Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Judge Reinhold* Mouths Off to Me at the Grocery Store

I hate grocery shopping.  With a passion.  The only reason I was doing the shopping is because the Absent-Minded Professor was out of town and we were down to brown rice and a half-empty jar of Bama grape jelly. The grocery stores in Texas sell everything from Q-tips to bedroom furniture, and the overwhelming hugeness gives me panic attacks.  (On the plus side, they all seem to have lots of samples out, which is helpful, because my blood sugar starts to run low after the first twenty aisles or so.) Anyway, I had already forgotten to get hot dog rolls and now they were, like, two miles back.  So when some guy at the store began to pass judgment on my parenting choices, I was not. in. the. mood.

"How come the girls are walking and the little prince gets to ride in the cart?" he asked.  (Little Dude happens to have curly blond hair like the lad in Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince, but I'm pretty sure Judge Reinhold here wasn't making a literary reference.)

Let me just clear something up: Little Dude is four.  Even without his "special needs," he is still young enough to ride in the cart.  I know this because he still fits in there.  The girls are aged six, nine, and nine.  They don't fit in the cart

So as best as I can figure out, Mr. Helpful was saying that:
  1. Riding in the grocery cart is somehow effeminate;
  2. I'm spoiling Little Dude, making him into a "little prince;" and
  3. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.  Wait -- no -- that's a line from The Little Prince, and we've all agreed that he's not making that comparison.
All this ran through my mind, but all I mustered to say was, "well, it's easier for me this way."

"A boy that age should walk," Uncle Creepy persisted.

And a man your age should mind his damn business.

Look, I'm terrified of the day Little Dude is too big for the cart. There are a lot of things about children that can make grocery stores challenging, and Asperger's just magnifies the situation. The cart makes him feel safe in a bright, noisy, crowded store.  He likes to touch everything, so getting through anything bigger than a 7-11 will take forever. 

Ripping Mr. McJudgeypants a new one would have been super-entertaining in any other scenario, but I hate the grocery store too much to invest my time in explaining myself.  Plus, the popsicles were melting and my geriatric bladder was asking to go home.  

Sorry.  This would be a better blog post if I could report that I said that I was already clogging the aisle like so much cholesterol with my cart and kids as it was.  And that he should try grocery shopping for a family of six, on a budget, and see if he wasn't ready to ride in the cart himself, right to Bonkersville Institute. And that if he wanted to go around spouting his foul opinions, he should do something about that cat breath.  And that I think I know why he's buying "Single Man" frozen dinners.

Blogger FAIL: I just kind of gave him an "mm-hmm" and kept rolling.

Last week I was reading a parenting forum online wherein a mother asked about others' experiences using child harnesses.  A couple of women weighed in with diatribes on how inhumane "baby leashes" are, and that we should all learn to get better control over our kids. 

And then thirty-five other moms wrote in to tell those first two to suck it.  Because it was from the comfort of my own home, as opposed to the panic-inducing Kroger, I chimed right in:
I used harnesses (the backpack kind) with my twin girls when they were toddlers. It gave them some freedom when they were sick of the stroller. YES I know it's important to teach children boundaries and "keep a keen eye on them." It's also super-important to keep them from being squished by a car.
You know, if some mom with four kids wants to give me constructive parenting criticism, I'll take it.  I'll even listen to experts like Orville Redenbacher and Qui Gon Jinn.  I'll listen to Judge Wapner and Judge Judy.  But old guys at Kroger and women who don't have kids but lurk on parenting boards anyway can keep their judgments to themselves.

That's right.  The most vocal opponent of harnesses were: a woman with a one-month-old, and another who wrote in to say that although she doesn't have kids yet, she would never use a harness. Bwahahahahahahahaha. You just know that when she has kids she will be blessed with quadruplets who all run in different directions. Because karma is hilarious.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Vuvuzelas, Kardashians, and Twitter: I Have No Idea What's Going On

One of the things that happened when I became a mom is that I completely lost touch with pop culture.  When my twin girls were born, I had a 12 year old mother's helper that kept me up to date on N'Sync and The Backstreet Boys.  Obviously that was a while ago.

Now, I have no idea what's going on.  I recently forayed onto Twitter as a way for people to follow my blog.  The best part about Twitter is waching what's "trending."  Twitter shows, in real time, the top ten most popular words or phrases being tweeted at that particular moment.  It offers a disturbing window into society. Things that sound dirty turn out to be tame (vuvuzela, Robinho); tweets about the absolutely proper turn out to be dirty (Elena Kagan).

It's fascinating.  Because it demonstrates, in real time, that:
  1. People like the word "vuvuzela;"
  2. Spelling and grammar are no longer a priority; and
  3. We're all going to hell in a handbasket.
It also demonstrates the gaping holes in my celebrity knowledge.  I used to enjoy reading Us Magazine in doctor's offices.  Stars -- They're Just Like Us!  They eat!  They buy personal hygeine items!  They get sinus infections!  (Yes, they're exactly like me in every way, except there's no one stalking me at Walgreen's.)  Now I'm more likely to be reading Highlights in the waiting room, and while the Timbertoes may be fascinating, they're never going to be trending on Twitter.

I look at the Twitter trends and I have no idea who these people are, or why their inane, truncated blather is being tweeted and re-tweeted.  For example, I know that the Kardashians are famous, but even after Googling them, I still don't really get why.  I think at least one of them is a porn star, possibly the whole family.  They might be involved with vuvuzelas.

At any given moment, the Twitter cognoscenti are expounding on the oil spill, Nicki Minaj, and #ohyoufancyhuh.  Being baffled by Twitter trends, I turned to People magazine online to see if I could figure things out. Not so much. 

Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson are still dead.  Okay, I'm with you. Nikki Blonsky is awesome.  Check. Mel Gibson filed a restraining order against his girlfriend.  Really?  Someone's crazier than Mel Gibson?  Something about John Edwards' daughter being pissed at him.  Got it.  Many people are divided over which teenage vampire is the dreamiest.  Both of them look like they're actually in their 30s.  (Rememeber Dylan in 90210?  That guy was what, like, 40?)  I don't actually care about Twilight, but I've heard of it.  So, okay, still with you, People

Then People pipes up with "Jake & Vienna Face Off in Emotionally Charged Meeting."  It seems Jake is famous for being on the Bachelor, and then on one of the dancing shows.  I think Vienna (and I'm sure that's her real hair bosom name) is famous for knowing Jake.  Aaaaand that's when I stop caring.

