Saturday, October 30, 2010

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out What it Means to Me

This morning, my formerly agreeable, almost 12 year old son mouthed off to me.  I suddenly realized that this was not the first time this had happened.  Recently I've noticed that Joey has decided to question authority.  This is a problem because, in the autism world, it is a terrifying moment since you have no idea how autism is going to mix with puberty.  I was told by his fifth grade resource teacher last year (who had worked at the local residential facility for autistic children for an impressive amount of time) that he had seen them sail through it with no problem or completely lose their minds.  We have no idea on what end of the spectrum Joey's going to fall.

I had to make some returns to Old Navy (I know, I know, I said everything fit.  It didn't.)  Justin and Jamie had gone to scope out hotels for our 2011 Gettysburg Honda S2000 club drive next July and Ben was sleeping in anticipation of working this evening.  So I yelled up to Joey that we had to go to the store and to get his shoes on.  He proceeded to actually argue with me (me!) about why he needed to go.  I found myself trying to rationalize something that should have been a no brainer.  Because Mom said so should have been good enough.

We went into town, kid pouting all the way, while I tried to reason with him as to why I needed to take him with me.  He wasn't old enough to stay home by himself.  What if he needed something?  What if the dog decided to use him for a chew toy?  What if there was an emergency? 

In Virginia, you can't legally leave kids alone for any substantial length of time until they reach the age of thirteen, which is the argument I eventually settled upon after he told me he needed to get used to spending time by himself.  The problem with that statement is that Joey spends almost every waking moment he is not in school by himself and I thought it might be nice for him to go with me and spend some quality time with Mom.  Not to mention, I didn't think Ben needed to be woken when I only needed to run a quick errand.

So it occurred to me that maybe Joey doesn't totally understand the concept of respect yet.  I asked him on the way home (after a very short and successful returning expedition) if he knew what it meant.  He said no and I found myself stumped trying to define what exactly the word means.  It's kind of like pornography.  You may not be able to come up with a definition, but you know it when you see it.  I suggested that we look it up in the dictionary when we got home.  He said, "Mom, we've already run three errands this week!"  Um.  Maybe we need to look up the definition of errand?  Looking up a word in the dictionary does not, in  my book, qualify as an errand.

I came home and pulled out the dictionary.  Webster's defines respect as "to consider worthy of high regard.  Esteem."  I read it to him and he gave me that blank stare I usually get when I suggest it might be time to go to bed or that he try something in the green food group.  So I tried to explain it further.  I told him that you are supposed to respect your parents, or to honor them, because they provide for you, they love you, they treat you nicely (hopefully), and they're older than you, so they might know more.  He allowed that this might be true.  Which led to a discussion of....

Puberty.  Yep.  For some unknown reason, even though we have three boys, all of the information about adulthood seems to come from me.  Justin would probably get to it, but I'm not a patient woman.  Just ask my husband if I'm patient and he'll probably roll his eyes and burst out laughing.  This kid has not only been mouthing off to me, but I all of a sudden realized that he's been talking back to the teachers at school.  I haven't heard it a lot yet, but I've heard it and it was recently.  Not to mention, he's got hair on his upper lip.  I noticed it when he was getting his hair cut on Thursday.  I think we've arrived at adolescence.  It's time to give some accurate information before he discovers the internet version.

When Joey started sixth grade in August, they sent home a "sensitive topics" opt out form.  This year, they are supposed to cover bodily changes during puberty in health class.  I don't think they've talked about that yet, because when the conversation took a turn toward the fact that he might have some hormones starting, I again got the "broccoli stare."  What are hormones?  So we looked that up.  And horror of horrors, the word "sex" had all of a sudden come into the picture, because it's actually in the definition of hormones.

Which led to a conversation about what hormones are, how they work, why he suddenly feels the need to question authority, how the influx of testosterone into his little body might make him feel angry for no good reason, and how it's acceptable to express that anger and when.  It also led to the discussion of how his body is going to be changing.  Which had me asking myself, "Why is it always me that ends up with the "sex talk?"

If we had girls, I would have fully expected to have "the talk" three times.  But we had boys, which led me to believe that Justin would handle that area of expertise.  After all, what the hell do I know about how boys go through their teenage years?  But the subject had come up and I had to be the adult and address it.

I think it went pretty well.  He didn't cry....quite.  I think he might have been close though.  Hormones at work, probably.  Or embarrassment that he was discussing these weird feelings with Mom, of all people.  I didn't want to be having the discussion and neither did he, but I took the responsible high road and stated the facts.  About how his body would change.

I'm leaving the sex talk for Justin.  After all, I took the first two kids.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Things I Want My Kids to Know

I've been thinking a lot lately about how I look at the world and how the world views me.  I've also been thinking a lot about what kind of people I would like my kids to be.  So, I thought I would share some simple rules to live by that I have learned, mostly over the last ten years, but some of them very recently.  It would appear you never really stop learning.  When my kids are trying to make their way through this hazardous maze we call life, these are some of the more important things I want them to know:

1.  Not everything is about you.  Think about what might be going on with someone else before you assume anything about them and the way they're acting (or have acted) toward you.  If someone hasn't been nice to you, there might be a reason that you don't even know about and has nothing to do with you.  They might not even have said or done what you think they did.  Or it might be all about you, but for God's sake, pick the right way to go about addressing it.  Act maturely and you're more likely to get the reaction you want. 

2.  Treat other people the way you want them to treat you.  If you're taking an action that you would be mortified if you saw it done by someone else, don't do it.

3.  Always act like the person who means the most to you in the entire world is looking over your shoulder.  I'm convinced that if you thought your mother, your spouse, your child was watching your every action, you'd never do anything you might later regret.

4.  Treat the people you are supposed to love the most like you treat strangers (or, better yet, better).  I've noticed that most people are utterly polite and nice to people they don't know and tend to let fly with the people for whom they state they would give their lives, if in danger.  Do we really care more about what strangers think of us than our parents, spouses, children?

5.  Don't come home and kick the dog, so to speak.  If you've had a lousy day, take the longer route home.  When you get there, go for a walk or get into the tub.  But don't pass bad feelings along to your family.  They have no idea why you're being a jerk when you walk in the door with all that negativity.  Why not leave it at the doorstop and make your home a sanctuary of good feelings?

6.  Don't expect everyone to like you.  They're not going to.  I've told my kids over and over that no one is ever going to love them the way their mother does and it's true.  And for God's sake, if someone doesn't like you, don't waste your time trying to make them like you.  It's time you will never get back.  You're a unique, special person just the way you are and it doesn't matter if everyone likes you or not. 

7.  Remember that we're put on this earth for a limited time.  Make sure you do the things you really want to do, because you only get one shot at it. And yes, you're probably going to need a decent education for that.

8.  Don't be unrealistic in your expectations and don't assume that because you act a certain way, someone else is going to act a certain way back.  Other people are not you and can't read your mind.  Speak up if there's something you need or want and you may or may not get it.  But don't think that something's going to happen, just because you think it should.

9.  If there's something you don't think you can do, try it anyway.  You probably can do it and are just not giving yourself enough credit.  Or maybe you can't, but isn't it better to at least try?  You might surprise yourself.  Yes, it's a way to be disappointed occasionally, but sometimes you just might succeed and then you'll have something to be really proud of.  And if you fail, at least you tried.

10.  Most importantly, love yourself.  Yes, you're going to make mistakes.  Everybody does, because nobody always remembers (or even usually remembers) rule number 3 above.  Forgive yourself for your mistakes and move on.  Once you grow up, the world can be a hostile place, so treat yourself nicely.  After all, you want that from everyone else.  Why not start with doing it for yourself?

This is certainly not a finished list, by any means.  I am forty-six and still learning new things every day, so stay tuned.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is It Edible?

I've gotten into the luxurious habit of going back to bed after the two youngest kids leave for middle school.  Cut me a little slack - they have to get up before 6:30 to catch their 7:00 a.m. bus and my body needs more sleep than that allows.

When I crawl back under the covers, I've taken to going into this strange kind of half-sleep, half-awake period where I think it's time to get up, know I don't have to, and really couldn't care less.  I can hear the next door neighbor cutting the boards for his deck, Jackson barking at the leaves falling from the trees, and the various school buses coming and going.  What I can't seem to do is wake up completely enough to drag my pajama clad body out of bed until, say, oh 9:00 or so, when I come sliding down the stairs (not falling, if I'm lucky) in search of painkillers, since it's usually the shoulder pain that finally forces me out of bed.

