Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Books I Read in 2009

As I compile these long-assed lists every year, I say to myself, "Self, this sucks. Next year, let's do it differently." And so, as each year rolls into the next, I tell you guys about how I'm going to do it differently. Sometimes, I even follow through...for about thirty seconds. But mostly? Not at all. And then I wind up here, close to the end of the year, starting pretty much from scratch.

This year is the worst of all, in that sense. Because while I kept a list of what I read (and listened to) this year, I didn't put down even vague notes as I went. And my brain? She ain't what she used to be. (Which wasn't much. Trust me.) So these notes are a bit, um, sparse. Or, in some places, essentially nonexistent.

I'm starting with the books I read this year. There aren't very many, and that makes me wonder what the heck I was doing all year long. I mean, I could have sworn I read more than this, and yet...not according to my list. It wouldn't bother me at all if it didn't meant that my 12-year-old daughter beat me--and by quite a bit--in the book-reading game.

But when it comes to book-listening-to, well...I'm a master! (For those, however, you'll have to wait until tomorrow, or maybe even New Year's Day.)

Here's what I managed to physically page-turn this year:

1. Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis: So much fun! Plus, the list of q-without-u words turned my Facebook Lexulous game totally around! Win-win.

2. Princess Bride by William Goldman: As I noted in my last post, Em and I read this one together, and it was awesome. Possibly even more fun than the movie. And that's saying a whole heckuva lot.

3. Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet: Fascinating memoir of a man with both Asperger's and savant syndromes. What Tammet goes through in his life is simultaneously jaw-droppingly unique and eminently relatable.

4. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier: Taking a well-known painting and turning its creation into a full-fledged novel is a brilliant idea. I enjoyed this book's execution, though I wouldn't quite call it a brilliant novel. Still, it was fun, and it was well worth my time.

5. Persuasion by Jane Austen: No year is complete with at least one Austen read (or, rather, re-read).

6. Blankets by Craig Thompson: What I'd read about this well-done graphic novel/memoir before picking it up led me to believe it was one of those abusive-childhood stories, and yes, there were elements of that. But mostly, it was a compelling story of a young, first love.

7. I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb: I would say that Lamb put everything but the kitchen sink in this book, but I'm pretty sure that the sink was in here, too, somewhere. I finished it because I don't like to give books up in the middle. But, really? Bleh.

8. Anyone but You by Jennifer Crusie: See below.

9. Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie: So I got these two through my library's ebook program. I wanted to see how it works, and I wanted something light and quick to read. And Crusie? Always makes me smile. These two were no exception. Fun. Fun. Fun!

10. Schuyler's Monster by Robert Rummel-Hudson: I've read Rob's blog (or blogs, since he's moved around once or twice) on and off for years, since before Schuyler's diagnosis. I remember emailing him a number of years ago to tell him I thought he had the voice--and the story--with which to write a book. I'm beyond certain that I wasn't the only one...that I was one of dozens, probably scores. I'm not even vaguely suggesting that I had anything to do with this book; what I'm saying is that I'd looked forward to it for a very long time. It was worth the wait--different from what I'd expected, and yet absorbing.

11. A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks: Another one I already wrote about in my last entry. There's not much more to say.

12. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson: I say the same thing every time I read one of Joshilyn's books. I shouldn't love this book--it's not my thing, not my genre--but I do. I love every single one of them. And I can't wait for the next one to come out.

13. This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman: Vicki's become a friend of mine, but that has absolutely no bearing on how incredible this book was. I wrote about it (though mostly in passing, and not with the careful thought it really deserves) in a post I wrote back in July. What I said then--that it's heartwrenching and beautiful, that it requires quiet digestion and time for tears to dry--only begins to express how profoundly Vicki's words and story touched me. If you add one book to your reading list from my reading list this year? This is the one I want you to add.

14. Mother on Fire by Sandra Tsing Loh: Part of my job involves working with Sandra, and she cracks me up. The book overall made me laugh. But the "inside LA" jokes? Made me laugh a lot.

15. Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster: My friend told me I would love this book. I probably should have loved this book. I didn't love this book. At all.

16. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver: I want to do this! I want to spend an entire year living off the land, growing and cooking local or homegrown foods. It sounds so absolutely idyllic. But I do have to say that, while I loved this book, it's almost impossible to write about these sorts of ideas and projects without--at least in some places--coming off as condescending, supercilious, and...annoying. Kingsolver's no exception. I just ignored it when it happened, is all.

17. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: I read this for my temple's book club, though I didn't make it to the meeting, so I never got to talk through it. I thought it was really clever, and well-written, and all that good stuff. But I also thought it was unnecessarily elliptical in places (he rarely said anything straight out when he could instead vaguely imply it and leave you wondering), and perhaps more than a little bit too carefully foreshadowed. It made it feel a little bit fake, a little bit...plastic-y...in places. I also wonder whether the bulk of the kids (officially, "young adults," whatever that means) to whom this is marketed actually really get it. I'd have been interested to hear what the rest of the book club had to say, though since they're all my age or older (mostly older), that last point probably wouldn't have been addressed.

18. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith: I fully expected the conceit behind this book to get old quick. But it really didn't. It was fun. Really. Just plain fun.

19. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: This, on the other hand, was not fun. But it was good. I read it mostly because Em had read it, and I wanted to know what she'd been exposed to. (Turns out? A lot.) Like The Book Thief, there were times when the whole tape thing felt overly contrived. And it certainly wasn't uplifting or hopeful, even if there were bright spots in the book. But I thought it was good, impressive, something meaty for teens to consider. And, hey. No vampires! That's definitely a point in its favor, at least in my book.

Next up: Books I Heard in 2009. But for now, since it's 1:39 am and I'm exHAUSted, I'm heading to bed. Without doing any reading, most likely. Darnit. Em's going to beat me again in 2010, isn't she. SIGH.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Em's Reading List, 2009

This will be a week for lists. My reading (and listening) lists are up next...but, first, by popular demand, the 30 books Em finished this year:

1. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
2. My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger (this is Em and N's beloved Uncle S--and this book, if you haven't read it, is achingly sweet, and features a young character who is more than a little bit modeled after N)
3. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)
4. The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2)
5. The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3)
6. The Princess Bride by William Goldman (Em and I read this one together...and loved every single minute of it)
7. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (Em put a note after this one, in parentheses: "one night!!!")
8. The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 4)
9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Roderick Rules by Jeff Kinney
10. Diary of a Wimpy Kid 3: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney
11. The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 5)
12. A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (Em so loved this book that she insisted I read it, too; if you know me, you know that Nicholas Sparks isn't likely to be my cup of tea, but I love talking about books with my kid, so I enjoyed it for that reason, at least, if for no other. And trust me. There was no other.)
13. Goy Crazy by Melissa Schorr
14. Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson
15. Maximum Ride 2: School's Out -- Forever by James Patterson
16. Click Here by Denise Vega
17. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
18. Maximum Ride 3: Saving the World by James Patterson
19. All-American Girl by Meg Cabot
20. Gender Blender by Blake Nelson
21. Maximum Ride 4: The Final Warning by James Patterson
22. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
23. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (Em read this for her 7th grade Advanced English class and loved it; I was impressed by the choice of book)
24. Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
25. Cirque du Freak: A Living Nightmare by Darren Shan
26. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (I'd heard enough about this book to know that I wanted to read it after Em had; I knew it was a pretty heavy book, and while I'm comfortable with my "no legitimate books are off limits" stance when it comes to Em, I do think a 12-year-old might need to talk about what shes read in a book about suicide that features a whole bunch of other types of ugliness as well. I'm glad I read it; it was quite good, if somewhat contrived, and it had a lot to say. It terrified me...probably a whole lot more than it terrified her. But yes, we talked anyway.)
27. Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle
28. Cirque du Freak 2: The Vampire's Assistant by Darren Shan
29. Cirque du Freak 3: Tunnels of Blood by Darren Shan
30. Max by James Patterson

By the way, and I know this isn't the time or place for it, but I just have to say, for the record: I find it seriously disappointing how many of the books out there these days are parts of series. Why can't anyone tell an entire story in a single, sweeping novel anymore? I especially dislike the books that pretty much require you to have read the previous books to properly understand what you're reading in one of the later books. (Hello, Ms. Rowling...) I mean...a chunk of plot that takes up where the last chunk left off, and then leaves you at the end with a cliffhanger, wondering what will come next? Didn't we used to call those chapters???

I also think that when you need your protagonist to appear in every subsequent book you write, you seriously limit your ability to be true to your story. That's part of what turned me off to those Janet Evanovitch Stephanie Plum books; you knew Stephanie wasn't going anywhere, and it made the supposed suspense feel really dishonest to me.

Getting off my soapbox now...