I give up. For the last nine years, I have been too tired to stay up past 8 p.m. Sadly, I'm so uncool I don't even know which shows to DVR. You know what I'm using my DVR for? iCarly specials and Star Wars movies. Sometimes I'll catch Kathy Griffin's D-List, and she'll make fun of celebrities, and then I'll Google them, and then I'll be cool for about two minutes.

On the other hand, I do know a lot about Star Wars.  Maybe Carrie Fisher will start trending on Twitter. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dear Chick-Fil-A Diners

Dear Chick-Fil-A Diners,

I realize you've gone to all the trouble of shoving your child into the Play Area so that you and your babydaddy can have a "special date" without Timmy, but I think you may be misinformed as to the nature of the Chick-Fil-A Play Area.

The Play Area is not like the child care center at your gym.  I see how you could be confused: the gym drop-n-run also has shiny, primary-colored plastic climbing equipment.  However, the drop-n-run has paid supervising attendants.  The Chick-Fil-A Play Area has a bin of hand wipes.

Perhaps you think that because the walls are made of Plexi-Glas, and you can see what happens, that your child is safe.  The Plexi-Glas serves only the same functions that it does in a hockey rink: it doesn't shatter when heads bounce against it; and blood, snot, and chicken grease wipe right off it.  Yes, it's clear.  You could see what's happening if you could tear your face away from your Polynesian sauce, but that doesn't seem to be happening.  In fact, I know weren't watching, because when I brought your sobbing, injured child to you, you were staring into space.  I could have walked right out with your kid.  Lucky for you, the last thing I need is one more crying child on my hands.

Maybe you think that because it's full of kids, it's an ideal place to leave your child unattended.  It is not.  It's Lord of the Flies in here, and they've got a chicken head on a pointy stick.  And your kid does not have the conch.  In fact, your child has just been plowed over by an enormous five-year-old who's hopped up on ice cream and anabolic steroids.  If you think your child is not being bullied in there, you may need to acknowledge the possibility that your child is the bully.  And discuss with your pediatrician the best way to wean Johnny off the 'roids.
 
Let me paint you a scene:
 
Recently the Young Carnivores are playing in the Chick-Fil-Tunnel when I hear a shriek -- distinctly one of my kids' shrieks -- and then the scuffling of many small besocked feet. 

Down the slide comes a crying Peanut Butter Kid, escorted by the Pork Lo Maniac.  The only thing the Pork Lo Maniac adores more than pork lo mein is ratting out mean kids.  I mean, she savors it.  She gives an ID of the suspect that would hold up in court.

"That mean boy up there just hit PBK.  In the eye.  And he doesn't care.  And he won't say sorry.  He is wearing a green Pokemon shirt and has spiky red hair. And he has light-up sneakers on and you're supposed to put them in a cubby."

Now, little Jack can't stay up there forever.  Because he's a kid, and he'll get bored.  So I wait him out.  Eventually, he comes down the slide.

"Did you hit my daughter?"

"No."

A slew of small people beg to differ.  There's a coup d'etat here in Lord of the Flies. 

"He did!  He did!  He hit me too!"  Fifteen chicken-scented hands point at Jack.

"Where's. Your. Mom."

He looked at me and gave me that squinty look.  Really, young man?  You think you're going to stare me down?  I have stared down all kinds of craziness that you have never even heard of.  I have stared in the face of Kawasaki Disease and food allergies and Orville Redenbacher himself.  I single-handedly caused the global Swine Flu pandemic.  So trust me when I tell you that you have no idea what's about to rain down on your sorry self.

"Let's go, kid."

I march Jack out of the Play Area. (I don't touch him, mind you. I don't want to be sued for anything by Mr. and Mrs. Neglectful.)

Now, I have absolutely no qualms about making a big fat scene.  At some point this will be immensely embarassing to my kids, but so far they find it entertaining.  They think I'm a super-hero.  So to their delight, I bellow:

"WHOSE CHILD IS THIS?"

And I wait for Mrs. Neglect to raise her hand while every set of eyes turns to her.  I lead her sullen child over to her table and explain the situation calmly.  She's already been shamed enough.  She makes her son apologize to PBK.  I buy my kids a round of milkshakes for the road and we, the Conquering Heroes, head out to the cheers of a dozen small children.

I enjoy hero-worship as much as the next mom, but I would really prefer for my daughter not to get hit in the eye in the first place.  I'm guessing you probably won't enjoy the stark raving mad scene I'll create the next time it happens.  Pehaps we can agree on some rules.

Thanks for your cooperation.  Feel free to clip'n'save these rules for future reference.  Or post them at your favorite local play area.

xoxo, Mommy

p.s. stark. raving. mad. mommy. did not receive any payment from Chick-Fil-A to promote its fabulosity in my blog.  Sorry for mangling your cow image, Chick-Fil-A.  I {heart} you.

Friday, June 25, 2010

If I'm Not Working, Why Am I So Tired?

Recently I came across an old friend on Facebook, and she asked me what I’d been up to, career-wise. My answer: “procreating and sustaining life.” Then I went on to explain that I am “just” a Stay-at-Home Mom. I am my own worst enemy when it comes to that one word – just.

I work. My job is joyful, yes, but also disgusting. I’m nine years into this gig, and I’m still dealing with other people’s fecal matter. Given my son’s extreme antipathy to the potty, my chances of being promoted seem remote.

There’s also a certain uber-repetitive quality to my current job. When I worked in an office, I solved problems, and generally they stayed solved. (Except for that one odiferous employee I had to keep reminding to get a little closer to the soap.) I fixed things, they stayed fixed, and I was praised for it.

The problems in my current job range from petty (what do you mean, you don’t like hot dogs anymore?), to major (struggling with my son’s Asperger’s Syndrome). But rarely are these problems solved for any length of time. Massive piles of laundry mock me every day. My four-year-old son, who can do second-grade math, cannot take his own shoes off. Working on this is like banging my head against a very adorable brick wall.

