Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens

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I always find it. Always, always. No matter where we live there are places, where nature is honored and preserved. Today I “took the day off” and went to Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. It was lovely.

About 10 steps onto the path, I could feel my heart rate begin to settle down. It had been a very stressful week. Flashbacks of some of our most painful days-gone-by were front and center. Of course we are not in that exact place, but the PTSD part of my brain felt like we were and I had to do more work than you can imagine, on so many levels, to get us all on track. On top of that, all of us but HT were sick. Having to bring your A game when you are sick, is awful.

But anyway, the Japanese Gardens. So lovely. Driving in I was just appreciating so much that someone made this. Someone saved this. Someone, lots of someones got this going and people maintain it, and keep it up, and there are sacred places like this everywhere if you look for them.

The brochure answers the question, Why aren’t there signs on the plants to tell you what they are, etc.

The answer is they want the gardens to be restorative. Oh, think about that word.

Restorative.

They don’t want to trouble our minds with learning all the flora and fauna. They want you to chill out and just be there. Just be. Enjoy it. If you are someone who’s gotta know…there is a library on site where you can find out every little thing, but for the love of God, when you’re out in it, just be. And people do. Most of the people I crossed paths with today were reverent, quiet. The place kind of commands that.

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Despite my attempt at empty-minded reverence, I couldn’t help but learn a little. I learned that bamboo can be very, very thick. And noisy. It creaks and moans. And sometimes it sounds like a rooster when wind causes the trees to rub against each other. It would be very scary to be in a bamboo forest at night.

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I can’t ever come across a purple flower without thinking of The Color Purple:

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” 

I don’t really think it pisses God off. I don’t think God ever gets mad at us or offended. That’s humans creating God in their own likeness. Period. But I love that book and I loved the movie. Whoopie Goldberg in pure brilliance. Watching her Celie grow from the most timid insecure thing into a being possessing dignity and self-love was so beautiful.

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We could all stand to love ourselves more, couldn’t we? I know I could.

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“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha

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The music of a waterfall is one of my favorite sounds.

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Blessings, blessings, pouring down.

Every breath a chance at restoration.

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Restore me.

Love.

Carmax Love.

HT and I had a wonderful experience this week buying a car at Carmax. We were left alone to browse a huge lot of cars, and then we came inside and used a computer to narrow down our search. We printed out pages of the ones we wanted to see, and they have the row #’s on the print outs so you can go take a peak. Not one person breathed down our necks during this.

Then, when we were ready to do some test driving, we were helped immediately by a guy named Eddy. He was polite. He didn’t try to steer us toward what he wanted us to buy. It is a no haggling place. The price is the price. What a relief. The salespeople do not get commission based on car price. They get one flat fee. Anyway, he was great! He even let us use his computer to do a little research and check out the blue book value, etc.  And he left the room and gave us privacy to do it.

So now I have a new (used) car that rides like a dream for my commute to the schools. Our second car limped all the way to Florida and was about to die, so it was time.

But wait! That’s not why I’m here…. the reason I started this post is I wanted to mention, there was a sweet young man sitting in the waiting room at Carmax. I could not tell if he had a cognitive delay, or he might have had CP, but his speech was very affected. He was late teens/early twenties, I’d guess. He used a walker to get around. His mother went up to the counter for something and he grinned at me and said,

“That’s my mom.”

I smiled back at him and asked, “Is she nice?”

He said, “Yeah she is! And she’s beautiful too!”

I laughed, “You are right about that. She sure is.”

His mom came back and sat down next to him. He hooked arms with her, beamed at me, and said,

“And she’s alllllll mine!”

What irritating thing are you putting up with?

Every day, when I unload the dishwasher, the tops of these cups are full of water. And the water tends to spill out onto the other dry dishes. And it is irritating. Not a biggie when you think about the state of the world, I know. It’s so trivial I’ve been dealing with it for the last 15 years (except the non-dishwasher years).

Today, when I unloaded the dishwasher, and the bottoms of these cups (there are only two left out of a set of six, Pfaltzgraff, lovely really) the water spilled out onto the dry dishes and I suddenly thought….I don’t need to keep those.

I thought I had purged every household thing we didn’t use or love, but those cups. There they were. Every day.

So after dropping the kids at school I had to drop something at UPS, and right next door was a giant thrift shop and I went in and got new cups. Two to replace the two that will be leaving me, today.

I like the feel of them. I love the textures. Morning coffee or tea rituals are so much more than about the coffee or tea. It’s the whole feel of it. They were like, a dollar each. And the bottoms are nice and flat.

Just how I like ’em.

What irritating thing are you putting up with?

Swimming at Sunset

Not every night, but often enough, after dinner, we head to the beach. Some days the waves are big, and Seth is happy. He lives for riding the big ones. Some days the waves are gentle and Riley is happy. She likes to leisurely bob and float. I never knew how varied the ocean was day to day, before living so close to it.

It is less work for me to go to the beach here, than it was to go to the public pool in Cleveland. I bring nothing but towels, and quarters for the parking meter. When we are done we hose off our feet at the outdoor shower, go home wet, sitting on our towels in the car. No worries. We change into pajamas when we get home. Easy.