This morning, what forced me out of bed (I thought) was this:


I was lying there and I kept thinking I smelled the cheesecake you see above.  It's a New York style, made from scratch, with love, cheesecake that Justin made for Jamie's fourteenth birthday.  Last night.  I'm still smelling it, apparently, in my sleep.

When we first got married, I thought I should take my mother's cue and cook meals for my husband.  My mom is a great cook.  Unfortunately, that was not apparently on my genetic cue card, because I am a terrible cook.  I know it.  Justin knows it.  Now my kids know it.  If I'm making dinner, Ben will generally say (tactfully), "Um, Mom, I think I have to work tonight."  Jamie will say (gently), "I'm not very hungry.  I think I'll eat something later."  And sneak back down in a half hour to devour a bowl of cereal.  Sometimes my lack of culinary skills makes me extremely sad.  Even with a recipe, I'm probably gonna blow it.  Big time.

I do make a couple of things my family likes.  I'm pretty good at those cookies you make from the log of dough you can get at any supermarket.  I get requests in the winter time for my chicken and dumplings.  (Which is really just boiling a chicken and putting it's various parts in with some Bisquick.)  Um....now that I think about it, those are about the only requests I get.  I can make a great chili, with my Mom's recipe, but it's not spicy enough for my family and my acid reflux won't allow for hot sauce.

Enter Justin....

Justin can cook.  I should have put that in all capital letters with steam rising from it.  He can throw together some ingredients and oh.  my.  GOD.  He recently started making what he calls beef stew.  Just writing that makes my mouth water.  I don't know how he gets it just right, but it's the perfect blend of meat, potatoes, barley, carrots, and gravy.  Put it together with some crusty bread and you've got leftovers for three days.

His specialty is baking.  Every Christmas, the smells coming out of our kitchen are indescribable (and I'm definitely not talking about our flatulent dog here).  He makes these little walnut cookies that have our neighbors standing in line at the door.  His fudge is unbelievable.  I won't even go into detail about the cheesecake, because I think the picture above really says it all.  He loves to experiment, just to see if two disparate ingredients might taste good together.  Things you would never think about putting in the same pot, but hmmm...they do taste good together.  Wow.

For the past couple of years, he's been perfecting and canning a homemade barbeque sauce.  When we smell it, it draws us all, drooling, into the kitchen.  He'll take a little piece of white bread, dip it in the sauce, and say, "Want to try it?"  Are you kidding???  Why do you think I'm standing here with saliva dripping down my chin?  We've started including it in care packages and bringing it with us as gifts.  I wish he could get a patent on it and start selling it at the grocery store.  We'd be rich.

I think cooking gives Justin a creative outlet from sitting and being a techie for ten to twelve hours a day.  He seems to enjoy it.  I've taken to staying out of the kitchen until it's time to do the dishes.  It just works better that way.

Thank God that Justin can cook, because I can't.  I'm great at ordering something from the local Chinese place.  Or putting in our weekly pizza order.  But I'm just not the cook my mom is.  Or that my grandmother was.

Did I mention that I do a lot of laundry?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

And the Winner Is....

Not to sound like a proud mother or anything, but Joey's math team won their first scrimmage yesterday and I was there to see it.  This might sound like just another day in the life, but for Joey, this is a major accomplishment.  For me, it is a miracle.

Joey is an absolute whiz at math.  When he took the SOL's last year (Standard of Learning tests, for those of you who aren't inundated with the incredibly well thought out new educational system of "teaching to the test"), he missed two of the questions on the math section.  Two!  That's, like, brilliant, right?

Okay, not only is it brilliant, to me, it's surreal.  It's like I won the goose who laid the golden egg.  Why am I so excited about a little math scrimmage?  Because, Joey, like 1 in 150 kids these days, is on the autism spectrum.  He didn't talk until he was four.  We had no idea whether he was even going to be in regular school.  This summer, I got a notice that the middle school was placing him in the advanced math class.  Advanced, people!  This is news!

I've never been any good at math myself.  I'm more of a right brained person.  I tend to think in ideas, abstracts, stories.  I have a lot of words, which might be why algebra and geometry scared me in high school.  I leaned heavily on a boyfriend in the same classes who was better at math than I was.  I got through chemistry with an "A" because the teacher was an old pervert who liked the girls to wear shorts to class and sit on his lap.  I'm ashamed to say I took advantage.  Today, he would probably be arrested. 

I think I actually wet my pants when I found out I had to take pre-Calculus in college to get the bachelor of science degree.  I barely passed that class, finding the instructor's Asian accent, paired with formulas I simply could not grasp, more than I could handle.  I quit going to class except for tests after the mid-term and I think the instructor took pity on me when he passed me with a C.  Or maybe he was grading on a curve.

Joey, on the other hand, is extremely concrete in his thinking.  Literal.  If you tell him you're ordering pizza in the morning, there had better be pizza on his plate when dinner time rolls around.  If you say it's raining cats and dogs, he'll go looking out the window to see if he can add to our pet collection.  He's finally, at almost twelve, figuring out that sometimes people are joking when they say things, but he doesn't quite get why things are funny yet.  He can't yet wrap his literal mind around the concept of how a joke works, but he's getting there and he finds the little book of jokes my parents bought him hysterical.  I so hope that one day humor becomes something he really understands.  He knows it's funny.  He just doesn't quite know why it's funny yet.

On the extremely bright side, my son is extremely bright.  If it is a subject he is interested in, like math or science, he is actually brilliant.  And yesterday, my brilliant son, the youngest member of the math team, the son who actually loves math, got to hear them call his school's name as the winner of the scrimmage.

I wasn't sure that Joey liked math team.  Every time I ask him how the after school club went, the answer is always, "Fine."  It's really hard to get more than one word answers out of him, if it's not about Mario Brothers video games.  A recent conversation he had with my mother went something like this:

Mom:  How was school?

Joey:  Okay.

Mom:  What class do you have first?

Joey:  US History.

Mom:  What's your teacher's name?

Joey:  Mrs. Rich.

Mom:  Um, what's your next class?

Joey:  Are you going to ask me about every one of them?

Mom:  I thought we could have a conversation about your school.

Joey:  What's a conversation?

Mom:  We talk about things back and forth.

Joey:  Oh.

Mom:  To have a conversation, you need to say more than one word.

Joey:  Oh.

This is a typical "conversation" with Joey.  He's a loving little guy, but he's not verbose like his mother.  He prefers to be left alone to play his video games.  Reading is a recent acquisition, as it has been hard for him to understand the concept of a story that is made up.  I wracked my brain last spring trying to come up with a book I thought might attract his interest and lit upon the Harry Potter series.  I put the first book of the series on his bed, not knowing if he would even pick it up.  To my utter delight, he kept coming back for the next book and the next book and the next book.  I think we might be seeing another major breakthrough here.

Every developmental milestone that people take for granted is a cause for celebration in our house.  While my other kids sailed through the normal steps that all children take, Joey came stumbling after in his own good time.  And overcame every single expectation I had for him.  I never give this kid enough credit.

I hear that the regional math competition will be held at our own middle school this year.  To say I'm excited, would be putting it mildly.  To say I'm proud of this kid would also be putting it mildly.  Yes, Joey is different from the other kids.  And that's okay.  Because I wouldn't trade him for any other kid on the planet.  What Joey has taught me is how to celebrate when people are different.  Isn't it amazing how we learn from our kids?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Vegetarian Indian Kid Gets Eaten by a Bear

In my never ending struggle to get all of my words out (and believe me, that's really never going to happen), I am attempting to jump start a career as a children's book author.  I've got one finished and waiting in the wings and the next story almost done.

The second book is about a little indian boy who gets teased mercilessly by the kids in his village because he won't eat the meat the hunters bring back.  Turns out he has magical animal friends in the forest who actually talk to him and he just can't bear to eat them.  The moral of the story is (obviously, to me) that it's okay to be different, even if people tease you about it.  A message I am hoping to pass along to my kids.  I'm pretty sure that Ben's got it already.

The problem I'm having is this: I've written the story almost to the end and I can't finish the damned thing.  I've discovered that (a) writing the blog for an adult audience is way more fun and (b) possibly I don't know my children's audience as well as I thought I might.

You'd think, seeing as how I'm still in the middle of raising three children, that I'd have at least some idea of what kids want to hear at bedtime, right?  Apparently not.  Picture this.  It's the last scene of the story.  Brave Bear has found a village who will accept him for who he is and his parents, low and behold, could not live without him and have followed along behind him.  Jump for joy, all around.  But what's the ending????  Three or four paragraphs that have stubbornly hit a writer's block.

