Friday, May 29, 2009


Last weekend, Em was watching the rabbits that belong to the family across the street, one of whom is a girl close to her age, and a friend of hers.

Let's just say that these rabbits? Aren't all one gender. And aren't separated into cages by gender. And aren't neutered. I have 'feelings' about that, but I'll just let that go for now. (SPAY AND NEUTER YOUR ANIMALS, PEOPLE! GET A CLUE! OK. Now I'll let that go.)

So it shouldn't have been a huge surprise when, on Sunday morning, Em and her friend Bec came running back across the street after going to feed the bunnies, yelling that there were babies in the cage, come quick, there's something wrong with them.

And, indeed, when Baroy and I went into the backyard with the girls, there were three babies, two of which had clearly been dead for some time, since rigor mortis had set in, and one of which was juuuuust hanging on.

There was panic. There was a quick run down the street to our friend K, who is a vet, but who doesn't deal with bunnies and such and didn't have much more of a clue than I did. There was Googling of "newborn bunnies." There was a heating pad to see if we could get this tiny little thing--which looked more like an alien's fetus than anything MEANT to be brought into this world--to perk up a bit.

There was a limited amount of success, too. The baby rallied a bit, started moving around more, making attempts to move around the box we had him in. (Yes, it's OK to handle a newborn bunny...we checked. It's even OK to separate said bunny briefly from his mom, since rabbits only nurse their babies once a day, and then usually in the middle of the night.)

In the meantime, the girls had returned to the cage to do the feeding they'd been too distracted to do earlier. And then came running back into the house again, yelling about MORE babies in the cage.

Another visit across the street, and I realized what had happened. There had been eight babies in this litter. Mom rabbit had made a little nest for them out of the blanket in her cage, which is why Em and Bec hadn't seen them the first time; they were covered up. But when they'd gone back, they'd noticed the crumpled blanket, straightened it out, and found a little mound of impossibly tiny babies, all squirmy and warm and huddled together.

I explained to the girls that, apparently, the mom had quickly realized that three of her babies weren't doing well, and so had separated them from the other five, leaving them out to die. We'd found one still alive, and while we were going to give it the best shot possible at surviving, his mom probably knew better, and thus it would be a reallllll long shot. Em did a bit of crying; Bec, a future zoologist, was fatalistic. But still, you could tell she was rooting for the little alien baby.

(And yes, thank you, no-neuter family, for making me have THAT particular circle-of-life conversation on a Sunday morning before breakfast or coffee.)

Anyway, we decided to put the now-warmed-up baby back in with his siblings. So I marked him with a red Sharpie--so we could tell him apart from the others--and plopped him into the middle of the pile of newborn bunnies.

We spent a lot of time, that morning, staring at bunny babies. Which of course led to a discussion of how, exactly, this particular circumstance had come to pass. After all, just a few months ago, there had only been the two bunnies...the male and the female. And then when the female had a litter earlier in the spring, the family separated out the male so that it was just the mom with her mixed-gender litter of four.

"So, I don't understand..." Bec began.

(Thank you AGAIN, no-neuter family. Still no coffee, and now I'm supposed to explain INCEST? Greeeeeat...)

Still, things seemed to be going well. The other bunnies seemed to be accepting the new one in their midst. Until, that is, one of the older, full-grown rabbits began nibbling on 'our' bunny's toes. No. I mean NIBBLING. Like, um, there were fewer of them after she'd begun than there had been before.


(The blood you see on that one bunny in the picture above is from its rubbing against our bunny's toes; our bunny is the one at the upper left of the picture, the one on his side; you can't see his missing digits.)

So we took that bunny out of the cage for a while again, put him back on the heating pad and applied pressure to his bleeding foot (did I mention, EW?) and eventually put him back into the cage. Because, as I explained to Em, he had a better chance in there, even with his cannibalistic aunt/mother/whatever she was, than out here with us clueless, rabbit-milk-less humans.