Although lots of moms like to gush about the “benefits” of being a Stay-at-Home Mom (the love! the bonding!), in fact the benefits suck eggs. There are no cash bonuses, no vacation days, no sick days. (I do not call in the Guard unless I am vomiting blood or in labor.) Holidays mean more work, not less. The 401(k) I’ve been ignoring for nine years is a sad, lonely soul.

Don’t get me wrong. I love being a Stay-at-Home Mom. I’m fortunate that we make it work financially. (Although the cost of putting four kids in day care would probably be more than I can make as an HR Manager.) And I know the many ways in which my life would be more complicated if I worked in an office. I do miss talking about office gossip current events, and going to the bathroom by myself, though.

Sometimes the media likes to imply that there’s some kind of battle going on between Working Moms and Stay-at-Home Moms. I’ve spent lots of time throwing back margaritas in “mixed company,” and I’ve never witnessed any of this. The truth is we’re all way too exhausted to judge each other. None of us is “just” anything – whether we’re paid for our hard work or not.

As a Stay-at-Home Mom, it’s just as important to solve the work/life equation. Spending 24 hours a day with the same small people isn’t good for anyone, and it doesn’t make you a great mom. It makes you stark raving mad.

 ...


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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Orville Redenbacher's Bonkersville Institute

Today we met with our pediatric developmental neurologist.  Remember our school psychologist, Qui Gon Jinn? The coolness factor has dropped considerably. Our neurologist is Orville Redenbacher.
I met with him for a one-on-one appointment last week, and I was impressed by both his extensive research in the field, and his awesome St. Patrick's Day bow tie.  Not every guy can rock that look in June.

But today was an appointment for Little Dude.  Of course, I had to cart in the whole crew with me, because my only Texan friend is out of town, mostly likely to escape my extreme neediness. 

So there we are in all our glory. The Pork Lo Maniac is doing a finger thing that looks like she's warming up to play the piano. The Peanut Butter Kid is telling her life story to the hapless receptionist. Little Dude is playing with two stacked Duplo blocks and making the loudest "sshhhhhhhhhhhhh" noise ever (this is sound that Anakin's Jedi Starfighter makes, apparently). Cookie is curled into an awkward ball, hands over her ears, trying to read. I'm so hopped up on a combination of coffee and city traffic that I'm literally shaking.  We're the picture of normalcy.

There is nothing quite like having all your children on display for a developmental neurologist to make you feel like a complete fraud as a mom.  I know we're all weird, and I could just read the doctor's thoughts: If this family isn't headed straight to Bonkersville Insitute, then my name isn't Orville Redenbacher. 

This normal weirdness of our family is why we didn't realize until recently that there was anything at all Aspergerish cooking.  When you live in Crazy Town, all kinds of things seem perfectly normal.  (Note: Also, normal things seem bonkers.  While Dr. Redenbacher was checking Little Dude's reflexes, Little Dude exclaimed, "well, this is just crazy!  He's hitting me with a hammer!")

I mention to Dr. Redenbacher that the more I read about Asperger's Syndrome, the more I notice quirks in the rest of us.  Is that what's meant by the "broader autistic phenotype?"  Dr. Redenbacher explained: "Sometimes, a kid can have Asperger's, and no one else in the family has any unusual behaviors.  We just don't know where it comes from.  In other cases, the Aspie kid is just the tallest mountain in a very large mountain range."  Then he smiled kindly and offered me some kettle corn.

Dr. Redenbacher ran through some more tests, and clearly indicated to me that Qui Gon Jinn's initial Asperger-ish diagnosis was wrong.  "Not ish.  Just is."  That's some awesome bedside manner you've got there, Orville.  Can I have some more popcorn?

The trip to the doctor's wrapped up with a lollipop and a surprise blood draw, which is not how it goes in any of the Berenstain Bears books, so obviously Little Dude became an enraged, hissing possum was somewhat displeased.  A child who experiences sunblock application as stressful is going to have a hard time with having several teaspoons of blood removed from his body.  I was so stressed by the situation that I forgot to ask what the blood draw was even looking for.  Lead? Autism antibodies?  Midichlorians*?  I have no idea.

The doctor also said that Little Dude will need an MRI, to check for a brain anomaly that some Aspies have.  An MRI machine is a brightly-lit, claustrophobia-inducing coffin that produces the tranquil sounds of metal banging against metal, right next to your clamped-in head.  After our experience with today's bloodwork, I'm going go out on a limb here and suggest that sliding my child into such a contraption might not go very well.  Going forward, I'm going to have to insist that both Little Dude and I be totally schnockered up on sedatives if we're going to even discuss an MRI.

* My apologies for yet another Star Wars reference.  On the other hand, if you're one of my readers that actually has Asperger's, you're welcome

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'm Sorry My Family Caused the Swine Flu Pandemic

I'm planning our road trip for next month.  We've already tried this once, and it was reminiscent of Chevy Chase's Vacation, except instead of Wally World, our goal was Texas.  And we didn't quite make it.  So it was more like a movie called I Tried to Drive My Kids to Texas But We All Came Down With Swine Flu at a Holiday Inn in Nashville.

I was doing the trip without the Absent-Minded Professor, but I still had this whole dreamy Graceland / Route 66 / Pee-Wee's Big Adventure thing in my head.  I had a soundtrack of awesome travel tunes lined up on the iPod.  I was ready to teach the kids about history and geography as we crossed state lines.  It was going to be an adventure.  I had a Plan.

It was a recipe for disaster.

Really, I'd been a parent long enough to know better.  We can barely plan to meet friends at McDonald's and make it happen.  And I thought I was going to drive from Philly to Dallas without some kind of major drama and/or trauma?

Oh, how wrong I was. 

The Absent-Minded Professor had been in Texas for two months at his new job, while I managed the selling of our house.  I hadn't been feeling all that well, but I chalked it up to stress and too many Mike's Hard Lemonades.

Little Dude had a slight temperature the day before we left, but he seemed okay enough to go.  The Absent-Minded Professor was set to meet us halfway there; he would fly into Nashville and do the remainder of the drive with us.  Yay!  Daddy!  Daddy daddy daddy daddydaddydaddydaddy!

The first day of the trip was fine.  Well, not really.  We cried the whole way to the Pennsylvania / Delaware state line.  After that it was fine.  Our GPS System, Bossy Helga, got pretty pissed every time I made a stop, but that was her problem, not mine. 