Next up: The books I've read this year, followed by the audiobooks I've listened to. Stay tuned! (Or sigh heavily at the thought of more freaking book talk. I won't be insulted. It's not everyone's passion.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I WAS WRONG

[Trumpet sounds]
Hear ye, hear ye! I formally announce my clear and absolute wrongheadedness, grant my daughter a one-time revokable right to read my blog (well, this entry, anyway...no wandering, Em!), and promise never to underestimate her again:

Em rocks and I WAS WRONG...and I'm not afraid to admit it.

The backstory: Around Thanksgiving time, Em looked at the list of 25 books she'd read this year, and announced she was going to get to 30 by year's end. I suggested that five books in a month was overreaching. She suggested that I would end up eating my words...and that if that happened, I should do it publicly. Last night, with more than a week to spare, she finished Robert Patterson's "Max," which was the fifth book since I mouthed off. My words, they are eaten. In public. And I couldn't be more pleased.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Never Underestimate the Power of an Ice-Cream Cake

N's been having a terrible school year. Terrible. In pretty much every way you can think of to parse it. Social. Emotional. Academic. Especially academic.

His first of three report cards came home last week, and it was...yes...terrible. On a scale of 1 to 4 (1 = below grade level; 2 = approaching grade level; 3 = at grad level; 4 = above grade level), he got nothing but 1s and 2s. The teacher dutifully checked off the "at risk of retention" box where indicated. (Uh, thanks a lot, school. I wasn't actually planning to have that conversation with him quite yet. Was it really necessary to put it on a document you know the kids themselves look at, considering I've signed 763 pieces of paper indicating I've been informed about his 'risk'?) And the teacher's comments--while perfect in terms of what we need to prove need in an IEP--were not exactly what I would call encouraging.

It really has been a terrible year.

And so, on Tuesday, when we were walking toward school and N said to me, "What would happen if I got a 4 on my science test today, Mommy?" I laughed, not thinking, and said, "Oh, sweetie. I would throw you a party, is what I would do. With cake. A family party, with mint-chocolate-chip ice-cream cake."

I quickly realized that I was setting him up for a disappointment. For one thing, not only has he not gotten a single science grade above a 1 so far, but this was a test on a chapter about light in which (and before I go any further, let me say this: their current science curriculum is the worst science curriculum ever, regularly using terminology--often undefined--so far over even MY head that it's laughable) there was discussion of transverse versus compact waves. This what THIRD GRADERS are being asked to learn and digest.

So I changed tactics and told him that I'd be thrilled with whatever grade he brought home, so long as he tried his best. Because really, what do numbers mean, anyway? Some people just don't do well on tests, even if they know the material, you know what I mean? And he had studied so hard for this with Daddy; even if he didn't get a great grade, we knew he knew the material. So no need to worry about it, kiddo.

"Yeah, but if I get a 4, you'll throw me a party, right?"

Sigh. I'm an idiot.

"Right."

And so, of course, he called me at work this afternoon, the results of the quiz in hand.

"Mama! Guess what?"

Not just a 4, mind you. One hundred freakin' percent.

This is going to be the sweetest ice-cream cake EVER.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Officially an Adult

I always wondered when I would become an adult. Most kids do, I think. I'm not sure what exactly we think "becoming an adult" means, but we know it's bound to happen some time.

At first, I assumed that it would happen on a birthday. I'd wake up, 18 years old, and be an adult. When that didn't happen, I nudged it up to 21. No dice there, either.

So I pinned my hopes--so many hopes--on motherhood. And while the birth of my children changed me in ways I can't begin to enumerate, it only served--then as now--to make me feel even less capable, less grown up. I may act the part, but inside? I knew it was a sham.

And so I gave it up, that hope of adulthood.

Today, my mother called to ask me a cooking question. My mother. Called me. Asked ME.

Today, just shy of my 46th birthday, I am an adult.

It's everything I dreamed it would be.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hey, Look! Over There! Latkes!

I don't hawk my posts on (Never) Too Many Cooks every single time I post one. But, you know. This one's awesome. Because it's about carbs. And oil. And rededication. And ancient history. And sorta miraculous long-burning lights during a time of year when darkness reigns.

But mostly? It's about carbs and oil. You know you want some. You know you do.

Mmmm. Latkes.

(In the photo above, the bronze shoes on the left are N's; the porcelained ones on the right are Em's. Baroy built the awesome display case they're in, years ago. And yes, my living room is pretty much orange. Goldish orange, or maybe orangey gold. I love orange. I love its warmth and its sweetness. Which has nothing to do with Hanukkah and latkes, but is true, nonetheless. There's a lot of warm orange in my house, and that makes me happy.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Great Interview Experiment: Magpie Musing

I suck. I know this post isn't supposed to be about me, but I do. Here's why: I signed up to do Neil's Great Interview Experiment AGES ago. I took way too long to respond to the questions sent to me by my interviewer, and then took way too long to send my questions to my interviewee, Magpie Musing. But she responded quickly. And I said I'd put up the interview ANY SECOND NOW.

That was, um, let's just say several weeks ago.

Sigh.

Magpie's awesome. We have oodles in common, and I'm loving keeping up with her blog, now that I've been introduced to her. You will, too. So, here, without further ado or suckage-related delays like waiting until I'm at home where I have the cool logo so I can add it here, is my interview with Magpie:

1. From one of your more recent entries, I found out that infertility blogs were your entree into the blogging world. But who were your early influences? Which blogs, which bloggers? And what about now? Who are Magpie's Muses? (Sorry. Had to do it!)

During the infertility treatment period, I got enmeshed in message boards - Resolve (http://www.resolve.org) and Inciid (http://www.inciid.org/), primarily. They were incredibly helpful and supportive. At some point, after the baby was born, I was drawn - like a moth to a flame - to the very very idiosyncratic and insane "toddler" message board at UrbanBaby (http://www.urbanbaby.com/talk/posts). I really don't remember migrating over to reading blogs, and I don't remember what the first one was - but both Julie (http://www.alittlepregnant.com/) and Julia (http://julia.typepad.com/) were right up there. Today, I don't know that there's a blog that's a "muse". I read a lot of blogs - some with great regularity, some more randomly, many are by people I don't know, some are by people I've met on-line and/or in person. I think, though, that the source of my "muse" is not so much on-line as it is just day to day life. I see stuff, I want an outlet for processing it - from the ridiculous to the sad to the sublime. And some of it is just as a way to document my daughter's childhood.

2. Sticking with blogging for just one more minute: You post nearly every day. Do you have a blogging routine, a time of day or a place or something that gets you started? And do you have a "process"? Do your posts always come off the top of your head, or do you plan, do drafts? Do you outline? Do you jot notes for future posts?

I have no process. I try to post most weekdays; sometimes the posts are scheduled in advance and sometimes they just happen. If I have a post sketched out on a Saturday, I'll usually schedule it for Monday - but not always. Sometimes the posts are off the top of my head; others percolate for a while. I have a notebook in the bag I carry every day - it's got scribbled notes, and printed out articles, and other people's posts - all things that have piqued my interest in some way and that I think could be fruitful. There are maybe 10 draft posts in my blog at any time - and a draft could be as little as nothing more than a link to something else.

3. If tween Magpie met grown-up Magpie, would she recognize her? What would she like about her grown-up self? What wouldn't she like?

I was a kind of idiosyncratic child, and I'm differently so now. I cooked then, I still do. I was crusty and reserved then, I still am, though I'm better at acting outgoing now than I was then. I think that tween me would be surprised to find that grown-up me is married. I was deeply opposed to marriage then, because my parents endured a nasty divorce that my mother never recovered from. And part of me still thinks that it's a faulty construct, and I had to be talked into marriage by my now husband. I'm not sorry that I entered into our partnership, but...(trails off, thinking of same-sex marriage, and the individual, and, maybe this is a whole post...)

4. We have so much in common: books, cooking, crafts, gardening. (And ohmigod, I never learned how to be a girl, either. Except I don't even have those two bottles of nail polish, because I bite my nails almost down to the quick. But I digress.) These similarities made me wonder if you, like me, have a hard time keeping up with all of your own varied interests. Is there a hierarchy of favorites among them? Given a couple of hours of completely free time, with no outside pressures, what would you do first? Next?

Free time! Such a huge luxury. A nap would be nice, or a hot bath! If there really were no outside pressure, I'd probably dive into some crafty project. Books I can fit in - on the train, or at night before falling asleep. Cooking is fun, but it happens when it happens - my husband's been doing nearly all of the day to day cooking for the past six months. The garden ebbs and flows with the season. The crafty stuff is short-shrifted, and it's a shame, because it's terribly satisfying. That said, I have some crafty projects that I'm mulling for Christmas.

5. If you could time travel, would you go back to the future, or just back in time? Would you visit any specific year or event? Why?