Em's friend came home later that day, and our bunny was still alive, and we considered it a victory.

It didn't last long. That bunny--who Em insisted would have been named "Hero" had he survived being both rejected and snacked on--apparently died overnight. One of his siblings died last night. So now there are four.

In any case, it was an experience. A sad experience. An at-times-joyous experience. A learning experience.

The main lesson, though? Spay and neuter your animals, people. PLEASE.

And if you don't, please don't ask us to babysit.

Monday, May 18, 2009

When My Heart Is Coming Out

N's OT-based social-skills classes have been renewed for another six months. Despite my fears that this would be a fight, it was actually a complete non-event. I'd like to think it was based on the fact that it's obvious to everyone that this is good for him. but it may also be based on the fact that I passive-aggressively sent my request for a June reassessment meeting to the head of special ed for the district, noting that I couldn't find the email address for our case worker (or whatever he's called) on the district website. (Which I couldn't...but all I had to do was email our speech therapist, and she'd have sent it to me.) And maybe that email had some very carefully worded sentences that made it clear that it would be in everyone's best interests to just give me what I wanted so I'd not take up scads of their time trying to press my case at such a busy point in the year.

A victory. There have been a lot of them, lately. (Dinorama, anyone?) But then there are the side-steps, and the step-backs, and the I-have-no-idea-what-to-call-thems.

While the kids were in religious school on Sunday, I went for a walk with a friend, and she was rhapsodizing about how far N's come in the last few months. But then there was a field trip to a local kosher frozen yogurt shop after school was over (an annual treat for the kids...and yes, our religious school is small enough to fit in a yogurt shop, with room left over for other patrons to move around), and it was just too much chaos for N. Suddenly, he was refusing to talk to his friend from his class, who was trying everything he could think of to engage N. N, trying to get away, crawled under my friend's chair. This is not, to put it mildly, typical eight-year-old behavior.

"I think we need to consider these advances of his on a sliding scale," I noted dryly, as he squeaked and barked and refused to use any kind of intelligible language.

And yet...about ten minutes later, when the other kids had moved away and left him to his own devices, he came out from under the chair and asked me if he could "run a little bit outside." I told him he could run back and forth in front of the shop, which he did, the other kids watching him a bit bemusedly. Still, it was exactly what he needed to regulate himself, because when he came back inside, he was a changed boy. Walked right over to his friend and started a conversation, asked him if he wanted to go outside and sit with the big kids. As if he hadn't just acted like a feral kitten for 15 minutes.

There are other things, too. I get notes from the OTs each week, and they make a point of noting that often N needs special accommodations in order to participate in certain activities, things that are too 'scary' for him, like the indoor, low-to-the-ground, zip line. What does it mean for your chances on the playground when the demands of occupational therapy are too much for you? And these notes also say things like, "N was able to elaborate on topics today, yet was perseverative at times." What does it mean for your ability to keep up socially when you're the one who's noticeably perseverative in a room full of kids with autism diagnoses? These things, they worry me.

Also, his language is still awkward at times. Just seconds ago, I heard him tell his dad, "Pick up me." When he dropped something earlier and was whining that he couldn't clean it up by himself, he told me, "I need help by you." Again, he's eight. He's been eight since January. But, on the plus side, we're closer and closer to getting what he means, more and more of the time. And his linguistic quirkiness isn't always such a bad thing. Sometimes, it seems like a gift. Sometimes, the best times, it is pure poetry. Again, from his OT session notes: "When defining love, N reported that it's 'when my heart is coming out.'"

I may worry and fret over him, and maybe at times I seem overly negative and focused on the deficits, but that's here, when I'm writing, when I'm thinking, when I'm...yes...perseverating. But mostly, when I'm with him, my heart, too, is coming out. All the way out.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Garden Porn

I love gardening, but I can't really call myself a gardener...or if I could, it would only be to call myself The World's Laziest Gardener.

