directors who were less directive.

But, for the most part, I'm good with lyrics and I take direction well, so our songfest was bumping happily along. Imagine my delight, though, when Bud launched into the song "Lot of Leavin' Left To Do" and got to the lyric that says,

Girl, you look like you might be an angel, so I won't lie;
I could love you like the devil, if you wanted me to tonight,

but the Arbiter Of All Things Lyrical burst forth with "Girl, you look like you might be an agent, so I won't lie."

I loved it! An agent! Coupled with the love-you-like-the-devil bit, it gives the song kind of a James Bond feel, don't you think?

And, really, it's good to know that Bud's mind works this way. With all the worries I have about his future, it looks like I can cross both "tax evasion" and "run-ins with the FBI" off the list.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Playing for change

Press play for a dose of instant feel-good. Then click here for more information.

Playing For Change: Song Around the World "Stand By Me" from Playing For Change on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Privacy matters

It's such a tightrope walk - such a delicate balance - so difficult to misstep as I try to tell my story without telling too much of Bud's, as I try to seek input and advice and guidance without imposing on my son's right to privacy - and without compromising any of his dignity.

So I hope I am staying on the right side of discretion when I ask this question: What do you do if your son gets to an age where it becomes less appropriate to take him into the women's restroom, if he is not able to manage the men's room on his own?

Obviously, I have a mental list of every "unisex" or "family" bathroom in a fifty mile radius, and when we can, we head for those. But sometimes we can't. Sometimes we're in a place that simply has big, crowded, public restrooms, and one or both of us needs to use them.

Right now, we're still getting away with using the women's room, but with the rate at which he's growing and developing, I know that our days are numbered. Bud will be 10 in September. Pretty soon it won't be okay.

These days when we're in crowded women's rooms, I use the "running monologue" approach. As soon as we enter, I start talking as I steer Bud toward a stall - "Okay, buddy, we're okay, let's head for that big stall over there, you're doing a great job, here we go, right in there, that's great.... now let's go to the sink and let's wash hands, make sure you use soap, okay dry them good, good job, buddy, now we're all done and right out the door." My purpose is twofold: 1) it keeps him focused on the task at hand; and, 2) it says without saying to anyone in earshot, "this is not a typical nine-year-old and we have a valid reason for being in here."

So far, it has worked. But six months from now? A year? Two years? My hope, of course, is that the issue will resolve on its own, and Bud will be able to manage the bathroom experience independently. But if he's not?

What then?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Long story shorts

Even though I know how difficult change and transition are for Bud, I am continually surprised by how difficult change and transition are for Bud.

They're difficult even when they come wrapped in lovely packages. Take yesterday, for example. Yesterday was a delightfully sunny Saturday - a rare treat in April in this part of the world. Bud and I set out early, visiting two libraries and the town dump before noon, as the temperatures climbed and the delightfully sunny day became unseasonably warm, with a jump of about 25 degrees over what we've been experiencing lately. It was a welcome change for me, but, I soon discovered, less welcome for Bud.

We stopped at home for a quick lunch before setting out on our next round of adventures, and I changed into shorts and a t-shirt. I brought clothes down for Bud to change into as well - and that's when the trouble began.

He wasn't changing, and that was that. He was sticking with the heavyweight jeans, t-shirt, and long-sleeve sweatshirt he'd put on that morning, and no amount of coercion from me was going to change his mind. It was all I could do to keep him from putting on his coat as well. I decided to choose my battles and packed a change of clothes for him, hoping that he'd want to change once he got uncomfortably warm.

He didn't.

I let it go until the temperature hit 89 degrees and the threat of heat stroke outweighed my fear of battle. I convinced Bud to change by telling him that if it was warm enough for him to wear shorts and a t-shirt, then it would be warm enough for us to stop by the lake so he could put his feet in the water. He donned his shorts and took off his sweatshirt, but he kept complaining at a low rolling boil until he'd had a successful foot-dipping excursion to the lake. Then the real battle began.