I'd probably go back, but then again...I don't know. Two really cool books that I've read were Jack Finney's Time and Again (which goes back) and Philip Kerr's A Philosophical Investigation (which goes forward, but only to 2013 which is like right around the corner!). On reflection - I'd like to go back, as in Time and Again. A block or so away from my office, there's a staircase that leads down from the sidewalk - to nothing. Every time I walk by it I wonder what's down there - and if it's the transitional portal to another period, as in Time and Again.

6. Are you a helicopter mom or a free-range parent? Do you have a parenting philosophy, or are you winging it? If the former, what is it, and why is it the way you've chosen to go? If the latter, do you wish you had some kind of guiding principle, or are you happy with free-and-easy?

Totally free-and-easy, winging it, slacker mom. And, honestly? It works just fine. Yeah, she whines sometimes, but she questions authority. Better that than a sheep. When she was a smaller child, I did obsess about the (no) sleeping thing for a while, and there are still three sleep help books tucked under my bed, just in case.

7. (Because I prefer odd numbers, and because these were more serious than I'd meant them to be...) Dream vacation: Where and with whom? (Sky's the limit on money and companions.)

A warm beach, with lovely blue water and perfect fine white sand. A hammock. A pool boy with drinks and snacks. Enough books. Good food at night. And a soft bed with excellent cotton sheets. Alone. Oh hell, my husband can come too. And my daughter. And my sister. And her kids. And you!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Rockin' Out

There are a couple of "those" kinds of houses around the corner from us, and we decided to take a walk in the freezing-for-LA night air tonight to see them. N stood in front of this house for ages--all the while quietly, unselfconsciously dancing to the music.

He makes me smile.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Powerful Owie

I walk past N as he puts parmesan on his pasta in the kitchen, his head bent over. I can't resist. I kiss the back of his neck.

"Owie," he says.

"Owie?" I reply. "That didn't hurt."

"But it tickled," he says. "And so I said 'owie.' You can't argue with that."

"Um, yes, I can."

"No, you can't," he says with finality. "Owie's a strong and powerful word."

I'm not sure I know what that conversation meant, but I'm pretty sure it was profound.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving in Photos


Every year, we invite all the "geographical orphans" over to our house for Thanksgiving dinner--all the people who didn't, couldn't, wouldn't travel to their far-away relatives' homes for the holiday. It is, always, a huge amount of fun. And while I miss my family something fierce at these times of year, there is also something to be said for the family of your heart.

OK. Enough mush. On to the menu. As you can maybe see in the photo above, there was...
There was also a big surprise. See, a couple of weeks ago, Em had been on the phone with Uncle S, who moved to Boston earlier this year. She was taunting him about missing Thanksgiving, and (especially) about missing my cranberry sauce. He was crying foul, loudly enough that I could hear him through the phone, and she was giggling away. When they'd finished, he asked to speak to me.

"While Em and I were talking," he said, "I made reservations to LA on Thanksgiving Day. I'll be there before noon. Don't tell the kids."

"You're flying 3,000 miles for my cranberry sauce?" I teased.

"Of course! Totally worth it."

And so it was that, at around 10:30 on Thanksgiving Day, I sent Baroy to the grocery store to pick up some almonds.

"It's taking him a long time," Em said to me, about an hour later.

"Mmmm," I replied. "Maybe Vons wasn't open and he had to look around for a store?"

Then we heard the car pull up.

"Why don't you go and see if Dad needs help with the groceries," I said. "And take your brother."

Em look at me, puzzled. Help with a bag of almonds? Suddenly her eyes grew huge, and she sprinted toward the door. (I knew there had been a hint or two dropped, unintentionally, over the weeks, and she was putting them all together.)

And then there he was, and they were both screaming, "Uncle! Uncle!" and running into his arms.

And it became, for sure, a day for giving thanks.

As for the promised photos...


My friend J always comes up with some ubercreative addition to the Thanksgiving table. This year she outdid herself.






This is usually our living room coffee table, but on Thanksgiving, it becomes the side-dish side table.





We pull our kitchen table (which has pull-out leaves) into the living room for Thanksgiving dinner. Can you see the white tablecloth on top of our 'nice' tablecloth? It's our "thankful tablecloth." Each year (we started in 2007, I believe), we take a Sharpie (pictured in the middle of the table here) and everyone signs their name and the year and writes what they're thankful for. It's a useful scrapbook! I forget where I got the idea, but I love it.







Our friends G and M brought their new puppy, Matilda, to dinner, and she and Snug had a playdate. Here's Matilda playing peek-a-boo with Em.





Snug kisses the cook--me. For the record: Yes, that's a shot outside on our patio. Yes, it's after the sun has set. Yes, I'm in short sleeves. Yes, I love Southern California.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Breathe

The first time I saw a tree aflame in color after moving to Southern California, I was seriously flummoxed. I'd assumed that the generalizations about LA having no seasons were hard-and-fast, literal rules.

I was wrong. I mean, sure, people aren't ever going to flock to this region to view the fall foliage. For one thing, fall takes its sweet time around here; the trees don't choreograph their color changes in quite the same way they do back east. But they do change, some of them, even if only one by one, and that change still manages to pack an emotional wallop.

The past few weeks have been difficult, stressful. There are meetings and appointments to keep track of; there are continual tear-my-hair-out issues at school; there's a minor surgery for N coming up soon after the new year (minor in the official scale of things, major when it's your kid who's going under anesthesia). There are dips in my mood and peaks in my anxiety levels that will have to be addressed at some point, but need to be put aside for now in lieu of all the rest.

But for today, for now, there's stuff to be thankful for. And while I am--of course, indeed, don't doubt it for a second--grateful for family and friends, for a job and a roof over my head, for all the things I normally take for granted*, right this very second I am especially thankful for the warm fall day that just passed, for the walk I got to take this afternoon with my daughter (during which we giggled so hard she had to sit down to catch her breath), and for the fall colors that smacked me in the face, made all the hard things disappear for a little while, and made me catch my breath, too. In gratitude, awe, and love.

Happy day, all. Be thankful, and be happy.

*Tomorrow morning, while the turkey brines**, Baroy and I will be doing a local Race for the Hungry; our entry fee into this 5K run-walk will go to a local shelter, and we'll donate some canned and boxed goods when we sign in. In so many ways, I feel like it is almost literally the least I can do, and yet...it's something. So maybe it's not the least.

**Which it needs to do for about six hours, meaning I have to wake up at 5 a.m. to be sure I can get it into the oven in time for dinner. Whose stupid idea was this whole brining thing anyway? Oh, yeah...Never mind.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

All About MEEEEE!

A few weeks ago, I signed up to be part of Neil's Great Interview Experiment 2009. I'll be introducing you to my interviewee and posting the interview I did with her in just a day or so. But first, I wanted to thank my fellow West Coast mama, Mames, who blogs over at MamieKnits, for her interview of me, and especially for her really insightful questions. They alternately made me smile and made me cry.

Wanna know why? Go visit Mames, and see what I had to say for myself.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cranberry Sauciness

No time. Must sleep. But, first...

Cranberry sauce recipe, up at (Never) Too Many Cooks.

Don't say I never did anything for you. Because this? Is something.

Something special. For reals.

Monday, November 16, 2009

From the Sidelines

Em went down, hard, twice during Saturday's soccer game, the last of the regular season. The first time was during a physical run next to another girl, during which she took some combination of a shoulder and an elbow to the solar plexus, and fell, doubled over, forehead on the ground.

I waited--days, I'm sure--for the ref to blow the whistle to stop the play so someone could go see if she was alright. Nothing. And so, from the sidelines, I started yelling to the line judge. "She's hurt! Get him to blow the whistle!" I said, as I started onto the field.

Baroy grabbed my arm. "You can't go out there," he said.

"But she's hurt!" I repeated. And I shook him off, ready to go, when FINALLY I heard a whistle blow and, simultaneously, saw Em's head come up. Her coach went out onto the field, got her up, had her stretch, made her giggle. The game resumed.

When the quarter ended, Em came trotting over to me. "MOM!" she said. "You weren't going to come on the FIELD, were you?"

"You were HURT," I protested. "You were doubled over. What was I supposed to do? Wait for you to start vomiting up blood while the rest of the girls trampled over you?"

Baroy snorted. Em rolled her eyes a little. "I was OK," she said. "I was mostly worried about what YOU were gonna do!"

-------
I feel like I'm doing a lot of my parenting from the sidelines lately, waiting for the ref to blow the whistle, unable to get onto the field to help. It may have been the literal case for a few seconds on Saturday, but it's the perfect metaphor for N at school these days. There are meetings and discussions, and people talk a lot about what they are going to do, but they don't actually DO any of it.

The whistle hasn't blown yet. My kid is in a heap on the field, and the play is continuing around him. Am I going to have to wait for him to vomit up blood and get trampled by the rest of the players?

Why isn't anyone blowing the damned whistle?

