Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Helping Your Child Be Friends with a Child with Special Needs


I freaking love Glee.
Yeterday's post was in answer to an e-mail I received, asking how to be a good friend to the parent of a special needs child.  Here's the rest of yesterday's letter.
Am I wrong to assume that our kids (we both have preschoolers as well as one younger kid each) can remain as playmates, autism be damned? I have learned that group playdates don’t go over very well, but when it’s just her kids and mine, it’s a general success (as successful as can be with a handful of kids under four in one tiny house—special needs or not). I repeatedly explain to my preschooler, who is very affectionate, that our friend doesn’t always like to be hugged and needs a few minutes to adjust upon entering our house. You know instead of the “you’rehereyou’rehereyou’rehere let’splaywitheverythingrightnow!” greeting preschoolers prefer to give most guests.


But, what else can I do to help my child be a better friend to the playmate? When the playmate melts down, my kid looks at me with great concern. I’m totally at a loss on how to help my kid be sensitive to our friend’s special needs, and how to be a bit more sensitive myself. So I beg of you, your readers, whomever—what more can I do?
Many thanks,

M.
I know.  Now you want to be friends with her even more.  Because of the awesomeness.

This is a situation I struggle with personally.  Little Dude desperately wants to have friends, but is sometimes at a loss as to how to make friends and interact with his peers in a way that works out for everyone.  And the Pork Lo Maniac's ADHD has its own social impacts.

To those who would say that you've taught your child to be kind to everyone, here's a reality check: It's easier to be kind to some people than others.  Some friends take a little more work to understand.  By first grade, kids are very much aware of differences and the desire to fit in.  As kids get older and peer pressure becomes more of an issue, they may be afraid that hanging out with certain kids will cause a drop in social status. 

It's hard growing up on the "outside."  Despite the work our schools are doing to combat bullying, there is still the insidious tendency for some kids to be simply excluded.  Unfortunately, bullying and exclusion have very real effects on all our children and on society as a whole, so it's worth taking the time to give this some thought.

How to Help Your Child to Be a Good Friend to a Person with Special Needs

Put things in a context your child understands. My friend Sandra is the master of this. Her twin girls are terrific friends to Little Dude. The know that he's different, but they don't seem to care. Sandra will explain things to them in a context they can relate to. For example, "you know how you're freaked out by the Big Red Chicken on Dora? Little Dude is freaked out by loud noises." Little kids all have stuff they're afraid of or that freaks them out. They totally get it. They actually get it better than most adults.

Sometimes kids can be jealous of the attention
a special needs child receives. 
Or of their cool Hello Kitty wheelchair.
("But Mo-oooommmm!  I want one too! 
Yes, I know my legs work fine.  So?")
Realize that your kids probably don't think my special needs child is all that special. Since most little kids have meltdowns once in a while, like to put underwear on their heads, and can't always brush their hair / wipe properly / zip their jackets / eat like a civilized person, they probably haven't noticed how jacked up my special needs kid might be. Seriously, even if the special needs child is obviously different, like in a wheelchair with a G-tube poking out from under their t-shirt, your child might not be that impressed. Because he's ogling the Star Wars backpack the feeding pump is kept in.

Encourage them to ask questions and answer them to the best of your ability. Once your child notices that the Star Wars backpack is attached to a tube leading to a second belly button in her friend, she may want to know about it. If you sense that she's uncomfortable asking, but you can tell that she's curious (because, you know, she's staring), it's okay to say, "that's Susie's feeding tube. It's how she eats some of her food." Or "Little Dude sometimes can't hear you because he's so excited about his Legos." If you don't know the answer, please ask us! I think I can speak for every special needs parent that we are happy to help you raise an understanding, kind child.

Praise your child for being a good friend. When you notice that your child lowered her voice, or chose the allergen-free snack, or ignored the obvious odor coming from a Pull-Up, tell him that he's a good friend.  Tell him that he's kind, he's thoughtful, and that he's the kind of person you're proud to know.

If your kids are school-aged and older, keep teaching and modeling empathy. Just because your kid outgrew Barney doesn't mean she doesn't need to keep hearing that kindness is a priority. In fact, as kids get older and peer pressure becomes more of an issue, it's even more important that you reinforce what your family values are.  And yeah, when you rolled your eyes or acted impatient with the cheerful but methodically slow bagger at the grocery store, your kids saw you.  And learned from that.
Professor X rocks the wheelchair.
Happens to also be a mutant. Still a hottie.

Help your kids learn why their friend does what they do. Your younger kids can watch shows like Sesame Street and Arthur, which regularly feature all different kinds of kids. There was an amazing episode of Arthur called When Carl Met George that gives kids and adults alike a terrific understanding of Asperger Syndrome.

With your older kids, watch movies like Adam, Mozart and the Whale, or even X-Men (hello, Professor X). There's also tons of television shows (good ones, not creepy after-school specials) that feature differently-abled characters: Parenthood, Glee, The Big Bang Theory, and Secret Life of an American Teenager come to mind.

Help them find fiction and nonfiction about their friend's special needs. Read a novel like Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine with your tweens, and talk about the book with them.  In nonfiction, How to Talk to an Autistic Kid, by autistic teen Daniel Stefanski, gives specific examples and concrete tips.

What else, y'all?  Obviously my answers are skewed toward understanding kids with autism, but this applies to all kinds of special needs situations, as well as kids with serious food allergies or kids going through tough times.  Leave your suggestions in the comments.  Thanks!

