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 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


[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


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. 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 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


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.