-------
Em went down for the second time later in the game, after scoring a goal with her left foot. She was off balance, that not being her 'regular' kicking foot. (She'd seen the goalie out of position, knew it was her only shot, and took it.) Right after she kicked, a defender from the other team slammed into her, and she went down, skidding, burning patches of skin off of her knee, her shin, her elbow, and her belly.

You could see tears in her eyes as she got up. But the first thing she did was to check the goal, to be sure she'd put the ball where she'd intended it to go. Then she looked over toward the sidelines, toward me, and grinned, pumping her fist.

The whistle blew. Score.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Two Completely Unrelated Updates

First, if you haven't yet entered the Ragu $100 Visa Gift Card Giveaway on my review blog, I Try Things, you have until midnight tomorrow--Wednesday, November 11--to do so. I'll be revving up the old random-number generator (THREE digits, baybee! Woot!) and posting the winner on Thursday morning.

Be sure to read all the rules and regulations for the best chance to win.

Next...today's IEP meeting. Which was actually, to be more accurate, a meeting of the IEP team, but not an actual IEP. There is, I think, a difference, but I can't articulate it. And yet, since we did leave there with an official "Addendum to the Individualized Education Program" sheet of paper, maybe there isn't. I don't know. Heck, until I just typed those words off the sheet, I thought IEP stood for Individualized Education PLAN. So apparently I am NOT the person you all should be coming to for the final word on anything IEP.

Anyway. We'd convened for a fairly mundane, simple reason: To come up with a simple behavior support plan to address some of the issues N is having in the classroom. At first, I was annoyed with the way the meeting was going; it seemed to me they were trying to address an issue that was impacting (which is really just fancy IEP-speak for "annoying") the teacher, not something that was creating problems for N.

And then L, the advocate, took over. And I have to say, I was impressed. She managed to take the original plan, which was essentially little more than a way to make N stop annoying his teacher, and get everyone brainstorming about positive ways to address the problem. In the end, we came up with a list of strategies that might actually be moderately helpful to both of them. And not once did L mutter the words, "Well, that's a stupid-ass idea," which is what I probably would have done without her sitting between me and Baroy.

After that part was over, she brought up the "at risk of retention" form I'd filled out, but only to say, basically, "The findings of the IEP will trump this, right?" and they said, "Right" and she told me to wait to worry about it until we get through the IEP process.

She also brought a basket full of brownies, which made the normally dour-looking administrator-guy from the school district actually GIGGLE in delight.

I'm calmer. Won't be happy till he's getting actual help, but calmer.

[Unfortunately, that 'calmer' came after the meeting, and not before. Because if it had been before, I might have avoided the 'incident' I had with the crossing guard on my way to the school. Don't ask. No, seriously. You don't want to know; it was quite unpretty. Suffice it to say, however, if I didn't think my own behavior had been a wee bit inappropriate as well, I would have had to say something to the principal about the fact that, at the end of our 'discussion,' the crossing guard actually SHOVED ME into traffic.

You know, I was going to say that sounds worse than it was (I mean, it's a quiet street, the traffic was a single car stopped at the stop sign, and it was more like an annoyed push than a true shove), but no. Her actual words were, "Fine. You want to go? Go." And then she shoved me. Also, now that I think about it, although I was unpleasant, I didn't even curse during our little moment of mutual inappropriateness. And even if I had...Shoving me? I may still have no reason to be proud of myself, getting into an argument with a crossing guard, but I do think I have the teensiest bit of moral high ground here.

Hey, I'll take it wherever I can get it.]

Monday, November 9, 2009

Those Were the Days My Friends

I used to be such a public-school fan. And then N came along and, without meaning to, he systematically searched out and revealed to me all of that institution's flaws.

They're not pretty. Like pus-filled-pestilence level of not-pretty.

On Friday, I went to meet with the principal at N's school, to sign a document that states, flat out, that he is "at risk of retention" due to very low scores both on standardized tests and in classroom performance in both language arts and mathematics.

Apparently, "no child left behind"? Means "we're going to leave your child behind, because we think he's at risk of being left behind."

What the...?

The form includes a laundry list of at-home interventions of the "parenting for dummies" type: Monitor/review assignments. Make sure student attends school regularly. Be available for support. Establish consistent routine and quiet place for studying. Monitor TV/computer game/phone usage. And my laugh-bitterly-until-there's-too-much-bile-in-my-mouth-to-swallow-back-down favorite? Communicate with teacher and school frequently.

Because, you know, the 17 daily emails to his teacher, his OT, his speech therapist, his advocate...That's not enough. They need to hear MORE from me.

As for the school's part in keeping my failing son from, you know, failing? "Modifications of work as needed."

That's it. They'll make the work easier for him, because that will...um...it will...

And so I asked the principal: What else are you going to do? Will he get time with the resource specialist? Pull-out groups? A reading specialist? SOMETHING?

Oh, no, says the principal. Only the schools that qualify for Title I funding have those sorts of things. We're too rich around here. So my son? Will get nothing...and like it. Even if he has to like it while repeating the third grade.

Now, if the assessments we're currently doing turn up something useful--like, say, a learning disability--and he qualifies for special education under his IEP, all of this will be moot. Because, apparently, being learning disabled gets attention. That's interesting. But if not? Well, nobody gives a crap if you're just regular not smart.

And so it is with all of that anger and bitterness that I head out, tomorrow afternoon, for our 'emergency' IEP meeting, to set up a behavior-support plan that will hopefully help N feel a little less stressed in the classroom while we go through the rest of the testings and meetings and official IEPs and follow-up evaluations and arguing...you know, all that business as usual. And because I've essentially lawyered up, what with the hiring of an advocate, suddenly all SORTS of people are planning on being at this meeting, which was supposed to be just a quick check in. At last count, I know of eight people who will definitely be there. All to decide which goal we should focus on over the next month or so (raising his hand in class? partnering with another child during group activities? going to the bathroom less frequently?) and how best to help him reach that goal.

This they have the time and money for, because I'm bringing in someone who scares them. But academic support on a regular, useful basis? Nah. Not that.

I used to be such a public-school fan. Those were the days.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

You Want to Try My Applesauce

You may not know it, but you do. And the recipe is up, now, over at (Never) Too Many Cooks.

(And yes, I missed yesterday. So much for that NaBlo 'streak,' eh? You can blame whatever it is that's been squeezing the capillaries in my skull these past 24 hours. Ouch, I say. Ouch.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The N Store

[Pssst. For the very, very, very smart folks out there, there's an eeeeeeeensy little hint as to N's actual name in here. In case you hadn't picked up on it the umpteen times I've slipped and typed it all the way out when I post, I mean.]

On the way home from Hebrew School, after dropping Em off at soccer practice, N and I noticed that the newly built store at the bottom of our block is soon going to be opening for business.

N: The next store they build should be the N Store.

Me: What would the N Store sell?

N: Arks.

I laugh, loud and hard. N waits for me to finish, patiently.

N: And guns. Real guns and pretend guns. And bubble gum. And bubbles.

I can't wait to see what the bank officer says when he or she takes at look at THAT small-business loan application.

[Hey, check it out! Three days in a row! Am I actually, for real, going to do NaBloPoMo this year? Only time will tell, I guess. I didn't sign up...but maybe that will be the not-impetus I need to actually do this thing!]

Monday, November 2, 2009

Starting from Scratch

I've put off writing about the three-hour meeting we had last week with a special education advocate. For one thing, note that number. Three. Hours. Plus. For another, it was a devastating meeting. Not in the literal sense. Nothing was physically destroyed. But there was definitely emotional rubble afterward. There is definitely rebuilding to be done. And the good news is that there is hope that it might get done correctly this time.

But enough with the allusion and lack of specificity. Here's the upshot. I walked out of there feeling almost elated, and definitely light headed. There was so much to think about, so much to rethink. I got into my car, drove about two blocks, calmly pulled over to the side of the road, put the car into park...and then plunged my head down between my knees, in the hopes that I wouldn't actually, completely, pass out. I didn't. I stayed that way for a while, then straightened up and drove back to my office, where I finished writing a press release before going home for the evening.

Rebuilding. Hope.

There is too much to explain. There are too many personal, complicating event. Too much that would require backstory. But there was one, somewhat simple, moment. A moment of what may have been the most absolutely clear ephiphany that I've ever experienced.

We were sitting talking about various diagnoses, various ways that kids qualify for for special education services. Baroy's listened to me do this sort of strategizing long enough that he was playing the game right along with us. I talked a little about "needing" N to be diagnosed XYZ, hoping that we could "convince" a doctor to go along with us, because without ABC or DEF diagnosis, we'd be up a creek.

The advocate started talking to us about taking N to one of the very few kinds of doctors he has not yet seen. (There are reasons for that, but let's put those aside for now.) We talked about the various kinds of diagnoses this sort of doctor might make, some very specific, some very general.