Monday, August 29, 2011

How to Be Friends With a Special Needs Parent


So, I got this letter.  It's from a woman who is clearly the kind of awesome friend that anyone would cherish.  Here's part of the letter:
Dear stark. raving. mad. mommy.,

My preschooler has a playmate who was recently diagnosed with autism. I know I don’t have to tell you about the trials that my kids’ friend and the friend’s parents and siblings will experience in the coming months and years. I am curious, though, how can we be better friends to them? I feel a little helpless sometimes. I can see the mom struggle, and I stupidly ask, “How can I help?” There has to be something more I can do to help this awesome woman who has awesome kids.
I am sure my mom friend receives tons of unsolicited advice on how to “treat” her kid’s condition, and I certainly don’t want to add my two cents there. I just want to be someone she can depend on to call if she needs to vent, to watch one or both of her kids in a pinch, or to just be the mom of a constant companion in her child’s life. Help!
Many thanks,
M.
I know, right?  Don't you already want to be friends with her? I totally do.
 
I wrote back to her with some suggestions, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.  If you're a special needs parent, what are some of the things that make your friends so awesome?  If you're friends with a parent of a special needs child, what advice would you offer?   

My ideas are below.  Please, please, please, add your ideas in the comments.
   
How to Be a Good Friend to a Special Needs Parent
  • Offer to babysit.  While I certainly don't expect my friends to constantly provide me with free childcare, I am immensely grateful for a break once in a while.  If your friend has more than one child that she has to schlep to therapy appointments for just one kid, offer to watch the neurotypical child so that she can focus on the appointment.  Or offer to babysit the autistic child so she can have one-on-one time with one of her other children.  Or offer to babysit both so she and her husband can go out to lunch.  Or so she can get a hair cut, or take a nap, or stare at the wall for an hour.  I am stretched ten ways to Sunday and there is just not enough of me to go around.  I need help.  
  • Suggest our families do something together.  Our family is kind of a production.  Our kids are very well behaved, but let's face it: one of my daughters has ADHD and other "quirks," two of our daughters have severe anxiety, and our five-year-old son is emotionally 36 months old and still in Pull-Ups.  And then this summer I had these thyroid problems.  I get it.  It's always "something" with us, and frankly, it turns out that not everyone is emotionally equipped to deal with our family.  Let's just say we're not invited over for dinner very often.
"Um, we know how busy you always are.  And we figured you wouldn't have a good time, anyway, what with ... you know, your kids." 

  • Be flexible.  My friends are amazingly understanding that sometimes playdates are cut short (or canceled) due to unforeseen meltdowns.  I already feel stressed and frazzled and like kind of a jackass when that happens, so it's awesome when my friends act like it's no big deal.
  • Be open to just listening.  Sometimes I just need to vent. Okay, a lot of times I need to vent.
  • Advice ... it's all in how you present it.  It really is okay to make suggestions and share your expertise.  I happen to be fortunate enough to have friends who are teachers, or counselors, or just experienced parents.  I am totally into hearing "I don't know if this will work for you, but what has worked for us is ..."  Yes, I think we've tried everything.  But there's the chance that you've got some gem of a piece of advice that I don't know about.  While I'm not thrilled to be told I should do, I always love hearing your thoughts on what I could do.  Plus, sometimes I'm so close to my own situation that I can't see the forest for the trees; I start attributing everything to Little Dude's autism, that I forget that sometimes he just gets a cold.  So when you say, "have you taken his temperature?" it helps me.  Thanks for being my reality check.
  • Tell me I'm doing a good job.  As I mentioned in my post Top Ten Things You Should (and Shouldn't) Say to the Parent of an Autistic Child, we can't hear enough of "wow, you're really on top of things for your kids.  It must be hard, but it seems like you're doing a really good job."  Other things we like to hear include "your love for your kids really shows," "it's awesome that you're such a good advocate for your child," and "here, have this big glass of wine."
  • Ask me for help.  Please don't think that I'm too busy to be a good friend to you.  I still want to hear about what's going on in your life.  I can still watch your kids, bring you ginger ale when you're sick, drive your daughter to Girl Scouts, and listen to you vent about the stress in your life.
Have more ideas?  Share them in the comments!  Thank you!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Happy Campers (for the most part)

Here's a nice shot of the troop leader and me. 
(Actually, we didn't look nearly this cool.)
This past weekend, I went camping with my older daughters' Girl Scout troop. Sure, the weather forecast called for thunderstorms all weekend, but on the other hand, s'mores were on the agenda, so I was game.

Confession: I kind of hate camping. I've been camping once, when I was eighteen or something, and it was fine. Fun, even. But then I served my country and now I deserve toilets that flush.

When our troop leader started this troop -- our daughters were in first-grade then -- I told her that I would freeze my butt off at cookie booths for hours on end, but that I wouldn't go camping. She was fine with that. She's awesome that way. Her awesomeness, however, is bad for my guilt complex, because when she needed an extra parent to drive and chaperone on this trip, I caved.

Um, yeah.  I can't imagine why she couldn't get anyone else to sign a Girl Scout "bear awareness agreement," drive three and a half hours into the mountains, sleep in a tent, and forgo Internet and cell service for 72 hours of thunderstorms.

Anyway, I went. I made a pact with myself to smile through it and not whine, because that would just be annoying even to myself a bad example to the children.

The trip itself was simultaneously horrendous and amazing.  Here's how my trip breaks down, by the numbers.

1,000+: Number of acres of wilderness.

46: Number of people, all women and girls, populating those 1,000+ acres this weekend.

7: Number of Girl Scout troops represented at the "Camporee."

5: Youngest age, in years, of Daisy Girl Scouts on the trip.

70: Oldest age, in years, of volunteer women on the trip.

