Friday, November 23, 2012

Best. Thanksgiving. Ever.

When Eiledon was a baby and Gavin on the way, Dan and I had a discussion about the importance of family dinners.  We both grew up in happy, healthy homes and had many fond memories of times around the table, and this was something we wanted for our own little family.  Up to that point, our dining together had been very informal and often in front of the television.  So in 2001, we made a New Year’s Resolution to have dinner at the table as a family thenceforth.  And so we have.

Of course, we couldn’t have known at the time that our children would both have ADHD, which makes it impossible for them to sit still, and sensory processing disorders that make them both extremely picky eaters (and not even picky in the same way).  For years, dinnertime has been an exercise in barely-controlled chaos and not one we as parents have much enjoyed.  But we persevere and it’s a non-negotiable with our kids: we eat our evening meal at the table.  Therefore we accept that meals are loud, often fraught with drama, and extremely short.  The kids have a hard time conversing appropriately, eating with decorum, or remaining one millisecond longer than the moment they’re full.

Holidays are no exception and many a Thanksgiving dinner has ended with rolled eyes and shrugs from Dan and me as we cleaned up, mildly disappointed by the distinct lack of Norman Rockwell sensibility to the event. 

This year, we had invited extended family for Turkey Day but it didn’t work out, so we decided to just lie low at home.  I made a small bird and a few simple fixings and set all on the table at noon, with formal china and crystal, and set aside all expectations of placid sentimentality.

But from the start, something was different about this year.  The kids were both at the table as soon as they were called, with no cajoling or threatening on my part.  They sat still while I took some pictures.  They were quiet and thoughtful while we prayed and filled our plates.  Who were these people and what had they done with my children?

Then the real magic happened.  I asked each person at the table to share five things they were thankful for.  Aside from family.  Because in addition, each of us had to say why we were grateful for each other.  Sure, there were plenty of gratitudes about video games.  But there were also moments of transcendent beauty.

Eiledon said she was grateful for the bullies at her school, because they were teaching her to stand up for herself.  Gavin was grateful for his sister because she was “full of joy and fun.”  Both kids were grateful for their father’s love of music and sharing music with them.  They got to hear Dan and me say how grateful we were to have each other as our best friend, and how grateful we were for all the gifts and joys our children bring to our lives.

Truly, it was a moving experience.  Sure, toward the end, they started to get a little antsy, but they ate everything on their plates (another miracle), and asked politely to be excused.  As they left, I glanced at the clock and realized they had sat with us for nearly forty minutes.  I shared this with Dan, incredulous, and as we finished up in each other’s company, we marveled at the gift that had just been given us.

Of course it didn’t last.  Lunch today was quite back to normal.  But we know it’s in there somewhere.  And what we were most thankful for this Thanksgiving was the opportunity to experience something so beautiful with our amazing, wonderful family around the dinner table.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Leaf Thief

Maybe you saw me, slipping into your front yard, my eyes wide with wonder, cast longingly upward or scanning the ground.  Maybe you noticed when I plucked a treasure of exquisite color and shape from the guarding tendrils of green grass, or from the gracefully extended fingers of a sentinel oak.  I know what I do is wrong: if everyone followed suit, what would be left to marvel at as green turns gold, sky turns bold, air turns cold? But I am a leaf thief. I cannot help myself. 

I cling with desperation to the glory of autumn, wanting to hold it, to own it, to be the exuberance of magnificent hues splashed brilliantly across the hillside, of trees glowing from within like smoldering embers.  How can I contain myself when yellow comes in a hundred shades, sometimes half a dozen on a single leaf, when red creeps like lace from spiderweb veins to the serrated edges of emerald foliage, when luxuriant piles of orange fire spill across lawns beneath maples.

I collect and amass, and apply every idea to stop the decay: clear contact paper, paste, mod podge, wax paper and enormous books to press flat, to preserve.  Despite desire and determination I fail, again and again, to maintain the vibrancy, vivacity, vividness. Edges curl, red darkens to black, orange to brown, yellow to beige.  Contact paper obscures, mod podge glares, nothing, nothing can arrest the march from autumn bright to winter blight.  Even photographs seem not to be able to capture what the human eye experiences and I am left, as each new wind or rainy day strips branches bare, with the grim acceptance of defeat.

Yet I stopped, this year, time and again, to creep into yards, to revel in my senses, to experience autumn in a way I have not allowed myself to do for a long, long time.  While my collages, poor after-images of nature’s perfection, cannot hold these experiences, they will remind me of the time spent, the joys felt, the intense gratitude for the gifts bestowed in these heady weeks.  And you will likely see me next year, the impetuous leaf thief, stealing moments of sensory bliss.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


My brother, Pete, once told me that he and his wife count every Chrysler PT Cruiser they see. The immediate result was that he passed this strange compulsion onto me. It started out innocently enough. I wasn’t doing a whole lot of driving at the time and so whenever I was out and about and would pass one here or there, I would just think, “One,” and smile, thinking of Pete, and move on with my day.