Here's my gardening gestalt: I'm too stressed for time to do a lot of soil prep, to plan out a garden in neat rows and hills, to start plants in little pots in the kitchen, to put everything into the garden in one weekend, to (god forbid) build raised beds and do this PROPERLY. And I'm too cheap to buy compost, mulch, or (half the time) seeds. (We have a plan to start doing our own composting, Em and I, but I refuse to pay $100 for a compost bin, and can't figure out how to build one of my own. I need a Composting for Dummies guide.)

Instead, I do everything sort of catch as catch can. I buy a packet of carrot seeds, then forget to plant them, and then--when I've just pulled out a bunch of lettuce heads (you'll see what I mean here later) and there are big gaping holes in the ground--I'll remember I have that packet from a year ago, and MAYBE the seeds are still good, and I'll just dump them into the holes and over 'em up. Sometimes they grow. Sometimes they don't.

Or I'll buy a single cilantro or basil plant, transplant it, let it flower and go to seed, and then save half the seeds in a baggie and literally toss the rest onto the ground to see if any of them will 'take.'

Repeat similar strategies for green beans, zucchini, blackberries, spinach, tomatoes, and especially lettuce. Also herbs and onions and garlic and mint. And other stuff.

As a general rule, this laziness--or maybe it would be better to call it scatteredness? stupidity? insanity?--works for me, in the sense that most years, SOMETHING yummy grows in my garden. Sometimes MANY yummy things, sometimes only one or two yummy things.

Last summer, a few lettuce heads sprung up in odd places in my garden. They were among the items I hadn't expected to do well, since all I'd done was let the lettuce I'd grown the previous year bolt, then shook the seeds out from the flowers onto the ground. Half the time I didn't even cover them. And yet, several months later came these heads of romaine lettuce. Again I let them bolt at the end of the season, and again I shook the seeds around the garden.

But I decided that wasn't enough; I wasn't sure that the lettuce would 'volunteer' to grow a third year through that sort of benign neglect. So, I also bought a packet of seeds, and at some point during the mid-winter, put those seeds in the fairly barren ground in a few areas.

Well...not only did those seeds take, but my volunteer seeds also seem to have taken, because this spring, I had a garden FULL of lettuce. I'm talking easily 60, 70 heads of lettuce. (The spinach I planted at the same time didn't do quite as well, but there was enough for a few spinach-based dinners.) There's no way I can eat that much lettuce, so it's kind of waste, though I have been bringing in bags and bags of lettuce to the office and letting people take as much as they want home.

But I was really proud of my lettuce, because it was so lush. And pretty. And there was so MUCH of it. It made me feel less like a lazy loser of a gardener--as I tend to on those years when, say, a single shriveled green pepper grows, or when I can't get a SINGLE CUCUMBER plant to survive, no matter how many I plant. And so I took pictures. Lots of pictures. And now I'm going to make you look at them, because I can. You're also required to ooh and aah over them, though I'm not sure how I'm going to police that...Just know that I'm watching you.

(See what I mean about the spinach? Not quite as robust as my lettuces! Or should that be letti?)

(That's my previously prolific parsley to the left. I'm letting it go to seed in the hopes of getting another year's worth of herb out of my initial $1.15 expense. Yes, I am cheap.)

(So many ladybugs in my garden this year! I love me some ladybugs.)

Monday, May 11, 2009


During my meeting with N's teacher today, she told me about how pleased she was with his advances since he's begun the OT social skills group. She mentioned, as an example, about how when one of the boys in the class was giving N a hard time the other day, instead of putting his hands over his face, shouting "No, no, no, no, no," crying, and/or essentially shutting down completely, he instead wrote a note to the teacher to say, "I am mad at K. I don't like what he did." And, later, she said she heard him tell K, "I don't think I want to play with you any more today," instead of just hiding himself away from everyone on the playground during recess.