100: Percentage of the older women who could totally kick my butt at any of the camping activities.

1: Number of t-shirts I saw that said "Well-behaved women rarely make history." Awesome.


11: Girls in our troop for this trip.

4: Adults in our troop for this trip.

3: Maximum number of Aleve capsules an adult can take in 24 hours.

4: Number of platform tents our troop occupied.


857: Average number of bugs (dead or alive) that we swept out of each tent before putting our sleeping bags in.

856: Average number of bugs that came back in while we were sleeping.


Contrary to what you might think,
Girl Scout camping is NOT like the
movie Little Darlings.  I could not find
Matt Dillon anywhere.
4: Number of seats in our pit latrine. Do you know what that is? It's the stuff of horror movies, that's what it is. The more experienced troop leaders told us all not to look down the hole. A survey of the girls in my van on the way home said that 75% of the girls looked anyway. Obviously, I did, too. Because I needed to know if there were snakes or wolves or maybe Tatum O'Neal and Kristy McNichol down there waiting to bite my butt.


6: Number of girls who had stomachaches by Day 2 because they were afraid to poop in the pit latrine.

1: Number of girls in my tent who were overwhelmed by homesickness the first night.

0: Number of girls in my tent who had energy left to be overwhelmed by anything besides exhaustion by the second night.

5: Number of waterfalls on the property.

0: Amount of potable water, unless boiled, at our camp site.
18: Number of times we sang "The Bear Song."
 
0: Number of bears we saw.
 
2: Number of campfires we had.
 
4: Number of s'mores I can eat in a row before I start to feel queasy.


11: Number of girls in our troop who got into the cold swimming pool at 9:30 a.m. (All of them.)

1: Number of moms in our troop who got into the cold swimming pool with the girls at 9:30 a.m. (Me.)
 
4: Number of moms in our troop who were willing to get into the cold swimming pool with the girls by 3:30 p.m., after boating, hiking, tie-dying, and re-applying Deep Woods Off and SPF 110 sunblock for the fifteenth time. 
 
2: Number of pairs of dry shoes, per person, that I packed for me and my daughters.


3: Number of pairs of dry shoes, per person, you should pack for camping.  Learn from my fail.
 
100: Percent of the girls who washed their own dishes on the trip.
 
100: Percent of my children who will henceforth be helping me with the dishes at home.
 
0: Number of times our troop leader frowned, snapped, or threatened to leave any of our campers to be eaten by a bear in the woods.  (I can't attest to what she was thinking, though.)
 
100: Percent of our troop leader that is absolute awesomesauce.
 
When all was said and done, the trip was kind of ... amazing, actually.  I might actually go camping again.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Top 10 Things to Do Instead of What You're Supposed to Be Doing

Despite the fact that I am leaving to go camping in the rain a mere nine eight seven hours from now, I have thus far avoided packing, shopping, or even making a shopping list for this camping trip. 

"Wow," I can hear you saying.  "You have crippling ADHD are incredibly talented at procrastinating. Can you share your prescription amphetamines procrastination tips with me?"

Why, sure.  Here are my top ten things to do instead of doing what you're supposed to be doing:

10. Check your e-mail.  Pay special attention to subject lines that start with "FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD:"  Ignore e-mails with subject lines that say things like "Your account needs your attention."  Surf Facebook, the greatest time-suck ever known.  Also, check Twitter.  Spend 30 minutes composing witty status updates and tweets about your procrastination problem.

9. Check your mailbox.  Not your e-mail mailbox, because the only emails left are the ones making you feel guilty.  Check your snail-mail mailbox.  Marvel at how many companies send you catalogs for things you don't want and can't afford.  Contemplate how many trees have been slayed by Pottery Barn alone.  Read all the catalogs.

Sometimes my similarity to Patrick Star is just eerie.
8. Make a list of things you should do.  Include things you've already done so you can check them off and feel like less of a slacker.  Tell yourself that since you've "gotten so much done already," it's time for a trip to Starbucks.

7. If one of the things you need to do involves a purchase, be sure to research that purchase thoroughly on the Internet.  Just a few things you should look for include best price, environmentally-sound alternatives, user reviews, shipping costs, clubs that will ship your needed item to you once a month, color options, flavor options, aromatherapy options, safety recalls, EPA warnings, Energy Star ratings, BPA content, Spandex content, recycled material content, and whether you have to assemble it or not. These all apply, whether you need a new refrigerator or a quart of half-and-half.

6. It's never to early to think about holiday card design.  Obviously, you haven't taken your kids' photo yet, or made a list of your card recipients, but it's a good idea to go online to one of those card-printing sites and look at the different layouts.  Note that the families in the sample cards are far more attractive than yours.  Think about dying your hair.  Most importantly, note the colors of the cards you like and think about buying outfits for your kids that would match.  You'll forget to do this by tomorrow.  Or if you do remember on December 20 when you're scrambling for holiday outfits, you'll forget which colors you wanted.  Or if you do remember which colors, they won't be in stock anyway and you'll have to dress your children in matching battery-powered reindeer sweaters with light-up antlers.

I'm always thinking of the children. Yeah,
I'm a giver.
5. Become frustrated with your procrastination, clutter, and general lack of organization.  Decide to rectify the entire situation, starting with organizing the children's dressers.  Organize one sock drawer.  Wonder why a child who only wears white crew socks still has no matching socks.  Throw out all the socks and add "buy socks for boy" to your list.  Boy will wear sandals for the next two weeks.

4. Play a couple games of Lego Star Wars on the Wii with your kids.  It's not time-wasting, it's playful bonding with your children.  Pay yourself on the back for putting your kids at the top of your priority list.  Rationalization for the win.