What gets me every time is the evening sky. We are on the east side of FL so we don’t get the sunset directly over the ocean, but it colors the sky in glorious ways. The cloud formations are vast and just before the sun disappears, there are pinks so neon, it feels otherworldly.

Yesterday evening, Riley, Seth and I were bobbing on the gentle waves, kneeling so just our heads were out of the water. They both faced me, and behind them was a sky of such beauty, pink and white and blue and grey. I didn’t have my camera but the photo above was from another recent night, similar.

I had to shake cobwebs out of my head, is this real? The three of us turned slowly, 360 degrees, taking in the view. The clouds, the waves, the sand, palm tree silohettes, back around, and the sky, the blazing pink!

Their faces, so bright and happy, as beautiful and shiny as the masterpiece sky behind them.

The pink only lasts about ten minutes. Their childhoods whiz by.

Let me remember this time. Let me remember their faces, who they are, Seth at 10, Riley at 13.

Figure Eight

Despite my tongue in cheek piece in The Imperfect Parent a few years back, I’d never cursed in front of my children for the first ten years of parenting, and even now it is a rare occurence. With Riley’s low frustration tolerance when she was little, I thought it would be a very bad idea for her to have those juicy words in her tool belt.  That was my main motivation not to. I enjoy swearing. I do. It rolls off the tongue naturally for me, like an accent. The more relaxed I am around you, the more you’ll hear it. Guard down. Swearing up.

Riley does not swear and doesn’t feel she ever will. Seth is undecided. They still think “hell” and “damn” are potent words.

So anyway, the first day we had to be at Seth’s school I got lost. I was using my GPS, and had no physical map. The GPS hit a glitch, and kept taking me in circles, back and forth through a toll road, four times. A figure eight, with me forking over money each time. Lost and late. And hot, because the AC in our car was on its way to conking out completely.

Then, a car barreled down on me (aggressive drivers here are a topic for another day) and didn’t let me over to get off the exit I needed, and I screamed the F word. Twice.

This week whenever we get to that stretch of  highway, the one where I need to get over and get off that tricky exit, Seth has been saying, “Stay left Mom! Stay left!” And I’ve been beating myself up over it because I feel like I traumatized him when I swore that day. Like, he’s terrified I’ll miss the exit again.

Oh I’m good at beating myself up. The best.

But yesterday, on my way to get the kids, 1.5 weeks in, I know the route. I wasn’t stressing. I’ve got this. And then I came upon the exit, and the guilt washed over me again, and then…. I remembered.

When I swore, when I said the F word twice, Riley, in the back seat, sucked in her breath, and in the next instant she took Seth’s hand and said, “Let’s pray for Mom.”

She didn’t say, “What a loser Mom is for cursing.”

She didn’t say, “I’m terrified of Mom.”

She did what I taught her. When you see someone lost and hurting and out of their mind, you hold space for them. You pray.

I taught her that. And if I taught her that, I must not be a loser.

I taught her that, but I also learned it from her. She was such a good and beautiful and sweet little girl, and then sometimes she was overwhelmed and out of her mind. Pushing back never helped. Being punitive never helped. Loving her did.

I loved her.

She loved me.

I love her.

She loves me.

Back and forth we go.

Figure eight, figure eight.

You’re doing just fine…

Borderline panic has been my baseline as of late. I barely know where I am. I am lost all the time, literally. I have not had to be in rush hour traffic on a major interstate in over a dozen years. BTW…My GPS is not God. My GPS is capable of really screwing me up sometimes. Just figuring out the traffic pattern in the pick-up line at school has my adrenals on DEFCON 5. My body can no longer determine what is truly a crises and what isn’t. It’s high alert, all the time. I know from previous experience this is typical moving stress and it will all calm down soon, when I get my bearings.

Yesterday driving Seth home from his terrific first day of school there was an accident on the Interstate. It took us 75 minutes to crawl home. I thought ahead to bring Seth a snack to eat and some water, thank goodness. The AC in my car conked out (as it is prone to do on only the hottest days) so it was bumper to bumper, super hot, and he’d had a long tiring first day. He started to feel carsick. I put Harry Potter on (book on CD) and told him to hold the ice pack I’d put in with his water against his skin. He did. He made it home. He bounced back quickly. I was a rock in the car, and felt wobbly when I got home.

Last week big issues came up with Riley’s orthodontia. We have to make some decisions that will affect her forever. Since being here I’ve had to deal with several blundering medical professionals who honestly don’t know any better. They know not what they do with their offhand remarks. They don’t think before speaking and scaring/scarring a child (or her mother).

My body is on high alert. High alert!

Where I am? What am I doing? How do I protect my kids? What if we do the wrong thing? What if moving was the wrong thing? My brain careens.

I spent four hours in the car yesterday, parenting duties, picking up forms and what not, and the traffic jam. In my mid-day travels I was listening to a book on my iPod when all of a sudden it switched to music I didn’t recognize, didn’t even know I had on there. It was nuns, singing. I know I must have bought it at some point, but don’t remember ever having played it. Which one of you recommended it? It isn’t something I would generally pick. And there it came on, right in the middle of my book, without even being asked.

