Saturday, June 30, 2012

Baby Boy

As I was putting M to bed last night, he asked me to read a book to him.  Some nights he wants to be read to.  Other times he is far too tired and declines a book in favor of sleep.  "No book tonight, Mama."  He will tell me. He'll point and tell me, "Bed"" and will crawl under his blankets. This night, he selected his book and, as he always does, crawled into my lap.

M is nearly eight years old now.  He is tall and thin, standing at five feet tall and weighing eighty pounds.  Even still, when we read together in his room, he insists upon snuggling in my lap.   He barely fits and he pulls his arms and legs in tight in order to perch himself upon my legs.  I cradle his freshly shampooed head in one arm and hold the book with the other and I wonder for how much longer I will be able to hold his ever-growing body.

We read the book and I feel the heaviness of M's body as he begins to relax..  My legs are numb and I can no longer feel my toes, yet I am not willing to give up the tangled heap of arms and legs within the space of my lap.

I kiss his head and I tell him that he is getting to be so big.  I tell him about how tiny he was when he was a baby.  I tell him about how I used to hold him in the rocking chair and give him his bottle.  How I used to pat his back until he'd fall asleep in my arms.  

As I am speaking, I realize that I have never told M any of this.  I have never told M about what he was like as a baby;about how slowly he ate and how much he slept and how he rarely cried.  

Miss J loves to hear stories about when she was a baby.  Though she's hear my stories a thousand times, she still enjoys listening to me tell her about how alert she was, how she was a fantastic eater and spoke her first word at just seven months old.  How she was energetic and had little need for sleep and would cry to be taken outdoors.

I have never told M any of this because I am not sure of what M understands.  M's world is the here and now with little care for the past or future. He sees pictures of himself and tells me that the photo is of a baby, but he's never acknowledged that the baby in the photo is himself.

It doesn't matter.  Right now, I have M's attention.  M is calm and still and listening to my words.  It doesn't matter because M tells me, "I'm your baby, Mama."  This, he knows and that is what matters most to me.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Please Don't Lick The Magazines.

Have you ever had to tell your child, "Please don't lick the magazines?"  Or the windows on a school bus?  Or another person?  Have you ever had to tell your child not to bite the dog?

I have.  It comes with the territory of raising M.  

I am always looking for places in the community to take M.  Each trip is a chance for him to develop and refine his social skills.  I am teaching M as much as I can in hopes that one day, he will be able to do these seemingly simple tasks on his own.

We practice ordering food in a restaurant and giving money.  We work on remembering to say "please" and "thank you" and "excuse me."  We practice pushing shopping carts through busy grocery stores and picking items from a list.  We work on standing patiently in a line and using an inside voice.  

We practice appropriate social conversation and that it is good to say "hello" and "good bye" to the grocery store checker, but it is not appropriate to hug the customer standing next to you in line or to lick the magazines on the rack or open the candy bars at check out and start eating them. (My son needs to be taught these things.)

It is good practice for me as well.  It is good for me to expose M to different situations, different venues.  It is important for M to experience changes in routines and to alter expectations from time to time.  It is practice for me on what strategies to use to cope with public (and frequently loud) meltdowns.There is a sense of pride for all of us when we've experienced success in public settings.  A sense of accomplishment.  Perhaps even a lick of "normal." 

Outings are rarely easy and can be insanely stressful. There have even been a few times when I have secretly wished I could pretend I didn't know M and just walk away. They are essential in order to give M the tools he will need to navigate in the future without me ever present at his side.

Case in point....

Last week, I signed Miss J and M up for the public library's Summer Reading Program.  I have done this every summer since they were little.  Miss J and M log the books they've read and sit down with a volunteer to discuss a book.  They enjoy playing games with the teenage volunteers and winning plastic toy trinkets and coupons for free scoops of ice cream.

It is also another lesson for M.