3. Don't forget about your pets!  Fluffy needs love too.  Lie on the couch and force cat to snuggle.  After the cat scratches you and stalks off indignantly, continue lying on the couch while trying to convince yourself that it doesn't hurt your feelings that the cat hates you.  Wake up with two hours later to find that you have drooled on the couch cushion.  Turn cushion over.

2. Clean something that doesn't need to be cleaned. Sure, your laundry pile is a mile high and the kitchen floor is so sticky that the children have taken to calling it "the quicksand." You know what you should do? Polish the cabinet doors. Alternate suggestion: alphabetize your spices.
1.  Start a blog.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Countdown to Back-to-School


Yes, the bento box trend is adorable. And annoying.
I'm not even willing to cut the crusts off their sandwiches,
so I'm certainly not getting up at 4 a.m. to make
Cuteness Overload for their lunches.
The parenting magazines would have you believe that getting your kids ready to go back to school is as simple as sharpening some pencils and packing a healthy lunch in that adorable $60 bento box.

Not so much.

We have twelve days before school starts. It's totally like the Twelve Days of Christmas, in that it involves hemorrhaging money and horrible amounts of stress.

Here's my countdown:
12 Days Out
Take Cookie and the Pork Lo Maniac to the pediatrician to be weighed. I'm pretty sure they're going to be up to a healthier weight; both have been living on Nutella, whole milk, and butter all summer. Plus, the Pork Lo Maniac has been off her ADHD meds for the whole summer. My right eye is still twitching, but it's what we needed to do.

11 Days to Go
Say good-bye to the healthy weight gain and re-start Adderall for the Pork Lo Maniac.

10 Days Left
Clear off the Littlest Pet Shop Stage so it can resume its status as Homework Table. Don't forget to also scrape the glitter glue off the chairs!

9 Days Oh My God We're In Single Digits

The Original Book Sox - Jumbo Tye Dye
Book Sox are fancy condoms for textbooks
that cost between $1 and $4.
This just in:  brown paper bags are still free.
 Spend the equivalent of one month's mortgage payment on school supplies. Consider being a total rebel and wrapping books in brown paper instead of purchasing "book sox."  Wonder when Zip-Loc baggies became "school supplies" and not "groceries." If the teachers start putting "milk" and "eggs" on the list I'm going to start getting suspicious.

8 Days to Go
Force children to try on school pants in 90 degree weather. Attempt to convince them that their outgrown pants aren't floods -- they're breezy, trendy capris.  Fail.

7 Days to Go
Go shopping for school clothes. Marvel at the way children's clothes are sized. Why does the Medium look like a shrunken, belly-baring crop top, and the Large fits like a muumuu?

6 Days Out
Review bank statement. Lie down and weep.

5 Days Until Sweet, Sweet Silence in My House
Receive letter in the mail from the school, letting us know which teachers the kids have. Plan to spend 24 hours without access to my phone or computer, as the kids must find out immediately exactly which of their friends are in their classes.

4 Days Left
Meet with Little Dude's teaching team to finalize "minor" IEP details, like "who's going to change his Pull-Up if necessary?" Note the look of surprise on their faces when I inform them for the 23rd time that he is still not potty-trained. How is that a detail they forget?


Yes, I know the sun is still out.
Pretend it's a giant nightlight.

T Minus Three
Realize that the kids' bedtimes are still so out of whack it's like we're in a different time zone.  Restore school year bedtime.  Endure extreme crankiness due to waking kids up at the crack of dawn, and forcing them to go to bed when the sun is still shining.  When they ask why the other kids are still outside on their bikes, respond with "because their Mommy doesn't love them as much as I love you."
Two Days Out
Dig through pile of crap to find their lunch boxes.  Discover that the lunch boxes contain mummified cheese sandwich crusts and two tablespoons of fermented Capri Sun.  Soak lunch boxes in straight bleach for six hours, rinse, and line-dry.  Ignore children when they ask why their lunches smell like the pool for the next three months.

HolyCrapSchoolStartsTomorrow
Spend entire day in pajamas. Because we can. Try to get the kids to bed early but end up spending two hours reassuring them that their teachers will be nice / they'll figure out where to put their backpacks / they'll know someone in their class / they'll be able to handle the increased responsibilities of [fill in grade]. 

First Day of School
Cuff up their pants that are four inches too long, but will be high-waters capris by March.

Stave off teary panic attack from at least one kid by blasting the Glee version of "Safety Dance" and breaking into crazy, spontaneous Family Dance Mode.  Hide tears of pride that my fifth graders -- despite their IEPs and 504s for anxiety and ADHD -- are still trusted by their teachers enough to help the first-grade teachers as "safeties" this year.

Send them off to school with sharpened pencils and a healthy lunch (in the same $6 lunch boxes they've had for three years).  Also send them with Zip-Loc baggies, three boxes of tissues, gallon-size jug of hand sanitizer, 16 marble copy books, 85 pocket folders (with brads), a gross of dry erase markers (low-odor only), and, for fifth graders, one stick of deodorant (OMG). 

Return to peaceful eerily silent house. Call other moms and sniffle about how big our kids have gotten. Watch the clock until it's time to get my babies back.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Pennsylvania Welcomes You

I have visitors coming from out of town soon, so I'm cleaning like a crazy person.  Please tell me I'm not the only person who schedules company just to force myself to clean. 

Also, I'm preparing to give my friends tours of the important Philadelphia landmarks: Independence Park, the LOVE sculpture, Pat's Steaks, and the Art Museum.  Obviously, we don't actually need to go in the Art Museum.  We just need to pose like Rocky Balboa in front of the Art Museum.