I just re-read one of Stephen King's early books, Cujo.  If you haven't read it or seen the movie, it's about a dog that goes rabid and holds a mother and son hostage in their car for three days in the oppressive July heat.  The dog ends up dead, as do four of the human characters in the story.  It's deep, it's dark, and it's extremely well written.  And it's giving me all sorts of ideas for endings to my little children's book that do not jive with getting it published.

Some ideas:

Brave Bear (my sanctimonious little non-meat eater) turns to the occupants of the new village with fangs dripping blood, a sneer on his little face, and an announcement that he's actually going to eat the vegetarians.  I mean, seriously, who didn't eat meat in indian territory pre-white man?  What the hell was I thinking when I came up with this idea?

Or, Brave Bear lives peacefully among the non-meat eating villagers, only to be eaten by his little bear cub friend, who has grown up to be a carnivore.  Oh, the irony.  Book 1 - Brave Bear Finds a New Village.  Book 2 - Carnivorous Bear Eats Brave Bear.  Somehow, I don't think the sequel would sell well.

I seem to have lost my mojo after pouring out my first story over the summer.  Creativity seems to come in waves with me and, for some reason, it usually comes in the shower.  (Don't ask.)  I know I need to finish the second book and have the illustrator take a look at it.  I just can't seem to write those last three or four paragraphs.  Writing this blog for adults, at the moment, is way more fun.  Maybe it's the instant gratification of seeing the published post go up and the number of page views with it.  Maybe it's having the freedom to swear at will, knowing most people (hopefully) will think that bad habit of mine is at least somewhat amusing.  Maybe I'm just stalling....probably I'm just stalling.

I think I need to finish the Brave Bear book, even if it means putting in some serious shower time.  I've long had a habit of not finishing what I started in most aspects of my life (not to mention burning bridges - but that's a whole other topic).  A couple of years ago, I started a novel and sent the first couple of chapters to my mom.  She was excited, I was excited.  The book was good.  We both knew it.  Now, it's a couple of years later and neither one of us can find it on our respective computers.  I got started and couldn't finish...what a shock.  Not to mention a shame, cause it was a good story and had the potential to make us some serious money. 

Maybe I need to do a book on finishing what you start.  Hmmm....possibly after the book about Farting and Humping Dog.  Oh wait.  I think I said I couldn't include Humping Dog in a book meant for three year olds.  Damn.  Somebody please send their kid over here to tell me the ending to my story.

I am TOTALLY Self-Aware, Seriously

I'll admit it.  I'm a total loser in social situations.  When Justin says "There's a party at so and so's house," I can feel myself go into a total body cringe.  I never know what to say to people or how to make small talk.  I'm so hyper-aware of myself at any social event that I completely sabotage any chance at success I might have had in the first place to have a good time.  I see other people enjoying themselves and actually agonize about what I'm doing wrong.  Justin says I'm just shy.  Maybe.  When we go to parties that have invited children, I use my poor, unsuspecting son, Joey, as an excuse to be the first one out of there.  Joey might not even be ready to leave, but his autism is a great excuse for my social awkwardness.  I admit it.  I'm a social geek.  But, understanding as much about myself as I do, I know that I shouldn't use my child as a way to get out of an uncomfortable social situation for me.  I've really got to stop doing that.

It's a total oxymoron.  I'm a people person who doesn't know how to be around people.  Justin, on the other hand, is the life of the party.  He's completely content to work 60 hours a week from home with no one but me and the dog for company.  And he prefers it if I stay in the other room while he works, since I can't seem to shut up.  But when we go to a party, he turns into a person I never met before.  He's the life of the party.  He'll stay long after I've left and he's really, truly having a good time.  People love him.  And really, I have met that Justin before, because I love watching him at those parties making people laugh and enjoying himself to the utmost.  It's an ability I totally covet.

I'm convinced that to be likeable, you have to honestly not care whether people like you.  I'm never going to have that ability.  But what I am is totally aware of the fact that I have this need to be liked.  Among other maybe not so glowing personality traits and some, well, pretty good ones.  So, I try to tone the neediness down and pretend I don't care.  One of my shrinks once told me "fake it till you make it."  It's good advice.

If you've ever watched The Office on NBC or in reruns, you're familiar with Michael, the idiot boss who has no idea why he can't get people to socialize with him.  In one episode, when Kelly has changed the sales scores (and not in a good way) for Jim and Dwight because they hurt her feelings when they didn't show up at her party, Michael says something to her along the lines of "I also have trouble getting people to come to my house and I just don't know why.  I always make too much guacamole."  The show will make you cringe with Michael's lack of self-awareness, which is, really, what makes it so funny. 

There's a scene where Andy, the new guy, is trying desperately to ingratiate himself as second in command and Michael says to the cameras, "How can someone have so little self-awareness?"  Which is a riot, because he never sees it in himself.  My guess is that 99% of the population are Michaels - they have no idea how they actually come across to other people.

The point is that I think I do see myself for who I am, faults and all.  Self-awareness is, I think, one of my stronger character traits, which is why I try so hard in everything I do.  Even now, in the utter gluttony of freedom to write every day, I am super vigilant about grammar, spelling, punctuation...I proofread my blog as if it was going to be a speech delivered by the President, because I can't stand the thought of someone finding an error.  Again, self-aware.

I am constantly amazed at how people do not see themselves for who they are and, when their glaring social blunders are pointed out to them, how they turn it around and make it about somebody else.  The majority of the population has no ability to look at themselves honestly and try to make changes that would help them get through life in a more pleasing manner.  On the other hand, I am constantly apologizing for mistakes I made (or didn't make) and trying to correct wrongs I might have inflicted.  I think it's just the nice thing to do.

I was recently presented with an ethical dilemma.  On the same day I lost my job, the cookie dough two of the people in my office had ordered from my kids' school arrived.  I got a call from the school, about an hour after I got home and was sobbing into my husband's kindly offered shoulder, that the cookie dough was in and wasn't I coming to get it?  After explaining that I wasn't going anywhere that night, the woman from the PTSO was kind enough to drop it by the house.  Now I had a major problem.  I was not, under any circumstances, going back to that office.  But these people had paid for their cookie dough.

I toyed with the idea of ex-lax and delivery, but I just couldn't be that cruel.  Besides, what if someone I actually liked got one of the laced cookies?  I'd feel awful.  I could just bake the cookies myself and eat them.  That would show them.  (Seriously, Chelle?  How?)  And then I had a thought.  What do I want my kids to be like when they grow up?

I've lived my life hoping my kids will end up as adults with morals, ethics, and values and I've tried their entire lives to set a good example in the hopes it would take.  My oldest son is well on his way to being a very fine young man, so I asked him what he would do.  He said, "Well, Mom, how petty were they?"  I said, "Ben, you tell me."  He said, "They were horribly petty, but did they pay for the cookie dough?"  Good point.

In the end, I did the right thing.  I was self-aware enough to know that the right thing to do was give them the cookie dough, even though my preference would be to never see any of them again.  I called the girl I was still on good terms with and told her she could come pick it up if she wanted.  She swung by and got it and it was one of those supremely uncomfortable moments you don't ever want to live through.  She didn't stay and I didn't ask her to, because I know she's caught somewhere in the middle of all of this drama.  Again, self-awareness.  But I don't know if I'd do anything I did any differently.  I think I posted up before how hard I tried at that job and I believe there wasn't anything I could have done differently, so I really need to stop obsessing about it.

If it seems as if I've wandered away from my point, I really haven't.  The self-awareness comes in being able to look long and hard at who you are, who you want to be, and maybe, most importantly, who do you want other people to think you are?  Most people don't have that ability.  I like to think I do.  Then, this morning, I put the dog in his crate and forgot him while I went to take a shower.  Luckily, Justin was here to let him out.  I'm self-aware.  Sort of.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Finding a Gem in the Trash Dump

I've spent the morning and early afternoon contemplating what it's like to live in chronic pain - both psychic and physical - and have decided that no matter how you look at it, life just sucks sometimes.

It took me twenty years to find a doctor who believes I am truly in physical pain all the time and doles out the appropriate pain killers.  You can believe that finding a caring physician who actually believes you have fibromyalgia and that you really, truly are in pain is not an easy task.  I got extraordinarily lucky when we moved to our home town and I found a doctor, in my insurance network, who spent half an hour with me at my first appointment, listened with sympathy, and wrote me a prescription for something to take the edge off this chronic feeling of oh my God, it HURTS!

And then he left that practice and moved an hour away to open his own, because he didn't like the ten minutes they allotted him for each patient and the complete lack of empathy of the people who worked there.  Not to mention how they couldn't take an appointment to save their lives.  Have you noticed how you can't even get a real person on the phone anymore?  But I digress. 