We made it most of the way through Virginia before stopping for the night.  We had dinner at the hotel restaurant and old people congratulated me on how well-behaved the Young Carnivores were. What a lovely, delightful time we were having.  (Here you can insert the theme music to Jaws, because it's about to turn into a chum-filled mess, and I'm as clueless as the rest of Amity Island.)

After dinner, Little Dude spiked a temp again, and the Pork Lo Maniac had a headache.  Okay, well, it's been a long day, maybe we all just need some sleep.  Riiiiiight.

In the morning I dosed out children's Tylenol and hit the road.  The Pork Lo Maniac's headache got worse; we had to turn off the iTunes and drive in silence.  So much for the soundtrack. At one point, late in the day, Bossy Helga intoned into the silence, "Drive. One hundred. Thirteen. Miles."  The Pork Lo Maniac lost her feverish little mind at that point.

We pressed on.  And by pressed on, I mean we listened to the Pork Lo Maniac weep while I floored it across Tennessee.

We made it to our rendezvous point: a Holiday Inn outside of Nashville, Tennessee.  At this point, Little Dude, the Peanut Butter Kid, and the Pork Lo Maniac were running fevers.  I realize you may be eating breakfast while you read this, so I won't give you all the gory details, but let's just say that more than one of the Young Carnivores required Pull-Ups that night.

Cookie was feeling well enough to play with a roll of tinfoil I had brought as a car activity. As the rest of us drifted in and out of consciousness, she made us tinfoil shoes.  The Absent-Minded Professor arrived to quite the storybook reunion: his loving family sprawled across two beds, sweating and smelling faintly of pee, and everyone's feet wrapped in foil.  Did you miss us?

In the morning, I threw up and promptly came up with a genius Revised Plan:  The Absent-Minded professor would drive the minivan to Texas alone.  The kids and I would rest up for an extra day, at which point we'd be well enough to fly to Dallas, expenses and public health be damned. 

For the next two days, the kids and I lay around, watched pay-per-view, ordered room service, and burned through a huge supply of Tylenol.  In front of several well-dressed business travelers, I burst into tears as I begged a hotel shuttle driver to go out and buy me more children's Tylenol. 

This is probably the moment that I should have known that my Plan needed a detour to the nearest emergency room.  But I was out of my damn mind. So on the third day, full of enough Tylenol and Sudafed to start a meth lab, we staggered past the Swine Flu Alert signs at the Nashville Airport, and got on a plane.

I swear on my new Chinese take-out menu that I did not think we had swine flu.  I genuinely thought we just had a regular old virus.  At a clinic in Dallas, a nurse jammed a Q-tip of fire up my nose and swabbed my brain with it conducted a laboratory test, and I learned it was the H1N1 virus.

So, I'm sorry, people of Texas and air travellers of the world.  My family brought you swine flu last fall.  I'm sure the good people of Pennsylvania are excited to see what we bring back to them this summer.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Drug-Addicted Grandma (No, Really, It's Funny)

Calgon, take me away ... I keep trying, but it's a load of advertising drivel. I just find myself sitting in a tub surrounded by kids who want to know when dinner is and why my belly is so jiggly.  Either these kids need drugs or I do. I am losing my ever-loving mind.

Right now the girls are pretending to be extremely loud cats.  You know the sound a cat makes when you accidentally step on its tail?  That is the sound all three of them are making.  Little Dude has been banging two Legos together for the last 20 minutes.  I don't want to stop him, because prior to the Lego-banging, he had just finished a major freak-out because a small chunk of popsicle fell on his chair.

What ever happened to the good old days, when housewives could be sent away for a week due to "nerves," and all the cool moms knocked back "mother's little helpers" with gin and tonics at garden club luncheons?  Sure, we see some celebrity moms on Entertainment Tonight who seem to be on something stronger than TrimSpa, but pill-popping for moms has definitely lost its cachet.

My grandmother was one of those 1950s moms who was completely whacked out on enjoyed the benefits of the first generation of prescription "nerve pills."  Like many Hollywood stars and middle-class housewives, she took an extremely popular drug called Miltown. Miltown was the Prozac of its day, except that Miltown was an addictive sedative marketed toward pregnant women.  (I wish I was kidding about that.) 

Conveniently, Miltown was also supposed to be good for "the alcoholic, the agitated senile patient, and the problem child."  Now that will solve your problems: if everyone else is passed out on the kitchen floor, Mommy no longer needs the tranquilizer, does she?

Also like many Hollywood stars and middle-class housewives, my grandmother became addicted to Miltown, and later to alcohol.  When I first found out about that, I was shocked.  That was before I had kids. 

Now I totally get it.

She had three children and an alcoholic ad executive for a husband.  (If you've seen Mad Men you've basically taken a peek into my family photo album.)  In the days without dishwashers and microwaves, she was expected to have a a cold Scotch and a hot dinner at the ready when my grandfather came home.  The children were expected to be clean, presentable, polished, and quiet. 

One of her children, my uncle, is socially ... off.  What I know about his childhood is that he spent the majority of his time building houses and villages (in those halcyon pre-Lego days) with wooden blocks.  Sound like anyone we know?   (Good news, Aspie moms: he's now a successful architect.)

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to have an Aspergerish child be both clean and quiet at any time, let alone dinner time.  I actually can't imagine being able to clean the sticky stuff off his face and have a hot dinner ready.  I can manage one of those on a good night. 

But my grandmother was expected to do both, while looking trim and chic.  My grandfather managed ad campaigns with major models of the day; we have photos of him with Grace Kelly.  Standards were pretty high for my grandmother's appearance.  She wore heels every day and white gloves when she went out.  This is not quite how I look when the Absent Minded Professor gets home.  I'm more of a ponytail and flip-flops gal; I do try to remember to re-apply deodorant before he gets home.

So.  I basically microwave dinner, let the kids run wild, and look like crap doing it.  (God, I love my husband.) I have a network of supportive friends, and a wealth of information and forums on the Internet.  And I'm still physically and emotionally drained by the end of the day.