While I'm cleaning, I listen to the radio.   It's summer, which means no radio station can resist over-playing "California Gurls" by Katy Perry.  It's like some kind of commandment: Thou shalt play California Gurls at least twice an hour.

As a result, what's constantly running through my head is the "Pennsylvania Guys" parody by Sloppy Secondz.


Note 1: I'd like to point out that the absence of dental care in the Philly neighborhood of Kensington is totally mostly a stereotype.

Note 2: I think Lydia from Rants from Mommyland will appreciate the reference to milking a fake cow at Dutch Wonderland.

Yes, folks, there is still time to visit the Keystone State during your children's summer break! At my end of the state, what could be more educational than a visit to Yuengling, America's oldest brewery, in Pottsville, PA?  Also, you can't hardly swing a dead cat without hitting a pretzel factory in this state.  There's also the quaint beauty of Lancaster County, which includes the town of Intercourse, PA.  (Always educational: "Mommy and Daddy, why are you giggling?")  For your novelty tee shirt purchasing convenience, Intercourse is located near the towns of Bird in Hand and Blue Ball.  ("No, really, why are you giggling?)

Of course, Philadelphia is the town I know best in Pennsylvania.  You should totally visit.  Besides all the obvious historical attractions, it's the home of some of the most heart attack-inducing cuisine in the U.S.: cheese steaks, hoagies, scrapple (don't ask), and pork roll.  Not to worry, though.  Should you stroke out while scarfing down some cholesterol at Tony Luke's, we're also home to some of the nation's finest teaching hospitals.

I'm sure my friends can't wait to visit now.  Pennsylvania welcomes you.





Friday, August 12, 2011

Speaking of Emergencies Every 5 Minutes...

Yesterday, literally within five minutes of me clicking "publish" on yesterday's post, "Oh My God, There's a (Expletive) Emergency Every (Expletive) 5 Minutes!" we had an (expletive) emergency.

And yes, I do know the meaning of literally.  I clicked "publish," stood up to head into the kitchen to get more delicious decaf coffee, and heard the Peanut Butter Kid let out a little scream.

She was backing away from the refrigerator.

She screamed because she saw this:


What?  You don't see it?  She didn't either.  Until it moved.  So let's take another look, shall we?


"Mommy.  There is a really. big. spider. in the refrigerator."

Now, the Peanut Butter Kid is not fond of bugs and other crawlies.  So I figured she was exaggerating.  I grabbed a wad of paper towels, expecting to find a gnat or maybe a Daddy Long-Legs.

Instead I saw a Black Widow spider.  In my crisper drawer.  In a bag of grapes we bought five days ago.  And the little bastard was still alive.

Hello, adrenaline.  I hadn't seen you in, oh, five minutes.

I stood there for a good two minutes, paper towels in hand, staring at the bag of grapes, debating my course of action.  The spider was inside the open bag, clinging to the underside of the edge of the opening.

I would like to note that although I am not the girliest of girls, I will generally hand off spider-squishing responsibilities to my husband, who doesn't mind killing bugs with his bare hands.  He's manly like that.  Or has no sense of hygiene.  Whatever.  But if he's not home, I'll get myself a giant wad of paper towels and go after bugs myself.  It's fine.

However.

My husband was at work and I had never seen a Black Widow in real life before, so it kind of gave me ... pause.

I would also like to note that I did not swear.  I'm really proud of myself on that one, because inside my head was a solid stream of profanity.  I mean, really, what the (expletive) was I supposed to do?  I was afraid if I tried to squish it, I might miss.  And if I startled the thing, it might bite me, or worse, go skritching around the refrigerator.  And what if it got out of the crisper?  What if it got into the rest of my fridge and I couldn't find it?

Well, we'd have to move, that's what.

And I've done enough moving over the last two years.  I'm kinda over it.

Plus, I didn't want to have to go to the emergency room, because everyone was still in their pajamas, and for me that means I was in my husband's Batman boxer shorts, a tank top, and no bra.  I cannot go out like that.  Especially because of the no bra.

Eventually, my refrigerator started beeping at me, because it's fancy and it gets pissed if you leave the door open too long.  So then I'm talking to the refrigerator:  "I know, I know.  But I have a situation here."

I poked the bag a little, and the spider moved.  Damn.  Still alive.

Nunchucks for suburban housewives:
IKEA cups of doom.
I'm like a ninja with these suckers.

Eventually, I decided my best bet was to trap the spider.  At the time, this seemed perfectly rational. After all, the only thing I'd be willing to squish the spider with is my cowgirl boots, but I really didn't want to get toxic spider goo on my beautiful boots. 

So, it was either trap the spider, or just declare the refrigerator off-limits until my husband got home from work.  Or possibly until my dad could fly in from Texas and deal with the problem, because he's a real grown-up, and his size 13 hiking boots have killed much larger things than this spider.

In any case, I decided to trap it with two IKEA cups.  Those things are so cheap they're practically disposable.  And God knows I'm going to need to throw out the cups, if not the entire refrigerator.

I trapped it in the two cups, banged one of the cups against the counter so the spider would drop to the bottom, and then dumped it into a zip-loc sandwich baggie.

Success!

I sent an expletive-filled text to my husband, because the swears have to come out somehow

Then, I took a crapload of pictures for you.  Because otherwise, who is going to believe me that there was a Black Widow spider in my grapes?  It sounds ludicrous, an urban myth.  Like alligators in the sewer or tantrum-free toddlers.