The voices of the nuns instantly calmed me, and rather than trying to switch it and get back to the book, (I’m not good at fumbling around with electronics while driving) I let it go. And then after a few minutes, there was another Voice coming from within me and it said,

“You are doing just fine.”

It gave me a lump in my throat.

You are doing just fine. 

You are doing just fine. 

You are doing just fine. 

The negative self-talk and worry can be relentless. But “things have a way of working out,” my grandmother winks in my mind. My spiritual mentor Barbara’s voice goes through my head, saying, “Darling, how is it you can’t see how good you are?”

How can we help each other remember this about ourselves?

The nuns sang me home and as I pulled into our driveway, in perfect timing, the chant/song ended with a beautiful, drawn out,

“Ahhhhhhhhh-men.”

Breathing, breathing,

All is well. It’s all okay.

I’m doing just fine.

Florida

We are in Florida.

Putting our house on the market, keeping it spotless for months, selling it, and moving has kicked our butts. I feel like I’ve aged ten years in the last six months. I am feeling very off center. Our stuff isn’t here yet but will arrive this week and then we unload/unpack. I’m feeling very much like we’re too tired to do this “ourselves” again. We packed it all and loaded the container and will unload/unpack when it gets here. We’ve been sleeping on air mattresses too long, and eating on the floor, picnic style.

Anyway, we’re here. We’re safe. Todd starts his new job tomorrow. I’ve got a bazillion details to contend with around the rental house and schools and new doctors and orthodontists, etc. My head spins. Clothes piled everywhere because we have no dressers here yet. The disorder is unsettling. School will start later this month. All in all, all is well, but Mommy needs a break. I feel weepy for no reason. A lot. Today I went to a movie by myself, and that helped. Just to change the freaking subject.

The ocean is close and I can go there as quick as I could get to the grocery store in Cleveland. The other night I was heading to Target, but found myself going in the opposite direction. Found myself on the shore. I sat on the sand and watched the colors change until it became night. And it was like someone was breathing life into me.

As often as I can, I’ll keep doing that.

Problems seem so much smaller while looking at the ocean.

Some things about Florida: They have newts. Luckily the girl is charmed by them and not freaked out. Also…they allow smoking in public places. We’ve been spoiled in Ohio and also our home state of NY where it is outlawed. Nothing like breathing in that filthy poison from the next table while at a public pool or enjoying dinner out. And another thing, the driving is more aggressive. This ain’t the friendly mid-west. No, you go. No, you go. I’ll wait.  None of that here. Let’s just say we’ve been honked at a few times.

We are renting a tiny house with a tiny pool, and the other night while trying out the pool, we noticed two parrots had landed on the telephone wire above us. We’d never seen any not in a cage. That was cool. Palm trees are everywhere. The days are brutally hot but the mornings and evenings are beautiful.

Did I mention the ocean? I always thought living near it was a dream out of reach, but here we are.

 

Sorting and Sifting and Tossing and Boxing

The past couple of months have been some of the most stressful we’ve ever experienced. We are now in the final stretch, and soon we will be in our new home (renting), in a new state.

We sold the house and closing is in a couple of weeks.

We are packing and I have gone through every inch of this house, sorting and sifting and doing everything in my power to make sure nothing comes with us that isn’t useful, or that we don’t love. It makes moving considerably harder. You can’t just dump drawers into boxes. You have to go over every drawer and nook with a fine tooth comb, and you have to be firm and unsentimental.

We are at a turning point in our lives, and we don’t want to be weighed down with things we don’t value or need. Interestingly, Todd is having a harder time letting go of some things than I am. Why the man would want to hang onto my paintings from high school I don’t know, but I am like…NO. Off to the curb.

Funny enough, a neighbor came by and took them.  Hot Toddy feels so much better about it now.

I was talking to someone recently who had to go through her parents stuff after their deaths, and she said it was a terrible burden, to have to toss things she knew meant a lot to them. I’ve been using this stratedgy on HT, “So we’ll carry around this stuff, storing it for the next 30 years and then burden the children with having to get rid of it after we’re gone?”

He conceded.

The house we’ll be renting has much less space, so that is another incentive.

Anyway…it’s HOT out, and our current house doesn’t have AC. And it’s really only this hot a few weeks out of the year and we have window units for the bedrooms so it’s never been a problem, but we are doing hard labor. Up and down the stairs a million times. Hauling boxes to our POD, (we pack it and load it, they drive it and drop off in our new driveway, we unload ourselves. It’s much cheaper than hiring movers but it is a ton of work).

We are almost there. The attic and upstairs bedrooms, and basement and most of the garage are all cleared out. I’ve been scrubbing the bedroom floors because I want it to be perfect and clean for the new owners. All that’s left is piled into the dining room for more boxing and sorting. And I can’t really pack the kitchen yet with a couple of weeks to go. Not with special needs diets and needing to make most of our food at home. Though the kids are getting more processed food than they’ve ever had (and more TV and iPod).

Our POD is almost full.  There is a treasure trove at the curb. We made the junk collector’s day. Seriously. He picked up so much stuff in front of our house and beamed and proclaimed he could stop work early today. Also, we live in a neighborhood that values recycling. Neighbors took away a lot of stuff too. A new family across the street got Seth’s train table, and a bunch of other stuff. Other neighbors took things from the garage. Another one took storage bins we no longer need. It feels good to give stuff away to people who can use it.

