Thursday, September 23, 2010

Generational Serendipity

When I was 13 years old, some brave family friends took me, along with my best friend, Sue and their own three kids to the New York State Renaissance Festival. They may have even brought additional kids, but I honestly can’t remember. In fact, I don’t remember much about that day: long rows of porta-johns, long lines for funnel cakes, a wooden bridge. That’s near everything. But one event from that long ago excursion remains crystal clear.

I hadn’t brought much money with me—certainly not enough for a souvenir at the arts fair prices found at the festival. At one point I remember browsing a stand of pewter figurines; dragons, fairies, warriors, some as small as my finger, some large and spectacular, perched on rock crystals or holding dazzling jewels in their silvery talons. I gazed longingly at the beautiful statues, wishing I had the means to take one of them home with me, but I knew it wasn’t to be.

Then the lady, decked out in period costume, who was running the stand called to me. “You know,” she said, “I need to run to the rest room. Would you mind watching my stand for me?” I looked around. Me? I was the only person at the stand. Honored by her trust, I said, “Sure.” With a grateful smile she wandered off toward one of those long rows of biffs, leaving me basking in the reflected glow of dozens of metal and crystal sculptures.

It must have been early in the day, because not one other person stopped to look at the stand while its proprietor was gone. After a short time, she returned from her errand and thanked me for my help. “You’re welcome,” I said. As I was about to go, she held out a hand to stop me.

“Here,” she said, pressing something into my hand. “For your help.”

Wide-eyed, I looked down at the tiny pewter dragon she had gifted to me, no more than an inch tall, with a curled tail and open mouth, detailed down to its tiny claws and the scales on its body. I was astonished and gratified. Grinning back at her like an idiot, I thanked her and ran off to find the rest of my companions and show them my newly acquired treasure.

I never shared that story with my husband and children. In fact, I’d forgotten all about it until about a month ago, when I came across the little pewter dragon in a box that had been under our stairs for twelve years. I moved it to the vanity top in my closet, expecting there would be a time to show it to the kids and tell them about its origins. But life kept moving at its breakneck pace and school started and there the tiny dragon sat, forgotten once again.

This past weekend, I took my daughter to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. The first hour or so of the day she couldn’t contain her excitement, jumping and squeaking with glee every couple minutes. She wanted to see everything RIGHT NOW and I practically chanted, “one thing at a time, Ledon,” as we walked/ran from booth to booth. Wooden games and ceramic instruments, floral headpieces, copper sculpture, face painting, hair braiding, soaps, swings, food stands, and performance areas, midway-type attractions, a petting zoo, and a place to ride an elephant. Complete sensory overload! It was marvelous to see her experience it all for the first time.

To keep her from exploding entirely, I kept our pace even, stopping in to look at every merchant’s wares and encouraging her to see everything before deciding what type of souvenir she might want. At every stop, she would find half a dozen things that she “wanted for sure” and I would say, “We’ve been here less than an hour. Just keep your eyes open.”

In one corner of the grounds, the row of shops along the outside wall was mirrored by a few free-standing booths, one selling incense, another costume hats and another small ceramics. We stopped at this last, as I was thinking of buying a hand-made coffee mug. As we browsed, the proprietor engaged us in friendly conversation. It was very early in the day and traffic was light—he was still removing the previous weeks’ cobwebs from some of his items and adding things to the shelves. Eiledon babbled about how this was her first time at the fair and she was SO excited and it was SO cool, and on and on. The man smiled at her good-naturedly as he worked and commented whenever he could get a word in edgewise.

As we were preparing to move on, the shopkeeper called Eiledon over. “See this dragon?” he said, holding a ceramic statue about six inches high. Eiledon nodded and smiled. “His tail broke—see there? Just the tip of it broke off. I can’t sell him—would you like to have him?”

I gaped.

Eiledon accepted, of course, and then helped the man dig through a few other broken pieces of pottery to see if they could find the broken tail. At length the man did find it and handed it to Eiledon. “You can glue it back on with superglue or epoxy,” he said. “Let me wrap it up for you.”

“I have to tell you both a story,” I said then, still a little overcome by the coincidence. And I shared what had happened at my first Renaissance Festival.

The shopkeeper was nonplussed. “That’s amazing!” he said, finally. “You’ve come full circle.” I nodded. I almost felt like crying. “Well, it’s meant to be, then,” he finished, handing the wrapped dragon to Eiledon. “Enjoy your day!”

At that point, I don’t see how we could’ve done otherwise!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Teachable Moment

Eiledon dealt with a little bullying last year in school. Truth be told, her own behavioral challenges can make her seem quite nasty to other people, and her tendency toward the melodramatic might make her perception of others’ behavior more upsetting than those others intended. But I’m inclined to believe that there really were some ‘mean kids’ in her fifth grade class.

This year, Eiledon is in a new school, which offers an emphasis on fine arts, and a smaller and far more diverse student body. We were hopeful that she would find more kindred spirits or, if nothing else, a place where acceptance of differences was prominent in the environment. We warned her that there was no “geographical cure” for her problems, that she would take herself with her to the new school, and that she would still have to work hard both academically and socially to get the most benefit out of it.

The first week was encouraging: “Mama, the kids at this school actually think I’m cool!” She already has a good friend who has invited Eiledon to her upcoming birthday party. And she has a group of friends with whom she eats lunch every day. That NEVER happened last year. I didn’t want to jinx anything, but the relief was overwhelming.

Then yesterday evening, after a prolonged melt-down spurred on by hunger and fatigue, she muttered, “I hate school.” My heart dropped.

“Already?” I asked.

“Well, just because of that girl on the bus.”

Ah. That girl on the bus, whose name Eiledon still doesn’t know even though they’re in the same class of 20 kids. That girl who has said some pretty mean things to Eiledon including, according to my melodramatic eleven-year-old, “Go away. I don’t want to see your face.” And “Just shut up. No one wants to hear you babbling all the time.” The girl also allegedly knocked Eiledon down to the floor of the bus in order to beat her to the back seat one afternoon. (I don’t know if it makes me a bad mom that I’m wondering what Eiledon has said to her, even though she insists: “I have never done ANYTHING to her!” But I’ll let that lie for now.)

By the time Eiledon had finally finished her bedtime snack, and was feeling more coherent, we talked about some strategies for dealing with the situation. I kept coming back to encouraging her to ask for some kind of mediation between the girls. To having Eiledon offer to “start over” and figure out how they can “get along” rather than just complaining about the other girl’s nastiness. Eiledon was unsure. “I know what she’ll say if I ask her that. She’ll just tell me to go away and that no one wants to see my face.”

“Maybe,” I conceded. “But if you really make the effort to hold out the olive branch, and stay positive about it, and she still isn’t willing to be friendly, then it’s her problem and not yours.”

As Eiledon went off to bed (finally!), I could tell she wasn’t completely convinced, but she agreed to talk to her teacher about how to proceed. Good for her! I thought, and then collapsed into bed myself.

This morning, as she sat eating breakfast at the kitchen counter, we somehow started talking about the literary device of personification. The conversation soon turned to the anthropomorphism in her favorite book series, Warriors, which is about feral cats living in a tribal society with lots of human-like customs and beliefs. All of a sudden Eiledon said, “I feel so bad for Scourge. I really relate to him. He was such a cute kitten and it’s so sad that he turned out to be so evil. It wasn’t even really his fault!”

BINGO. “Eiledon,” I said, “I think it’s interesting that you relate to Scourge. Do you think that some of that is because you have lots of challenges that sometimes make people think you’re mean when you really don’t intend it?”

“Yeah,” she said, a little sadly.

“So maybe you could look at that girl on the bus like Scourge.”

Silence.

“You don’t really know her. Maybe she doesn't want to be mean. Maybe there are other things in her life that make her seem that way.”

“I guess,” Eiledon answered philosophically.