I know that being a doctor can't be easy.  And it must get tiring when people are continuously coming to you and whining about something that "hurts" just to get the good stuff.  I think that must happen a lot, because twenty years is a long time to find a doctor who actually believes you and is willing to help.

The nicest thing about my doctor is not his prescription pad, although that definitely doesn't hurt.  The reason I was willing to follow him to another state for care, even though it involves an hour of driving that, frankly, leaves me limping, was simply because he listens to me.  He's not a psychiatrist, but he sure could have been one.  Except for the caring part, because of all the psychiatrists I've seen (and that would be several), I've never met one that actually seemed to care about me the way this guy does.  Most of them just wanted to drug me senseless so I would go away and come back next month for my ten minute med check.  What is it about that profession?  But again, I digress.  I can save the inevitable psychiatrist/psychologist rant for another day.

The last time I went in for my three month appointment, I was still fairly upset about losing my job.  When I mentioned it in passing to my doctor, he stopped what he was doing and told me the story of the time he got fired and why and how it took him eighteen months to get over being bitter.  He made me feel better.  There's a reason this guy won an award for best family physician.  Whoever fired him was an idiot.

When the kid in the next room, who had to be at least Joey's age (11) started pitching a royal fit about getting a flu shot and absolutely would not hold still, my doctor calmly said, "Let me see if I can help with this.  I'll be right back."  He went into the room from whence the screaming was coming, quickly dispatched the shot, and came back into my exam room.  I said, "Wow, how old was that kid?"  He looked at me and said, "Old enough not to be doing that."  He picked up a photograph and said, "This is my mother holding my daughter.  If I had pitched a fit like that, I'd still have the bruises."  But brats and the mothers that love them are a whole other blog entry.

The unfortunate fact is I don't feel good most days.  It can be psychological or it can be physical.  On the really fun days, it's both.  There's a certain amount of shame in admitting to a psychological disorder.  I  don't completely understand this, since it's simply your brain being out of whack and isn't that, really, our most important organ?  (Some guys might disagree, but I think so.)  I'm actually kind of thankful that most days, my pain seems to be physical and no longer mental, because at least now I have a doctor who understands, takes the time to listen, and doesn't hesitate to help me out.  He's a rare find and, if he moves further away, I plan on staging a coup and moving our household with him.  Luckily, Justin can work from anywhere.  Convincing the kids might be a little tougher...

It's All Downhill After Forty

I woke up this morning...sort of.  I helped Justin get the kids off to school and then limped back to the couch and stayed there for about, oh, three hours.  I'm still in my pajamas and it's going on 11:00 a.m.  This strikes me as truly sad.

For those of you who don't know me, I have an array of both physical and mental problems.  My mental problems go way back to my childhood and have (kind of) mellowed with age.  I'm still a bipolar, anxious mess, but at least I can let Justin go out of the house for awhile without freaking out now.  I'm used to my brain being kind of screwed up and I have learned how to handle the ups and downs - okay the extreme ups and downs - without losing my mind completely anymore.  After a four day stint in a psychiatric ward about 12 years ago, I decided that really wasn't a place I wanted to be ever again.  I finally found a psychiatrist who didn't want to medicate me to the point of being unable to function and we settled into a fairly low dosage of medication that allows me to operate relatively well in the "real" world.  People who meet me for the first time would never guess that I'm bipolar.  It only comes out that something's just not quite right after you know me for awhile.  I'm pretty needy.  My moods swing in what they term "rapid cycling."  I can go from the darkest of depressions to really excited about an idea in ten minutes.  I get irritated faster than Deangelo Hall can run an interception back for a touchdown.  I interrupt a lot, much to my dismay.  Justin tells me he gets really annoyed that he can't ever finish a sentence.  I try to stop it, but I can't.  It's something I work on a lot.  My kids have learned to gauge my moods just by looking at me.  But I function and, for the most part, I think I'm a damned good mother and, after a lot of practice and many years, not a bad wife (I hope).  It just took me awhile to work around the bipolar disorder to do it.

Jamie said to me yesterday, "We're spoiled."  I admit to giving my kids things because I feel guilty about the first few years of their lives being so unstable.  I made life a living hell for my family back when the kids were little, before I was diagnosed, and I am proud to say I am just not that person anymore.  I don't even know the person I was ten or twelve years ago.  I kind of look back on that time in horror.  I have spent years in therapy, adhered to my drug regimen, and worked on my problems.  I am self-aware, probably more than anyone on earth, and I know when I've goofed and try to fix it.  I apologize when I spit something out that could have come from an alien.  Bipolar is tough and I have bad days, but I have way more good days now.

They say that bipolar disorder does get less intense as you get older and I've found that to be true, but I firmly believe that it played a part in my losing my job.  I just couldn't fake "normal" for an extended period of time.  The people I worked with obviously saw I had issues.  They didn't know what the issues were, because even working for psychologists, there's still a stigma attached to admitting you have a mental illness and I didn't think they would understand.  I am grateful that my family loves and accepts me for who I am.  Even if I have trouble leaving the house or keeping my promises.  I thank God every day that I have a husband and kids who seem to actually like me and parents who still acknowledge I am their offspring.

On the flip side, there are my physical problems.  I was diagnosed several years ago with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.  I sometimes wonder about God's sense of humor.  Bipolar really wasn't enough?  Seriously?  Fibromyalgia is certainly not fatal, but some days you wish it was.  I spent the past thirteen months pretending I physically felt fine on the days I had to work.  Some days I reeked of Icy Hot or Biofreeze at the office.  Fibro was an acceptable disability, so that's the one they knew about.  But it's not the reason I lost my job.  I think the combination of my intense anxiety and my inability to keep my impulsive mouth shut truly threw my employers.  After almost two weeks of thinking about it, while I know it was a pretty dysfunctional place to work, I have to take some of the blame.

On the physical side, today I woke up and the fibromyalgia was "back."  I put that in quotes because it really never went away.  My every night ritual is to wash my face, brush my teeth, and hand Justin the Icy Hot roller for my shoulders.  It's the only way I can sleep.  Everything from the lower shoulder blades up hurts.  If I lie in one position long enough, I can't move.  My right hip thinks I insulted it and refuses to just go already.  Fibro is the reason I don't want to get up in the morning.  Well that and the depression that lingers in the back of my mind, like the relative that came for a weekend and then decided to stay, all the while stinking like three day old fish.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that mentally, I'm probably not quite there yet.  Of course, a lot of creative people had mental problems.  Picasso cut his ear off.  Lincoln had dark depressions.  Hemingway drank himself stinky every day and then killed himself.  It's kind of a well known fact that a lot of really famous, really talented people were bipolar.  So, I'm in good company.  I don't find it much comfort, but I do think it might make me a better writer.  I told my psychiatrist recently, "Please don't medicate me so I can't write."  He gets it.

Physically, though, things seemed to really start going downhill when I hit forty.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I fell off the couch and broke two ribs.  That would be the osteopenia (precursor to osteoporosis) that showed up a few years back.  The fibro seems to get worse  with age, not better.  The arthritis makes me walk like I'm eighty and I only just turned forty-six.  I have terrible depth perception and it's not getting better with age, leading to running into things that are obviously there and Justin to wonder if I need new glasses.  Or if maybe I should pay more attention.  (Probably the latter.)

Justin keeps telling me to exercise.  I know he's right, but the bitch of fibro and arthritis is that it hurts to move, so the last thing you want to do is get off the heating pad.  I had hoped getting the dog would encourage me to get out and walk.  Unfortunately, my strength is not good and the dog is now much stronger than I am and he actually walks me when I try.  I could do the therapeutic swimming at the rehab center, but that would involve going out of the house on a regular basis, which brings me back to my mental problems, one of which is anxiety about leaving the house and panic around people I don't know.  I have serious social phobias.

In all seriousness, I asked Justin yesterday if he thought I might have Asperger's Syndrome that had never been diagnosed.  Sadly, he said no, he thought it really was just social phobia.  I think Asperger's is actually easier to understand.  When Joey says he's really fine playing by himself, I get it.  But I am a people person, which is why I thought working would be good for me.  It got me out of the house and around other people.  Unfortunately, my inability to sustain that good first impression had to come out.  I suspect it was at the root of most of the "talks" I had with my boss over the last thirteen months.