And I'm ready to call up my mommy friends and suggest we totally start a fake garden club so that we can have luncheons and get whacked out on Miltown.  Or at least margaritas.  Or maybe just some chocolate and a good cry. Who's in?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hello 37

Besides being Autistic Pride Day, Friday was also my birthday.  Yay!  Another step closer to 40.  Neat. Remember when birthdays were all about sunshine and lollipops?  Me neither.  Here's a little synopsis of My Special Day:

6:15 a.m.  Little Dude and The Peanut Butter Kid wake up extra-early and bound down the stairs like it's Christmas morning.  (Why? There are no presents for them. For God's sake, little people, go back to bed.)  Little Dude is so excited that he's flapping.  (If you're new to the blog, he's Asperger-ish.) He flaps his hands against the tops of his thighs: pat-pat-pat.  The patting causes him to bend forward slightly so that his little face is right next to mine.  "Happy Birthday, Mommy." 

The Peanut Butter Kid asks me if I want breakfast in bed.  No, I want sleep in bed.

"No thanks, honey, I need to get up and stagger to the coffee maker now anyway."

"Mommy, we are going to go make our own breakfast, because it's Your Special Day, and you should sleep late."  She pats me on the head.  Cool.  So, wait, why did you wake me up then?

They leave to go make their own breakfast.  I begin to drift back into my coma slumber. Within five minutes, Little Dude is fuh-reaking out because the cheese for his cheese sandwich broke.  He is inconsolable.  I get up and convince him that if I melt the cheese sandwich in the microwave, the cheese won't be broken any more.  Incredibly, he agrees to this.

6:45 a.m. The Absent-Minded Professor, the Peanut Butter Kid, and Little Dude do a birthday dance for me.  The overall effect of this dance number is sort of Bob Fosse meets Blue's Clues.  The Absent-Minded Professor leaves for work.  I turn on the television idiot box.

7:00 a.m.  Cookie slinks down the stairs, swipes the remote, and drapes herself onto the couch, all in one fluid motion.  She starts flipping channels.

"Chug. Ing. TON!" shrieks Little Dude.  We have a problem here.  There are shows that he is particularly attatched to, and he doesn't like to deviate from that list.  Chugginton, which is sort of a poor man's Thomas the Tank Engine, is pretty high on the list.  Even higher is Dinosaur Train, which is basically porn for 4-year-old boys.

"OhmyGodpleaseleaveitonChuggington," I beg Cookie. 

I stare at my laptop while I drink my second cup of coffee.  The kids stare at the television while they eat cereal or sandwiches. (I know, it's terrible.  I should make eggs. We should eat breakfast at the table and have a nice chat.  But it's just not happening.)

8:00 "Do you know where my camp t-shirt is?"
"Wherever you dropped it last night."
"You didn't wash it?"
"Apparently not."
Cookie and the Pork Lo Maniac's camp-issued shirts are located in wadded-up balls on the floor of their room.  The shirts have the heady aroma of Nature Camp, sweat and old Kool-Aid Linen & Sky Febreze.

8:45 Mommy's choice on the iPod: we all sing along to Blondie's Sunday Girl as I drive to nature camp.  It's already over 90 degrees out.  Conveniently, the humidity steams the wrinkles right out of those t-shirts.  This is one benefit to Texas summer I hadn't thought of: Apparently ironing will not be necessary until mid-October.

9:15 a.m.  The PBK looks at me and deadpans, "Wow.  Good-bye 36, huh?  Hellooooo 37."  Must. have. more. coffee. 

9:15 a.m. - 1:45 p.m.  Eat peanut butter sandwiches; check on garden; play Lego Star Wars; read Junie B. Jones; try, for the 243rd day in a row, to teach Little Dude how to take off his own shoes.  The laundry pile gives me the evil eye, but I ignore it because it's My Special Day.

2:00 End-of-Nature-Camp Awards time.  The heat and humidity create some sort of vacuum that actually sucks the air right out of my lungs.  I imagine I'll require a portable oxygen tank by July.

3:00 Switch from coffee to diet Coke.

5:00 Order Chinese food online for the Absent-Minded Professor to pick up on the way home from work.  Oh, happy birthday to me: I don't have to cook and I don't have to interact with anyone.  I love the internet so much.

6:00 Birthday dinner.  I'm so happy we finally found a good Chinese place.  (South Texas may be known for great barbecue and great Mexican, but not so much with the Chinese food.  The last place was so bad it made my daughter cry.  We don't call her The Pork Lo Maniac for nothing.  "This isn't lo mein," she snapped, devastated tears springing to her big blue eyes.  "This is just ... brown spaghetti.  Why did we move here?")

6:30 Presents!  I adore presents!  Especially the stuff my kids make for me.  Hand-made cards, "one tickit to play Star Wars with me," a faux watch made of real duct tape, and a Best Mommy Award.  From the Absent-Minded Professor: two thoughtfully-selected books and a gift certificate for a spa treatment.  He is a god among men.

8:00 We herd the kids upstairs.  I am sitting next to Little Dude's bed while he is supposed to be falling asleep.  This is normally the time I spend writing, but tonight he wants to quiz me on multiplication. This is a new Aspergerish thing, I guess, but if he finds multiplication relaxing, who am I to judge?

"Mommy, what's one times eleven?"
"Eleven."
"You are correct. Very good."
"Thank you."
"Happy birthday, Mommy."

Thirty years ago, this is not what I would have imaged as a perfect birthday, but here we are.  Many things have changed since then, but some things have not: I still like to sing Blondie at the top of my lungs, play outside, and eat beef with snow peas.  Pretty sweet gig I have.  Hello 37.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day! (No, not you, Deadbeat, I'm talking to the good ones.)

Happy Father's Day!  I don't normally post on Sunday; that's a day that's reserved for me sleeping in family time.  But I'm letting the Absent-Minded Professor sleep in because it's his Special Day.  A day to celebrate the madness that is dadness.  A day to remind ourselves, and the dads in our life, how much they're loved. 

Another thing Father's Day reminds me of is how awesome certain mommies are.

I am fortunate enough to be married to the Absent-Minded Professor, the terrific, devoted daddy of all four of the Young Carnivores.  This in itself makes my life simpler than that of many of my friends, who have to contend with blended families, step-parents, and exes.  Some of the exes are great dads, who continue to  man up and do their job participate fully in the parenting process.  Some of them, unfortunately, could be more helpful by just going away.

If you have one of those exes, I'm sorry.  I know that you love your kids and you're grateful they're here, and you wouldn't have had them without the jerk.  But I know it just grinds your grits to have to help the kids make Father's Day cards for him.