In retrospect, I see that Bud's perseveration about his clothing had taken over and that a portion of his preoccupation was really out of his control. In the moment, though, it felt like one of those wars Bud was waging simply because he wanted to call the shots. There's been a lot of that lately, as Bud has begun to assert himself in all his almost-ten-year-old glory - the "I can't possibly eat peanut butter if you say I'm having peanut butter" moments; the "what do you mean I'm taking a shower when what I really want is a bath" moments; the "we can't go to the pharmacy and then the grocery store - we should go to the grocery store and THEN the pharmacy" moments. And though, in retrospect, I see that perhaps I should have dropped it and let him wear whatever he wanted to wear, in the moment it simply annoyed me, and I ended up going toe-to-toe with him as the minutes became hours of "I need my long pants! I need to cover my arms! I'm going to get cold! My knees will get covered in bug bites! Can I have my pants on now? I need to have my pants on. I need a sweatshirt. Will you get me a sweatshirt? I can wear my coat. Where is my coat? I need to have my coat. I know! I can wear your coat. But I can't wear shorts. My knees are sticking out. Here, I'll just put these bags on my arms."

It was, to say the least, an unpleasant afternoon.

After dinner, in hopes of salvaging the rest of the day, we struck a deal. Though it was still in the 80's outside, I agreed that he could wear his winter-weight jeans if he agreed to wear a short-sleeved t-shirt with them, and then we headed out for a walk around the neighborhood as we made peace and enjoyed each other's company.

Today, we woke to another beautiful day and I resolved to do whatever it took to keep the day from escalating into another fight to the finish. If he wanted to wear winter clothing, I thought, then we'd just stay in the house, since it seems that our house was built on a glacier and it's typically ten to fifteen degrees cooler inside than it is outside. I decided that I wouldn't even bring up his choice of clothing - I'd just follow his lead.

In mid-morning, I told Bud it was time to get dressed, and he wandered off to find his clothes. He reappeared after a few minutes in his underwear, with a pair of lightweight pants in his hand. "Let's see," he said, ostensibly to the air, "What can I wear today? Shorts or pants?"

I didn't reply. Neither did the air.

"Now let me think," he repeated. "Should I wear pants... or should I wear shorts?"

"I'm wearing shorts," I answered. "You can wear anything you want."

"Okay, shorts," he said, and he left the room. He returned a few minutes later, still in his underwear, pants still in hand, and mused "Hmmm... now, what will I wear today...?"

"Wear your pants, Bud," I said.

"Pants?" he asked happily.

"Yes, wear your pants," I said.

"Okay!" he chirped. "I'll wear my shorts later, okay, Mom?"

"Okay, Bud."

He dashed out to dress, then came back in his pants and a t-shirt, with a sweatshirt in his hand. "And I'll wear this too?"

"You'll be too hot in that, Bud."

"I'll get a red face?"

"Yes, you'll get a red face."

"I don't want a red face," he said. "I'll wear it another time."

"Good idea," I said.

And then, though I had earlier resigned myself to staying in the house on this beautiful spring day, Bud asked "What are we doing today?"

"I don't know," I answered. "What would you like to do?"

"Let's go for a hike," he said.

So we did. We spent the whole afternoon on a long hike in the woods, the sun shining through the branches, the breeze blowing through our hair, and not a bug in sight. And though I wore shorts and Bud wore pants, we were both comfortable and we didn't spend another minute discussing wardrobe. Instead, we hiked and climbed, while Bud listened to Dierks Bentley on his iPod and I listened to Bud sing along. Then we played a game that Bud developed that I like to call "Every Style a Memory," in which Bud names a Dierks Bentley track and I have to guess whether Dierks originally sang it with long hair or short hair - which may sound tedious, but was actually a welcome relief given the conflict of the day before. We spent the final half mile or so of our hike playing "What's your favorite?," with me asking and Bud answering - What's your favorite Brad Paisley song? Celebrity; What's your favorite Sugarland song? It Happens; What's your favorite Lady Antebellum song? I Run To You. That one never gets old.

And so, despite the rocky transition, it's a joy to finally welcome spring to this frozen tundra we call home.