“Do this,” I said. “When she gets on the bus this morning, think of her as Scourge. And just talk to her. Tell her you’re sorry you haven’t been getting along and you wonder if you can’t just start over and try to be friendly.”

“What if she just yells at me to go away?”

“Well, then just say, ‘okay’ and go sit down. Then you can talk to your teacher at school about it, like you’d planned.”

She nodded and then grabbed her backpack and headed for the bus. You go, Girl! I cheered silently.

I don’t expect Eiledon to come home all smiles about her new friend, or anything. But I could tell, just by looking at her as she walked out the front door, that she ‘got it.’ That by reframing her adversary as someone misunderstood, someone she related to, she suddenly had a little compassion for the girl. And no matter what happened after that point, Eiledon had learned something very valuable.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

You get used to the bugs.

Upon arrival at the cabin each summer I am aware that it’s not insulated, and that regardless of any effort to the contrary, Herculean as it may be, there will always be spider webs up in the rafters and strung between any two objects left undisturbed for more than a day or so. There will be earwigs and green bugs found on furniture or walls or crawling over the floor now and again. On still evenings, there will be countless moths and other night bugs on the window screens, the tiniest of which will figure a way indoors and flutter madly around the bare-bulb lights in the crossbeams. You are almost certain to find a small, multi-legged friend in the bathtub each morning when leaning in to turn on the shower, and it’s not at all uncommon to see a daddy longlegs scooting from the stack of logs by the fireplace as someone reaches to add more fuel to the fire on the hearth.

There was a period in my life when I absolutely could not abide these unwelcome guests in the cabin. I remember being unable to sleep, feeling as if there was some bug crawling on me at all times. I hated the idea of sleeping in a place where, like as not, some hungry jumping spider would visit me in the night to snack on my blood, leaving an itchy welt as a tip. I am not certain that it was solely due to the inevitable bugs in such a rustic setting, but for a few years, the very thought of the cabin raised considerable anxiety in me and, as my husband wasn’t willing to spend all his vacation time in the same place every year, I simply didn’t go. I am happy to report that either age or experience or copious amounts of Prozac eliminated the unfounded anxiety and in 2002, I began taking the next generation to this earthly paradise each summer, with or without my husband.

Now, I believe I can say with some tranquility, I am resigned to sharing the cabin with those possessing four, six or even dozens more legs than I. Just this morning I moved one of the little wooden footstools across the living room without even bothering to turn it over and check for stowaways. After just a few hours in the cabin, the slight tickling sensation of tiny feet running across my skin results not in a paroxysm of revulsion, but a quick, decisive hand movement ending with a firm pressure on the affected area. Squish first, ask questions later.

I have even been known to allow spiders to build elaborate orb webs from the light fixtures, welcoming tiny eight-legged visitors—who are sometimes even given names, for goodness sake!—to drop down and watch a game of pinochle or hearts, so long as they don’t reveal the contents of my hand to my opponents. And when I step into the shower each morning, scanning the ceiling for loitering arachnids I’m as like as not to simply mutter, “As long as you stay up there, we don’t have a problem.”

Still, I’m not completely at peace with my cohabitants. I will check the ceiling of my bedroom each night and put an end to anything lurking above me. And as I mentioned, the sensation of being crawled upon will not be tolerated under any circumstances. But by and large I can enjoy the splendors of cabin life without constantly worrying about my ever-present invertebrate companions.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A McMansion Moment

I once came across a quote that read, roughly: “Social justice exists at the intersection of rhetoric and envy.” While it’s quite likely that whoever originated the quote was loitering at the corner of avarice and self-justification, this kind of mean-spirited overgeneralization is always more painful when barbed with a modicum of truth.

I have been systematically downsizing the “stuff” in my home and in my life for the better part of five years, now, with a deep conviction that I ought to be simplifying. That I need to set an example for my children about what is “enough” and about real joy having nothing to do with the things we think we want. I try to live by the adage: “Happiness is not getting what you want, but wanting what you have.”

So why is it, then, when I drove through a nearby neighborhood of enormous houses the other day did I find myself thinking, “Who are all these people who can afford these houses? What do they do for a living and how on earth can there be so many of them?!?” I call incidents such as these "having a McMansion moment." Implicit in my confusion is the additional question: “What am I doing wrong that I don’t live like this?” Envy. Then judgment: “Whoever these people are, they obviously have no moral conscience that they would choose a life of such conspicuous consumption while children are going hungry every day.”

It’s easy from that jumping-off-point to rage against the American economic machine that rewards the wealthy to the detriment of the poor and riff endlessly upon how a simple redistribution of such massive wealth could solve a myriad of social ills. Mind you, I am not, for even a moment, saying I agree with the above quote. I think most people who struggle for social justice have no ambitions to golf-course living. But if I’m to be honest, I need to cop to the fact that sometimes I just wish I had more, and if it came at the expense of those McMansion dwellers, that wouldn’t be so bad. And I don’t even know them.

On the other hand I truly do think—not as a product of envy, but as a product of my Christian belief system—that such exorbitant wealth carries with it at least the temptation to evil, if money cannot be said to be evil unto itself. I don’t know if I’ve heard this quote somewhere or if I made it up myself, but I giggle, sometimes, when I think, “Well, I don’t have a lot of money. So I have to have values.” Hah! As if the wealthy are completely bereft of conscience! Then again, if a tiny piece of my desire for social justice arises out of envy, surely a tiny piece of their chosen lifestyle arises out of greed?

The truth hurts, doesn’t it?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Humbled to be an American

On April 14th, my brother-in-law, Nate, began a 1-year tour of duty in Afghanistan. He is, at the moment, still on US soil, doing final prep before heading out. He will spend ten months in one of the most unsettled regions in the world.

When the family gathered for dinner on the 13th to say our good-byes, the anxiety was palpable, the sadness all-pervading. But there was also a sense of awe at the level of courage, commitment and humility in Nate’s decision to serve his country in whatever way they asked.

I have been thoughtful these past weeks about the sacrifices Nate and his wife and children are making for this duty. I have been accused, in the past, of not being a patriot because of my left-of-center political views. This is ridiculous, of course, but it bears exploration at a time when questions about US military action in the world have landed so close to my own backyard. I dug through my journals and found this entry, below. I thought I would share it, in honor of Nate’s selfless service to us all.

-----------------------------------

July 23, 2004

I’ve had an epiphany. I think I finally understand what it is, exactly, that bothers me so much about America’s national pride. About flags on t-shirts and “God Bless America” on bumper stickers and “Proud to be an American” on the radio.

The truth is, I am a patriot. There are those who might think otherwise, as I openly criticize our current (Bush) administration, disapprove of the war in Iraq, and strongly support the separation of church and state, among other things. But I love being an American. I thoroughly and heartily enjoy my freedom to speak my mind, worship my God, educate my children, and share in the plenty that America offers.

But proud? No.

Humbled.

I am humbled to be an American. I am humbled that 200 years ago, a group of intelligent people had the foresight to write as beautiful and flexible a document as the US Constitution. I am humbled that men and women have died because they believed in the freedoms laid out in that document. I am humbled knowing that many of them died unwillingly, pawns in a shameful, imperialistic game played by powers far beyond them, but that all, nonetheless, fought for the right reasons.

I am humbled because here I sit, reaping the unbelievable benefits of someone else’s hard work and sacrifice.

Proud to be an American?

No.

Ashamed, often, of what a few, powerful men do in the name of American pride. Ashamed of the reputation our country has created in the global community—a John-Wayne-esque go-it-alone bully who will stop at nothing—and I mean nothing—to increase its wealth and influence and domination of others. Ashamed, really of that whole concept of “National Pride.”

When did pride become a virtue? If I’m not mistaken, it’s still listed as one of the “seven deadly sins.” Pride is dangerous. Pride is blind to truth. Pride in a person makes him arrogant and unlikeable. Pride in a country leads to genocide. Did we learn nothing from the Nazis in World War II?