M learns how to sit at the table across from the library volunteer to quietly discuss his book.  While other eight year old boys are reading Harry Potty and Percy Jackson, M devours Curious George. With limited speech, conversation skills are worked on as M tells the volunteer what adventures George had and what mischief he got into. I am sure the volunteer has no idea of the significance it is for M to have this simple conversational exchange or to be able to recall details of a child's book.  This is huge for M.

I am hit with a wave of sadness and guilt as I send Miss J off on her own to find the next books for her to check out..  She is old enough and is certainly capable of navigating the library on her own, but I send her off on her own out of the necessity of having to closely monitor her brother.  How long she can spend browsing is entirely dependent on her brother's mood that day.

She wanders off.  I work with M on selecting new books. I hush his voice and remind him not to hastily  grab a handful of books off the shelf at once. I show him how to grasp the spine with his thumb and forefinger and carefully remove the book from the shelf and then to place it into his canvas library bag.

M spies the toys meant for the preschoolers.  I try to dissuade him, but he insists on playing with the cars.  I allow it, hoping it will buy more time for Miss J to get her books.  M picks up a wooden car and places it on a track.  The car glides along the top track before dropping to another track below and repeating the process two more times.M lays his five foot tall body on the floor, his face resting on the carpet.  He  watches the car zigzag left and right down the track.  Over and over and over again.

He is talking to the wooden car.  "Go down.....go down again....go down again." He repeats this with each pass of the car on the track.  The car's repetitive movement excites M and he begins to flap his arms.

I see younger children stop playing with their puzzles and dolls to give M curious looks.  I notice the eyes of nearby mothers peering over the tops of books.  I notice Miss J sink deeper out of sight into an aisle of books.

I notice this.
Miss J notices.
M does not.

I recognize that it is time to leave.  I manage to collect M and our books and get Miss J and head for check out.

I feel the pairs of eyes on my back.  I know they must wonder:
"What is wrong with that kid?" 
"Why does his mother bring him here?"
"How does she do it?"  
"I'm glad I don't have to deal with that."

If I could answer them, I would tell them this:  

I am here with hope that, someday, M will be able to manage a simple task of checking out a library book by himself and without attracting attention. That perhaps, someday, he will be able to order a meal, cross a street or ride a bus without me.  I would tell them that these goals, which may seem so simple to them, are huge for M.  That reaching these goals are my heart's desire.

That my hope is, someday, he will not need to be reminded to refrain from licking magazines and hugging strangers and saying hello and goodbye to inanimate objects.  

That my dream is to help my son fit into a world not built for him.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Home No More

The phone rang early, before 8am, on Saturday morning.  It was my mother.

"I need to talk to you about something.  Have a minute?"  
I sensed the importance in her voice.  "Sure" I answered, worried that given the urgency in her voice and the early hour that she was going to tell me that someone was very sick or had died.

" I got an offer on the house."

I was silent.  This was the call I had been  both anticipating and dreading.  My parents live a thousand miles away from me.  They are moving to be closer to our family, but first they must sell their house.

My grandparent's house.  

The one on many acres of land in the middle of a large city purchased by my great-grandparents at the turn of the century when they immigrated to America from Sweden.

The place where my grandfather was raised.  Where my mother was raised.  The place I consider home.

My mother continued, "I wanted to talk to you about it first."

The house.  

It is a quite white cape on acres of land that was once a working farm.  In the backyard, there once stood not one, but two, swing sets for my cousins and I to play on.  There was a hand constructed wood and rope clothes line where socks and towels would dry in the summer sun.  There were picnic tables for sharing outdoor meals.  

There was also a large, open field in the back.  Where my grand father had once tended his expansive garden.  Where he grew corn and potatoes and tomatoes and beans and carrots and peas.  The peas where my favorite so my grandfather would take extra care to protect the plants from the hungry bunnies.  

The field is surrounded by blackberry bushes.  I would stand at the edge of the bushes, shoving one sweet, ripe berry into my mouth after another until my hands and mouth were stained purple and my stomach was full.

Beyond the field was the woods.  The place where I spend hours exploring.  Where there were ghostly shells of old farm buildings.  Where there was a pond where I would catch frogs in the summer and ice skate in the winter.