I feel like we’re in the final stages of labor. We’re pushing now. We are so close. It’s all going to be worth it. But I look around feeling overwhelmed, I can’t do it! There’s no possible way! Yet somehow I know it will all happen.

We are sweaty and sore. We have BO (TMI?). We’re limping along to the finish. Yes, I’m mixing metaphors now but I’m fried so cut me some slack.

Sorting

and sifting

and tossing.

And boxing things up.

Oh my.

 

4100 Pages

We just finished the Harry Potter series. We started five years ago and have tackled one every summer, and some during the winters in between. I have read each of those 4100 pages out loud to my kids. The first book starts with such innocence and it perfectly matched where Riley and Seth were at the time. As Harry grew and matured, so did they, right in step with him.

The last book gets very dark, and it is appropriate that they didn’t read that book ’til this year. They can handle it now. They couldn’t have before.

The first one we started on a porch swing at a house we were renting when we first moved to CLE. The kids were 8 and six. The rest have been read snuggled together on our king sized bed, or I’ve read to them while they’ve eaten dinner on evenings that Todd worked.

I have loved reading aloud to my children. I am almost ready to be done with it. I am tired. Seth might have one more series in his future, he wants me to read The Lord of the Rings to him. We’ll see.

I’ve already read him The Hobbit and also the Indiana Jones series and a bunch of other less meaty books. Mostly while waiting for his sister while she’s been at various therapies. He’s become quite the independent reader, but the fact that he still wants me to read to him, still wants that closeness, I might not be able to resist. It won’t be much longer, I’m afraid.

When we finished the last words of Harry Potter today, he was on my left, she on my right. Spontaneously, they both hugged me, and in doing so hugged each other and we stayed there like that, in a group hug on the big bed for a thoughtful while and then Seth broke the moment with, “What’s next?”

What’s next?

We are moving. They are growing up.

A chapter is closing.

When they think back on their childhoods, I hope they fondly remember Cleveland, and the boy with the lightening scar on his forehead, and the mom that loved them so much.

# 1 tip for photographing rental units, get out of the shot.

Nice garage, but I don’t want to rent the place if that guy is going to be hanging around.

We are going to be renting soon, and I am looking at apartments and rental homes through a realtor and also seeing what I can find on Craigslist. What I’m finding are a lot of men in the shots.

Dude, seriously?

It goes on and on and honestly, it ain’t selling the places. It’s kind of creepy. They look like ghosts.

Someone’s in the microwave…

Et tu Fido?

Woof.

We found the perfect house to rent the other day, and we were about two hours too late. Our only hope is that the first applicant’s credit is lousy. And of course I would never wish that on anyone, right? Sigh.

The search continues.

They’re My Home

We are losing our entire life savings in this move. Not that we had true “life savings.” Our life savings was our equity in our home, and there is no longer any equity. The market has dropped so profoundly since we bought it. Our sweet house doesn’t seem to even be worth what we owe on it.

We had one offer, and the deal fell through. A short sale isn’t too far off for us. Foreclosure is not out of the question.

I have been struggling. Struggling to keep the house “show ready” for two months. Struggling with the unknowns of where we will live, and when we will leave. The only sure things are the schools. Both are set. Todd has interviews next week which will narrow some things down as far as location for rentals to explore.

I’ve been struggling with feelings of victimhood. How is it possible that we who have been so responsible with our money, could walk away from Cleveland with nothing? We who have lived modestly, we who did not take out a mortgage we could not afford, we who have never been late with a bill in our lives, could be in this predicament? How is it fair that we’ve had to pay out of pocket for almost everything medical for over a decade and at the same time pay for medical insurance we’ve hardly been able to take advantage of because autism isn’t covered?

My ego is bruised when I see (or imagine) the cushy lives of friends, who have been in the same house for their childrens whole childhoods, who probably have it almost paid off, who have some semblance of financial security, who have community that sticks.

Off we go again.

I’m alternately ill and thrilled over the prospect of renting. Ill because it’s not what I expected at this point in our lives. I’m having to take a real look at myself and question any beliefs I have about my personal value as a person being tied up in what kind of home I live in. Previously I would have scoffed that I had any of that, but there it is. Right there bobbing on the surface. I’m not above it. HGTV doesn’t help. I have turned that channel off, for good. Having come from a place of poverty, I fear it. I never want to live in a shit hole again. I’m shit hole averse. As are most, I would think. Who chooses to live in a shit hole? I digress. Of course we won’t live in a shit hole.

Thrilled because no maintenance. Freedom. The possibility of living close to the beach. And thrilled for the very reason we are going. The possibilities for our darling girl. Big things in store for her, and for Seth. His new school looks to be fantastic as well. I know it is going to be a wonderful adventure. I know it is going to be good. I know we are so fortunate to be able to put our kids into two private schools, no matter where we wind up living. I know we are fortunate that it is relatively easy for us to find work. Knock on wood.

HT and I have had some of the dooziest fights of our marriage in the last couple of months, and we have weathered them and come through the other side. We’ve let go of a lot of fear in the process. We’re okay. We’re back on the same team, being gentle with each other.