I have this friend.  Let's call her Meredith Baxter Birney, because at some point her story may end up as a Lifetime movie.  So my friend Meredith has one of the worst exes ever, and to her credit, she has not yet stabbed him in the eyeball with a fork.  Yet.  When she does, the jury will acquit her on reasons of He's a Jackass Who Had it Coming, and her story will be called Forks: They're Not Just for Pancakes Anymore.

Meredith's soon-to-be ex-husband, whom we'll call John Edwards Tiger Woods Captain Jackass Jim, is one of those incredibly lame dads made worse because he thinks he's awesome.  Jim puts on a show of taking the kids to their soccer games, but then he brings them home at 9:30 p.m. on a school night.  He takes them to the park but fails to apply sunblock to them. 

Meredith is the one who has to deal with the sleep-deprived, sunburned kids and make sure they get their homework done.  Jim is the one who gets to go to Aruba with his new girlfriend, who is 20 years younger than him. (Cliché much, Jim?) 

So anyway, Meredith, who is an amazing mom who loves her kids, helped her kids make Father's Day cards for Jim.  She made sure they had paper and crayons, and she refrained from muttering under her breath about what a muttonhead Jim is while they did the craft.  Because she is a mom.  And while Jim sits on his hand-me-down couch and plays Halo in a one-room apartment, she puts on her big-girl panties and gets. things. done.  

Happy Father's Day to all the daddies who are truly awesome.  You play catch and have tea parties.  You get into the messy, the ugly, and the joy of it all.  You can bring home the bacon, and fry it up in a pan.  You, my friend, are a Real Man.

Special hugs out to the mommies who get it done on their own.  Happy Father's Day, Mommy.  You're doing both jobs and more, and you're spectacular. 

Happy Father's Day, y'all.

xoxo, Mommy

Friday, June 18, 2010

Autistic Pride (and Prejudice)

Today is Autistic Pride Day.  I know what you're thinking: Didn't I just see a bunch of copied-and-pasted status updates on Facebook about that a few months ago?  Nope.  That was World Autistic Awareness Day, which is April 2 every year.  World Autistic Awareness Day is about letting you know that autism exists.  Autistic Pride Day is about letting you, the neuro-typical person (or "NT" to us hipsters) know that autism can be kind of awesome.

There is a whole world of autistic pride and politics that I'm just learning about.  Autistic Pride Day is promoted by Aspies for Freedom, an organization that pushes not just for autism awareness, but awareness that autism has both advantages and disadvantages. 

Let me just say this: I'm pretty sure the people at Aspies for Freedom are talking about people with fairly high-functioning Asperger's Syndrome.  If you're the mom of a severely autistic child who's still nonverbal at age 6 and never smiles at you, you're probably ready to tell the nice people at Aspies for Freedom that neurodiversity can suck it.

Little Dude is more along the lines of the high-functioning Asperger's.  And I can certainly say there are distinct advantages and disadvantages to our situation.

In the spirit of Autistic Pride Day, here is my Top Ten list of Asperger's advantages and disadvantages.

Disadvantage #10 Little Dude eats the same thing, every day.
Advantage #10 Meal-planning is a snap.

Disadvantage #9 All Legos, all the time.
Advantage #9 May grow up to be the next Frank Lloyd Wright.

Disadvantage #8 Obsessive-compulsive behavior means we can't leave the room unless the television and the power strip are turned off.
Advantage #8 Asperger's Syndrome is the new "green."

Disadvantage #7 Makes odd, surprising noises.
Advantage #7  Maybe other kids will think he's beatboxing.

Disadvantage #6  Despite having advanced vocabulary, Little Dude's speech is sometimes very unclear.
Advantage #6 Woman behind me in check-out line doesn't realize Little Dude is talking about testicles.

Disadvantage #5 Does not make eye contact with friendly pediatric nurse.
Advantage #5  Does not make eye contact with anyone at Walmart.

Disadvantage #4  "Motor-planning deficit" means he struggles to take off his own shoes.
Advantage #4 "Unusually intense, narrow area of interest" means he can beat adults at Wii Lego Star Wars.

Disadvantage #3 Talks incessantly about Legos, Star Wars, and Lego Star Wars.
Advantage #3 No longer talking about Dora.

Disadvantage #2  Sometimes says insensitive or inappropriate things.
Advantage #2  These things are hilarious.

Disadvantage #1 Random muttonheads Concerned strangers ask me if I think he'll be ready to potty-train sometime soon, why is he flapping his hands, and oh, you mean he's like Rain Man?
Advantage #1 Concerned strangers ensure endless supply of material for this blog.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Too Much Tiny Stuff

My kids have too much tiny stuff.  We just moved into this house four months ago, and already the playroom is completely overrun with stuffed animals, Littlest Pet Shop critters, and craft supplies.  There are so many bits of paper, yarn, duct tape, and modeling clay on the floor, it looks like Martha Stewart stopped by and had a drunken tantrum.

I throw this stuff out by the handful whenever I walk through.  Apparently I don't walk through often enough. 

My first experience with throwing out their stuff was when my twin girls were two years old.  We had received a PlayMobil set as a gift.  They loved it.  Every teensy, tiny part of it.  Every itty-bitty petal that came off every itty-bitty flower.  The people who make PlayMobil must sit around a conference room, smoking pot and coming up with hilarious ways to torture moms with the most infinitesimally small items.  My friend Liz is still in recovery from a PlayMobil set her kids had five years ago.  "The pirate ... it had an eye patch," she says, twitching.  Then she knocks back another margarita.

Anyway, we had this PlayMobil stuff all over.  One night after the kids went to bed, I collected up a bunch of little plastic bits from under the radiators and sealed them in a plastic baggie.  "I'll give it back to them when they're a little older," I said.  My dad looked at me with pity and said simply, "Just. Throw. It. Out."

This was quite the epiphany.  Oh!  Throw it out!  Of course!  It's my house!  I can just throw this stuff out.  And I gleefully set about tossing the plastic bag of eensy-weensy flower stems.  I jammed the bag underneath some other things that were in the trash, so they wouldn't notice.  (This is also a handy technique for "filing" the many papers the kids bring home from school.  Author Eric Ruhalter refers to this as "garboflauge.")