" is a good offer." 

The house.   Where my grandmother baked sugar cookies and apple pies and made pancakes and pot of beef stew.  Where my grandfather sat in the dining room and read the afternoon news paper and sucked on peppermint candy.  Where I had my own little bedroom at the top of the stairs to the right.

My mother added, "And S, they aren't interested in the house.  They want the land.  They are going to tear down the house."

"Tear it down?" I asked, even though I had heard my mother's words quite clearly.

I had been fortunate.  My relationship with my grandparents was idyllic.  Their house was very close to mine and I spend much of my time there in my youth.  It was my sanctuary.  My grandparents allowed me to run and explore and make messes and get dirty.  I was free.  I was the one they doted on.  The one, who in their eyes, could do no wrong.  

After my grandparents died, my mother rented the house for a while before deciding to move back in two years ago.

"What do you think?" my mother asked me.  "I can't move until I sell the house.  The market is lousy.  I counted eight other homes for sale in our price range on our street alone."
"No." I said flatly.  "If they want to tear it down, don't sell it.  Don't take the offer."

It had been a difficult choice for my mother to decide to put the house that had been in our family for generations on the market, but we all loved the reason behind the decision; so my parents could move here.  Close to Mr. A and I, and Miss J and M.  So they may have the presence in their grandchildren's lives that I had with mine. So they may be present for every holiday and birthday and recital and concert.  For backyard  cookouts and baking cookies and decorating Christmas trees.

I had imagined a new family moving in to my grandparent's house.  A new family with small children who would explore the land as I had.  I had imagined a family with dogs hosting backyard parties.

I had imagined this family many times in my head.

I had not imagined the house being torn down, even though we all knew the value was in the expanse of land and not in the house.  

Tear down the house.  
No family.  
No dogs.  
No backyard parties.

Tear it down.  Was a developer trying to buy the property?

My mother added.  "They want to tear down the house to build a residence for people with special needs.  They want to build a single floor home with four bedrooms for them to live in."

My anger dissolved.
A home.
On a beautiful piece of land that was flooded with happy memories.
A safe place for four people with disabilities to live.
A place that was green and wooded and expansive and tranquil.

A place.  For people like M.

When my mind drifts and I wonder if M might ever live in a group home, I imagine a place that is bright and clean and safe and beautiful. I cannot imagine a more perfect place than my grandparents farm.

I will miss the house.  I will miss never being able to go home.  Letting go will be difficult.
But without any doubt, I know this is the right offer.  This is absolutely what we should do. It suddenly feels completely, fully right.

Without hesitation I tell my mother, "Take the offer."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Honey, I'm Going To Home Depot!

The other day, Mr. A called out to me, "Honey, I'm going to Home Depot!"

I hear this and my stomach drops. I cringe.   Again?  Really?  Dare I ask?
"What do you need now?"  I am sure the now sounds drawn out and whiny.

Before I explain what Mr. A needed and why, let me first explain something else.

Mr. A is an engineer.  If you live with an engineer, you will understand this post.  If you are an engineer, you will find zero humor in it.

Mr. A is an engineer.  I am not.  Mr. A is Type A, anyalytical, precise. He is a perfectionist.  Even a bit anal.   I have some of that, but I am more free spirited with a teensy bit of fly-by-the-seat-of-my pants thrown in.  I throw a  lot of caution to the wind.  This drives Mr. A nuts.

In many ways, our polar opposite personality types give balance to our marriage.  Most of the time, our differences are an asset that work in our favor.

The exceptions?  Home projects.

The other day I was taking a shower.  As I was giving my hair a deep condition, I looked up and noted that the paint on the bathroom ceiling was beginning to peel.  I reached up and pulled a piece off.  And then another.  And another.  It looked terrible and something needed to be done.

Today. Now.