During my meeting with N's teacher today, we agreed that this was huge, and wonderful, and a perfect example of why he needs this group so much, and how much good it will do him to stay in it.

After my meeting with N's teacher today, all I could think was, "What the...??? What did K do to him? Are kids already picking on him? Why doesn't he tell me about this sort of thing? I'm gonna kill the little fucker who picked on him..."

During my meeting with N's teacher today, we talked about how hard it is to pin down a diagnosis, a label, even a good idea of what his learning differences ARE so that they can be addressed. I was asking her for guidance. I wanted her to tell me, from what she's seen, which avenue I should be pursuing when it comes to further evaluations for N. She agrees that it's likely his speech therapist will dismiss him soon, probably at the next yearly IEP, next January, and that we need to come up with something else that will qualify him for special ed, and she's not quite sure what that is. But she did tell me that she'd recently spoken about N with the school's principal, and that there may be a way in through an ILP, Individualized Learning Program, if he does as poorly on the statewide testing as we assume he will. Apparently, an ILP flags a kid as 'at risk' of being 'left behind,' and normally would prompt an IEP. Of course, since N already HAS an IEP, it might instead prompt a reevaluation of that IEP, since the low test scores would indicate that the IEP is not optimally effective quite yet.

(Clear as mud?)

During my meeting with N's teacher today, I was feeling optimistic about that idea, hoping that it might provide a way in to a more appropriate special ed placement than having him in speech therapy as a way to get him occupational therapy.

After my meeting with N's teacher today, I again began to think, "What the...??? Why have I never heard of an ILP before? How does it work with an IEP? Will it help me at all? Have any of my special ed Twitter posse a clue about all this?" (The answer to that last one: No. Which makes me suspicious. And there's almost nothing I can find about it on Google, either. Which makes me even MORE suspicious. Though I have no idea what I'm suspicious OF.)

During my meeting with N's teacher today, when--as I mentioned above--we were discussing the difficulty in pinning down just what we're dealing with with N, I told the teacher how I've always thought it would be so much easier to advocate for him if I could just know what the root of the problem is. Is it anxiety? ADHD? A learning difference that causes anxiety and/or ADHD? She agreed with me, but couldn't shed any further light on it. "In my 16 years of teaching," she said, "I've not come across a child exactly like him. I can see pieces of him in other students who had easily definable problems, but not enough to say that any one of those things is IT."

During my meeting with N's teacher today, I felt an absurd swelling of pride when I heard that. I think we all like to think that our child is special, unique, one-of-a-kind.

After my meeting with N's teacher today, every time I thought of that same statement, I wanted to cry. One-of-a-kind began to feel like needle-in-a-haystack. Unique began to feel like unknowable. The emphasis on special began to give way to an emphasis on needs...needs I don't know how to fill.

During my meeting with N's teacher today, I felt hopeful. If nothing else, he has some pretty amazing people on his side, as evidenced by how much this teacher cares about him.

After my meeting with N's teacher today, I'm finding that hope a lot harder to sustain. I just don't know if having amazing people on his side will be enough, if none of them have any answers.

Friday, May 8, 2009


Em's Girl Scout troop bridged from Juniors to Cadets tonight, in what was a very sweet ceremony at our local scout house. A small ceremony, since the troop is down to just seven girls. A bittersweet ceremony, because the troop is officially disbanded as of tonight.

The reasons for that are several and complicated, but are due at least in part to the fact that one of the girls left our troop and, with her mom as leader, started a new one a few years ago, and several other of the girls in our troop followed over the next year or so. The whole thing has been intermittently ugly, and has involved bad behavior on the parts of both the children and the parents and even--in my way of looking at it--by the Girl Scout Council in general, which doesn't seem to have rules in place to prevent what I believe turned into a form of institutionalized bullying.