"So, with a GHI diagnosis, we'd be able to qualify him as JKL for the IEP?" I babbled.

"Well," she replied, "I think he may actually fall under the more general MNO, though I'm not a child psychiatrist, and that's not the point here."

We clearly weren't listening. "Ah," said Baroy. "So you want us to get him an MNO diagnosis rather than a JKL diagnosis so that we can get PQR services from the school district, right?"

She was quiet for a second, looking us both straight in the eyes, and then said, quite gently, "I want you to get the diagnosis that fits him," she said. "So that you can help him. Period."

And it was then, in that gentlest of reproaches--in that simple reminder of what the goal is here--that I almost literally felt my world lurch slightly, then settle back into a slightly different orbit. I've spent the past two years chasing the sorts of diagnoses that I was sure would be my golden ticket into Willy Wonka's Learning Factory. Reality be damned; all I needed was a particular diagnosis, true or not, to get my boy the best the school system has to offer. (Parents of sped kids...Did you find it hard not to snort at that point? Can't say's I blame you.)

What got left in the dust was nothing more than...N. He's "complex," as the advocate said many, many times that day. "In all my years of teaching, I've never met anyone quite like N," his various and sundry educators have said at one point or another, almost to a man/woman. "He's quirky," we say. "Uniquely N."

And yet, it is just that uniqueness that we'd lost sight of, of late. What should we want him to be? we'd been asking every expert and knowledgeable parent we could find. But it was the wrong question. It's not what we want him to be, now or in the future.

It's what he is. Today. It's searching for his authentic self or, better yet, helping him to search. It's figuring it out without having a goal in sight and pushing everyone around me toward it. It's letting go. It's letting N be N. Helping him to be the best N he can be, but recognizing who today's N is, in order to figure out how best to deliver him safely into the arms of the N or tomorrow.

It's hard to admit how far from that path we'd strayed. It's hard to say how truly hopeful I am that this simple mindshift is going to make all the difference in the world. We may still have to fight the school system every step of the way--indeed, as suspected, we may actually be further from the coveted set of "every intervention possible" rules we've been playing by all this time.

It'll be weird to go see a professional, have them evaluate my son, and not have an arm's length list of the sorts of responses I'm looking for. It'll be weird to just listen, and consider, and maybe reject...but maybe not.

It's dizzying, it is. Head between my knees dizzying. But I have faith. I have faith in N.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kickin' It

The upshot of the soccer saga? Midweek, before he even had a chance to come see her again, we got an email from the coach, inviting Em--and not-Em--to be on the tournament team. For reals, this time.

Said coach is known to be tough. As I write this, Baroy is out there watching her at the team's first practice, and texting me. "He's not too warm and fuzzy," he remarked a few minutes ago, then, "But she looks good."

She does indeed.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

(Never) Too Many Cooks

There are days when this special needs thing kicks me in the butt so hard I'm pretty sure I won't be able to sit down for a week. Yesterday was one of those days. And it wasn't even a bad-thing-happened kick. It was just three hours in a room with a special ed advocate and so many emotions that I literally had to pull the car over on the drive back to my office and put my head between my knees.

Don't you all want a special ed advocate right now? (You should. She's awesome. I just need time to digest. And rejigger my entire world view. Little things like that.)

But just as often as it kicks me in the butt, this special needs thing gives me gifts. Insights I would never have had. Kids I might never have known. And men and women--especially (sorry guys) women--without whom my life would never have been as rich as it is today.

A few weeks ago, three of those gifts of the female persuasion and I started talking about how much we love food. We love talking about it, we love eating it, we love preparing it. And then, one by one, we confessed our deep, dark secret: We've always wanted to do a food blog, but we never thought we were up to it--time-wise, expertise-wise, what have you.

The realization hit us at once. Maybe we couldn't do it if we were each on our own, but together? Hey, we're raising a passel of amazing kids, both special needs and not. We can do ANYTHING.

Thus, (Never) Too Many Cooks was born. A place to gather and share the recipes we were already email each other anyway. A place to gather and talk about ingredients and menu-planning and kitchen tools. A place to think about what we feed our kids, and what we feed ourselves.

And a place where we can try to give back to the community we are each now a part of, the community that holds us up through the worst, and celebrates with us during the best. What this means, specifically, is that once we've really gotten going here, we're going to add ads to the blog, with the proceeds going to a series of special-needs groups and organizations that have made an impact on one or another of our lives.

Come join us. Read. COMMENT. Even if you don't have a special needs kid, even if you don't have kids at all...you have a stomach. And you like food. Hell, I bet you love food. Just like I do.

That's why we're friends.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pride

[This is a shot from an exhibition match Em's team played at a local community college a few weeks ago. The guy to the left in the foreground is Baroy. The player in blue farthest to the right on the field is Em.]

The soccer thing got even more complicated after my last post. Way more complicated. Almost too complicated to explain, but I need to. So I can also explain my pride.

On Monday, Baroy got an email from the scout I wrote about. It was addressed to four or five different parents, and it was an invitation for our girls to play in an 'elite' soccer tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. Whether or not this was a prelude to being invited to play on the sectionals all-star team, we didn't know. But it was exciting. Em was positively beaming.

Baroy made sure to reply quickly, saying Em would be thrilled to be part of the team. A few hours later, he received another note, saying, "Great! Your daughter is the tall, dark-haired one on the team, right? #345?"

Uh, no. Em is short and blonde. And her number is 346. (Actual numbers changed to protect the innocent, of course.)

Em overhead Baroy tell me about this, and oh. I know life is disappointment, and blahblahblahblahblah, but if any one of you could watch your child's face fall and her upper lip quiver, even if she manages to stiffen it within seconds, without your heart shattering...well, you're not me.

"Does that mean he was never there to scout me at all?" she asked.

"I don't know, hon," I replied.

Meanwhile, Baroy is sitting in his chair at his computer, and you can literally see the steam rising off of him. He's easily annoyed by incompetence or sloppiness under normal circumstances. Do something like this? Make a mistake AND disappoint his kid? As my friend A (one of the girlfriends I was IMing with while this went on) said, "You almost have to pity the guy."

(My other girlfriend, S, said, "No way. He should get the full Baroy." The full Baroy. Hee!)

Despite being furious, he managed to calm down enough to send a terse but emotionless email that told the guy what number Em was, then added: "Are you looking for not-Em, #345? I need to know immediately, because I already told Em she was invited to the tournament."

He then sat and simmered in anger and resentment for quite a while, while I put a very-subdued Em to bed.

This morning, however, the coachscoutguy replied to Baroy's email, saying, "I'll take her to the tournament, and I'll go see her team again this weekend." (We presume he meant in order to look at the other girl, who really is a great player.)

Baroy and I discussed our options, but decided to ask Em what she wanted to do at this juncture. Her answer? "I don't want to be on the team if I'm not who he wanted. He doesn't need to do that just to make me feel better."

I don't need to actually say, do I, how proud that made me? How mature that was? Seriously, I'm kvelling here.

The upshot of the story, by the way, is that Baroy responded and told the coachscoutguy what Em said, adding, "She's a good player, and one of the team's best, but doesn't want to be in a tournament because of a mistake. So here's what might be fair: Come to the game on Saturday, and watch her and not-Em play again. If you like what you see, take her. If not, she'll understand." He then offered to introduce coachscoutguy to not-Em's parents if coachscoutguy wanted.

Coachscoutguy's immediate reply was that that sounded good to him, and that he'd let Baroy know after the game Saturday. And there it stands for now.

You know what? On second thought, I'm proud of both of them. Because I know this wasn't any easier on Baroy than it was on Em. But they did me proud. Both of them.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

God Has an Opinion on Soccer

This is Em's seventh year playing AYSO soccer. She's always been enthusiastic, and she never been a detriment to any team. But over the last couple of years she's really started to come into her own. Last year, for instance, she was asked--though as one of the last picked--to be on one of her division's All Star teams. This year, she's considered a shoe-in.

The problem is, this summer is her Bat Mitzvah, and that involves a whole lot of time and effort, especially starting after the new year. So when we signed her up for AYSO, I made a point of telling both her and Baroy (who's been the assistant coach on her last four teams and may enjoy the games and practices even more than she does) that there was going to be no All Stars this year. She needs to attend Saturday morning services at least twice a month, I pointed out. And there are often Sunday games as well, which interfere with Sunday-morning religious school. That wasn't such a big deal last year, but this year...She really needs to be serious about Hebrew School for just one more year, is all.

Everyone agreed. To my face.

But this season has been incredible for her. She's one of the top three players on her team; the one everyone counts on not so much to score (she scored for the first time this season today, as a matter of fact) but to get plays started, to execute good sharp passes, to play a smart and aggressive game. And so, as the season has worn on, there's been the more-frequent sighing about how soon it's all going to end, with beseeching looks cast in my direction. I was impervious to them. Note the tense there.