The long and short of this message is that I've come to the conclusion that the only way I'm ever going to be "employed" again is to write, write, write, because it's one thing I do well and I don't need to impress other people to do it.  And I can take lots of breaks for the physical stuff.  It's the perfect solution.  And if I ever manage to cobble together something that resembles a novel, maybe they'll pay me enough to actually allow Justin to relax and work in something he likes to do, like maybe that landscape design he's talked about for so long.  Or go to chef school.  I think, after all these years, I owe him that novel.  He's certainly put up with me enough for me to try to give him that.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Skittles Update

I'm very sad to report that Skittles, our next door neighbor's cat, was indeed hit by a car the other night.  Unfortunately, the damage was extensive and he suffered a shattered hip and a ruptured bladder.  By yesterday morning, he could not lift his head to even meow and our neighbor decided that it was time to say goodbye.

Please, the next time you think about letting your cat out, remember Skittles.  No pet should have to suffer this fate.  I'm so sad for our neighbor's son, who found him lying in the road, and for his dad, who brought him home and buried him in their backyard.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Jackson Meets Cujo

If you've been reading along, you'll remember that we recently added a golden retriever puppy to our home.  When he arrived, he was nine weeks of fluffy, adorable puppy, looking something like this:


(Right now you're saying awwww.  Yeah, that's what I said.)  When we went to check him out, no one in the family had the capacity to say no to that face.  What an adorable puppy!  Oh my God, we've got to have this puppy.  My three kids were in love - even my eighteen year old son who rarely emits much of an opinion on anything right now said, "I want him."  Enter Jackson.

I brought the dog home with slight trepidation, but he seemed harmless enough.  He only weighed about ten pounds at the time and oh, he was just so gosh darned cute.  He wasn't, at the time, bigger than our largest cat, who weighs somewhere in the vicinity of twenty pounds.  Certainly this wasn't anything we couldn't handle, right?

I counted on two things.  One, the kids said they would help me.  (What the hell is wrong with me?)  Two, the dog wasn't going to be so big that I couldn't handle him.

I didn't know that golden retrievers are actually considered big dogs.  Someone forgot to tell me!  Not ever having owned dogs before, I figured it would pretty much be the same as, say, bringing home a kitten.  You show it the litter box and where the food is and then it ignores you most of the time, unless it's, say, really cold outside and the animal is looking for warmth.  In the middle of Justin's back.  In the middle of the night and he's trying to roll over.

Aside from starting this blog, I am also trying to launch a career as a children's book writer and one of my ideas is to do a book about Jackson's personalities.  This dog has more personalities than Sybil.  Jamie and I sat around one day trying to list them.  We came up with sleepy dog, sorry dog, hungry dog, messy dog, vent dog (because he thought the air conditioner vents were a great place to hang out when it was 100 degrees outside)....you get the idea.  There are more, but I don't want to spoil the ending.

There were two dogs I had no idea were going to show up.  One was Farting Dog, who I described in an earlier blog entry.  Farting Dog has no social graces whatsoever, doesn't care who is in the room (because he's going to clear it) and has very strange noises and smells coming out of his back end.

Then there is this dog:


Somehow, I don't think this dog is one that I can put into my little book for three year olds.  I call this personality Humping Dog.

Humping Dog showed up somewhere around four months of age and decided that his bed was actually of the feminine persuasion.  I have to admit, I'm totally grossed out.  The first time he did it, I ran to the phone to call the vet and find out when, exactly, I can have this dog neutered.  Justin thought it was hilarious...until he did it for the hundredth time.

Unfortunately, Humping Dog seems to show up every night around 8:00 or 8:30, along with Cujo.  (If you haven't read the Stephen King book, please, I beg you, stop reading this and go read that.  If you're not a Stephen King fan, you aren't going to get anything I write.)  About the time we are settling down to watch our favorite sitcoms every night, this wild creature begins to stir and come alive.  This dog is driven.  He thinks his bed is not only female, but also something that's attacking him and he needs to get it before it gets him.  He picks it up, shakes it, tries to tear it apart, carries it around...you'd think it had done him an injury at some point because this dog obviously does not like this bed between 8:30 and 10:00 at night.  Thank God it's not the new furniture I haven't paid off yet.

This is not the dog I adopted or the one I envisioned.  I had this idea that when he grew up (conveniently forgetting all the stages a dog must go through before they grow up), we would have peaceful Sunday afternoons by the fireplace, reading, with the dog snoozing lazily at our feet.  This is not yet that dog.

I have hope.  Sometimes he'll let me pet his ears and his belly.  He's learned that "nite-nite" means lie down and put your head on your paws (for a treat), which is really quite cute.  I've taught him to sit, stand, lie down, shake, stop, wait, and get the fuck on your bed!  He's really a very smart dog.  But there's still every evening, when our now five month old puppy becomes a demon from hell and acts like a tired, cranky two year old who needs a nap.  He bites at our feet, our ankles, our wrists, our clothing, pretty much anything he can get his teething mouth around.  You have to hope you have a chew toy handy so you don't become one.

Thank God I have Justin, because Justin grew up with dogs and is pretty much rolling with the punches.  Jackson is never going to be his match, no matter how much he weighs, because Justin is strong and he's a big guy.  No matter how big Jack gets, Justin is going to be bigger.  Jackson now weighs about fifty pounds.  I've been informed by the vet (who has stopped me from making a shelter run on more than one occasion by listening to me cry that I can't take it anymore and then promising me that he will, in fact, outgrow this) that he will probably end up weighing in around eighty pounds.  Hey wait.  That isn't the little puppy I adopted.  That's a big freaking dog!

I guess the moral to this story is be careful what you wish for.  But when he does finally outgrow his puppyhood, around the age of two I'm told, I'm still hoping for those peaceful Sunday afternoons with my well behaved, gentle golden retriever at my feet by the fire.  Hopefully he won't be grabbing burning logs out of it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Cats Should Live Indoors

I was dozing on the couch after the kids left for school this morning, when our doorbell rang.  It was our next door neighbor's son, who had come out to catch his bus and discovered their beautiful tuxedo cat, Skittles, lying in the street.  Mom was out of town and Dad was at work, so he came running over to see if we could help.

Justin hurried over and got him out of the street and onto the grass so that a car wouldn't get him.  It looked like one of his back legs was possibly broken.  Either that or he had been in a fight.  I frantically called our in-home vet and woke her up, while Justin got Skittles as comfortable as possible in our garage and tried to get in touch with Skittles' dad.  Unfortunately, our vet wasn't available to come right away, so we then desperately went wracking our brains for who their vet was and, oh, by the way, what the heck is their last name????

Justin drove the son to school, the son madly texting Dad to call the Newtons immediately, Skittles is hurt!  In the meantime, we tried to remember who their vet was.  Fortunately, Justin has a great memory and recalled it's the one right down the street.  (No, we can't remember their last name, but we apparently can remember who takes care of their animals.)  I called over and sure enough, they had a client by Dad's first name with a cat named Skittles and a dog named Jeter.  I trundled my half-awake self into the shower, had Justin carefully place this precious cargo into our cat carrier, ran him over to the vet, and gave authorization for an exam and a pain shot until we could find Dad and get him and the animal hospital in direct contact.

Which brings me to my point.  Domesticated cats belong indoors.  We have two of these critters.  One is a very ladylike, prissy, shy little girl named Kylie, gray and white and cute as a button.  Then there's Max, our twenty pound Garfield look alike, with tiny head and feet and a body that looks like a pumpkin.  Picture a big orange ball of fur with feet.  Max loves everybody, including our fifty pound golden retriever puppy, who towers over him and follows him around like a guard dog.

With a dog, you know it's going to to outside.  But you're either going to let it out into a fenced backyard or take it for a walk on a leash.  With cats, some people seem to think that it's okay to have an "indoor/outdoor" attitude.  If I forget my manners and ask people if their cat goes outside and they say "yes," I wince inside.

When I was six, I got my first kitten.  She was a beautiful little black and orange calico who I named, in all of my elementary school creativity, "Middy."  Middy used to be an indoor/outdoor cat and Middy liked to hunt.  She would bring my mother various offerings, such as mice, birds, and snakes, coming to the sliding glass door of our home in Minneapolis, and looking up with the bloody thing in her mouth as if to say, "Look what I brought you!"  My mom would wait until she would drop it and open the door.  Middy would pick up the mess and Mom would close the door.  Middy would drop it and Mom would open the door...well, you get the idea.  She thought she was doing us a favor.  Mom was completely grossed out.

We moved to upstate New York when I was ten and we transplanted Middy with us because, of course, the pets go with you when you move.  Middy remained an indoor/outdoor cat at our new house, which was backed by swamps, forest, and, being upstate New York, hunters.  I assume that she continued to bring my mom offerings, as the pickings must have been good.