Spider-in-a-bag.  You can see the red spots on its back.

See how shiny it is?

The hourglass marking on the abdomen.  Also, a nice shot of my 1970s-era Harvest Gold countertop.

Okay, this picture totally sucks and I know it.  But you can see the hourglass.

After the spider and I were done with its photo shoot, I looked up "black widow spider" online, and sure enough, all the pictures looked just like mine, except not blurry and usually not featuring such a hideous countertop.

I double-bagged the spider (in like twenty more baggies) and put it in the freezer.  As evidence. I don't really know why, except that I figured the Absent-Minded Professor would think I was just being histrionic if he didn't see the damn thing.

Then I posted the pics on Facebook.  Obviously.

With all the important steps taken care of (trap spider - baggie - curse like Samuel L. Jackson - update Facebook), I called the store from whence the spidery grapes had come.  We'll refer to that store as Nationally Known House of Evil Produce.  If you want a better clue, let's just say I haven't won a damn thing in their Sizzlin' Summer Giveaway except this freaking spider.

Here's the thing about my local House of Evil Produce: The woman who answered the phone was not sufficiently freaked out when I reported that my seven-year-old daughter had found a Black Widow spider in their grapes.  She asked me if I wanted to bring the grapes back in for a refund.

Dude.

I don't want my four bucks back.  I want my freaking innocence back.  I want the five years back that just got shaved off my lifespan.

I explained that I wasn't calling for a refund, I was calling because the store needed to check the rest of the grapes.

"The last thing you want is for some toddler in a grocery cart to reach for a grape and get a handful of Black Widow," I pointed out helpfully.

That sufficiently freaked the woman out.  She said they would inspect all the produce right away, and restated her offer of a refund on the grapes.  I just needed to bring in my receipt from last Saturday, as if I keep that kind of stuff.  Whatever.

After discussing the matter extensively on Facebook (clearly the best resource for this kind of thing), I decided that this was the kind of thing that needs to be reported.  To somebody.  Environmental Protection Agency?  Department of Health?  Immigration Services?

Ultimately, I emailed the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture through their "Eat Safe, PA!" website.  Because my food was not safe.  I haven't heard back yet, possibly because crazed suburban moms with anxiety issues are not their top priority.

Also, one of my friends Googled "black widow in my grapes" and disturbingly, found news articles.  My kids were dying for me to call the local news, but then I'd have to put on make-up and clean the kitchen, and after trapping a deadly arachnid, that would just be way too much work.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Oh My God, There's a (Expletive) Emergency Every (Expletive) 5 Minutes!"

Yesterday I commented on my Facebook page that I know my son's autism is great for forcing me to slow down and all, but I really needed to get some crap done.  And I couldn't, because he was already at DEFCON 2, so running errands was simply out of the question.

Oh yes, we're still recovering from vacation, apparently.  Plus, we're ramping up the anxiety of starting Kindergarten.  Gah.

Lots of readers chimed in about understanding the feeling of not getting anything done.  A reader named Marie then posted,
"Dad's on vacation this week.  He commented this morning: "Oh my god, there's a (expletive) emergency every (expletive) 5 minutes!!". Welcome to my days honey! Great day considering we found our oldest (6 years old) with autism tearing apart the basement -- trying to find tools to turn off the hot water heater. Did I mention it took me 3 hours to fold laundry? Is it a full moon?"
I'm still laughing about this one.  Or maybe crying.  Because it is so. damn. true.  Not the part about the hot water heater.  My kids have far too much anxiety to venture into our disgusting basement.

However, we really do seem to have an emergency every (expletive) five minutes.  And I'd be hard pressed to believe that having my stress hormone levels shoot up and down every five minutes doesn't have at least something to do with my delightful new thyroid condition.

Yesterday was the kind of day where, when my husband finally came home at 8:30 at night (Wednesday is a suckfest that way), I felt like I had accomplished absolutely nothing.  I needed to go to the Post Office, start school clothes shopping, and make a crapload of phone calls.

Instead, here is what I actually got done yesterday:
    The box says it has whole grains and real
    cheese.  That's two major food groups
    right there.
  • I had fed the kids.  (Cereal, peanut butter sandwiches, frozen pizza, four pounds of grapes, and an economy-size box of Goldfish crackers.)
  • Their clothes were cleanish, in that they started the day with no visible stains.  I'm pretty sure at least two of my kids have been wearing the same outfits for the last 48 hours straight, but as I said, no visible stains.
  • I had showered and combed my hair.
  • Everyone had their medications, at the appropriate dosages and times.
  • I had navigated approximately 36 meltdowns and potential meltdowns without yelling at anyone.
  • All four of our children are still alive.
Whew.  You know what?  I am a (expletive) rock star.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Yeah. I Sew. You Got A Problem With That?

Shown here left to right: Me, the Professor,
Available Guest Slot, the Professor again.
This summer, I started sewing.  And never stopped.  I have now made approximately eleventy hundred pairs of pajama pants for the kids. 

I used to sew by hand a little bit.  I would make pajama shorts for the kids while I watched TV.  They took forever to make by hand, but I like to keep my hands busy because my ADHD and caffeine addiction compel me to do so.

My stepmum, an accomplished sewer, would always suggest that I needed a machine, but the idea of having a powerful machine full of needles and razor blades in a house with four small children seemed like a recipe for (even more) frequent trips to the emergency room.  Finally, last winter it seemed like maybe the kids were medicated old enough to be safe around a sewing machine, so that was my Christmas present.