Last week, I was talking to our synagogue's rabbi, and I mentioned the post-season soccer moratorium. "Oh, that's sort of a shame," he said, and went on to talk about how he and his son (whose Bar Mitzvah was just two years ago) worked out some compromises that allowed him to play through most of his Bar Mitzvah training.

I mentioned this conversation to Baroy and Em during dinner the other night. "I still don't think All Stars is a good idea," I warned, "but IF we can talk to someone in advance, and IF they understand that Hebrew School comes first and she might have to miss some games along the way...MAYBE we can consider it."

Em looked much too excited, so I tried to talk her down. "I doubt that any coach will want to take on a player who can't fully commit," I warned her. "And like I said, I'm still not sure it's that good of an idea."

"Oh, but Rabbi wants me to play," she countered, a smile playing around her lips. "And that's practically the same thing as God wanting me to play."

I may have rolled my eyes at that. OK, I definitely rolled my eyes at that.

And then came today's soccer game.

I arrived a few minutes late, only to find Baroy grinning at me as I approached our side of the field. He came over to me and whispered, "There's a scout here, looking at Em. A scout from Sectionals."

Sectionals is the group above the 'regular' All Star division. While five girls from Em's team last year went to All Stars (a lot for one team, but still...), only one went to sectionals. And she was the kind of kid who made your mouth drop open when you watched her play.

"Really? A scout? Looking at Em?"

Turned out, he was there for her, and for one other girl on the team. I felt badly for her at first, since she was a little off her game (dealing with, um, ahem, some woman stuff). But then came the third quarter, which is when she scored. And in the fourth she executed a perfect throw-in (you don't often hear people on the sidelines commenting on how good a throw-in is, but this one got cheers), that turned into another goal. Her team won, 2-0.

Baroy didn't tell her about the scout until they came off the field, and you could see her eyes get big and excited. Then she started to laugh.

"Wow, Mom," she said, coming over to me. "There's a scout here from Sectionals and I scored for the first time this season? God must REALLY want me to play in the postseason."

I've gotta say, with all the evidence stacked up right now? It's hard to argue with that particular theology.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Speaking My Language

You know how sometimes you read something that really, completely changes the way you think or do things? And then, if you're me, you know how you immediately forget who the brilliant person was who presented you with this particular ephiphany?

Well, some years back, I read something somewhere by someone..and it changed my life. In a small way, but very much for the better. Said someone somewhere was talking about decluttering and cleaning, and basically suggested that you were better off working within your habits than trying to change them, especially if they were ingrained. So, for instance, if everyone in your family drops their coat on the floor right inside the front door, put a coat rack there. Maybe you don't want a coat rack there...but wouldn't that be better than constantly fighting the battle to get people to not drop their coats there in the first place?

It is for that reason that I put a wicker basket by the front door, which leads out to the garage, where the laundry room is. When someone pulls their socks off in the living room, they just toss 'em toward the basket by the front door. When I notice that a dishtowel has gotten dirty, I put it in that basket. Then when I walk out the front door, I see those bits and pieces sitting there, and I will either add them to the laundry basket I'm carrying out, or toss them into the garage as I go past. I no longer have to yell about clothes laying all over the house; there's a quick, easy and obvious place for them now.

Similarly, that's why I bought a coffee table with a shelf under it. Baroy and the kids always take their shoes off while sitting on the couch. The coffee table is right there. So they just place their shoes on the shelf, and voila. They're not scattered all over the living room.

I, on the other hand, have gotten into the habit of taking off my shoes in the kitchen and piling them all up right at the bottom of the stairs that lead up to my and Baroy's bedroom. When I come down the stairs in the morning, I just step into the shoes of my choice, and I'm good to go.

But having a pile of shoes in the kitchen--even in a relatively out-0f-the-way part of the kitchen--can be unsightly, and I've been fighting my own tendencies for years now. (Why I never think to solve my own problems the way I solve my family's is an entirely different psychoanalytic session.) Invariably, this means that, the day after I've dragged all the shoes back upstairs, I'll come down and realize I was expecting them to be in their regular kitchen spot. Going up and down stairs seventeen times each morning? Makes me pretty cranky.

All of which is prelude to this, which I found sitting in the usual pile-place by the stairs when I came home from work last night:

Baroy made it for me out of scrap wood in the garage, and leftover paint from the wall behind where I stood to take that picture.

I almost literally swooned. If I have a "love language," this is it. Something cheap and simple that solves a problem for me. Just like that. And at a time when my stress levels are so high that any release of the pressure feels like a new lease on life.

He's a keeper. And so is that shoe rack.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

No Matter How Angry

No matter how angry I am, I shouldn't cut and paste the nasty letter I got from N's teacher today. Instead, I should remind myself (again) that these sorts of things really play into my hand, that having emails laying out all the ways in which N is showing the strain of this year--emails on which the principal is copied by the teacher--only make it easier to argue that he needs more help. Now.

No matter how angry I am, I shouldn't actually say what I'm thinking to N's teacher in a return email. Because that kind of language isn't going to help, even if it would make me feel better.

No matter how angry I am, I need to keep remembering what the goal here is. Actually, I need to figure out what the goal here is, and THEN keep remembering it. Which is why I have a call in to a special ed advocate. Whether or not I already am sigh-worthy, I now need to go way past that point. And to do that, I need to bring in the big guns. I need to know what his rights are, what I can request, what I can DEMAND.

No matter how angry I am, I need to stay calm and make good decisions. But damn. I am really, really angry.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why I Had Children

My 12-year-old daughter just walked into my office, carrying a cup of coffee. That she made for me. Herself. Without me needing to lift a single finger.

Nuff said.

[Edited to add: It was decaf, and she also made one for herself. Which makes this even more awesome...because I can count on it happening again, and often, since I don't have to wait for her to want to 'do something nice' for me. Her already-burgeoning love of coffee is going to make my life so so so much better.]

Friday, October 16, 2009

Push

I don't want to.

I don't feel well.

I don't feel well because I don't want to.


Lately, I'm finding it harder and harder (and I mean HARDER) to get past the part of me that rebels against almost any new or unusual or untried event or experience. Sure, I wanted to see Em play a 12-minute exhibition soccer game, with her team, on a full-size field during the local community college game's halftime this evening. But what if it's crowded, I asked myself throughout the week? (At a community college Friday-night soccer game?) Where will I park? (Um, one of the 75 parking lots on or around campus, perhaps?) How will I find the stadium? (The blinding lights? Just follow 'em.) How will I find the team once I get there? (Yeah, you're right. Hard to pick out 12 girls in blue uniforms on bleachers in a crowd of under 75 spectators.)

By the time I left work today, I was in full pout mode. My head hurt, my body ached, I only wanted to go home and go to bed. I knew I couldn't bail--Baroy, as the team's assistant coach, would have to go out onto the field during the halftime game, and he couldn't take N with him. But that doesn't mean I couldn't bitch and moan to myself all the way home, all the way through changing clothes. It doesn't mean I didn't curse under my breath when Baroy didn't pick up his cell phone when I called to complain about how icky I felt, and to try to talk him into dropping N home on the way to the game, so I could stay put. It doesn't mean I didn't curse out loud all the way to the pizza parlor where the team was having its pre-game dinner. And it doesn't mean that I didn't give in to all the stress I was feeling about the whole thing while driving Em over to the stadium, following Baroy and N, and ranting loudly the entire time about the stupid way he chose to go. (It was--I will give myself this--a very stupid way to go. Extra distance AND the worst traffic in the area. Still...in front of Em? I should be kicked.)

And, of course, all that angst was for naught. Once there, I gobbled up every second of the experience, especially the part where my kid--a kid with MY GENES, which I would have sworn to you were such completely ANTI-ATHLETIC genes that they would have had the power to SQUASH any athletic genes Baroy might try to pass along--arced an incredible shot at the goal, which the other team's goalie juuuuuuust managed to get a couple of fingers on and deflect. Even if there were only a few dozen folks there, it was still awesome to hear them shout for my girl, calling out, "Great shot, number 12!" In fact, when Baroy was ready to go, after the exhibition and during the college game's second half, I talked him into staying longer, so that Em could continue to hang out on the sidelines of the field with her teammates and act as ball girl, gathering up the soccer balls that went sailing past the goal every few minutes.

But that's not unusual, either. I'm always reluctant to go somewhere, but once I'm there--once I know that there aren't crowds likely to swallow me up, that I'm not going to be stuck in some panic-inducing, car-immobilizing traffic jam, that I'm not going to get lost in an unfamiliar place--I'm fine.