One morning, Middy didn't come home.  I can't really remember this, but my mom told me she came limping in a couple of days later and there was something seriously wrong with her.  They took her to the vet and were told that either (1) she had been hit in the eye by a bb gun or (2) someone had kicked her in the head.  She actually had brain damage to the point where she couldn't figure out where she was and she could no longer see out of one eye.  She drooled when she slept.  She became an indoor cat after that and, after we moved to Virginia and she started missing the litter box, my parents, sadly, had her put down.  She was only six years old.

My next cat came in the form of a beautiful black and white, tuxedoed little girl named, after the spider in the children's story, Charlotte.  That cat was my companion through high school, a couple of stints at different colleges (while she remained with my ever-patient mother), three engagements, my eventual marriage, and my first pregnancy.  When she was thirteen, she couldn't stop throwing up and the vet theorized that she had stomach cancer.  She was so thin and pitiful and finally, when I couldn't stand to see her in pain anymore, I had Justin and my dad take her to the vet and put her down.  It was agonizing and I still cry, but that cat lived to be thirteen years old because she was an indoor cat.  I'm convinced.

Since my kids came along, we've had various cats and dogs.  The dogs usually didn't last, simply because I wasn't sure what to do with them.  Justin grew up with collies and loves animals and he was okay with my cat loving ways.  After Charlotte died, we ended up adopting Tigger from a rescue and she lived with us for several years, contentedly inside, contentedly healthy, and died of old age at thirteen.  Not bad for a cat.  We have finally settled on our two disparate cats, Kylie and Max, along with the recent new addition to the family, a golden retriever puppy named Jackson.  The dog is obviously an indoor/outdoor thing and we're working at figuring each other out, but my cats remain firmly inside.  Our neighborhood is overrun with people who drive too fast and feral cats who don't have homes.

We were awakened one Saturday morning recently to Jackson's frantic barking around 6:00 a.m.  When Justin came down to investigate, one of the cats owned by the neighbor across the street was in the fight of its life with one of the feral cats that the neighbor had attracted with the food she left out in the garage.  I don't know what that cat's fate was and I don't know if our neighbor finally figured out that indoors was a better place for these gentle souls.  I hope so. 

Whenever I take one of my cats to the vet, I am invariably asked, is your cat an indoor cat and I (probably too proudly) say, "Yes, of course."  The vets always tell me its better for them to live inside, with maybe an occasional foray onto a screened-in porch or an attended visit to the backyard.

I know that cats were originally hunters.  They lived in the wild, were fast and ferocious, and they raised their young outdoors.  But these little domesticated sweeties we live with today are faced with predators that their ancestors just didn't have to worry about.  The den of hungry, feral cats we can't catch for rescue, who are not fixed, and who haven't been vaccinated.  Idiots speeding down the 25 mph residential street at 45 mph.  People who will actually steal animals in the hope of making a profit.  Kids who will eventually become serial killers, but start off with the local pets they can catch.  Okay, maybe I'm over-reaching with that one, but still.  Jamie recently saw one of the wild neighborhood cats crawl into the inside of Ben's car engine.  Luckily, Ben wasn't going anywhere and the cat eventually left, but if Ben hadn't known it was there and started the car, that would have been the end of the cat.

I've heard that your life can change in an instant.  For our next door neighbor's son, that moment might have been this morning.  I'm sure he'll never forget coming out to go to school and seeing his beloved pet lying in the middle of the road, hurt and afraid.  Hopefully, Skittles will recover and now be an indoor cat.  Unfortunately, our neighbors are now facing vet bills they never would have had if they hadn't let the cat out last night and their cat is now lying, in pain, at the vet's office wondering what the hell happened.

If you love your kitties, please don't let them go outside unattended.  Bad things can happen to them.  I'm hoping Skittles is okay.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Can I say I love Old Navy?

I just got my online order from Old Navy and I am going to give them great props.  I ordered two pairs of cargo pants (elastic waist, of course) and they actually fit me.  In the same order were two pairs of sweat pants, which also fit.  I don't have to return a single thing.  Unbelievable.  Really, this never happens.  Justin says I like to take my clothes on a trip around the country, I do so much buying and returning.  I love online shopping, but can't seem to fit it into my head that it can look great online, but not fit in any way, shape, or form, regardless of the fact that you thought you were ordering "your size" when you clicked the button sealing your fate.

Way to go Old Navy.  Now that's why I have their credit card!

What's in a Name?

My parents blessed me with an astonishing mouthful of a name:  Rochelle Rae Moser.  I have to forgive them for the Moser part, since the surname is something you're given automatically.  Moser's an upstanding German name.  No problems there.  And I got to give that part up anyway for a good old fashioned English surname, Newton, when I got married.

But Rochelle Rae?  The story goes like this:

My mother's original plan for a girl (this was before sonograms) was that she would name me Danielle Renee.  A beautiful name.  A very respectable name.  A name that people are able to say, pronounce and spell.  I love the name Danielle Renee.  In fact, believe it or not, I even considered it when I was pregnant three times, if the babies would ever cooperate and actually be, you know, girls.  (We all know how that turned out, but at least I don't have to worry about teenage daughters stomping to their rooms and slamming the door, or screaming "I hate you!" when I can't afford to buy them the latest Hannah Montana/Miley Cirus gyrating video download.  The worst I get from my boys is a lot of closed doors and silence, but hey, at least they all seem to like me.)

Back to the name story.  My mother's middle name is Rochelle and my dad thought that was a beautiful name.  He wanted alliteration, so my mother proposed Rochelle Renee.  Nope.  That wasn't going to work - he didn't like Renee.  He didn't like Renee?  Why not???  Okay, now I'm whining.  But Rae?  Really?  When you say it, it's a guy's name.  Yeah, I know.  Rae, spelled with an "e," is a girl's name.  But who's going to ask how you spell it?  Rochelle Renee would have been French all the way and how cool would that have been?  But Rochelle Rae it was.

Then things got complicated.  They decided, in their parental bliss, to call me Chelle.  Rochelle is the person who signs the checks to pay the bills.  Chelle is the person that everyone knows.  Here's the problem.  If you tell a person your name is Chelle, they say "...and that's spelled S-H-E-L-L-Y?"  For years, I corrected people.  No, I would say, it's "C-H-E-L-L-E."  And they would say, "S-H...?"  I finally gave up.  People just can't wrap their heads around the fact that Shelly can be spelled with a C.  Oh, and by the way, the "e" on the end has to be pronounced, or then you're just "Shell."  Which, let's face it, I get a lot.

My mom, after being harassed by me for years about my name, finally said, "Just spell it with an "s!"  (Subtitled, stop bothering me about the way we spelled your name.  You're driving me crazy.)  I actually considered it.  When I was a paralegal, I even drafted up the document that would officially change my first name to Shelly.  But something held me back.  Who changes their name because they don't like the spelling?  Apparently, I don't.  I just couldn't do it.  "Shelly" isn't me.

I recently posted up on Facebook to ask people who had never met me how they thought my name was pronounced.  Sure enough, I got a lot of "Shell's."  I even got "Chair."  Chair?  There's a new one on me, but again, the "c" throws people.  Can you see why I never misspell a person's name after I've met them?  Ever?  I know what it's like people!

My dad went his whole life going by his middle name, which he absolutely hated.  When it came time for our first child to be named, we thought Justin Tyler would be cool and, since we wouldn't want to get our first born son confused with his dad, we would call him Tyler.  My dad was horrified.  You can not call your child by his middle name!!!!!  My dad, the person who labeled me with a first name no one can pronounce or spell and a middle name that belongs to a man, was telling us we couldn't do this to a child?

I recently went on a rant about mothers naming their children strange things.  Like Tyrod Taylor, the quarterback for Virginia Tech.  Tyrod?  Seriously?  If you like the name Tyler Rodney, then name the kid Tyler Rodney and call him one or the other.  Don't saddle him with a name that people are going to push his head into the toilet in the boys' bathroom repeatedly for having.  It's just not fair.

Did I get teased about my name?  Yeah...and I'm not going to go there.  I'm still sensitive about it, so don't ask.  In a job interview, someone once asked me what the "R" stood for in my resume.  I'm sorry, but I don't share that information.  I once had a babysitter tell me, "You're spelling your name wrong."  (You're probably thinking, by now, this woman must have issues.  Ya think?) 

Then it hit me that I'm an adult and nobody was going to shove me into a locker because my first name wasn't "spelled right" or because my middle name is pronounced the same way as, say, Ray Charles. 