I know financially we are starting over, but we have so much more than so many and I have to remember how truly fortunate we are to be able to uproot and do this. There has never been something we’ve wanted to do for the kids well-being that we have not figured out how to do. I really have no problems.

Lately in moments I least expect it, a memory keeps floating through and tapping me on the shoulder. We were on an Alaskan cruise. Riley was eight. Seth was six. It was night. We were in our cabin, no bigger than a shoe box. Seth was asleep on the bunk above us. Riley was on the little fold out couch at the foot of our bed. Todd was snuggled up spooning me. The ocean was rocking us to sleep. All of my loves were within an arm’s reach.

It felt womb-like. The love. I had everything I needed. I’d never been happier.

All was well.

All will be well.

All is well.

Amen.

Take Your Head Out of the Sand

When Riley was three, I was attending a weekly meeting to discuss A Course in Miracles. I’d found the book a couple of years prior, and dabbled. I felt better every time I picked it up and read a little. It was at this challenging point in my life that I began studying it in earnest, and it got me through a very rough time and truly informed my spirituality. It still does.

There were anywhere from a dozen to two dozen who showed up at those meetings, and at least three of us (all women) had a kid on the spectrum, though I had not faced it yet. Two men had challenging sons. I don’t know if they were diagnosed with anything or not.

I would share my troubles, week after week, about this kid that screamed and cried for no reason, and finally one day, one of the women whose own son had already been through it said to me,

“Your doctor has not helped her. You need to take your head out of the sand. This kid sounds exactly like mine did, and she is hurting.  You might want to see the doctor we see.”

Blunt.

Her son is a few years older than Riley and one for whom removing dairy and wheat had a transformative effect. He oozed pus out of his nose until his system cleared of it. He “woke up” from a foggy haze just getting those foods out of his system. They’d also done chelation and a bunch of other interventions that helped him even more. He was getting better, and she was transforming herself spiritually, working on deep forgiveness in every area of her life.

Our regular pediatrician had advised us to simply, “Tell Riley she’s making a big deal out of nothing.”

And, “Kids have tantrums, and it is up to you to set limits.”

He was clueless as to what we were really dealing with, what that little girl was living.

“She’s fine. She has advanced speech.”

At three and a half she was having panic attacks and had the self-care skills of an 18 month old, but whatever. She could talk.

“You need to take your head out of the sand.”

If it had been anyone else to tell me to “take my head out of the sand,” I would have been offended and might have turned in the opposite direction. It was shocking. It stung.

“You need to take your head out of the sand.”

But it opened a door.

I knew she was coming from a place of love. I knew she cared about me and my child. I knew her kid had gotten better. I knew he used to be “just like Riley.”

Take

your

head

out

of

the

sand.

Sometimes, it’s just the thing we need to hear.

Witness

Last night was the 8th grade graduation at Riley’s school. Riley is in 7th grade, but she really wanted to go. It was her birthday yesterday…13! And she wanted nothing more than to spend her evening seeing her 8th grade friends graduate. It was a very beautiful and emotional ceremony. Every one of the kids had faced challenges due to their learning differences. Every one of them had walked a very long and brave road to have come this far and be off to high school next year. The graduates each created a power point presentation set to music, including baby photos and photos of when they first arrived at the school(some were so tiny), and shared some of their favorite memories there. Being in a room full of special needs parents, knowing how hard they have worked to get their children to this point in their lives. Teachers were crying. Parents were crying. At one part of the ceremony, each student took a single rose and presented it to their parents. Be still my heart.

In the row in front of us, left to right, there was what appeared to be a mom, a ten year old brother, a step-mom and a dad. Mom and dad, furthest apart from each other. When their daughter approached the row with her rose, they all stood up, and the step-mom backed up ever so slightly, allowing the mom to get in there. She was respectful that this was the other woman’s daughter, and bowed out for the moment. And the mom and dad hugged their child, who had come so very, very far.

And then, not two seconds into the hug, the mom turned and reached out her arm and pulled the step-mom into the circle, and they all embraced.

And then the girl was off and back to the group of graduates at the front, and the row in front of me sat down, and the mom held her long stemmed rose. And she smiled and inhaled it.

And then, she reached across little brother, and offered it to step-mom’s nose, and she too inhaled it deeply, and they just kind of acknowledged each other again with their eyes, and then the moment was over and it was on with the ceremony.

The whole transaction was between the two women. The dad was kind of oblivious to it, his eyes focused on his daughter, up front.

Love for a child.

It’s a powerful thing.

Diving

This is my grandmother, in 1918. On the back of the photo it says her swan dive was 99.9% perfect. She was 16 at the time. She would go on to marry. Live in NYC for a while. Move back to her home town. Have twin boys, then another boy, then after many years, well into her 40’s, (44,45?)a girl. My mother. My grandmother was my age when she started over with a new baby. When that baby was 6, she would leave her drunk carousing husband once and for all, and venture out on her own as a single mother, before single motherhood was a norm.

She had an eighth grade education but she was smart. She worked as a secretary at a lumber yard for over forty years, hardly ever getting a raise, but she was frugal and managed to get me and my sibs one good pair of school shoes every year and a couple of articles of clothing.