Which reminds me of one other somewhat-related update. Those of you who were around here last year at this time may recall the Ice Out 2008 competition, in which readers placed bets on the day when the last traces of snow would disappear from my yard. I couldn't get my blogging act together enough this spring to do a repeat (though there's always 2010), but I thought you might like to know the status anyway.

So, you recall that yesterday it was almost 90 degrees outside, right? This is what my yard looked like at the end of the day:


Yes, that's snow. But these days, I like to think of it as nature's cooler - a place to put your beverages to keep them cold while you're outside, enjoying the sun and wearing shorts.

But, really - is it any wonder that my poor linear thinker is confused by it all?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Some bunny

Earlier this month, as Easter was approaching, I found myself thinking about Bud's stated preference for the very real Dierks Bentley over the very pretend Teletubbies and how it all related to the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus. I wondered where Bud was on the developmental path of drawing distinctions between fantasy and reality, and what the belief-rate was among his typically-developing peers. I wondered if it would ever occur to Bud to question the veracity of the Bunny/Fairy/Santa legends or if he would simply continue to accept them at face value, as he does with most things in his life. I wondered if I was doing him a disservice by perpetuating the myth and allowing the gap between Bud and his same-age peers to grow, or if I was providing him harmless joy by extending the magic just a little longer.

I decided to down-play the Bunny business this year, to not really bring it up one way or another, and to talk about the egg hunt and the basket, but not about where they come from. But the day before Easter, Bud brought it up on his own - the Easter Bunny would hide the eggs, he told me. The Easter Bunny would bring his basket. I neither confirmed nor denied - though, in reality, Bud wasn't looking for confirmation. It seemed he was just stating fact.

As we got closer to bedtime, though, Bud's anxiety began to grow, the same way it does at Christmas, when he experiences the push-me/pull-you of simultaneously looking forward to presents and being a little freaked out by the idea of a bearded man creeping through the house at night.

"The Easter Bunny is a man in a bunny suit?" Bud asked as he settled into his bed.

"Do you think so?" I asked back.

"Yes," he answered.

"Who do you think it is?" I asked.

"Neighbor Jim?" he guessed, as I suppressed a snort at the thought of the man across the street, who we pay to plow our driveway in the winter, sneaking through the neighborhood with floppy ears and a basket of eggs.

"I don't think it's Neighbor Jim, " I said, still wondering if it was time to come clean. "Do you think the Easter Bunny could be a woman?"

"Yes," he answered.

"Who do you think it could be?" I asked.

"I don't know," he said.

The conversation ended, and I tucked him in and said goodnight. A few minutes later, he called out to me in a frightened voice. I went back in to him, and he said "The Easter Bunny crawled out from under my dresser!" I turned on his light and sat down next to him, conflicted about what I should do and concerned by his needless anxiety.

"Bud, that would never happen. The Easter Bunny would never scare you. You don't have to worry. I promise."

"You promise?" he asked.

"I promise," I said.

"The Easter Bunny will not come in my room?" he asked.

"Not if you don't want the Easter Bunny in your room," I said. "How does that make you feel, Bud?"

"Worried," he said. "Because... I'm just a little... shy." I put my hand on his chest and felt his heart racing.

"Bud, what if I did the egg hunt for you instead of the Easter Bunny?"

"You did it?"

"Yes."

"Instead of the Easter Bunny?"

"Yes. If it makes you nervous, then I could do the egg hunt for you instead."

"You do the egg hunt with the Easter Bunny," he suggested.

"With the Easter Bunny?" I asked. "You want us to do it together?"

"Yes," he yawned, his nighttime medication having kicked in and overtaken his anxiety.

"Sure, Bud," I said. "I can do that."

When morning came, Bud bounded out of bed and set off excitedly on an egg hunt that led him to a treat-filled Easter basket. He was delighted with it, but made no mention of our conversation from the previous night. I wondered if he remembered it, or if his almost-asleep state had made it fade from his mind completely.

Later that morning, as Bud took inventory again of the things he'd found in his basket, he turned to me and said, "I love my Easter basket things! Thank you, Mom."