Humility. Now there’s an asset. Humility leads to sharing and cooperation. It leads to seeing others as they truly are. It leads to honesty and an inability to place yourself above another person—especially for things you could not possibly have earned for yourself: white skin, Christian beliefs, heterosexual leanings.

I am humbled by all those who have gone before so that I might sit here and muse on the awesome blessing of my very existence in this time and place. And I sincerely believe that if everyone waving an American flag was humbled, rather than proud, to be an American, this country would be a truly great nation.

---------------------------------

Thanks, Nate.

-

Friday, March 19, 2010

Community Service

I grew up in a small church. There just weren’t a lot of Lutherans in suburban New York. There were about six kids in my Sunday School class and it was generally a two- or three-grade span in each class. We had one pastor and one Sunday worship service. There was a lot of work to be done and not a whole lot of people, so everyone pitched in on a regular basis and I watched my parents direct and teach Sunday School and Bible studies, serve on Council and committees, organize local and national service opportunities, serve as assisting ministers, preach when the pastor was on vacation, and sing in the choir, among other activities too numerous to remember. This was the place my faith was formed.

Moving to the Minneapolis area in 1996 was quite the culture shock. Even the smaller church of which my husband and I initially became members had about 1,500 people on the rolls. It was sort of exhilarating to be part of something so… teeming is the only word I can come up with. There were two choirs and a small singing group, lots of Sunday School kids, two pastors and an unbelievable organist. For a few years I directed Christmas programs, served on committees, participated in musical theater, and did many of the things I had seen my own parents do when I was growing up. What surprised me was that despite the congregation being literally 10 times larger than that of my childhood, there really weren’t many more people actively involved in service to the congregation and the community. There were still only a handful of families who consistently attended and participated in worship and education opportunities, who attended every event and who stepped up to help out when needed.

About three years ago, I found another tiny Lutheran church a bit closer to home. For whatever demographic and societal reasons, Calvary Lutheran in Edina is as small, if not smaller, than my home church in New York. In sharp contrast to the proliferating mega-churches of all denominations in the Twin Cities, Calvary feels like a community to me. We all know each other. We all participate together. I don’t worry about where my son, who has Asperger Syndrome and ADHD, has gotten to—people know him and love him for who he is and help keep him from getting into too much trouble. I love watching my daughter participate in music and art and especially drama, where she excels. My husband has had opportunities to play his guitar, attends the monthly “men’s breakfast” group and willingly substitute teaches in Sunday School. My parents are members, too, continuing in their lifelong commitment to and passion for their church community.

There are times when it’s frustrating to belong to a church this small. Sure, it would be nice to have a dozen or so more families with children to bolster the Sunday School rolls. I think sometimes people are afraid to become part of a small congregation because they want to remain anonymous. They want to drop in for worship and disappear afterward. And they don’t want anyone to ask them to help with anything—schedules are simply too overcrowded as it is and they would feel terribly guilty if they had to say “no.” I get that. I do. But I’ve learned in recent years that simply showing up is of enormous value in a worship community. A family serves its congregation simply by lending its voice and its presence to the experience of corporate worship. A person who is struggling serves her fellow members by allowing them to be of service to her. Whether you feel inclined to offer more of your time and energy to the workings of the community is always up to you. I have found that when I am ready to serve, the opportunities are provided.

I know that lots of people are leaving the church because they don’t feel like they “get anything out of it.” I’ve learned that you get just as much out of it as you put in.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mission Accomplished

90 days. 90 blog entries. Not exactly every day—there was the one day I totally spaced and the other day I had no access to the required technology, but both times I made it up.

So I’m done. And what have I learned?

1) If I had to, like for a job or something, I could squirt something out every day.

2) If I were actually being paid to squirt something out every day, I’d like to think it would be of higher quality than some of the mental refuse I slapped up here on more than a few occasions.

3) I write much better in the morning.

4) I write much better when I actually have something meaningful to say.

5) I don’t have something meaningful to say all that often.

6) When I’m at a loss for what to write, or when I feel so overwhelmed and insane that the last thing I want to do is write, it is very, very, very hard not to rant. Ranting about idiots, incidents, indiscretions, institutions, injustices, indecencies, incompetence, ignorance and lots of other things that start with “i" would have been an easy way out for me. Even with some of the pointless crap to which I had to resort in order to avoid ranting, I’m glad I set that limitation on my subject matter.

7) I am completely, hopelessly and ridiculously in love with the written word. That said, I’m looking forward to a break.

Peace out.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Open Up My Head and Let Me Out

(little BAY-bee!)

Coincidence that a) Dan just found out he has fabulous Warehouse-member-seniority-based-butt-kicking tickets to see Dave Matthews Band BOTH nights at Alpine Valley in July AND at the Xcel in September and b) I’m feeling like the DMB song lyric which titles this blog entry pretty much sums up my emotional state at the moment?

Never mind the fact that the above sentence was a ridiculous run-on.

I had six lovely hours without husband or children this afternoon, no place I had to be, nothing I had to “get done,” no need to do more than have a little quiet me time. And in that time I managed not to get my blog written, not to nap for more than a few minutes, not to read anything interesting or even watch anything interesting. Or uninteresting. In fact, I managed not to do so many things that I honestly can’t account for the time. Except that for the entire six hours, my brain was running on one of those metal gerbil wheels (which helps explain the nap deficiency—I didn’t say I didn’t lie down. I just said I failed to actually sleep for more than a short while).

In fact, it’s still running. I’d love to share, except I’m pretty sure that if I get started, I’m just going to rant for fourteen pages which a) violates my ground rules for this blog and b) would take far too much time and energy.

This is the time to use the tools of my recovery program. Write the stuff down. Literally “open up my head and let me out.” Get on the phone with folks in my network. Pray and meditate. Do service for someone else. Just shove a giant 12-step wrench into the gerbil wheel and launch my frantic synapses into a welcoming pile of cedar shavings. Too much of a gerbil analogy? Probably.

So I apologize to anyone who actually reads today’s blog. It’s little more than half-crazed dribbling. But at least it’s honest.

Friday, February 26, 2010

In Praise of Text Messaging

When Dan and I got our cell phones, we didn’t care anything for text messaging. It wasn’t all the rage, yet, and seemed a frivolous add-on to an already pricey monthly contract. Now, of course, educators and parents are up in arms about the epidemic of poor spelling and soaring inattentiveness caused by kids sending “OMG, r u fer real? L8r!” to one another. In fact, a friend of mine who gave into her son’s desire for a cell phone was recently horrified to have half a dozen sixth graders sitting around her dining room table texting each other rather than just talking. I can see the concern.

But as for me and my house, WE LOVE TEXTING. For a few reasons.

First of all, I hate the phone. The last thing I need in my unpredictable household is one more entity suddenly bursting out with a nerve-jangling demand for my attention. I know I don’t have to answer it, and with “Opt-out” websites and “Caller ID,” we get few calls from solicitors and can easily see which ones not to answer. But even then, there’s the frustration of running around to find the portable handset just to realize it’s a “Restricted” or “Out of Area” number, which I will never answer. Or if it is someone dearly beloved to me or my family, I often feel overwhelmed with anxiety, knowing I have a zillion things to do and that this phone call will take a minimum of ten to fifteen minutes I really don’t have, but I feel like an absolute schmuck not answering when I know it’s someone I would otherwise LOVE to engage in a friendly conversation.

Don’t call me. I’ll call you.

But then, if I call you, I put you in the exact same position of having to drop anything and everything in which you might otherwise be involved to respond to my sudden demand for your attention. You probably aren’t as neurotic as I am about the phone, but I automatically assume that if it bugs me, it might bug someone else and why would I want to do that?