When we would arrive at her apartment, unexpected, on school nights or weekends, at 10PM,  (bad nights when my mom didn’t want to leave us home with my father when she went off to work graveyard shift), my grandmother would fling the door open and exclaim,

“Oh Joy!”

She never made us feel like a burden.

She ate dandelions and pickled things, and loved to feed and watch birds. She was not a fan of cats, but learned to love our family dog, (secretly).

Recently, my sister and I discovered we both think of her whenever a red cardinal makes an appearance.

Soon after she retired at age 87, she moved in with my mother to become caretaker of my two preschool aged brothers, who had come along well after the rest of us, unexpectedly, a lot like my mother had. My father had left us, and did not pay support. My mom needed her to move in, to survive. Gramma cooked and did her best to clean, and did her best to raise the boys, though often she used shame as a method of keeping them in line. She meant well, and didn’t know better.

I was one of the closest people on earth to my grandmother. I was the last family member to see her before she died of congestive heart failure, staying with her in the ER until they got her settled into a room.

As we get ready to move south, and my whole world is up in the air, everything I think I believe has gone flying out the window, and I’ve been filled with panic at times. My faith in all things working out seems to have left me and I kind of see it off glinting in the distance somewhere, but I can’t quite reach it. Then my ego has a field day with this, a regular hootenanny, flagellating me, for being such a spiritual hypocrite. It isn’t enough to be afraid, but I then beat myself up over it too.

I know I don’t have life figured out. I often think I do, but my grandmother’s life serves as a reminder that I don’t.  At my age, she was starting her life anew, just beginning with my mother. So much was ahead of her.

Now…tongue firmly in cheek here, ……at my age, she wouldn’t even meet me, one of the closest people on earth to her, for another 20 years! (Yes, my grandmother’s life was all about me). Can you imagine? I might not even meet one of the people who will be there with me holding my hand, the day I die, for another 20 years?

But much to my amazement, my grandmother had a whole life before me too. There are photos to prove it. My mother gave me a whole envelope, years after my grandmother died.

Look at the photo above. She dove! What did it feel like to feel so free in your body Gramma? You never talked about it!  99.9% perfect.

And look at this one. Who is this Mabel Rodman, obviously a BFF…that you never once mentioned?And when by God, did you ever wear high heels or pose flirtily hanging off a train? Gramma? I knew ye only in orthopedic shoes. And who took the pictures?

 

 

There are so many chapters in the story of a life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are about to start a new one. It feels so frightening. So much appears to be on the line. We’re losing so much money on the house, it’s like completely starting over financially.

But…. we’re, “going in the light that’s given us.” Truly, we are.

and…

“Things have a way of working out.”

and…

God loves us.”

Beyond my fear, I know these things to be true.

I know it.

My gramma gave me that.

 

Amazing Self Advocacy at the Dentist!

The kids had dental cleanings scheduled for after school today. Last time, Riley really wanted me to go back with her. This time, as I’ve done every time, I asked if she wanted me to join her? Or was she okay going by herself?

“I think I’m okay going back by myself,” she said.

I played it cool.

“Okay Riley. And if you want me for any reason, you just say, “Excuse me, but I’d like you to get my mom.”

She looked up from her People Magazine,

Okay? Okay. We’re good.

The hygienist came out and took her back. No prob.

I sat in the waiting room with Seth, basking.

When she was finished, she came out as if she’d always gone back to get her teeth cleaned without me. Totally nonchalant.

Can you take it?

Next it was Seth’s turn. He did want me to go back with him, so I went. On the way down the hall, the hygenist (who had never worked with Riley before) told me that on the way back to the room, Riley had advocated for herself saying, “I have autism, and I’m really sensitive so I’m going to ask you to be gentle.”

I am so glad she told me Riley said that. I felt giddy over it. She’s asked the assistants at the orthodontist’s to be gentle before, but never explained the whole thing. Never without her mom.

I thanked her and then told the hygienist about Seth’s tics, made sure she knew he can’t help it, yada, yada.

All was well and then, she tried to give him mint mouth wash. Little man don’t do mint. He hates it, says it burns his mouth. He stopped her and asked for another flavor and she said, sure. Evidently, Seth advocates for himself too.

It was awesome telling HT. He had the exact same proud, thrilled, oh-my-God-how-far-we’ve-come reaction. We love us some Riley. And Seth is the coolest as well.

It has been an extremely stressful time lately, getting the house ready to sell. I’ve been out of my mind with the pressure of getting it all done. But this, has made my day.

I can’t stop smiling.

*Sometime soon I’ll tell you about my talk at the dental school last Friday, a result of the post linked to above. The short story is they were nice and it went well.

The Business of Baby

The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Before Their Bottom Line, by Jennifer Margulis.

I will give this book to every newly pregnant woman I meet for the rest of my life. I believe in it so much I will champion it to anyone who will listen. I will go into book stores and I will move it to a prominent place of display, (in front of What to Expect), every chance I get. If you have children, no matter what the age, buy this book. Tell everyone you know. This is a VERY IMPORTANT book. 