I got a "Project Runway" edition sewing machine.  I selected this one so that the Absent-Minded Professor could enjoy pretending to be Tim Gunn, critiquing my haute-couture fashion and/or pajama pants, telling me to make it work.  Then when the kids try on said pajama pants, I'm Heidi Klum and he's Michael Kors.  Sorry, neither one of us wants to be Nina Garcia.  She's a perfectly lovely person but far less fun to mock.  If any of you want to take on that role, you're welcome to come over and be Nina.

These are the kinds of things we find amusing, especially now that we don't have cable and can't actually watch Project Runway.

I've been known to become obsessed with a craft before.  Sometimes the craft stays with me (knitting); sometimes it's limited to one holiday season (soapmaking).  The soapmaking obsession was particularly productive because it was when Cookie and the Pork Lo Maniac were about 18 months old.  Every time I was super-stressed, I'd go into the kitchen and make soap.  That year, everyone on my list got a forty-pound basket of handmade soap. 

When I was a kid, my mother was pretty anti-craft.  As a single mom and a professional, she didn't see the point.  She also thought that all hand-made things were inherently tacky.  (However, because she grew up in the fifties, she'd had enough home economics classes that, when forced to under great duress, she was actually a great sewer.) 

Cordless, butane-powered glue gun.
For the crafter who is not screwing around.
My stepmum, however, enjoys wielding a hot-glue gun.  She's the one who taught me the basics of sewing and knitting.  Nowadays, knitting has had a resurgence, and was even trendy there for a while.  Sewing has yet to have that, but it turns out that some of my friends are secretly sewing away anyway, hunched over their machines and yards of double-knit interlock in their basements.  One dear friend even loaned me her precious serger machine, and now I've made comfy school uniform pants for all my kids.  They look like regular pants but they're actually all stretchy and fabulous.

Sewing doesn't make me less of a feminist.  Neither does knitting or washing the walls.  I personally abhor cooking, but I have friends -- stay-at-home and working moms alike -- who take great pleasure and pride in setting a nourishing meal before their families.  Enjoying something that's traditionally feminine doesn't mean that Gloria Steinem and Naomi Wolf are going to make fun of you over chai lattes.

My daughters like to sew.  The Pork Lo Maniac in particular can hyper-focus on sewing and makes beautiful cloth dolls with embroidered faces.  Cookie makes clothes for her American Girl doll.  The Peanut Butter Kid likes to cook, and you can bet I'm encouraging that with all my heart.  A few more "Beginning Chefs" summer camps for her and I might be able to stop burning fish sticks cooking forever.  My son likes to clean.  Sure, it probably promotes his OCDishness, but whatever.  Lint rollers and Swiffer dusters make him happy.

Changing a car battery is (almost) exactly the same
as changing the Wii remote batteries. 
The main difference is that you won't have
to change the car battery again in 36 hours.
I also recently changed the battery in my husband's car, armed with a YouTube video and a strong belief that since I change the batteries in the Wii remote every other damn day, how hard can it be?  All four of the kids assisted with that, wearing swim goggles and gardening gloves for safety.

So I'm not entirely feminine or domestic.  Cooking will never be my thing, and the house is a freaking wreck because I spend all my time sewing and ignore the fact that I should probably vacuum upstairs one of these days.  In fact, I just crossed my legs while typing this and realized that the underside of our dining room table is sticky. 

I'll deal with that later.  First I have to make more pajama pants.

Monday, August 8, 2011

MeltdownFest 2011: The Price I Pay When I Go Out

MeltdownFest 2011:
You can see how much fun this
polar bear is having.
This weekend was the annual BlogHer conference, which is basically a giant party for women bloggers from all over the place.  I think they throw some classes in there too.  I, of course, don't have the money to fly to San Diego to get drunk, especially when there's perfectly good frodkas to be made right in the comfort of my own home.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the home of the lovely author of Donkeys to College*, anyway, so it's like I went to a blogging conference.  Except most of the people there didn't even know what a blog was, except for DTC herself, and of course her mom.  They have one of those Kathy Griffin - Maggie Griffin dynamics going on.  (In all fairness, though, DTC's mom isn't guzzling wine all the time.)

DTC has an annual summer bash that is legendary.  It involves food and drink and a DJ loud enough that the cops came.  Given that it's been approximately 20 years since I've been at a party where police officers showed up as something other than invited guests, I found that pretty impressive. 

Now, I am both a massive dork and constantly tired.  Even without drinking, I don't like to drive at night.  One drink and I'm pretty sure I'll crash my minivan and kill myself.  Therefore, I stayed over at DTC's house, furthering my illusion that I was attending a blogging conference.

Despite my lovely time away, I am now paying the price.  Not in hangover form, because despite my love of a good frodka, I just don't drink that much.  No.  I am paying the price in terms of my youngest son being completely pissed off and out-of-whack because I was away overnight.

This goes beyond paying the price in terms of dishes left undone in the sink and no one's hair being brushed, which I've come to expect when I'm out.  I don't care about that stuff.  Pretty much as long as everyone's breathing when I get home, I don't care what the hell happens because I got a night out.

Little Dude does not like a change in routine.  He does not like for me to be away.  He doesn't even like me to be in the bathroom with the door closed, let alone sleeping at someone else's house.  Generally speaking, I think he'd prefer to sleep in my uterus every night. 


Given these attachment issues, my uterus being in the next county is completely unacceptable to Little Dude.  And coming on the heels of being away in the mountains for a week, this was just too much to bear, apparently.  Our house is now MeltdownFest2011. 

In the last thirty minutes alone he has had fits because the Pork Lo Maniac wanted to watch Phineas and Ferb on Netflix out of episode order; because we were out of Sun Chips; and because last night he had to sleep in his own bed (where he always sleeps).  I know: the horror ... the horror. He has also pooped three times in that time span.  Awesome.  Remind me to get more Pull-Ups.