Enter the concept of text messaging. I need to find out whether Dan will be able to take Eiledon to Kung Fu the next day so I can schedule an appointment for Gavin. I don’t need to butt into his crazy work day. I just text him a quick note and, when it’s convenient for him, he gets the necessary information and responds. If he has a question or a piece of information for me, he can send it on over and when I don’t have my hands full or if I have a moment free from dealing with the kids or various pets, I can take a look at it. It’s just a much more non-invasive method of communication, ideal for busy parents.

Secondly, I’ve never been a big fan of chatting by phone. Whether it’s my own brand of Asperger’s or just anti-social behavior, I find the expectations for casual small-talk very difficult. It’s not like that with my closest friends or people in my recovery program, but in general, having to be spontaneously witty and mutually engaged in a telephone conversation is exhausting for me. With a text, I can quickly convey the one pertinent piece of information without having to chat about the weather or the price of gasoline. Like portable e-mail.

Third, I have ADHD. There are more unconnected pieces of information flying around between my ears at any given moment than there are on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. If I suddenly remember something important, I can text it to the appropriate party before it disappears into the far reaches of my gray matter! Even if it’s as simple as asking Dan to please stop at Jerry’s Foods on his way home to pick up the ice cream Eiledon is supposed to bring to school tomorrow. The information is in written form, the instruction is simple and clear, and Dan can receive the information when he has an opportunity to do so, on his terms. How do you not love that?

Lastly, texting offers a unique avenue for truly creative expression and a level of intimate connection on a moment-to-moment basis. I like to describe my phone’s text feature as a sort of walkie-talkie, direct to my husband, through which we can send secret messages at any time of day or night, in almost any situation (NOT WHILE DRIVING!!!! Just sayin’.) We spend so much of our time apart, and so much of the rest of our time focused on our kids, there’s not a whole lot left for the two of us. Each morning, if we’re lucky, we get about 15 minutes to have coffee together and take care of any family business. Text messaging gives us an opportunity to send love notes, share a joke, relate a funny event or ask a pertinent question and otherwise just let the other person know we were thinking of them. I’m not advocating texting as a replacement for togetherness. But when togetherness just ain’t happ’nin’, texting is a Godsend.

It’s a joy to be sitting in a hellaciously boring meeting and be able to text “I think I feel my toenails growing,” or some such nonsense to each other. When Dan and the kids are on a fun outing and something weird or funny happens, I get a little piece of the action in the form of a humorous message. Add in the camera phone and I get all kinds of bizarre pictures with hilarious captions from all over the place! I have grown so fond of this direct access to Dan and a few other friends that few things make me smile more readily than the sound of my phone receiving a text message: Casey Kasem yelling, in Shaggy’s voice, “Scooby Doo! Where ARE you?!?”

Because what I hear is, “Hey, Bek! I’m thinking of you!”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bubble Guinea Pop

(Gavin helped me write this entry :)

After a nonsensical intro in which an ill-defined ‘bad guy’ seems threatening (doesn’t actually DO anything threatening, mind you, just seems threatening) to some zoo animals, a couple of maverick guinea pigs decide to save the animals with serpents, bubble gum and bossa nova.

I’m sorry, WHAT?

It’s an online computer game, whose title is that of this blog entry. You can find it here. Gavin discovered it the other day on the computer at school. The object is to launch guinea pigs from the jaws of pendulum-like hanging snakes toward waiting zoo animals. When the guinea pigs come to a complete rest, they immediately blow a huge bubble-gum bubble which bursts, covering the targeted animal in pink, sticky goo which, supposedly, makes it so that vaguely threatening guy’s “powers” don’t work on them. You know, for their own good. In the sage words of Gavin: “It’s stupid.”

But it’s pretty darn fun, too. Each very short level requires you to click on a snake or two to release a bubble-blowing rodent at just the right time to have the proper trajectory so it lands close enough to the animal in peril to sufficiently coat it with pink goo. With every passing level, the layout of the ‘board’ is more complex, requiring advance planning as to when to release the pig, how to use other pigs and/or objects on the board to push the pig closer to its target and, in some cases, blow up bricks or pieces of wood (with bubble gum—because that makes sense) before being able to complete the task. In some screens, there are portals from one part of the board to another. In another screen, there’s a little machine that, when you launch your pigs into it, it divides the guinea pig into four smaller piglets (each of which is capable of blowing enough of a bubble to save a zoo animal). Gavin calls this the “guinea pig grinder.” Kind of a gross image, no?

He finished up to level 31 (out of 57) this morning before I had to literally threaten him to within an inch of his life in order to disengage him so he could head for the school bus. The really sad part is that we’re supposedly under a technology ban (for the kids) until further notice. But Gavin really wanted to show me this game he’d discovered and all of his attempts to explain it to me made absolutely no sense (and is there any wonder why that might be???) So I let him show me and was instantly sucked into a ridiculously silly morass of bubble gum, snakes, fuzzy rodents, assorted zoo animals, whirly portals, moving parts and mechanical switches all accompanied by a maddening synthesized overly-cheerful bossa nova.

And I think my life is crazy? My life has nothing on Bubble Guinea Pop.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

ROFLMAO

Norman Cousins, journalist and editor for the New York Post and the Saturday Review from the 1940s to the 1970s suffered from a rare form of arthritis later in his life. Part of his self-created treatment for the pain involved watching Marx Brothers films. He said: "I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval."

Last evening, during the family ritual of “bedtime snack time,” Gavin asked us to help him come up with a Moir-family-style ridiculous multiple name for his new stuffed Pokemon, Uxie. I don’t know what it is with our family and creative naming, but within about fifteen minutes, we were all in such hysterics, the dog started freaking out.

This is clearly a case of “you had to be there” so it won’t make much sense for me to write out exactly what was said. It’s probably enough to know that once the weird names started flying and Eiledon started writing them down, a series of errors in spelling and the incorrect re-stating of what another person had just said quickly escalated me to tears. I think the kicker was when Eiledon said one thing with her mouth full, I said back to her what it had sounded like to me, and then Dan, who misheard my misinterpretation asked, “Did you just say that Brubeck looks like a hamburger that came out of someone’s nose?”

Tears, I tell you. And acute abdominal muscle pain. I thought of the Norman Cousins quote: “Laughter is inner jogging,” because this was some workout.

After the recent days of wandering around in frustration, confusion, self-pity and the like, this was the best medicine anyone could have prescribed. For the first time in a week, I went off to bed in a good mood, grateful for my wonderful family and for all the gifts we truly have.

Keep those endorphins comin’, y’all: Spend some time LYAO!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Emotional Traffic Jam

After driving in the Twin Cities metro area for fifteen-plus years, now, I’ve come to expect, and generally accept, a certain amount of unpredictability in traffic patterns, driving styles, and the amount of time it will actually take to get from point A to point B. It’s also the only metro area in which I’ve driven extensively, so I can't say for certain that it's different than any other. Well, there was Des Moines, which I was semi-familiar with for about three years, where I referred to the locals’ overall driving technique as “freestyle” and joked about starting a foundation to repair the thousands of turn signals which appeared to be non-functional in the average Iowan’s car.

But back to the Twin Cities. Now, I’m not going to rant about city traffic: a) I don’t allow myself to rant (too much) on this blog and, b) it would be way too easy. Instead, I want to relate my own contribution to today’s random highway insanity.

I think it’s safe to say that I’m under a great deal of stress. I won’t go into it here: you can find musings on the current turmoil in my life in other entries. Just know that, when I left my house this morning for my weekly meeting, I was probably not in the best frame of mind. Therefore, when traffic on 494 east unexplainably came to a near stand-still at France Avenue at 9:05a.m. I was a little annoyed. Here I had actually left home with enough time to get to my meeting and now it looked as if I would be late as usual. When the backup stubbornly persisted past Penn, I-35W, Lyndale and Nicollet, I just sort of threw up my hands. You know, ‘best laid plans’ and all that crap. But when I saw what had caused the back-up, I allowed myself a little self-righteous indignation. It was a multi-car accident with half a dozen police and rescue vehicles with flashing lights… on 494 WEST-bound. It wasn’t even on the same road. But whatever sick emotional void is filled by rubber-necking at someone else’s misfortune managed to inconvenience me terribly. (Of course I looked, too. I had plenty of time ;)

In the end I was maybe two minutes late. Big fat hairy deal. But my agitation lingered.