I wish this book had been out when I was a new mommy. Oh…how much easier I would have breathed about so many things. If I’d read this book, maybe I would have trusted my own judgement more about my babies, rather than handing over my power. I would have enjoyed them more and worried less. I wouldn’t have felt so scared and alone when facing off with physicians I didn’t agree with.

You know that old parable about the roast with the ends cut off? And it goes on that way for generations until one day a woman asks her great grandmother, why do we cut off the ends off the roast? She thinks there is some important culinary reason behind it. The great grandmother says her mother didn’t have a pan big enough to fit it in.

So much of what we do as parents is just following along, not questioning. Doing what has always been done. In this book Margulis uses her critical thinking skills, her undercover investigational skills, and tons of scientific research to question things we commonly subject our babies to without even thinking about it. But unlike corporate America whose job it is to scare us into buying more products, this book is empowering. So empowering! You will worry less after reading it. You will trust yourself more. You will be a better parent. A thinking parent.

The Business of Baby is full of information. And a book with so much info could be dry, but not this book. It reads like a novel. Or a conversation with a friend. It is so interesting and engaging. It is full of personal stories. Margulis tackles the subjects of breast feeding, diapering practices, circumcision, vaccines, the corporate grip on our physicians, our ridiculously high infant death rate in the U.S., the overuse of ultrasounds, and overall fear mongering that gets us to buy products and agree to practices that are not in the best interest of our children.

She talks to physicians about what it’s really like to run a pediatric practice business. She talks to an outspoken vaccine proponent, who privately tells her he admires Jenny McCarthy and those who are questioning the over-vaccination of children in our country.

This book needed to be written. Margulis, a devoted mother of four and a beautiful writer stepped up to the plate and did a very thorough job. I am so happy for the generations of children that will benefit from it.

Jennifer Margulis dedicates The Business of Baby to her mother, the late Lynn Margulis. Lynn Margulis was a prominent scientist whose work “helped transform the study of evolution.” She bravely challenged the ideas of many other prominent scientists and since then, her theories have become “accepted evolutionary doctrine” according to The New York Times.

Jennifer Margulis is the perfect combination of someone who truly values science, having been steeped in it, and who is also entirely devoted to mothering. Like her mom, she is “sticking her neck out,” challenging ideas that have been widely and unquestioningly accepted. The Business of Baby will be an important part of the evolution of parenting as we currently know it, as reader by reader we begin to think, begin to question, begin to wake up.

Her mom would be so proud.

BUY THIS BOOK! Read this book. Give it as a baby shower gift. Tell your friends. Be part of the change.

Amen.

* For more on author Jennifer Margulis, click here.

* Like the Facebook page for The Business of Baby here. 

Uncle

There is a writing workshop I really, really want to go to coming up later this month. There are two people presenting I really, really want to meet in person. I admire their work and have received good support from them, and I would like to support them back,  and I just would love to immerse myself in their positive ju-ju for a day or two.

Plus there is another HUGE writer I would love to hear speak. Plus, there is another smaller panel and one of the writers on it I would just be thrilled to meet in person. I love her work and what she is about and she could be a very influential contact for my next book, a spiritual book on parenting children with special needs.

BUT

It is over eight hours away. And I am bone tired. We traveled six hours by car two weekends ago because Todd’s mom is sick and I’ve barely got my footing since getting back. And we will likely be doing it again soon.

AND

We are getting our house ready to sell. It is a TON of work. Clearing out. Painting. Hiring various contractors to do work we can’t do. Getting inspections taken care of. Meeting with realtors. Selling our stuff on Craigslist. Trying to get it “show” ready.

ALSO

Todd has been working like a demon. He’s been doing tons of shifts that start at 6AM, and he is tired too. We’ve barely had a moment together in weeks, and I miss him.

ANOTHER THING

I meet with some of my women writer friends here the weekend of the workshop, and this group is very important to me and I won’t be here in Cleveland much longer and I don’t want to miss it/them.

PLUS

I’d miss chorus. And I won’t be here in Cleveland much longer and I don’t want to miss it/them.

SO

I just have to cry uncle. I have to believe there is always another workshop. Always another ship coming in. Always Divine timing.

I could go to the workshop. But it would likely wipe me out. Writing workshops are great, but they are not relaxing. They are not retreats. They are often stressful, and emotionally draining, especially if you are doing real work. And why go if you’re not going to do the real work?

It’s all okay.

I can do everything I want in this life, just not all at the same time.

Damn it.

Let the Dogs Speak!

I first met Marianne McKiernan when she contacted me to do a story for the news organization she works for in Denver. She is a service dog puppy raiser as well as a reporter and her dog-in-training, Rocket, had a mad crush on Jingle. In addition to training dogs for Canine Companions for Independence, Marianne is an animal intuitive and she has offered her services a couple of times when our pets have been out of sorts.

In her new book, Let the Dogs Speak! Puppies in Training Tell the Story of Canine Companions for Independence, Marianne tells the story of four dogs she’s raised and she does it…in the dogs’ voices…thus the title.  Their names are Hudson, Parker, Ross and Mars. I started to read the book, and then Seth hi-jacked it and I didn’t see it again for three weeks. He took it to school for his reading time there, and he read it every night before bed. He really enjoyed learning about each dog’s story and also the personality and idiosyncracies of the many dogs discussed in the book. For instance, one dog is phobic of butter. When his person takes a stick out of the fridge, he gets really scared. We all have our issues, right? One dog liked to use his bone as a skateboard. One dog’s hobbies included rolling in dead snake.