But a couple years ago, my kids started going to occupational therapy and I started driving from Eden Prairie to Plymouth and back twice a week and from Eden Prairie to Downtown Minneapolis to Plymouth and back to Eden Prairie twice a week. That’s a lot of miles. And, as it turned out, a lot of PT Cruisers.

Now the sad fact is that I can’t not notice these cars! They’re different and fun. First there’s the shape. When they were introduced in 2000, I didn’t like them—they looked like hearses to me. But their retro-style, rounded bodies now remind me more of candy: gummi bears or something like that.

Then there are the colors! While most cars come in your standard neutrals (black, white, beige), and maybe a blue or cherry red, PT Cruisers leap out of the crowd in at least three different shades of red, two or three blues, several purples, forest green, orange and yellow along with the usual slate of colors. They’re often covered with advertising or company logos. I’ve also seen them in two-tone, convertible, with flames painted on the hood, and, best of all, with 1970s-style wood paneling!

The compulsion to count quickly became an obsession, a bona fide mental disorder worthy of the DSM-IV. On a Girl Scout outing last spring, I silently kept track even while chatting with my co-leader (five). One of the women at my church drives one and every Sunday as I pull into the parking lot I think, “One.” I started noticing where the concentrations of Cruisers are largest, at least among places I frequent (the per capita PT ownership in Eden Prairie and Southeast Minneapolis is quite high). It got to the point where I found myself looking for Cruisers more than watching the road I was driving! (Don’t worry, Dad—I don’t do this anymore!)

I was having so much fun with this bizarre compulsion to count PT Cruisers that I decided to pass it on to the next generation and invited my kids to start counting with me. It has become a great road game for all of us. We routinely see at least nine of them on any given day that we’re out and about (our record is 20), and it’s not even the same ones along the same route every time—we know because of all the crazy colors. Last summer on our trip home from Michigan, we counted a total of 31, although I know we passed more than that: We got back into the Twin Cities right at rush hour and I wasn’t about to be looking around for more. (See Dad? Stop worrying!)

The kids aren’t in OT anymore and my weekly driving has dropped back to almost nothing, but I still find myself counting however many I see, like it or not. It’s something I don’t think I’ll ever recover from. Thanks, Pete. Sadly (happily?) Chrysler stopped producing these candy-like contraptions in 2010. So I suppose it’s just a matter of time before they become scarcer and scarcer, and I’ll count fewer and fewer until, at last, I can just forget about them altogether.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Gavin has had a rough couple of weeks. All the fifth graders went on a 3-day, 2-night trip to Long Lake Conservation Camp last week and Gavin didn’t. When he thought he was going, he started to have behavioral issues out of stress. Then we all agreed he didn’t have to go. But when all the kids left, he had behavioral issues out of (probably) the shame of being different and left out. Then when all the kids got back, he had behavioral issues again. I think the bottom line of it was that the whole Long Lake trip threw a gigantic monkey wrench of transition into his Aspergian need for predictability. Things have settled down now. I haven’t had a phone call from the school in three days.

But I did get a phone call about Gavin from a total stranger today: a woman named Patty. Patty’s daughter, Mary Rose, is in Kindergarten at Gavin’s school. Mary Rose is blind and walks with a cane, either trailing the wall or being sight-guided by another student or adult.

Last Monday, Patty was dropping Mary Rose off at school late and, since the hallways were deserted, she decided to try the method of having her daughter follow her voice to navigate. As they proceeded slowly along, Gavin popped out of the boys’ bathroom and, while washing his hands at the sink in the hallway, he noticed the little girl’s hesitant momentum.

“You’re doing it wrong,” he said to Patty.

Mary Rose’s mom explained, “We’re trying a new way for Mary Rose, so she can learn other ways to get around on her own.”

But Gavin was insistent. “No,” he said. “You’re doing it wrong. She always holds someone’s hand. Here. I can take her to class.”

Patty asked Gavin’s name. She could see that he was truly concerned about her little girl, and was impressed that he spoke up for her. He had no idea Patty was Mary Rose’s mom, and he had the courage to address a total stranger on Mary Rose’s behalf.

She decided at that point that it would be appropriate to let Gavin help. “Mary Rose,” she asked, “is it okay if Gavin sight-guides you to class?”

“Yes,” Mary Rose replied.

“Will that be okay with your teacher?” she asked Gavin.

“I’m sure Mr. Busch won’t mind,” he replied. (At this point in Patty's retelling of the story, I cringed. Who knew where Gavin was actually supposed to be at that moment.)


So Gavin took Mary Rose’s hand and led her to her Kindergarten classroom. Patty was so touched by Gavin’s big heart that she decided to make him a certificate of appreciation for Mary Rose to present to him today. She had called me to ask for permission to take his picture/video with her daughter, which I gladly gave.

This—THIS—is the kind of thing we moms need to hear about!!! Especially when it feels like everything is going wrong with our kids. I am so grateful to Patty for her graciousness! And to little Mary Rose, who probably did more for Gavin in that moment than he did for her.