For two hours, I sat in the meeting, sometimes listening, sometimes participating but mostly, I have to admit, multi-tasking. I had yet to read the official report of all of Gavin’s testing at Children’s Integrative and spent the lion’s share of the time poring over the psychologist’s methodology, observations, interpretations and psychological diagnoses. No surprises. Still painful.

I bolted after the meeting, unwilling or unable to engage in the social niceties of fellowship, and headed home. After following an extremely slow driver all the way down Cedar (It appeared as if he was trying to find a specific address, yet he just kept on heading south), I breathed out in relief when we hit Highway 77 and I could pass him. In the next five minutes or so, I witnessed an unusually high incidence of irresponsible driving, from tailgaiting to speeding, to excessive lane changing, all seemingly without reason. I got on my auto-safety high horse and started mulling over all the stupid choices people make when they get behind the wheel of a car.

And then I glanced down at my speedometer. Um.

So I slowed way down and gave myself a bit of a talking-to. There was absolutely no reason in the universe that my general sense of stress and unhappiness should endanger myself or others through bad driving. Especially when I’m the first one to look critically at other’s choices and judge them for not being as safe and conscientious as I like to think I am. Thereafter, I committed to paying better attention and separating my emotions from my driving.

494 westbound was now completely cleared of the previous accident and traffic was moving in the usual 5-15 miles over the speed limit. In anticipation of the upcoming I-35W exchange (from HELL) I scooted into the far left lane to avoid the inevitable clog at that point. Unfortunately, once I passed the interchange, I was not able to return to a more central position on the road—traffic was just that thick. I noted behind me a sporty little BMW who was clearly irritated that I was in the left lane and wasn’t willing to drive 90 to get out of his way. At first, I was grateful when traffic loosened around France Avenue. But then, unfortunately, I had another issue. The pot holes between lanes along that stretch of road are unbelievable. There was no way I could move over a lane or two without jeopardizing my suspension in a serious way. So with the unhappy Beemer crawling up my rear end, I maintained what I believed to be a happy medium between the safety of the speed limit and the safety of avoiding a rear collision.

Finally, the yawning chasm between me and the next lane leveled out a bit and I slid into the center lane, tempted beyond belief to give the driver of the BMW a dirty look as he accelerated and roared past me in his impatience. Who was I to judge, when just twenty minutes earlier I had to dress myself down for the same vice? It was just enough, at that point, to get myself home and let go of “all the idiots out there.” It doesn’t do one bit of good to whine about other drivers and, as I so wonderfully demonstrated, it’s pretty hypocritical. Who’s to say the BMW-driver was even aware of his speed? Maybe he was lost in thought about some life tragedy. I’m not the traffic police. All I can do, just for today, is just take myself out of the equation.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Least I Could Do

At some point in the last week or so, my kids left a library book within reach of the dog. Yes, the same dog who compulsively chews to tiny bits any item that can actually be reduced to tiny bits. Luckily, I didn’t walk into a room to find a pile of unidentifiable shreds, but caught Brubeck in the act and rescued the book with only the bottom left corner partially removed. Or, more correctly, the bottom right corner, as it’s a Japanese manga book, written in English but published with the pages in Japanese, rather than English order.

Heavy sigh. I examined the damage, wondering if the book was salvageable. It wasn’t all that bad, I thought, and put it back on the shelf in the library corner, along with all the Time Warp Trio books for Gavin, books about Aspergers and ADHD for me and Dan, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, which Eiledon is reading for a book report, and various and sundry graphic novels, school library books and picture books.

Yesterday I got the e-mail reminder that I had books coming due. Among them was the damaged Pokemon book and I sighed again. Chances are I could return it and it would be listed as “damaged.” I saw, when I read the Simon Singh book on The Big Bang, a note in the front cover that said: “Condition Noted.” Later in the book, I found multiple instances where a previous reader had highlighted portions of the text. So in this case, I was guessing the condition would also be “noted” so that no future borrowers would be blamed for the damage.

Still, by the time I reached the Library, I knew I’d be paying for the book. It was the only honest thing to do. What bugged me about it was having to admit I allowed my kids to be so irresponsible with a library book that the dog destroyed it. Me! For whom books are sacred! Whose blood curdles when I see someone fold down the corner of a page to mark his place.

Suck it up, Moir. You blew it. Get over yourself and pay for the stinkin’ book.

I placed the other three returns on the moving belt and wandered up to the desk. When the librarian noticed me, I smiled, lamely, and told her my dog had damaged the book. She took it from me and looked at it, making a noncommittal sound as she noted the teeth marks. There was a short pause. “I think I should pay for it,” I said.

“You want to pay for it?” she said, without emotion.

“I think I ought to. It’s my fault it’s damaged.”

She seemed almost embarrassed when she replied, “Well, I suppose that would be the right thing to do.” Like she was trying to give me an out. Or waiting for me to argue. Or I don’t even know what. It was weird.

“Yes,” I said with conviction. “I’d like to pay for the book.”

She walked me through the transaction and checked out another book I had on hold. She handed me the damaged book. “In our system, we have to list it as “lost” so we can go through the process of replacing it,” she said. “So you can keep it.”

Great, I thought. I can reward my kids for destroying public property. “Thank you,” I managed, and wandered out with my new “purchase.”

Sure enough, when I told the kids about what had happened and how I’d had to pay for the book (and how they would be reimbursing me out of their allowance), Gavin immediately piped up: “What happens if Brubeck chews up the other one?”

I don’t think he was being devious. He really isn’t like that. But I was DARN quick to say, “I returned it. And this will NOT happen again.”

“Good,” said Gavin, with a smile.

Here’s hoping.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Crock of…

…pot roast. I LOVE pot roast. Take one large hunk of natural (grass-fed, no hormones or additivies) beef, toss into a crock pot with potatoes, carrots, onion and tomato, turn on to “low,” go about your business for a few hours and: voila! Dinner. Effortless, I tell you. If only everything in life could be so easy. But not so.

Tonight I get to go to a talk called “The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Odd: Asperger’s Syndrome.” It’s presented by a man who has Asperger’s an focuses on demystifying the condition for the general public. A friend emailed me the information about the talk and I’m terribly grateful she did, and that my brother and his family are willing to host the kids for a few hours this evening. I’m hopeful that I’ll glean something that helps me to be less overwhelmed by the task ahead.

Meanwhile, life en la Casa de Moir feels like a complete zoo. Both kids are behaviorally all over the board, trying to deal with school and church and homework and flute and natural supplements and traditional medications. The younger cat (Jack-Jack) insists on pouncing on the more decrepit cat (Perry) causing explosions of hissing and growling at all hours. Jack-Jack also has a flower fetish which means the beautiful irises I brought home today (my FAVORITE flower) will likely be on the floor in a pool of water and broken glass when we get home from the talk. Then there’s the dog, who continues to pee all over my daughter’s carpet, chew up everything in sight, knock over the bathroom garbage and just generally add to the chaos, and my husband who is unwilling to part with the dog. When I said we should, he asked pointedly if I was willing to get rid of the cats, too. I totally called his bluff, because, honey they ALL can go. Still, Dan is determined to train Brubeck to be a contributing member of the family (actually Brubeck could probably make dinner in a crock pot, it’s so easy. There may yet be a future for him here).