I enjoyed learning more about what goes into the process of raising a service dog. I had an idea, probably a better idea than most, but I didn’t really know the extent of it.  In addition to the extensive work puppy raisers like Marianne and her husband John put in, the dogs at Canine Companions go through a rigorous program with prison inmates as well (Jingle also did this in her program with 4 Paws for Ability). As one of the dogs in the book states, “It takes a village to raise a service dog!”

Let the Dogs Speak! would be a perfect book for anyone who is considering obtaining a service dog. It would be especially soothing and wonderful and exciting to read for anyone who is actively waiting on a service dog. It would also be great reading for anyone who is considering being a puppy raiser for a service dog program. But truly, anyone who loves dogs is sure to get a kick out of it. Every question you ever had about service dogs and their role in society is covered.

You just can’t imagine the dedication and commitment on the part of puppy raisers like Marianne. They take puppy after puppy, love them, work with them, and then let them go, time after time. It takes a special kind of person to make that kind of committment and sacrifice.

On behalf of our family and those like us, we thank you Marianne, and we’re so appreciative for your willingness to do the beautiful work you do.

We are glad you Let the Dogs Speak! and we are so blessed to call you friend.

Marianne is busy raising Jeb, puppy #9, almost 8 months old.  Rocket, #8, is at Advanced Training and he’s a hopeful for a May graduation. Even after all the hard work and love put in, not every dog makes it through the program. It is nerve wracking for Marianne right up until the day of graduation.

Jeb is continuing Marianne’s DogBlog at The Denver Channel.com.

She says she gets more out of CCI than she puts into it, and feels it is a pleasure and a privilege to raise these dogs.

Be Kind for Autism Awareness

Parent teacher conferences at Seth’s preschool. We are new to town. I don’t have a local emergency contact person. We’ve only been here a couple of months and it’s all I can do to tend to my two children. One with autism. I don’t get to “do coffee” or hang out with the other preschool moms, chit chatting away, making friends and emergency contacts. I’m busy with doctor appointments, and therapies, and making every morsel my family eats from scratch in order to follow The Specific Carb Diet to a T. I don’t know it yet, but my health is about to take a dive. Adrenal fatigue. Thyroid.

I don’t have anyone to leave my kids with for this 20 minute conference. But the conference is essential. Mandatory. I noted previously the secretary’s office has a train table, a basket of toys and books. I’m sure it will be alright. I’ll be just down the hall. They play nice together. Nothing should set Riley off here.

The secretary says, “Yes, yes of course! They are darling! Look at them!” I let out my breath. I never ask for help. I hate asking for help. But she’s so gracious. I get a lump in my throat.

Seth’s teachers love him. They say he’s a doll. In and out. No dilly-dallying. I’m on my way.

Back in the office, the director is there. She takes me aside and in no uncertain terms tells me this is not a daycare. I can’t be leaving my kids with the secretary. She has work to do. If she lets me do this, then everyone will do this, and no work will get done.

I feel punched in the stomach. I have just moved here. I don’t know anyone. No emergency contact. I moved here for my older child who has autism. I am trying so hard. I am buckling with the strain of the last few years.

I asked for help, one time. For twenty minutes.

Tears welled in my eyes and I willed myself not to cry. I didn’t cry. I wouldn’t look at her. I took each child by the hand and walked briskly down the hall.

She approached me the next day. She felt terrible. Wanted me to assuage her guilt. I couldn’t get on her bad side. For Seth. He deserved some normalcy in his life. I was polite.

This is autism.

The Tallest Woman in the World With a Tail

I facilitate a book group for kids age 10-12, and Friday we discussed Betti on the High Wire. I loved the book so much. It is about a girl in a war torn country who gets adopted by American parents. She is a smart, brave, orphan girl. She is a survivor. She is also a story teller.

Betti is one of many “leftover” kids who lives in an abandoned circus camp. One of the stories she often tells is of her parents, The Tallest Woman in the World With a Tail, and her father…the Alligator Man. She longs for the day they come find her.  

I won’t spoil the book for you, but wanted to share something interesting. Out of the five kids (with me making six) all of us had a different picture in our heads of what kind of tail Betti’s mom had.

I envisioned an alligator tail. One child pictured a fox’s tail. One child thought it was a monkey tail. One child envisioned a cat’s tail. Another a lion. Another, a dog’s tail.

Isn’t that something? All of us read the exact same sentences. Each of us envisioned something completely different.

The same could be said for Betti. The author deliberately doesn’t tell you what country she is from and only gives certain physical characteristics. One child thought Betti was blond with a French accent. Some thought she was likely Asian. Of course none of us knew for sure.

Perception is an individual thing.

This book group for 10-12 year olds stays on task better than any adult book group I’ve been part of. Maybe it’s because there is no wine? Such thoughtful discussions we have. 

Two more meetings before our move. Two more books.

We’re really going to miss these wonderful reader/friends. Each with a perspective as unique as Betti’s mother’s imagined tail.