When it came time to name my children, I wanted names that people could both spell and pronounce.  Easy names.  Every day names, but original.  So we came up with Ben, Jamie, and Joey.  You really can't get those wrong, can you?  Guess what?  You actually can.

There is, apparently, an Hispanic spelling of my middle son's name.  It's J-A-I-M-E.  Who knew???  And I get it all the time.  He gets it all the time.  Oh NO!!!!   I tried.  Jamie, I'm sorry.  I really, really tried.  You can ask my parents and they'll tell you that I named my kids something I thought people could spell, just because I spent my entire life with people not knowing how to spell my name.

I have to say that after forty-six years, I'm pretty happy being "Chelle."  It's unique.  It's different.  I don't know a whole lot of other people with the name.  And it's actually pretty when it's spelled that way.

I think I'm finally okay with Chelle.  Just don't call me Shell.  Or Chair.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Sisterhood of the Travelling.....Pants?

My body and the retail industry cannot come to a consensus on how to fit my bottom half.

Since I got fired lost my job last week, I have worn nothing but sweat pants and it's not because I'm depressed.  Okay, maybe I'm a little depressed.  But the problem is that I, literally, have nothing to wear.  I may be going to Jamie's band concert naked tonight.  Okay, maybe not.  Surely there's something in my closet that isn't stretchy and made of cotton.  Or not.

I can remember a trip I took one day through the mall as a teenager, trying on every pair of jeans in every single store in "my size" and actually walking out empty handed.  It turns out I apparently don't have a size, at least where pants are concerned.  For some reason, whoever designs clothing believes all women have very big butts and thighs, very thin waists, and are extremely tall.  Who makes these things????

I inherited my lower half from my mother (sorry Mom).  I've always been painfully thin (well, until recently), but for some reason, I was born with a tire around my waistline.  I can't figure it out.  How can a person's arms and legs be stick thin, but their stomach looks five months pregnant?  I'm short, so all pants legs are automatically too long.  My legs aren't very big around, so most pants are too big in the hips and thighs.  But try to pull them up over my waist?  Not a chance of zipping here.

I recently increased my problem by choosing to undergo a hysterectomy, which apparently immediately adds ten pounds to your body weight.  I'm actually large in places I was never large before.  I'm also much larger in the abdominal area.  I did not know that a larger abdomen came with a hysterectomy.  It has nothing to do with the Halloween candy that Justin bought or the fact that I'm exercise impaired.  I swear, I was born this way.  And then got surgically enhanced last April in an extremely unpleasant way.  Hysterectomies are not the celebrity way to repair what God gave you.

I had been complaining about my pants being too tight for months before allowing the removal of my reproductive organs.  Silly me, I thought that if I got rid of the offending uterus, with accompanying fibroids, I might actually lose weight.  I maybe should have talked to the doctor beforehand, because my pants actually got tighter after I left the hospital.  I'm not just talking a little tight at the end of the day.  I'm talking, it hurts to wear pants!  I'm up two sizes from this time last year and I still can't find jeans that I can wear without crying.  I've bought and returned more pants in the last six months than I think I've owned in my entire life.  No one makes pants in "my size."  Apparently, "my size" simply does not exist.

Hence, the sweat pants.  If you see me out and about, please don't think I'm deliberately letting myself go.  I just prefer to go through my day without feeling like I have a Victorian corset around my middle, whalebones and all.  Oh, and maybe I should take the dog for a walk.  And buy a housedress or two.  Wait - I think my grandmother wore those.

Hey, I hear leggings are in fashion this year.  I'll take a dozen, in a large, please.

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!

If anyone knows me and Justin, they'll know that our annual Christmas Eve tradition is to watch the movie A Christmas Story on the day that we decorate our tree with the kids.  We've been doing it for 22 years and it's a very beloved tradition in a family that doesn't do a whole lot together.

In the story, if you haven't seen it, Ralphie wants nothing more for Christmas in the whole world than a Red Rider Carbine Action Two Hundred Shot Range Model Air Rifle with a Compass in the Stock and this thing which tells time.  His entire world tells him (Santa included), "Kid, you'll shoot your eye out."

Of course, when I poked my eye out last Saturday while Justin was away, Ralphie and his trusted Range Model air rifle were the first things that came to my mind.

Everyone knows I'm clumsy.  It's kind of like the sun coming up in the morning.  If I'm moving, I'm going to hurt myself.  It's just the way it is.  I think every time Justin goes anywhere, he wonders if he's going to come home to me lying on the floor whining "I've fallen and I can't get up!"  I actually broke two ribs falling off the couch.  I can't walk down our stairs...I slide down them.  Usually giving myself enough bumps, bruises, and sore muscles for several days worth of lying on the couch and complaining.  If it's in the room, I'll run into it, trip over it, or bruise myself looking at it.

Justin went to visit a close friend in New York this past weekend and was gone for nine (okay, really three, but it felt like at least nine) days.  He knows me well enough by now not to say, "Please be careful, sweetie.  I know you're going to hurt yourself while I'm gone."  Because if he were to say that, I would ply him with a look of innocence belying a cherub and pretend not to know what he's talking about.  So he hugged me and left me to my fate.  He hadn't even gotten to his destination before I actually managed to scratch the cornea on my eye by, get this, rubbing it.  I actually poked my eye out trying to scratch an itch.

I was cussing and plying it with cold wash rags, when Jamie said, "Why don't you go to Web MD, Mom?"  Of course, the computer!  We live in the information age!  Now why didn't I think of that?  So I ran (carefully) to my computer and typed in "corneal abrasion," desperately looking for a remedy that didn't involve the emergency room at the hospital, or at least the local urgent care.  Here is what it said (and I'm paraphrasing):

You should see your opthamologist if you experience any of the following:  You have the feeling there is something in your eye and you cannot get it out.


Shit.

I was NOT going to the emergency room.  I didn't even tell Justin about it on Saturday.  He learned about it on Facebook, the way everyone else did and, with much concern, asked me if I shouldn't, maybe, um, go to the eye doctor?  NO, I had NOT scratched my cornea.  I was fine.  I was NOT going to the eye doctor.  Did my eye hurt?  Well, yeah.  But not as much as yesterday.  Honestly.

Why do I tell you this story?  Because I think the unfortunate ability to hurt yourself by walking into a room may be genetic.  I think I passed the gene on to my fourteen year old son.

Poor Jamie.  Of my three kids, he's the only one who has broken a bone - a wrist fracture he got while playing football.  He fell on his arm.  (Sound familiar?)  When he was two, he bit through his tongue.  Literally.  He's now fourteen and still has that scar.  He once fell at the bus stop during a scuffle and knocked one of his teeth out.  His little brother hit him in the head with a golf club.  Yes, really.  Whenever he comes into the house, I look for blood, brush him off, and tell him to suck it up, he's fine.

Which would be okay, except that the wrist actually was broken.  I thought he was trying to get out of gym class.  Being the fantastic mother that I am, I grabbed it on several occasions and told him, "If you can bend it this way (OUCH!!!!  MOM!!!!), then it's not broken."  Um....give me the bad mother of the year award.  When Justin finally took him to the urgent care center, at the insistence of the gym teacher who would not excuse him another day without a doctor's note, they told him that Jamie had a "green stem" fracture.  Meaning, your kid broke his wrist and you waited ten days to bring him in.  Oh.  My.  God. 

Okay, well, having three boys, you tend not to worry over every little bump and bruise because, come on, they're boys and boys get hurt, right?  So Jamie went on his way, with the instructions to wear a brace for three weeks and just be careful.  And a note excusing him from gym.  Not that I thought he wanted that...or anything.

I think they should fund a study of clumsy parents and their offspring.  I don't know who would fund it, but I have to believe there is a connection there somewhere.  Why are two of my kids relatively graceful and one seems to be constantly hurting himself?  It's got to be genetic, right?  I don't know where I got it.  My parents don't seem unduly clumsy.  Well, except for the time Mom dropped a sewing machine on her foot while my dad was out of town and didn't call me.  I think she was actually in shock.  An ambulance might have been a good idea, but if you've ever met my mother, you'll know that she simply does not get sick.  Or hurt herself.  Ever.  My mother used to go to work with the flu and say, "Well, you're not going to feel 100% every day."  After the sewing machine incident, she had a bruise on her foot for a month.  It was probably broken.  Maybe the gene is on the mother's chromosome after all?

My eye hurts...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Not the Middle School I Remember

I just got a call from the assistant principal at Joey's middle school.  Joey got into trouble in his first period class on Friday and will have to do detention.  Oh. My. God.