So I continue to cling, white-knuckled, to what passes for sanity in the belief that “this, too, shall pass.” My mom has been quoting that Bible verse to me all my life and she’s never been wrong. Here’s hoping that this time it doesn’t turn out to be a crock of…

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Glass Half Full

I’m liking this ELCA Lenten Calendar thing. Easy inspiration. Yesterday’s suggestion was to put $1 in our ELCA World Hunger Relief collection bank for every pound we feel overweight. Of course, with my food plan, I don’t feel overweight at all. At most, a pound or two, which I’m still in the process of losing. So I’ll have to put in, say, $5 bucks a pound. My poor husband, on the other hand, looked pretty chagrined at the suggested exercise. Suffice it to say that, together, we’ll put a nice sum in our little bank (which we don’t actually have yet, but you can hold me to it since it’s in print :)

Today’s suggestion is to “Smile because your glass is half full.” Honey, there are days I’m totally convinced my glass overfloweth. Even with all the craziness around parenting kids with “special needs” (and, really, don’t all kids have special needs?) by and large I’m ridiculously wealthy in material, spiritual and relational things. Oh, wait, after dealing with another daughter-meltdown, I still have to remember the part where I SMILE. So, here you go.

I actually have a regular habit of smiling at other drivers when I’m out and about in my car. I think it’s funny to see how genuinely surprised most people are when you make eye contact with them and smile. Ninety-eight times out of a hundred, the other driver

will eventually smile back, once he or she is over his/her shock. The other two times out of a hundred, I’ll chalk up to the fact that the other driver is too distracted to smile back, has a genuine reason not to smile, or thinks I’m a raving lunatic and is afraid if they smile back I’ll turn my car around, follow them to a secluded spot and eat them with fava beans and a nice chianti. Actually, now that I write that down, I’m suddenly questioning my decision to smile at strangers.

No, seriously, I’m not.

So unless you live in an area where eye contact will actually lead to bodily harm, I challenge you to smile at other people for a few days. I guarantee it will lift your spirits and help you to feel that we humans are all in this together, cooperatively, rather than trying to just claw our way to societal dominance to ensure the perpetuation of our genes through the next few generations. (Where did THAT come from?!?)

And you never know: you might be on Candid Camera!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Disability vs. Personality

I’m trying to be accepting of my children. Unconditional love is, as I’ve written before, the most important part of any plan to help with ADHD or other challenges. Acceptance is a cornerstone of 12-Step recovery, but a dicey one when it comes to parenting. There are things in life I can’t change. There are things about my daughter that I can’t change. But there are things that, as a parent, I must change. Well, let me put that a different way: It’s my responsibility to teach my daughter a basic level of appropriate behavior and the tools she might need to get along with her fellow human beings. But it’s at just these teachable moments when I completely blow it in the unconditional love department.

The truth of the matter is that it is sometimes impossible for me to discern which aspects of a particular behavior are her disability (e.g. Tourette’s causing uncontrollable outbursts or anxiety causing uncontrollable outbursts or ADHD… causing… uncontrollable… out—well you get the idea) and which aspects are her personality (as children are often generally willful, defiant and self-absorbed). I can accept that she has greater challenges to her serenity than some other children. I can accept that I need to take these challenges into consideration when structuring her routine or establishing discipline. But in the moment when she seems completely incapable of performing the simplest task, I can’t seem to accept that she might not be entirely willfully misbehaving. She may be willfully misbehaving in part, and that’s the part I’m supposed to lovingly discipline but I can’t tease out what’s what and, in the end, three out of five times I wind up losing it and yelling, sending her to her room, or revoking various privileges.

Mind you, three out of five times is a vast improvement over my natural instincts. Having to report my own melt-downs to my sponsor each day has helped a fair amount in delaying my outbursts at least long enough for a few rational thoughts. And I’m ridiculously proud of the few times I’ve managed to navigate a behavioral mine-field without blowing off any body parts, hers or my own.

Come to think of it, maybe I oughtta cut myself a little slack if I’m dealing with my own self-diagnosed ADHD. I should look at my own behavior and ask which parts I can easily control and which parts might need more intensive intervention. Where can I develop alternative coping mechanisms that would allow me to approach my daughter without going off the deep end? Aren’t those just the things I’m hoping to develop in her? Wouldn’t it be easier to teach her out of personal experience rather than mandate out of my own need for order and quiet?

Uff da. I’m off to do my daily 10th Step inventory. Luckily I get to write down the good things I did, today, too.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Living Simply

I have a print-out of the ELCA’s 40 Day Lenten calendar focused on hunger taped to the dining room wall. There’s an activity for each day designed to help me stop and think about those in need, to remain aware and prayerful, to discern where my own choices can make a difference and how I can be of service to the greater world. For today, the suggested activity is to write about the struggle to live simply. Since I’m committed to this daily blog, I get to kill two birds with one stone. I’d say I’m off to a good start in the area of simplification.

Over the past five years, I have taken very deliberate steps to simplify my life and that of my family. Perhaps most drastic was my decision to quit working outside the home. Suddenly there was enough time to get everything done, including resting sufficiently. What there wasn’t any more was extra money. It’s amazing how you spend to your available income. We have to say “no” a lot more, but it’s clear we really didn’t need all that other stuff we’d been wanting.

In fact, it became clear that we really didn’t need most of the stuff we already had. With the kids in school and more time to myself, I systematically began downsizing all the junk in the house. Room by room, garage sale by garage sale, I got rid of a truckload of “stuff,” and found that I could get at things more easily in my kitchen, hang clean clothes in closets with room to spare, and see the floor of my kids’ bedrooms. I think maybe twice in the past three years have I missed something I’d chosen to part with. Not too bad. But I’m not fooling myself. I have more junk than anyone could possibly need.

This afternoon, I went to Ikea for the first time. I wasn’t terribly impressed, to be honest. Dan and I picked up a couple of things we actually did need and then just had fun traipsing through all the staged rooms. It felt good to say, “that would be nice, but we don’t need it,” a few dozen times. It felt even better to escape the place having dropped less than twenty bucks.

That being said, Dan and I treated ourselves to a very nice dinner at Red Lobster—frivolous to be sure!—and then spent the rest of our ‘date’ grocery shopping at four different places to the tune of $600. Now that’s enough dog, cat and human food to keep us for some time, but it sure didn’t feel like living simply.

I remember one staff discussion when I worked at PRISM. The case workers were wondering what a reasonable monthly grocery budget was for a family of four. The amounts tossed around the room were in the $200-$400 range. I almost choked on my lunch. Dan and I are exceptionally frugal (or, as Dan likes to say, “Scottish,”) when it comes to grocery shopping, even with my special food needs and three pets, but our monthly grocery budget is more in the level of $500 to $600 a month. Are we not living simply enough? Or is it unreasonable that a family should be able to feed itself for half of what my family spends?

I’ve no wise conclusions to draw from this exercise, except that living simply isn’t easy, but it is possible, and no matter how far I scale back, I will still have an embarrassment of riches compared with the vast majority of people in this world. So it’s worth it to continue pushing out of my comfort zone in the area of cutting back, knowing that I have more than enough.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Self Indulgence

Tomorrow, Dan is taking the day off from work and he and I are going to have some time just for us. We generally do this every year in December or January, but it’s been a bit hectic around here in the past couple months. We’ll go have coffee, maybe even see –gasp!—a movie, and top it off with dinner out. DINNER OUT. Whoa.

You could say it’s poor timing. Yesterday we could’ve chalked our excesses up to Mardi Gras but here we are in Lent, when we’re supposed to be paring things back, engaging in spiritual disciplines to strengthen our connection to God.

Thankfully, I’m pretty sure God’s in favor of our strengthening our connection to each other, too. I like to make jokes when people ask me about Dan such as, “Dan? Isn’t he that guy I see for about fifteen minutes every morning over coffee?” or “Dan… Dan… rings a bell. About so high? Dark hair? Gorgeous eyes? Yeah, I think I know who you’re talking about.”