Once I threw stuff out right in front of them.  Once.  They were four, and I had asked them to pick up their toys. They didn't.  I came in with a big, black garbage bag.  I picked up two or three of their most annoying electronic toys, put them in the garbage bag, and put it in the trash outside.  We could still hear one of them playing its insipid tune as we rolled the can down the driveway on trash day.

Now they're older, so they should be old enough to clean up after themselves.  And they do, usually.  Sometimes they're a little slow to get moving, so all I have to do is go in and start shaking out a garbage bag, and they become super-motivated.  Yesterday I announced that I needed to vacuum, and I was going to either vacuum up or throw out anything in my path.  Believe me, they tidied up.

In all fairness, I have to admit that 99% of the mess comes from the girls.  Little Dude has kind of an OCD thing going on.  So when he was two, instead of scattering PlayMobil parts all about, he was lining up little cars just so.  If they weren't precise, I guess they lost their parking priveleges or something.  We could not leave the house or even leave the room unless everything was exactly right. After little cars, we went through a whole Thomas the train thing.  Sir Topham Hatt was quite the task master.

Now he's onto Legos.  It's basically the only thing he plays with.  Frequently the blocks migrate under the couch; sometimes I find them under the covers of his bed.  But they're never part of the detritus on the playroom floor.  Even if they were, I'd never threaten to throw them out.  There's certain things you just can't even joke about.

When I look at the last two paragraphs I can't believe it took this long for us to figure out that yes, he's on the autism spectrum.  Duh, Mommy.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Brain-Washing: More Fun Than Laundry

You know what's a really fun activity to do with your kids?  Brain-washing them.  I don't mean in some weird cult-y way that involves prairie dresses and upswept hairdos.  I mean, you know, the fun way. 

So one of my ongoing psychological experiments with the Young Carnivores involves basically brain-washing them into only liking good music.  By good music, of course, I mean music I like.  This translates to absolutely no Justin Bieber* or Miranda Cosgrove but lots and lots of 80s New Wave.  Totally. 

Here's the thing: we all do it.  Our parents did it too.  And eventually we couldn't stomach any more Sundays with Sinatra or whatever, and we dyed our hair pink and listened to too much Depeche Mode.  Or was that just me?

Anyway, it's super fun.  I know it won't last, and eventually they'll go all Alex P. Keaton on me.  They'll find some music that speaks to them and to me it will be the sound of tiny trolls hammering nails into my spinal cord.  (Sorry about all that Depeche Mode, Dad.)  In the mean time, there is nothing so exquisite as watching my munchkins rock out to Blondie's Maria.

Or watching them put on a puppet variety show that includes a Devo appearance.  "Look Mommy, it's Mark Mothersbaugh!"  Do you have any idea how proud I am that my daughter knows that before Yo Gabba Gabba there was Whip It?

Our iPod does include some non-80s tunes.  I don't want them to be social outcasts or anything.  But if we're going to listen to "Single Ladies," we're also going to learn that Beyonce owes a little Respect to Aretha Franklin.  And if we're going to listen to the Black Eyed Peas sing "I Got A Feeling" for the 30,000th time, it's going to be back-to-back with James Brown's I Got The Feeling.

This all leads to the nice people at iTunes making some really awesome recommendations for me.  They're so right most of the time it's like they're in. my. head.  And then they step over the line and it goes horribly awry:

Oh my gosh, iTunes, how did you know I would like The Knack?  And Dexy's Midnight Runners?  Yes, please.  The Clash?  iTunes, you're my new BFF. 

Lady Gaga?  OK, well, maybe ... 

Lil Scrappy?  Wait -- what? 

Sorry iTunes, you totally got that one wrong.  Yes, I just bought more Black Eyed Peas but Lil Scrappy sounds like that lame Scooby Doo spin-off.  And that was just Bad 80s.  So no thanks.  I can't have my kids listening to Bad 80s.  They have to listen to good music.  You know, music I like.

*Cookie's reaction to seeing Justin Bieber perform on the Nick Kids' Choice Awards: "Meh.  I'd rather listen to the Talking Heads."  I just about burst into tears of happiness.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dear Crazy Lady at Target

Dear Crazy Lady at Target,

I appreciate that demonstrating strawberry lemonade at Target may not be the most stimulating gig in the world. I appreciate this because I have, in fact, been a food demonstrator. It’s mind-numbing to make small-talk with people that just want to mooch food without actually buying what you’re hawking.

However.

When I remarked that it’s so great that Little Dude can have the artificially flavored strawberry lemonade, because he’s allergic to actual strawberries, your response was a major fail. In the future, please do not ever, ever say to a child who can’t eat strawberries,

“Oooh, how terrible to be allergic to strawberries. ‘Cause they’re so gooooooood.”

Really?

Have I become addled from wondering around Super Target for so long or did you really just tell my strawberry-allergic child that strawberries are so gooooooood?

I don’t know if you’re a sadistic harpy, or just plain stupid.

The Pork Lo Maniac was with me, and her jaw just about dropped to the floor at your sheer witlessness. She turned, in slow motion, as if expecting me to put you on time out or possibly knock you upside the head with some Method dish detergent. My Aspergerish son is actually medically diagnosed as lacking in social niceties, but he still knew immediately that you were an insensate muttonhead.

In fact, you might have noticed his devastated little face, except you were still too busy dripping the word gooooooood out of your overly-liplined piehole. I thought I had gotten used to the Texan drawl, but this particular moment made me re-think that.

I’m not sure if you noticed the “die, Crazy Lady, die” look I gave you. I was trying to save the situation with a cheerful, “which is why it’s so nice to have this special strawberry-flavored treat, Little Dude!”

I hope you're grateful that I chose not to smother you with your Archer Farms apron. (This would go down Cuckoo’s Nest style. You’ve clearly had a frontal lobotomy, and I, like the Chief, feel terribly sorry for you. Again, I chose not to, but if you should happen to see a 6’7” dude in hospital jammies come by, you should be really. really. nervous.)