Maybe I should start over and give a little background here.  Joey has autism.  Not the non-speaking, flailing limbed, people look at you like what the hell is wrong with your child autism.  Not Rain Man autism - he won't perform circus tricks or count cards in Vegas.  I'm certainly extremely sensitive and sympathetic of parents who have children with that type of autism, because life with autism is hard.  But I think that if Joey were reassessed today, he would actually be diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which is a much higher functioning form of the disorder.  Joey didn't talk until he was four years old and we knew something was wrong - that something being developmental delays.  The psychologist for the school system who evaluated him actually gave him an I.Q. score of 62 and I sobbed.  But then Joey started to talk and we all realized oh my God, this kid is freaking smart!  62?  I don't think so.  Once he started talking, we quickly realized that not only was he smart, he could really do anything he set his mind to.  He just had, well, a few quirks.

Joey managed to overachieve every expectation I ever had of him.  When he was first evaluated, we didn't know if he would end up at an institution some day because we couldn't take care of him.  This summer, at age eleven, he finished all seven books in the Harry Potter series.  Did I mention that he's smart?  The kid loves to read!  He also loves video games and is impressively good at them.  He loves to play with the dog.  He likes bossing the younger neighbor boys around, in a Joey kind of way, because he's older and, obviously, he knows more than they do.  He's a gentle, kind, loving little soul who doesn't quite know where he fits into the world yet and doesn't quite "get" social relationships or how friendships work (one of the down sides to this autism thing).  He's innocent and I want to keep it that way.  But now he's in middle school.

I was under the possibly deluded idea that our society had become more accepting of people who were a "little different" (said in hushed tones).  My youngest son practically sailed through elementary school and I was lulled into a false sense of security when his teachers all told me what a joy he was to have as a student and how much the other kids loved him.  I thought, wow, things are really changing.  How amazing.  When I was in school, if you had glasses, you got called "four eyes."  If you had braces, you were "metal mouth."  You were tormented until you developed an eating disorder.  Now, if you have the slightest whiff of a "disability," they put you closer to the board and write you an IEP for an accommodation. 

Because Joey was diagnosed at age three with autism, he began school two years before kindergarten for early intervention.  He had wonderful teachers and understanding classmates.  He was included in the main stream, regular classes from the time he entered elementary school and, with help, he never failed to make the honor roll.  Every year, I would say to Justin, "I'm so scared this is the year that the kids are going to start teasing Joey."  And every year Justin would say, "You say that every year.  Joey's going to be fine."  A new year would start, Joey would come home happy, the kids wouldn't tease him, and I would sigh with relief and think wow, things have changed.

Apparently, they haven't changed that much.

Don't get me wrong.  Our middle school is really quite good.  I love the teachers.  They're flexible, they understand when your kid is having difficulty, and they have a very strict anti-bullying policy.  My older two sons managed to get through the same school without needing therapy.  I thought we might possibly be okay.  Um....

Joey began middle school this year with lots of practice beforehand (who'd have thought a kid would find his locker so much fun?) and a big brother in eighth grade, who I made swear to me that he would protect his vulnerable little brother.  Jamie is two years older than Joey and, honestly, his best friend in the world.  He told me recently, "If he wasn't autistic, I would probably sock him more."  Jamie's a great kid.  I figured that he would at least be there when the other eighth graders are around to make sure Joey didn't get clobbered on a regular basis just because he liked to obsess about his Mario Brothers video games.

What I just didn't figure on was the other sixth graders.  You know.  The ones he went to school with last year?

The first incident this year happened while Joey was working in a group.  In true, autistic fashion, he blurted out, "Oh crap! Oh crap! Oh shit!"  And some little turd tattled on him.

One thing about autism - it's honest.  If Joey has a thought, everyone knows it.  And yes, I do know where he learned those words.  I confess.  He probably learned them at home.  After he blurted out "dammit" in fourth grade and almost got kicked off of the in-school winter hockey team, we had many discussions about how it's not appropriate to say those words in certain places.  Unfortunately, Joey does not have the social filter that allows "normal" kids to say those words at will in a group of other eleven year olds, but be sweet as pie, language wise, whenever anyone in authority is in the room.  So Joey, without thinking, blurted out those magic words he's heard so many times around our home and promptly got told on to the teacher.  And got detention.

I managed to talk them out of the detention, because, really, shouldn't he get a little leeway for not always being able to control what he says?  To Joey, every word is equal.  A word is a word.  If we give these "naughty" words the power to get us into trouble, then aren't we really punishing a whole culture?  I hear these words out of every teenage mouth I pass by.  And, um, most adults.  Does the school system honestly believe that by giving a detention, those words will never pass my son's lips again?  With Joey, probably not.  He's going to say them.  I think there may be a connection between autism and tourettes syndrome, because Joey just doesn't seem to have the ability to think before he speaks.  Or maybe he just takes after his mother.

So that was the first incident.

Today I get the phone call.  The one I've been dreading since Joey started this whole school experience.  It's the assistant principal and I am informed that on Friday, Joey was being tormented by some little jerk who was flicking rubber bands at him.  In an effort to defend himself, my sensitive little guy picked up the nearest object handy which, unfortunately, happened to be a pair of scissors.  I suspect he was using them as a blunt object in self-defense and not trying to stab the kid, since no one got hurt.  But, he got written up and detention.

I ask you.  Who really deserves the punishment here?  The child who accidentally grabbed the wrong instrument in an effort to ward off flying objects being hurled directly at him, or the child who was tormenting him by flinging rubber bands at a disabled child?

I'm seriously thinking of home schooling.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Puppy Loses his Mind

I was going to write today about the apparent genetic predisposition to hurting oneself accidentally, much to my fourteen year old son's dismay (since he has told me already he does not under any circumstances want me blogging about him).  But that post will have to wait.  I got distracted by two things: a visit from my very best friend in the world and my dog's discovery that his daddy went on a trip without him.  Both of which threw our golden retriever puppy, Jackson, for a very big loop.

Justin and Jack spend an inordinate amount of time together.  Because Justin works from home, he's been Jack's "primary caretaker" since we brought him home at eight or nine weeks of age.  While I was out bringing home the extremely meager bacon three days a week, Justin and Jack were developing a relationship.  A huge relationship.  And Jackson is attached to his daddy.  Believe me when I say attached.

Justin left early yesterday for his guys' weekend in New York and I happily anticipated a smooth forty eight hours of watching chick flicks, enjoying a Sunday without football in October (which, if you know my husband, you'll know doesn't ever happen), and a joyous visit with my best friend, who I don't get to see nearly enough.  What I didn't plan for was Jackson's discovery after twenty four hours (okay, this puppy might be a little behind - no he's smart, really) that Daddy was GONE!!!!

Saturday went pretty well.  Jackson slept most of the day and seemed to enjoy my company.  Then Sunday arrived.  Jack realized that Justin hadn't come home yet.  Between that realization and the fact that my friend arrived, this dog began the longest whining fest in the history of the world.  And I've raised three children, so I get whining.  So how do you make a dog stop whining?  You give him treats, right?  Uh...wrong.

Which leads to my own discovery of the weekend.  If you give a dog enough treats, it affects their digestive tract.

Jackson is my first dog.  I'm a lifelong cat lover and owner.  I don't know from dogs.  I mean, yeah, I know that they're sloppy and messy.  I know they poop and pee in the yard and you have to clean it up.  I know (now)  that they're very expensive.  I know that you can have a wonderful, adoring, beautiful friendship with these creatures.  But here's what I did not know about dogs.  Um, dogs get gas.  Really bad gas.  I don't mean polite little toots.  I mean big, ripping farts and they don't care who's in the room either.  In fact, Jack will actually clear the room.  My friend and I sat and talked and listened to the dog fart.  And then it hit us both.  Can dogs actually smell that bad???  Apparently.

Would it have been different if Jackson had been a girl dog?  Now there's a question, because according to us girls, we don't get gas, right?  So if the dog had been female, would she have had the self-respect to excuse herself to, well, take care of business?  Somehow I think it's a species thing and not a boy/girl thing.

Luckily, my friend is a dog person.  She has two dogs of her own (are teacup chihuahuas technically dogs?) and she thought Jack's little (okay, huge) gas attack was funny as hell.  Thank God.  I'm going to have to see if there might be some kind of doggie training class that will teach my mutt that it's just not polite to fart when you have company.  Ever.  And if you really have to fart when you have company, for God's sake could you please go into another other room?  Preferably behind a closed door in a room with an open window?

Oh and Justin?  I'm ready for you to come home now....