I know it’s just the nature of life at this stage. I’m not the only one out there who is so focused on raising children that it’s hard to remember when it was just the two of us. That’s why I can joke about it instead of simply complaining or wishing it were different. But that’s also why it’s important to take these days now and then, to spend time (while the children are in the safe care of loving family members) not thinking about the kids. Or talking about them. Or dealing with them. Which isn’t to say they won’t come up: we’ve had hardly a moment to really talk about what’s going on with Gavin’s anxiety and Asperger’s and Eiledon’s ADHD and troubles in school. But at least we won’t be interrupted every fifteen seconds if we do discuss it.

Heck, even the DOG is going to doggy daycare so we don’t need to come home every couple hours and walk him.

Unattached. Unencumbered. Unrestrained.

Unbelievable!

Maybe I’ve inspired you to set aside some time for just you and your significant other. I’d be glad to have done so. Meanwhile, I’ll be hanging out with my best friend, Dan and enjoying the time to its fullest while I have it.

Because baseball season starts in a few weeks.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tired Snots

When the four of us Fergus kids started to demonstrate that bed-time, punchy, crabby, obnoxious behavior that all children display now and then, my grandmother referred to it as “the tired snots.” Well after two full days and two nights away from home with a bunch of 10-year-olds, my snots are exceptionally tired, and so are my daughter’s. She actually skipped choir and took the bus home from school today without consulting me first, apologized half-heartedly when I expressed my annoyance at her choice, and then immediately dragged herself up the stairs to her bed and crashed for an hour.

After reviving a bit, she managed her math homework and a little reading, but that was all she managed. From about four o’clock on, she just whined ad nauseum about how Gavin was lucky because he got everything and she never got anything fun. Gavin got a really cool new Nintendo DS game and got to see the Alvin and the Chipmunks Squeakquel, and got to go to Chuck E. Cheese’s, and stay overnight at Grammie’s house and the whole Girl Scout weekend wasn’t any fun except for the dance and the movie and pizza party and playing with Megan and the Comedy Sportz theater improv workshop, but that was all that was fun about the weekend and Gavin had much more fun than me and I don’t want to be in Girl Scouts anymore because I had to miss all the fun stuff that Gavin got to do…

Oh, for the love of Pete, can you just get OVER yourself?!?!? said the Mom with little sympathy. After biting Ledon's head off about practicing her flute, it took a quick phone call to a friend to settle down a bit. My friend lovingly pointed out that I wasn’t picking my battles all that wisely and if it came down to a choice between being compassionate toward my daughter or bullying her into complying with my mandate, which might be the better choice at this point? Breathe in. Breathe out. Thank goodness for the voice of reason.

Due to unfortunate timing, we had a Girl Scout meeting this evening. I left Eiledon at home. We needed a time out from each other and I had the distinct feeling I’d be a bit more able to contribute to the meeting than she.

Now, I have to admit, I think Dan may have gone a little overboard on compensating Gavin for Eiledon’s fun weekend away. True, the boy did use his own Target gift card (a Christmas present) for the new DS game, but the Chipmunks movie and Chuck E. Cheese’s? On the other hand, I think Dan’s just a lot more ambitious than I am. If he’d been gone with Eiledon, Gavin and I would have rented a DVD and sat on our butts for two days. So kudos to the doting papa. But would it have killed him to swear Gavin to secrecy until Ledon caught up on her sleep?

By the time I got home from the Girl Scout meeting, Eiledon was in better spirits—well fed, more rested, and watching her favorite cartoon, Teen Titans. It was a relief not to be subjected to another round of circular moping a la paragraph 2, above. It was also a good reminder to me that she really is overtired, and that this rather severe case of “the tired snots” will eventually run its course. I’m hoping my own tired snots pass quickly so I can show more compassion to her in the morning.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Unexpected Graciousness

On Sunday evening, one of the Girl Scout troops at Winter Fun Camp threw a dance for all the older (5th grade and up) girls. There was an Oscars theme complete with red carpet, film-strip decorations, foil stars, and a dozen mini Academy Awards statues to give away. As the dance got underway and the 75 or so girls from 10 to maybe 16 started to bounce around the floor, sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in entire troops, I was touched by the sense of innocence. The girls were dancing because they liked the music and were with their friends and were dressed in their prettiest dresses, not because they were trying to attract boys or impress anyone. It was sweet.

I was a little disappointed when they started handing out the awards. Every so often, one of the girls in the sponsoring troop would turn down the music and announce an award category: Best Attitude, Most Sparkly, Coolest Hair, etc. and then another girl from that troop would wade out into the crowd of hovering girls and escort the winner to the front to announce her name. Lots of old memories of sham popularity contests popped up and I hoped the girls’ sense of openness and fun wouldn’t be dampened by the introduction of a certain level of competition, no matter how frivolous.

As the evening progressed, I grew to be more impressed with the troop in charge. While, at first, it seemed only one or two troops of mostly older girls were supplying the award-winners, it became clear that it was my own discomfort and suspicion that had led me to the premature conclusion that the race was fixed. As more and more silly and fun categories were announced, a wide variety of girls, some in dresses, some in pajamas, one in a wig and a cowboy hat, some older, some younger, and even one leader were led to the microphone to announce their names as they accepted their awards.

I watched my daughter during this process. She stayed on the dance floor the whole evening, sometimes dancing with her friends, but most often alone. She was quiet and focused on the music, dancing with very small, but deliberate moves. Every time the music would stop for the next award, she would push forward with the surge of dancers clustering around the front table. I could tell, even from across the room, that she was tense with anticipation, hoping beyond hope that she might snag one of the golden plastic statuettes. But each time another girl was led to the microphone, she simply stepped back into her former place and resumed dancing with the music.

I joined her on the floor toward the end, spinning her around and offering her a dance partner, but she still seemed more intensely focused on doing her own thing, clearly lost in her head, not really looking at me. I’d only been out there with her for a song or two when the radio was turned down for the final three awards of the night. The last was, they said, the most important award. It was for “Best Dance Moves.” The announcer said they’d been watching the dance floor the whole night and the winner of this award had not stopped dancing except to eat. She was focused on the music and her dancing and deserved to be recognized for her participation. The presenting Scout wandered around the perimeter of the crowd and then plunged in with a hand extended for Eiledon.

At first, Eiledon didn’t get it. She looked at the other girl and said, “Me?” When the other girl nodded and took her hand, my daughter’s face just shone. She walked to the microphone and said her name, accepted her statue and everyone applauded. The dance was over. The crowd broke up. Eiledon wandered over to me in somewhat of a daze, a sleepy grin on her face. “Mama!” she said, “you always said I would win an Oscar!” I laughed: we both knew I said that to her when she was having a melodramatic melt-down over nothing. But here she stood, statue in hand, tired eyes, beaming.

I recalled a scene from the prom episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” in which her senior class gives Buffy a special award after all the other popularity-based awards have been distributed. The character of Giles, acting as a chaperone at the dance, says to her, “I never knew children, en masse, could be so gracious,” to which Buffy replies: “Sometimes people surprise you.” This was a surprise Eiledon is likely to remember for a long time.

The Sounds of Silence

I just want to say that any attempt to wake up early, make coffee and take care of a few tasks without waking up a room full of sleeping Girl Scouts is foolhardy to begin with and next to impossible at that. I say “next to” because after the second night of Scout camp the girls were so exhausted no one even stirred when I dropped a heavy Tupperware container into a crinkly paper bag a bit more rapidly than planned. I think even the leaders kept right on snoring.