It is for that reason that, while many of the remaining girls in the current troop will be joining that breakaway troop next year for Cadets, Em will not. She will become a Juliette for now, with the hopes that she will find a troop in her middle school next year that is unaffiliated with either of these original that she and I can both feel comfortable supporting.

If you and I sat down in a room with a couple of beers and talked about this whole situation, I'd be willing to go into great and boring detail of all the ways this situation has upset and disappointed me. I'd also--and I want to stress this--be more than willing to admit over and over again that there are no angels here, no black and white. There are many sides to this story, many caveats, many people who behaved badly, both among the young and the old(er).

But we're not in a room with a couple of beers (more's the pity), and so I'm going to spare you all the details and the back-and-forthing about who's the blame where. Suffice it to say that Emily and Baroy both understand my decision not to put her in that other troop, and both support it (though Em has admittedly mixed feelings, since the vast majority of her closest friends are in that troop). Suffice it to say that I have no need to get into my feelings about the whole thing with the leader of the other troop, who is a woman and I know and--all this aside--like quite a bit and whose opinions of events I'm not going to change, nor she mine. I'm just not going to ask her to take Em on, is all.

But, suffice it to say, both Baroy and Em are making that ignoring-the-issue thing damned near impossible, and I'm about to strangle the both of them.

Here are samples of three conversations that were conducted over the last few days. You be the discreteness judge:

1. I am talking to one of the mothers in our current troop, and she asks me what Em's going to do for Girl Scouts next year.

Me: Oh, she's just going to be a Juliette.

Other Mom: She's not going to join the other troop? My daughter will be so sad!

Me: That's really sweet. But she has her bat mitzvah coming up next summer, and I have...I just have personal reasons for not wanting her to join the other troop right now.

Other Mom: Anything I should know about?

Me: No, no. It's just about how *I* feel about what's gone on the past few years. Nobody else needs to feel the way I do about these things. I just think I'll be happier if we wait a bit to see who she becomes friends with in middle school, and see if there's a troop that would be a better fit for her.

And we go on to other subjects.

2. Baroy is talking to one of the moms in the current troop, and she asks him what Em's going to do for Girl Scouts next year.

Baroy: Oh, she's just going to be a Juliette.

Other Mom: She's not going to join the other troop? My daughter will be so sad!

Baroy: Well, TC thinks everything that went on with that other troop is TERRIBLE, and she REFUSES to have anything to do with them, and she just thinks anyone who would put their kid in that troop is DELUDED AND HORRIBLE.

[OK, maybe it wasn't quite that bad, but knowing my husband, who is not shy of expressing his opinion--or, obviously, mine--that's not far off. He made it quite clear to me that he made SURE this other mom knew just how unhappy *I* was with everything that had gone on. And when she, according to his retelling, tried to insist that I wasn't being fair to 'the other side,' he simply reiterated that "TC feels it would just be WRONG to put Em in that troop."]

3. Em is talking to one of the girls in the current troop, and she asks Em what she's going to do for Girl Scouts next year.

Em: Oh, I'm just going to be a Juliette.

Other Girl: You're not going to join our troop? I'll be so sad!

Em: Well, my mom thinks everything that went on with that other troop is TERRIBLE, and she REFUSES to let me have anything to do with you guys, and she just thinks anyone who would be in that troop is DELUDED AND HORRIBLE.

[And yes, just like her dad, Em is not shy about her opinions or mine. And, just like her dad, as she told it, when the other girl tried to argue the point with her, Em apparently told her, "Well, my mom thinks the other-troop-leader mom just behaved really badly, so..."]

So, um, yeah. My whole carefully planned confrontation-avoidance technique? Shot to hell by two people determined to fight my battles for me, while I don't even want to know where the battlefield is. Not only did they, um, pull no punches in expressing MY opinions, but they expressed them to the people most likely to go directly to the woman in question. I'm expecting an angry phone call, email, or street-side ambush in five, four, three...