(If any of the things I fear do happen, however, all bets are off. Just ask my friends about the first year we went up to Big Bear during the Christmas holidays and I lost my MIND on the packed streets of the Village and pretty much simply BOLTED. Now, every year, I fight incipient panic attacks as the date for that annual-though-no-longer-at-Christmastime trip gets closer. Add to that the fact that there's really only one road up or down the mountain--a fact that fills me with a sense of claustrophobia I can barely stand to even write about here--and, well, all I can say is that if it weren't for the fact that it would almost literally kill my husband and kids to miss the trip, I'd probably never start up that mountain again. And yet, once I get there...it is BY FAR my favorite weekend of the year. Go figure.)

All of which leads me to...Nope. I got nothin'. I have no idea how to end this. It leads me to despair, I guess, at how this sort of over-reactivity only seems to get worse with age, not better. Because as I get older, I start to add new tricks to my get-out-of-uncomfortable-situations arsenal, the most recent being the Why should I do things that make me miserable? Haven't I earned the right by now to stick only to my comfort zone, if that's what makes me comfortable? whine.

And, sure, to some degree I have earned that right. But if I let myself exercise it all the time, or even close to as frequently as I'd like to, I'd wind up awfully close to what pretty much any armchair psychiatrist would be able to label as agoraphobia. Which makes me think that, for as long as I'm capable of pushing myself in the other direction, I need to keep on pushing.

Otherwise, one of these days, I'm going to miss seeing the goal my kid scores under the bright lights of a nearly-empty soccer field on a warm fall evening. Or, as would have happened tonight, I'll miss seeing her come oh-so-close, make a tiny moue of disappontment, and then get right back into the game.

She has so much to teach me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Big Sigh

You know how, sometimes, you see someone's name in your email box, and before you click on the message, you sigh deeply? Not because you necessarily dislike the person or anything, but because you just know that interactions with him or her are never, ever simple? That you can never just ask about something, mention something, request something, and have it quickly, easily, simply DONE?

I am fairly certain that I am that sigh-worthy person for pretty much everyone at N's elementary school. In fact, I can HEAR the sighs all the way here in my office, 14 miles away.

Like I said, I don't think anyone there hates me. (OK, maybe the school psychologist does. And maybe the former PTA president who thought it would be a good idea to bring Santa Claus into the classroom. And possibly the chair of the committee that decided to make the concrete stairwell the only entrance into the school most mornings. But aside from them...)

It's just that I really am never easy to deal with. I try to be, whenever I can, so that when I need to be difficult, it will have more impact. And yet.

A couple of weeks ago, I put in the request for N's reassessment. Yesterday, I got a voice mail and email from the woman who will head up that assessment, the RSP teacher at the school, telling me that there was an permission form coming home in N's backpack for me to sign. "No need to respond unless you have any questions," she chirped hopefully into the phone.

And so when she saw my name in her email box last night or this morning, or whenever she read my note...I'm fairly certain she sighed. If I were her, I would have added, out loud, "Oh for crying out loud. It's a single-page form, and it has everything on it you could possibly DREAM of! JUST SIGN IT!"

But I had a question. It wasn't a life-shattering issue or anything. It was just that I noticed a box for "initial assessment" was checked off, and I knew that this was not an initial assessment, and I wanted to be sure that we didn't need to redo the form somehow, that maybe she'd forgotten testing N two years ago, and it was a simple mistake, but if I didn't catch it and question it, the whole testing would end up being invalidated or something, and any services would be denied, and...

(Gee, i wonder why people think I'm twitchy and not myself these days?)

She was kind about it, and she was prompt in her reply, telling me it was a "good question" and that it's considered an initial assessment because it's been more than a year since his last one. "We will only use data/observation from this assessment," she wrote. "Children change a lot, especially in two years, and we want to ensure we have the most recent and best information."

She was even kind enough to say she was looking forward to seeing me again. I think she lies, but I appreciate the effort.

And the fact that she didn't actually type her sigh into her response.

[For those who really care about such things...I was pleased to see that the only difference in this assessment from that done two years ago was the ADDITION of a "SCIA assessment." I had to look it up. SCIA apparently stands for "Special Circumstances Instructional Assistance." I can't find a lot of information about it (Ambre?), but it SOUNDS like the sort of thing that could, in a perfect world, lead to a one-on-one or shared classroom aide to help keep N on track because of the amount of assistance he normally requires to get his work done. That would be my dream outcome from all of this, by the way. I'm not going to say it's likely to happen, but I will say that I'm pleased they're going to at least look into whether it's something he needs.]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Not Myself...Whoever THAT Is

At the end of a temple event-planning event--after a full day of work and right before a religious school committee meeting--I said to my friend, "If I don't send you that email we were discussing within the next 24 hours, don't hesitate to remind me. I've been letting a lot of threads drop lately, and sometimes I just need a nudge."

She looked at me with genuine concern. "Dropping threads?" she said. "That's not like you."

It's not? Really? Because as far as I'm concerned, that pretty much DEFINES me.

But it made me think. Earlier in the day, I'd walked into my friend's office to show her some changes I'd made to a press release. Another of our friend-colleagues was already in there, chatting away. Both women looked at me when I walked in, the papers in my outstretched hands.

"What's up with you?" Friend One said, before I'd uttered a word.

"You don't seem like yourself," Friend Two agreed.

Not like myself? What is myself like? And in what way am I so very much Not Like That these days that my not-selflikeness can be recognized in under a second?

Yeah, there's been a lot of stress...but not more than that of, say, the last seven or eight years. Yeah, I'm not greeting every day with a smile and a song...but I never have. (Nor can I stand people who do. I trust no one who's able to be cheerful before noon.) So how is now different than almost every single day of then?

All I could think, by the end of the day today, is that whoever that "like myself" person was, that person I've obviously left behind of late...well, I want to meet her. Maybe she could give me some pointers on how to do a better job of being me. Because, clearly, I'm falling down on the job.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Resolution

I keep starting posts. Some of them are ambitious. Some of them are dramatic. Some of them really want to be funny at a time when I'm not feeling especially funny. Some of them require thinking about things I don't want to think about. Some of them require admitting things I don't want to admit.

None of them get finished.

And each day that goes by where they're not finished? Is a day where no post appears here. And then it feels as if the post I do eventually put up...well, it'd better be worth the wait, no?

It's never worth the wait. There's no way it could be worth the wait.

I've been trying to find my way to the 'next level,' whatever that is, with this blog. Instead, I'm putting too much weight onto what I do and don't say here. I'm making it impossible for me to meet my own standards. Worst of all, I'm pissing off my friends, who want to know what's going on in my life. And if there's anything worse than my friends, pissed off, I don't want to know what it is.

Thus, I have made a resolution: To hell with my standards. It's time to pump up the volume. I'm going to pelt you all with posts. I'm going to inundate you with minutiae. They may be Twitter-short, they may be all over the place, they may be flat-out boring. But they will BE.

I blog, therefore I am.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

One Step Back, A Step and a Smidge Forward?

We had a Sukkot celebration at a friend's house on Sunday; there were four 7-to-8-year-olds, three 11-to-12-year-olds, and a 16-year-old. The hostess, D, recently got her Master's in Jewish Education, and clearly couldn't allow a learning opportunity to pass her by, So she gathered the kids together to help them each make an individual, miniature sukkah out of graham crackers, marshmallow fluff, pretzels and candy corn.

When all the sukkot were completed, the kids invited the parents in to see, and the 16-year-old announced that she had given each kid an award for their sukkah--some sweet, some funny, some silly. As she announced each award, we applauded. Somewhere in the middle, she announced N's award ("best postmodern design"). But, when the applause started, N crumpled to the table, put his arms over his head, and began to wail, "No! No!" and sob. Loudly.

Luckily, most of those in attendance are good friends--by which I mean, people who "get it"--and all Baroy and I had to do was nod to the 16-year-old to continue and keep saying to the rest of the folks, "The clapping and the attention. It's just too much for him sometimes," and everything went on.

Still, you know, it's not what you want to see. It's not a step forward. At all.

But what happened next? Sorta was.

After everyone had finished admiring the sukkot, they went back outside for pizza and beer. I went over to the table where N was still quietly sobbing into his arms.

"Hey, sweetie?" I whispered to him, bending down to get closer to him. "Do you want to come sit on my lap for a little while until you feel better?"

He finally raised his head. "No, I don't think so," he said. "I don't want anyone to think I'm like a baby."

See, that part? Right there? That's the huge part. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that, despite the fact that he's coming up hard and fast on 9 years of age, he's never said anything like that before, never seemed to consider how others would perceive his behavior, and certainly never in a way that implied he recognizes the ways in which his behavior lags behind that of others in age-appropriateness or maturity.

Thus, while his response made me sad (a cuddle is a great regulator for N; there's nothing like it for getting him back on a more even emotional keel), it made me proud, too, and even a little hopeful.

And so, despite the mini-meltdown, I'm calling it a win. By a smidge.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Over at I Try Things...