After the first night, however, my cell phone alarm went off on low volume in my sleeping bag at 6:30 a.m. and it scared the living heck out of me. Luckily I’d slept with my finger on the snooze button. After a quick squeeze, I sank back into my pillow for a few moments to gather my resources. A minute later, the coffee-maker that I had set to start brewing automatically turned itself on. Honestly, I had no real idea how unbelievably LOUD my coffee maker is. It brews in the kitchen at home and I guess there’s enough sound insulation in my house to dampen the noise. In a large, high-ceilinged, one-room cabin housing seventeen girls and six leaders, it sounded like an avalanche on the Matterhorn.

So I scrambled out of my vinyl sleeping bag (loud) on my flimsy camp mattress (louder) and tripped on my bag (even louder) before frantically turning the machine back off. The machine, for its part, took it’s sweet time realizing it had been switched off and continued to make resounding clicks along with sounds like a heavy smoker clearing her throat, for about another two minutes.

At last, all returned to peaceful quiet, but the damage was done. First in one quadrant of the room, then another, the high-pitched hiss of preadolescent whispering began to rise above the hum of the central heating like a distant rain and once it had started, it steadily swelled into a downpour.

I apologized to all the leaders a little later that morning, when everyone was up and dressed and moving about. None of them indicated they’d even heard the noise I’d made, and all were very gracious in suggesting that since all of these girls go to Oak Point, which begins at 7:40 in the morning, they’re all used to waking up around six thirty anyway. So it just may have been that their early rising had nothing at all to do with my clumsy attempts at silence. I’ll take the grace, but I gotta tell ya, I felt like an elephant at a tea party that morning! Lesson learned? I’ll let you know next year.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Temporary Hiatus

I’m off to spend the weekend with my Girl Scout troop so there’s no way I’ll be able to blog tomorrow. I’ve committed to journaling tomorrow and posting two blogs on Monday. Meanwhile, I get to go run around with eight fifth graders in a gathering of zillions of little girls. Being an introvert, this is daunting. Luckily, my co-leader shares my predilection for solitude and we’ve agreed to give each other time to nap during the weekend—and write a blog entry for Monday in my journal.

Before I go, just a shout-out to my husband: if it wasn’t for his help in getting ready for this weekend, I would have had a nervous breakdown. Because I decided on a last-minute whim to make my daughter a fancy dress, I had a ton of loose ends to tie up that Dan took care of. He filled my car with gas, checked the tires, the oil and vacuumed out the back seat. He got some cash for me to carry, just in case, and helped get the kids organized for bed time. He walked the dog, cleaned up the dishes and otherwise just acted as a gopher whenever I remembered something else I needed to finish before heading to camp. Dan Moir ROCKS.

Wish me luck in the upcoming introvert’s nightmare. See you Monday!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sewing the Seeds of Love

My mom sews. When we were little, she made clothes for us all the time. When I was engaged to be married, I asked if she would make my wedding dress and at first she said “No.” She didn’t want to make a mistake, or miss a detail. But not long after, she relented, possibly because, since she was a thousand miles away, she wouldn’t be able to help out with any of the other planning. It meant a lot to me. Especially when I decided I wanted the bodice from one pattern and the skirt from another. She made it work and I still think it is the prettiest wedding dress I’ve ever seen. When mom sewed for me, I always heard: “I love you.”

Home on break, my first year of college, I made my first clothes for myself: three skirts, one of which I still have. My mom helped me figure out the patterns, let me use her equipment and offered me her expertise. Since then I have made things here and there, on and off. In retrospect, I realize I’ve done a fair amount of sewing, but I don’t consider myself an expert. Still, now that I have my own children, I’m terribly grateful for the basic ability. I’m not big on patterns unless I’m looking for the highest quality: normally, I use existing clothing for templates and my imagination for the rest. It works just fine for Halloween costumes, outfits for class performances, curtains for bedrooms and the occasional blanket. I never find exactly what I’m looking for in the pattern books anyway. So I improvise and accept the imperfections of what comes out.

I love the way my daughter takes my sewing for granted. This weekend, we’re going to a Girl Scout event and on Sunday evening, one troop is throwing a movie/dance/pizza party for the Junior Scouts and older. The theme is “The Red Carpet” and the girls are encouraged to wear fancy dresses. As soon as we heard about the plan, Eiledon turned to me and said, “You can make me a red carpet dress, right? I want a strapless one.” This was less than a week ago. “I think we can shop for one or put something together from your closet,” I responded, thinking: Don’t I have enough going on?

But this morning, I had a Jo-Ann coupon and a few hours to kill. It occurred to me that this kind of creativity was just what I needed to get out of my own self-pity. And everything was on SALE! I found sky-blue (her favorite color) satin and pale blue sheer fabric with a turquoise floral print. I glanced through kids’ patterns but found nothing ‘strapless’ for a 10-year-old, of course, and looked forward to the opportunity to make it up. In my mind I thought: empire waist, floor length, sheer overlay that opens at the high waist to show the satin underneath. Clear straps for the appearance of strapless and a Velcro closure to make sure she could get it as tight as possible (she is a toothpick after all!) Twenty minutes later and happy as a lark I headed home, whipped out the machine and a couple of Eiledon’s dresses and started cutting.

Man, was it fun! I still have to run back to Jo-Ann for some kind of sparkly ribbon for the waist, maybe even a big rhinestone accent-y thing-y, who knows. Ledon can pick it out. I’m so grateful for the ability to create something my daughter will enjoy, and more grateful for the concrete way to show her how much I love her and how important she is to me.

Thanks, Mom.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

UFE's

(Unidentified Flying Emotions)

It’s unnerving to be reading what is generally seen as the definitive work on Asperger’s Syndrome and suddenly forget who it is you’re supposed to be reading about. How is it that phrases I’ve used throughout my life to describe the way I make and keep friends, the way I find solace in solitary creativity, and the way I just “don’t get” my peers, are written verbatim within the first twenty pages of this text book? Is it Gavin I’m grieving for? Or myself?

Certainly I’m not a 100% fit for the clinical profile as set forth by the psychological community. The author, Tony Atwood, describes the characteristics of Aspergers as a 100-piece puzzle. The most critical pieces to making sense out of the picture are the corner and edge pieces. After that, when at least 80 of the pieces fit, you can say with certainty that the person in question’s puzzle shows a picture of Asperger’s Syndrome. Lots of people may have 20 or even 40 of the pieces without being over the critical threshold that leads to a diagnosis. I think my edge pieces are there, but maybe not so much in the middle?

But it also talks about how girls and women and those with higher than average intelligence are often able to compensate for many of their social inadequacies and seem to defy convention by having lasting friendships, reciprocal emotional relationships, and responding appropriately to nonverbal signals from others. Screw whoever thinks I’m conceited, but I do have a higher than average intelligence. And I’m female. Have I been “passing” for normal?

HAH! I was once at a party where the only people I knew were the two hostesses and my little brother. Completely unable to make small talk (and, honestly, not seeing much value in it) I spent the entire evening talking to my brother. After the party, one of the hostesses (now my brother’s wife) related that another guest wanted to know if she was jealous of the girl who was shamelessly flirting with her boyfriend. She responded: “That’s his sister.” Passing for normal?

I think what’s bugging me the most—you’ll appreciate this, Pete—is that the strengths and positives of Asperger’s as described in this book are exactly those things which fuel my sense of spirituality. Suddenly I’m wondering whether all of my creative and spiritual tendencies aren’t just the product of a personality disorder. Where’s God in that? On the other hand, maybe that’s just the nature of spirituality and I could spend all year dissecting the chicken-and-egg nature of this conundrum.

Atwood is clear that Asperger’s, while labeled a “disorder” or “syndrome” is essentially just a description of personality along a continuum. In some ways, it’s like saying the fact that the sky is blue is a product of Light Bending Syndrome, a continuum wherein the expressed color is dependent upon the angle of the bend.

Who cares? In the immortal words of Popeye: I yam who I yam! Waitaminute: didn’t GOD say that to Moses? Probably didn’t sound quite the same.