Make new friends, but alienate the old...That's my motto. Or, at least, my family's.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Like Regular People

There are entire weeks that go by in great rushes of activity, so fast that when I look back on them, I feel like I never got a chance to do anything 'regular.' You know, like clean the house. Or cook a full meal. Or sit down. Or breathe.

This past week was juuuuust this side of ridiculous, which meant that there were these tiny swatches of regular time mixed in with the rushing times. Not that I cleaned, or anything--perish the thought!--but Baroy did find the time to replace a very yucky toilet seat (little boy+bad aim) with a shiny new one, and even to repaint the bathroom cabinets, which were peeling a bit. (OK, more than a bit. They were peeling in huge sheets of peelingness, if you must know. But 'a bit' makes me feel less bad about how long it took us to do something about it.)

Also, on Saturday, I had to return an overdue book to the library, and I took the kids with me and let them wander around for a while and take a few books out. Like regular people who have time for such things. (N took out a book called 'Caring for Your Pet Fish.' Out of all the books in the library...this is what he chose. No, we do not have a pet fish. He doesn't even really want a pet fish. And that, ladies and gentlemen, defines my son in a way no IEP writeup ever could.) Turns out, it was comic-book-giveaway day (at the library? Why? Because REAL BOOKS would be too appropriate?) which thrilled both kids to no end. So we left with books and comics and all the info we'll ever need about pet fish. Score!

But, hold gets even more regular. Yesterday, on the way home from Religious School and the much-anticipated First Flush ceremony (new bathrooms...don't ask...), Em mentioned that she needed new sneakers, since the soles on the ones she has are getting pretty thin. I have done a full 180 in my mall-readiness (I used to practically live there, now I would rather drive 50 miles to a stand-alone store than try to find parking at the Galleria), so I tried to push her off with comments about needing to take N home because it wasn't fair to drag him around shopping...fully intending to convince Baroy to take her later in the day. But then N said, putting his foot up on the seat next to me, "I need new shoes, too, Mommy." And lo and behold, there was a hole in the sole of his sneakers wide enough for me to stick three fingers all the way through.

"How long have these been that way?" I asked, aghast.

"I don't know. A while."

Really, there are times when I'm THIS CLOSE to calling the Department of Child and Family Services on MYSELF. This was one of them.

So we stopped at the Galleria, and I cursed a lot about the traffic and the stupidity of people in a parking garage, and we went to Payless and found shoes for both kids. Well, after finding out the STUPIDEST THING EVER about how kids' sizing goes. Did you guys know this? Am I the only one just finding out? See, Em found the kids' shoes in her sizes to be just too young for her, and looking at them, I had to agree. She likes things plain and/or funky, not sequined and pink and with hearts on them. But she's a kid's size 4.5, and women's shoes don't really start until 5 or 6. So we were about to leave without buying her anything when she pointed to a display in the window near the cashier, saying, "See? THOSE are the kinds of sneakers I'd like!" And the girl at the register said, "Well, what size are you?" Em told her, and the girl replied, "OK...That makes you a 6 or a 6 and a half in women's."


And, indeed, when we went back to the women's section, we found the shoes she liked. And, indeed, she needed a size 6.5, despite being a 4.5 in kids' sizes. How that translation makes ANY SENSE I'll never know. But there you have it. I had no idea. Maybe regular people do, but not me.

In any case, both kids were thrilled to have new shoes. N, especially, was glad to actually have a sole between his foot and the ground. Sigh.

Then we went home, and I made an excellent dinner (if I do say so myself) of shrimp and spinach picked fresh from my garden five minutes earlier (the spinach, not the shrimp) and sauteed in garlic and olive oil, served with rice pilaf. N, who would rather STARVE than eat shrimp OR spinach, had leftover fried chicken. We ate outside...because we could, and because Em loves eating outside...and thus we ended our semi-regular weekend.

Ta dah.

Hey, I said it was REGULAR. I didn't say it was INTERESTING.