I have a new post up over at I Try Things. It's a review of some recipes I tried out recently, all using Ragu sauces. Which they sent to me. For free. And yes, let me say up front, I'm also being paid a couple of shekels for the review. (Those, I believe, are all the necessary disclaimers. I want to make sure I'm so transparent about these dealings that you can see right through me!)

It's also a review with, as before, a $100 Visa gift card giveaway attached to it. Plus, the extra-special, value-added addition of a photo of Em's hand, and one of the back of N's head. Score!

So head on over, leave a comment, blog about it, send out tweets. (Each of the last three, reported on the blog, gets you a separate entry into the contest. Don't forget to leave a valid email address!)

The contest runs between today, October 1, and November 11. But why wait? Act now, to avoid the rush!

See you over there...I'll save you some pizza.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Update (Ta Dum)

I'm not going to try to make this cute or sweet or funny. I'll just give you as many of the facts as I can before I pass out from a combination of exhaustion, stress, 98 degree heat at 7 pm, and cuddling with my boy while his father and sister are out seeing Fame.

The 411:

1. I did NOT get what I went in to the principal to ask for, which was a class change; she said they're at the legal limit in the only other third-grade class (small school size has its ups and downs), and so she'd have to switch him with another student.

2. On the other hand, the principal gets it. She was saying things that were exactly what I've been saying, and without me feeding them to her. Most notably, she said that N "shouldn't be punished for things he can't control." She likes him a lot; she's worked with him in small groups in the past as part of a reading intervention program, and she's so excited that he can and will now talk to her and tell her what the problem is. It helps that he is not in any way, shape, or form a behavior problem. His biggest problem is that he tries to become--and often succeeds in becoming--invisible in a classroom.

3. She was clearly disturbed by some of the things I brought up, and says she will be taking much of the responsibility for getting things back on track. She promised to talk to his now-teacher, his last year's teacher (to find out what strategies she used that helped her be so successful with N), his Occupational Therapist (to ask her to come and talk to/train his now-teacher and give her some other ideas of classroom strategies to use with N), and his speech therapist (who is his IEP leader, and who was responsible for getting the IEP to his teacher in the first place; since she's N's biggest fan and advocate, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt on this one and wait for her to call, which the principal said she'd ask her to do early next week).

4. She encouraged me to ask for a reevaluation--a full-scale, soup-to-nuts set of tests and potential diagnoses. As she explained it to me (and this may not be entirely accurate...either in what she said or in my intepretation thereof), the basis of the problem is that his IEP is not really a special ed IEP; N's considered to be a speech student in general ed. WE all know that he's in speech as a way to get him into clinical OT, but he's being TREATED as 'just' a speech student. (I don't know about the rest of the country, but for some bizarro-world reason, social skills deficits that require OT intervention--even if they have huge academic impact, as N's do--do not qualify you for services. You have to have some other 'qualifying' disability, and for him it was speech. Once speech said there was a problem, they could THEN add on OT as a secondary service. Except, in N's case, it's really the primary service he needs.)

So what does it mean that he's 'just' a speech student? Apparently, IEPs that come through speech get looked at differently than IEPs that come through special ed. His classroom teacher wouldn't normally really need to see his IEP; she'd just need to know what days to send him up to speech therapy. That doesn't explain why she didn't aggressively pursue getting a copy of his IEP once I'd implied that it was relevant and needed discussion, but it might explain why she seemed so bewildered that I made such a big deal about it in the first place.

What the principal wants to see--through this re-eval and through my seeking an outside developmental pediatrician's evaluation at her urging--is if we can't get him into special ed SOMEHOW, whether that's through an ASD or other diagnosis or through a learning disability diagnosis. (She thinks that MAYBE the IQ test will provide insight this time, since N no longer actively resists testing the way he used to. She also vehemently agrees that his previous low IQ test score is malarky.)

5. There's another reason she wants me to push for a quick, early redo of his IEP: She thinks we need to significantly rewrite his accommodations. She wants to add specific accommodations about how to deal with him when he's expected to speak or read aloud, what to do when there are group or partner activities in class (he's apparently absolutely refusing to look at or work with any other child), even what kind of discipline methods (positive only) are to be used.

6. As I told Baroy, I didn't get what I wanted, but I got stuff I wasn't expecting--like HER pushing ME on getting him evaluated again. I felt like I was heard. And I made it very clear as I left that all bets are off if the teacher couldn't be brought into line.

7. As an aside, this conference included yet another discussion with a long-time professional in either the teaching or medical profession about how N is like no other kid they've seen before; that he fits into no box, doesn't fall into line with any obvious label. She understands that his needs are both unique and difficult to figure out...but agrees that they're real and significant. There's something simultaneously gratifying and disheartening about this; we all like to think our kids are special, right? But at the same time, knowing that there's no obvious signpost, no "he has this, so try this therapy first and this other one next," leaves me so often at a loss. What do I do for him? I have this fierce and unwavering belief that he's going to be OK as an adult, but for that to come true, we have to get him to adulthood in something resembling good shape. That's the challenge.

So, I'm not happy, but I'm not miserable. It helps that N's still relatively OK with everything, overall and relatively speaking. I stopped in the schoolyard on my way back to work after my meeting, and he was chattering away about how they made masks today, and it was fun, blahdeeblahblah. I figure we still have a little wiggle room in which to get this straightened out. I'll put in the request for testing on Tuesday (Monday's Yom Kippur) and that will get the clock started. We'll see...

4:43 AM

This is how it goes down: Snug--our obsessive, neurotic sweetheart of a dog--starts worrying at something outside Em's window. She tries to call him into the house; no go. At just after 4 AM, she comes upstairs to whisper to Baroy that Snug's keeping her awake. This wakes me, too. We hear Snug pad into the house, so Em returns to her room, and Baroy and I return to sleep.

Or try to.

But it's over for me. The thoughts start flooding in, about the meeting I will have today with the principal at N's school, and how I really have to just go in and ask for a teacher change, and how much that goes against everything I normally am--the "normally am" part of me being generally willing to do pretty much anything so as not to potentially enter into a confrontation, not to god forbid have someone end up not liking me. But then again, when "normally am" comes up against "someone is doing wrong by my son," it's no contest.

And so I start thinking about how I'm going to put this. What should I start with? Should I start with how wrong I think it is of N's teacher to send N to the principal's office for something not "bad," but rather directly, immediately related to the issues that are laid out and emphasized over and over and over in his IEP? That would give me entree to explain to her just how downright mean it seems that the teacher, who soon realized that N likes talking to the principal, decided afterwards to start using the threat of sending him "to a room full of kids you don't know."

Or should I start with the fact that she might not even realize just how mean that is, because despite several attempts to get the teacher to read his IEP, she didn't even have a copy in the room when I met with her the other day to talk about it. She'd "looked at it" in the office, she told me. But it was clear that "looking at" and "reading" are entirely different beasts in this woman's world, since she not only didn't seem to know what his special accommodations are--the accommodations, just so you know, that she is supposed to be implementing in the classroom--but she didn't even know he gets Occupational Therapy. Which takes up three out of the four pages of written goals in his IEP. And is where all the strategies for dealing with him are laid out.

It's like being asked to read Pride and Prejudice and then, at a book club meeting, commenting brightly, "Oh, really? There's a Mr. Darcy?"

Or do I talk immediately about how he is either not being allowed (or is possibly simply too scared to ask) to go to the bathroom more than once between recesses, despite the fact that his accommodations include "frequent breaks; allowing N to get up from his chair and take a break; classroom jobs with require him to get up from his seat"--something she'd know if she'd ever read his IEP.

This not-reading and not-implementing of the IEP is, of course, my trump card. If you're a special ed parent, you know that trump card gets turned over with a single phrase: Out of compliance. Do I start the conversation aggressively, antagonistically, by simply stating that, because of the teacher's actions, the school is now so far out of compliance with N's IEP that I don't think the situation in this classroom is salvageable? Or do I start more slowly, conversationally, almost confidentially, with something like, "I have some serious concerns about Ms. Teacher's abilities to effectively handle N in the classroom," and let the principal lead me to what the options are, so she feels more in control? Should I hold my "out of compliance" trump card (and its accompanying "I might have to bring in a special ed advocate" card which is my card-that-trumps-my-trump-card-if-there-is-such-a-thing) for when and if I need it?

If you're a special ed parent--hell, if you're any kind of a parent--I'm sure you've been here, too. And you know how quickly this kind of practical mulling can devolve into all sorts of existential musings, worries, anxieties. Am I doing right by him? How can I do more right? What about Em? Am I doing right by her? What does she need from me that she's not getting? How can I give it? Where will I get it from?

And so, by 4:43 AM, I find myself here on the couch, writing about it, having given up on sleeping on it. And now, by 5:40 AM, I find myself here in this entry, finishing it, but not finished. And Snug, finally, is asleep by my feet, having given up worrying about whatever-it-was out there that started this all.

Stupid, sweet dog. I think I'll wake him up, just to get him back.