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


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'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.'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...

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 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.