"You're welcome, honey," I said, wondering if he'd elaborate or clarify or give me any indication of how he thought the basket had come to be in the house. But he didn't.

Still later, he talked to his dad on the phone. "The Easter Bunny came, Dad!" he crowed. "I had an egg hunt! I got a basket!" But still, no mention of a Bunny-Mom collaboration; no hint that he wasn't a full-fledged believer.

And then, at bedtime, as he gathered up the books he'd gotten in his basket to bring them up to bed with him, he asked, "You gived these to me, Mom?"

"I sure did, hon," I said, waiting for a reaction.

But the only one I got was a heartfelt "Thank you, Mom."

And that has been that. There's been no further conversation about the Bunny or the hows and whys of Easter. I don't know how he's made sense of it inside his mind, but he seems perfectly comfortable with whatever explanation he's settled into. And there's a part of me that wants to push - wants to delve - wants to know - but there's a bigger part of me that thinks it's important to give him space to sit with this and to continue to work it out on his own.

In the meantime, he's got a tooth that's getting wigglier by the day - and when it falls out, I can't wait to see what happens.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A real developmental milestone

If you've been following this blog for any length of time, then you probably know that Bud's very favorite thing in the world since the time he learned to walk has been the Teletubbies. For years, the Teletubbies provided Bud's frame of reference for the world; they were his shelter from the storm - his retreat when life was overwhelming; they were his very best friends and his go-to "guys."

And if you've been following this blog for any length of time, then you probably also know that I've been increasingly unsettled by Bud's continuing obsession with the Tubbies. I've tried to be supportive, but just below the surface I've been worried about my nine-year-old boy's undying commitment to a two-year-old's television program. I've worried that he would never move on. I knew he would keep exploring new interests, but I worried that he would continue to view the Teletubbies as the sine qua non.

Until tonight.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new number one.

Tonight, Bud told me that he likes Dierks Bentley better than the Teletubbies.

This is HUGE.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Bud dishes on Mom

There's a mom-meme floating around the Interwebz that I couldn't resist stealing. It takes the form of a Q&A - kids answering questions about their moms. I figured that I write so much here about Bud, it was only fair to give him a chance to turn the tables.

Bud's responses are in quotes. My comments are in parentheses.

1. What is something mom always says to you?

“Morning, Buddy.”

2. What makes mom happy?

“Hugging makes you happy.”

3. What makes mom sad?

“Cause when you cut your thumb.”

4. How does your mom make you laugh?

“When I’m a clown.”

5. What was your mom like as a child?

“You’re a girl. You have lots of toys cause you play with them.”

6. How old is your mom?

(This response takes a little explanation. Relative age is a concept that escapes Bud, so he had no idea how to answer. His first response was "Four years old." When I confirmed by asking "Four years old?," he quickly recanted: "No! One years old." Again, I asked "One years old?" and he replied, "No! Three years old." Then he fell into a mitigated echolalic script from Yo Gabba Gabba, which he insisted I type out in it's entirety. When it was finished, he asked "How old are you?" and I said, "Forty-two." So he made me change "Three-years old" to "Forty-two years old" at the beginning of his script. The final result is printed here.)

“Forty-two years old. I remember that you had a cupcake and it had one candle in it, cause you were one years old. I remember you had a bowl of spaghetti with two candles and you remember that your dad was there and that he let you blow the candles cause you were two years old. I remember when Nana was there cause she gave you a toy truck and remember when Papa was there cause he gave you a rubber snake. When you had a bowl of ice cream it had only three candles in it cause you were three years old.”

7. How tall is your mom?

“Bigger.”

8. What is her favorite thing to do?

“Have a meeting.”

9. What does your mom do when you're not around?

“Be alone.”

10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?

“I don’t know yet.”

11. What is your mom really good at?

“Writing the names of your friends on the pizza box.”

(This is not actually something I spend a lot of time doing, but had done it that afternoon after we delivered a truckload of Little Caesar’s make-your-own-pizza kits to my office as part of a school fundraiser. Apparently, I did it very well.)

12. What is your mom not very good at?

“Swimming.”