I know that the amount of time to recover from vacation equals 50 percent of the time you were away.  Anyone know how long it takes for a child to recover from the parent being away?

*p.s.  Today's post from Donkeys to College features men in Speedos.  Thong Speedos.  You're welcome.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fun With My Thyroid, Round 2: Hashimoto's Thryoiditis

Let's continue with the ongoing ridiculousness of my thyroid saga, shall we?  After being diagnosed by you, dear readers, and by an actual doctor, I decided to get a third opinion. 

Not because I didn't trust your diagnosis of Zombie Fever and/or Bieber Fever, but because my endocrinologist's non-answer answers were just vague enough to make me wonder if she had any idea what the hell she was talking about.

Also, frankly, Zombie Fever sounds more plausible than throiditis.  I mean, thyroiditis sounds totally made up. 

The first endocrinologist was at an admittedly podunk hospital.  Our Lady of the Blessed Agony or something, I think it was called.  Agreeing to be referred there was a rookie mistake on my part.  I live immediately outside Philadelphia, home to some of the nation's best hospitals.  Why settle for second best (or possibly somewhere around sixth best) when you can just as easily go to a top-flight teaching hospital?

Apparently now Dr. House is worth it, too.
So off I went to the best endocrine department in the region, and one of the top in the country.  Because I can.  Remember those L'Oreal ads?.  Because I'm worth it.

I'm sure no one will be surprised by the fact that you guys were right.  Well, not about the Zombie Fever.  But after reviewing all my bloodwork and poking me in the neck, my new-and-improved endocrinologist said I have classic Hashimoto's Thyroidits, which was right up there in your diagnoses.

Ding ding ding!  You guys win!

Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, despite sounding like something from a 1950s Godzilla movie, is an auto-immune foul-up of the thyroid, where you start out hyperthyroid, dip to hypothryoid, and then (usually) level out to normal. 

It's also an auto-immune disease, which puts me at a greater risk of having (now or in the future) other auto-immune diseases.  I also saw a rheumatologist at said top-notch hospital, who wants to rule out Lupus.

When I dip down to hypothyroid, the doctor will dose me out some kind of thyroid supplement.  If I'm one of the 20 percent of patients who doesn't ever quite go back to normal, I'll be on that med forevah. 

In the mean time, there's nothing we can really do about my hyperthyroid symptoms.  I'm not a good candidate for beta blockers (offered by the first endocrinologist) because I have asthma, and because it will make my dizziness worse.

Aside from the fact that my hairline is receding and I feel like I'm constantly on the verge of blacking out or having a panic attack, it's not so bad.  I've decided to embrace my temporary hyperthyroid situation and enjoy the weight loss and insomnia while the going's good.  I had put on some weight during our sojourn in Texas, and now the pounds are just melting off.  Probably I'm burning a lot of calories with the constant tremors. 

And the insomnia has really freed up quite a bit of "me time."  It's amazing how much I'm getting done between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. now that I'm not wasting my time sleeping.   I finally cut out caffeine entirely because I'm already like a crackhead, so that's good news for my breasts. No more Diet Coke-filled cysts for me!

I even tried cutting out my Adderall to see if that would help, but then I was jittery and stupid, instead of just jittery.

Sure, I'm jacked up all the time like the Caffeine Patch Lady on Meet the Robinsons, but hey, it's all good.


Caffeine Patch Lady is possibly just hyperthyroid.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ah, Vacation: Lake Monsters, Home Poopers, and The Sunblock of Doom

You can't squish your toes into lake muck and
not assume there's a lake monster in there somewhere.
Ah, vacation.  A change of scenery, a chance to try new things, time to relax.

For most of us, that is.  For Little Dude, it's a little overwhelming. This is a kid who doesn't like surprises, transitions, or changes.  So staying in a different house, in a different town, with different everything is kinda stressful for him.

I have to say he held up like a trooper.  Sure, every night he had a mini-meltdown because he wanted to sleep in his bed at home, but every morning he was ready to eat the exact same breakfast he eats at home.  He even went swimming in a lake, which encompasses enough sensory stimuli to overload an adult, let alone a kid with sensory processing disorder.  Have you ever felt lake muck?  It slides and slurps between your toes and skeeves out grown men.

Banana Boat Ultramist Ultra Defense Spf 85, 6-Ounces (Pack of 3)
I need this to come in a
ten-gallon power-
sprayer format.
Then there's our ongoing battle with The Sunblock of Doom.  Sunblock has always been Little Dude's nemesis.  Anything gooey on his skin is Total Trauma Island.  I did find a spray sunblock that freaks him out significantly less, but unfortunately one can of it covers our family of six exactly once, and then it's time for a new can.  We went through a ton of it, but no one cried and no one got sunburned.  (If you're interested, it's Banana Boat Ultramist Ultra Defense, and no one's paying me to say so.) 

Our vacation is over now, but we're still in recovery mode.  I managed not to come home with too much dirty laundry, but the kids are still completely fouled up.  I think the mathematical equation for this is something like this: 


Yeah.  My kids are "home poopers."  We're now onto a bowel-cleansing regime that would normally be reserved for preparing for gastrointestinal surgery. It's amazing how much fiber you can jam into a child's diet if you really try hard enough.  I also took one of my readers' advice that raspberries, while expensive, are Nature's Miralax.  ("I'm paying like $5 a poop.")  By combining Nature's Miralax with actual Miralax, maybe we'll get somewhere before school starts.
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