I doubt this moment has weighed on your mind all day, as it has on mine. I realize I may be overly sensitive on the issue of food allergies. That happens when you’ve been in the food allergy trenches for nine years. I high-tailed it away from your display and over to the dairy section, where Little Dude could choose from a lovely selection of processed cheese snacks. And at that moment I felt especially grateful that he can eat dairy now.
Thank you, Crazy Lady. You have reminded me that for all the difficulties my children have faced, they are not the ones with the problem.

xoxo,
Mommy

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sneak Preview of Tomorrow's Post: Dear Crazy Lady at Target


Dear Crazy Lady at Target,

In the future, please do not ever, ever say to a child who can't eat strawberries,

"Oooh, how terrible to be allergic to strawberries.  'Cause they're so gooooooood.”

My Aspergerish son is actually medically diagnosed as lacking in social niceties, and he still knew you were an insensate muttonhead.

xoxo,
Mommy

Jerky Capital of the World

You’d think having just done a six-hour trip with my kids a few days ago, I’d be better prepared this time. But then you’d be wrong.

I thought I was better prepared. I had replenished the car first aid kit, stocking up on Children’s Tylenol, Benadryl, and tattoo-style Star Wars bandages.

The whole affair was thrown off from the get-go because try as I might, I cannot control Mother Nature. (That chick hates me.) In my infinite wisdom, I decided it was a good idea to let the Young Carnivores run around in the fetid humidity fresh air and sunshine to burn off some energy before the trip. Little Dude was stung by a bee on the back of his ear.

There are many things Aspergerish kids don’t like: loud noises and unexpected occurrences top the list for Little Dude. He doesn’t even enjoy good surprises very much. So hearing a bee behind his ear, and then feeling intense pain, is going to set off a neurological storm.

He went stark. raving. mad.

It was that kind of episode where there's snot everywhere, and the scream is so loud and goes on for so long, that you have to remind him to breathe in.

Meanwhile, his right ear had become twice the size of his left ear, and had turned a deep crimson color. He didn’t seem to be having an allergic reaction, but the swelling was impressive. I got the first aid kit back out of the car to dose out some Children’s Tylenol. (See how organized I am?)

We watched a couple episodes of SpongeBob while Little Dude calmed down, and then hit the road.

We had a grand old time, choosing for our second stop The Jerky Capital of the World. Meat and salt: these are a few of our favorite things. At The Jerky Capital of the World you can get beef, pork, buffalo, venison, elk, and turkey jerky. The kids were doubtful at first (“what is that supposed to be?”) but soon the Young Carnivores were scarfing down beef jerky in the car like a pack of starving hounds.

All was well until about twenty minutes after The Jerky Capital of the World. Out of the blue, Little Dude let out another ear-piercer. “TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND!" he screamed.  "Turn the car around! I need some moosh churned thing!” Little Dude’s speech isn’t super-clear sometimes, especially when he’s in the midst of going batty. It took the girls and I about five minutes to figure out that he wanted more beef jerky, stat.

At that exact moment, we passed one of the forty-six signs for the Little Shop of Animatronic Horrors. This one sign happened to advertise their jerky. (Apparently dried meat is an important part of the standard Texan mise en place.)

However, as much as I wanted to stop the firestorm of scream that was coming from the Windstar’s second row, I knew that the legless man in the cage (see photo) was only going to make the situation worse for us. I also knew that if the girls saw the sign, they would suggest we stop to buy more jerky, because they’re sustaining permanent hearing damage from the brouhaha that is their little brother, and they just want to make it stop, creepy animatronics be damned.

I floored it.  It's fine, because in Texas you can drive 85 miles an hour in the slow lane.  The girls didn't see the sign, and eventually, Little Dude screamed himself into a three-hour coma nap.

We made no further stops, and finally returned home from The Ranch safe and sound. I went online and found an email from my dad letting me know that I had left the first aid kit at his house. Awesome.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I Wish I Was Making Up The Beaver Nuggets Part

We made the five six hour drive to The Ranch. It’s difficult to predict how long the drive will be, because of the stops. I’m writing the following down so I can remember to plan for these events next time.

We will see forty-six signs for a certain Texas truck stop, advertising their world-famous “beaver nuggets.” (Gag.) Stopping at this particular truck stop is quite the time-wasting adventure, because it involves a souvenir section, a six-foot-tall animatronic beaver, and a legless animatronic man in a cage that triggers a fight-or-flight response in my Aspergerish son.

At least one stop will be made to find food, because everyone’s sick of pretzels and Goldfish and Mommy my peanut butter sandwich is all squished.

We will need to make several stops for bathroom breaks. This is usually for me. I used to have a bladder of steel; however, four pairs of intrauterine feet have stomped my bladder to approximately the capacity of a shot glass. If the roads are bumpy it gets a little more dicey.

At least once per trip, we will also need to make a bathroom stop 20 minutes after the last bathroom stop, because someone who “tried,” now really, really, reeeeeeeally has to go. Now.

One child will develop the worst headache ever, and will dissolve into tears because no one is listening to her and would everyone please stop singing “Single Ladies.” So we will have to stop while Mommy rips through the bags in the trunk to look for children’s Tylenol. Mommy will accidentally say a curse word upon realizing that she has left that one bag at home on the dining room table, and then spend the next 30 seconds loudly saying “shoot, shoot, shoot” to try to fake out the kids. Then Mommy will have a sudden surge of hope that the car first aid kit might have some children’s Tylenol. It doesn’t.

The car first aid kit hasn’t been replenished in the last five years and now contains:
  • one latex glove
  • a pair of plastic tweezers
  • a flat tube of goo that used to be antiseptic but now is just … septic
  • one “adult strength” chewable aspirin in case Daddy has a heart attack when he finds out later how much money we spent on crap at the Little Shop of Animatronic Horrors
Mommy will give the sobbing child the “adult strength” chewable aspirin because those damn things used to be called baby aspirin until everybody freaked out about giving kids aspirin. (p.s. Aspirin kicks ass at taking away headaches. Ten minutes later that kid was fine and belting out “The Tide is High.”)

That’s a lot of stops. Add five minutes to the end of each stop to apply hand sanitizer and referee an argument about seating arrangements. Really, it’s amazing we can get anywhere. It’s probably a miracle that we can get from our house to the grocery store.

It’s all good, though. This is just a practice run. We are gearing up for the Big Trip later this summer, when I will drive the kids cross-country to visit friends in Pennsylvania. We did this once before, on the way out to Texas, but that trip got cut short when we all came down with swine flu in a Holiday Inn in Nashville. Good times … good times.
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