(In my own defense, I don’t think I’m that bad.)

13. What does your mom do for her job?

“Work at her desk.”

14. What is your mom's favorite food?

“English muffins.”

15. What makes you proud of your mom?

“When the audience cheers for you.”

(Happens all the time…)

16. If your mom were a character in a book, who would she be?

“Like, a firefighter.”

17. What do you and your mom do together?

“We be teamwork.”

18. How are you and your mom the same?

“We have two arms and one mouth.”

19. How are you and your mom different?

“Our shirts.”

20. How do you know your mom loves you?

“Cause she always hugs.”

21. Where is your mom's favorite place to go?

“To a hotel.”

(Actually, that is BUD's favorite place to go, but I'm willing to go along with it. After all, we be teamwork.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Thoughts for Avery

Will you join me in sending thoughts and prayers and good wishes and healing energy to Seattle, where Jennifer Graf Groneberg's son Avery is having heart surgery today?

You can leave your thoughts and good wishes here, on Jennifer's blog, Pinwheels.

But first, before you start reading, just take a moment and send the energy. Please?

Thank you.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hairoes and friends

I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Dierks and Cassidy Bentley are the nicest people on the planet.

I imagine their lives are a little busy right now. Baby Evie is almost five months old. Dierks is promoting Feel That Fire - out less than a month and already number one on the country album charts. Our TiVo memory is full of his recent television appearances. He's on the road touring with Brad Paisley. I think they've got a lot going on.

And yet, somehow, Bud got a package in the mail last week with a postmark from Nashville, Tennessee. I knew instantly who'd sent it, since I'd gotten an e-mail from Cassidy with a heads-up that it might arrive soon.

"Bud!" I called. "You have a package!"

He came running. "A package for me?"

"It's from Nashville, Tennessee. Do you know who lives in Nashville?"

"Who does?"

"It's a friend of yours who has curly hair."

"DIERKS BENTLEY????"

Bud tore into the package, then smiled the kind of smile that starts around the toenails, then radiates out through the top of the head.

He pulled out an 8x10 picture of his friend Dierks, taken back when his hair was closely cropped. It used to be the look (the only look) that Bud preferred, but Bud's come a long way since then and he now prefers Dierks' current look - the one he calls "the new curly hair." In fact, just last Saturday Bud asked his own hair stylist if she could give him "curly hair like Dierks Bentley," but when she started talking about perms, Bud quickly interrupted her and said "I'm just joking." (He was delighted to find, though, that because he pulled on his winter hat after leaving the salon with damp hair, his hair was sticking out at angles from his head later in the day, making him crow, "Just like Dierks!")

Bud loved the short-haired picture just the same, especially when we read what Dierks had written across it: "Bud, Still waiting on the new pictures w/ my longer hair!!! I'll get you one of those as soon as I get them! - Dierks Bentley"

Then Bud took a second item out of the package - a copy of Feel That Fire, the album he's been singing nonstop for weeks, with the same familiar scrawl across the front: "Bud, Thanks dude! Thanks for being my #1 fan!!! - Dierks Bentley"

And Bud really is his number one fan - though recently, it seems Bud's become a fan of the whole Bentley family. He got the People magazine country music edition for Valentine's Day, and since then he's been carrying it around, opened to the two-page photo spread of Dierks, Cassidy, and Evie. He dines with them, reads stories with them, and makes sure they're settled before he turns in for the night. Bud also insists that the woman who sings backing vocals on Feel That Fire's romantic "I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes" is Cassidy. (It's not, of course, but I think Bud simply can't entertain the notion that Dierks is two-timing with someone else.) It even appears that, despite his general unease with babies, Bud has decided that Evie Bentley must be one of the "good ones."

He's planning on writing a thank-you note this weekend, and I'm fascinated to see what he'll come up with. As for me, I have not begun to find words to let the Bentleys know how touched I am by their kindness, how moved I am by their efforts to connect with a boy who can find it so hard to connect.

Bud struggles with interpersonal interaction. He shies away from social situations. But I will tell you this: when it comes to friendships, Bud sure knows how to pick them.