Once dry and dressed, I fished a scraped out of the garage and scraped off the peeling paint.  I sanded the ceiling.  I went to Home Depot and bought ceiling paint.  Since I was painting the ceiling, I might as well paint the walls.  And since I was painting the walls, I might as well get a new shower curtain and bathmat.

The bathroom was muted shades of grey, brown and tan.  It was drab and subdued and certainly needed some brightening.  I painted the walls a pale blue and bought a bath mat and towels in lime green.  The new shower curtain was a school of tangerine, lime and fuschia tropical fish.  Perhaps not something to grace the glossy pages of North Shore Living, but it certainly popped!

By the time Mr. A returned home from work that evening, the bathroom was done.
He looked at it, thankfully okay with the end result and asked, "It's did you just wake up and decide to do the bathroom?"
I nodded.
"I see" he says, rubbing his chin.

This is how I tackle home projects.

Now let me get back to the point of why Mr. A was going to Home Depot.  Again.

Miss J celebrated her birthday in early May.  One thing she was hoping for was a tetherball set.  Her grandparents agreed to get her one and I searched online for a good model.  Miss J was thrilled when she tore the wrapping off the gift.  She turned to Mr. A, "Daddy, can you set this up for me?!"

I had picked this particular model because 1.  It had the best reviews and 2. It was described as having "easy set up."  Set up consisting of screwing the pole into the ground, attaching the ball and playing.

Mr. A mulled over the directions.
"No, " he sighed.  I don't want to put it in the ground.  It will ruin the grass.
Mind you, we have two small children and two dogs.  Our lawn is played on.  Heavily.  I anticipate a small window of time after the kids move out and before grandchildren arrive that we may possibly have lush, green, enviable grass.  But right now, we have family grass.

"Yes," he tells me, "I'm going to have to modify this."
Here we go.  I sigh.
"I'm going to Home Depot."

Mr A returns with a five gallon painters bucket, several bags of playground sand and a bit for the Dremmel. He tells me he is going to fit the inside of the bucket with a piece of wood with a hole cut out for the pole.  Then he will put the pole in the hole and fill the bucket with sand.  He gets to work on this project.

And then he decides this will not do.

"I have to go to Home Depot again" he announces. "And I have to get a tire."
He returned with a tire and several 80lb bags of cement.  And a trowel.  And a blade for the saws-all.  He is also in a great deal of pain because he has pulled his back lifting the cement bags.

"I am going to fill the tire with cement and sink the pole in it.  I have to saw off the bottom of the pole.  This will be better because we can just roll the tire wherever we need it do go."   He motions to me to hold the pipe steady so he can saw off the bottom foot of it.  I sigh.  Audibly.  I pull on safety goggles and grab the pole as the saw rips through the metal.
Then he hands me a level.
I am confused.  "What is the level for?" I ask.
"Well, I want to be sure the ground is level when I pour the cement into the tire.  So go out and find a level spot in the driveway."
With exception of subtle dips and variations, we have a pretty level driveway.  I must have rolled my eyes a bit because he adds,
"And make sure you check it in two directions."  He makes a "+" on the ground to show me.
I go out and find the most level spot in my driveway.  My neighbors are working in their yard and see me roaming in the driveway with a level.  The give me a curious look but do not ask what I am doing.

Mr. A and I mix the cement and fill the tire. He pulls out the new trowel and smooths the cement to perfection.  "Like frosting a cake" he tells me. We place the pole into the cement and I assume we are done.

I am wrong.

"Get the level. We need to check the pole."
"It looks straight to me" I tell him.
He is clearly annoyed with me.  "Just go get the level."
Once he is satisfied, we anchor the pole so that the cement may cure.

Miss J is excited and cannot wait to play.

The next day, I pull into the driveway and see Mr. A at the tetherball set.  He is running his hands through his hair, a gesture I have come to understand means that he is annoyed. He is grumbling under his breath.
"It is too wobbly.  This isn't going to work.  I just got back from Home Depot with a piece of PVC pipe."
I am confused.  "PVC pipe?"
"I made a sleeve.  For the pole".  I glance at the pole.  It is wound with duct-tape and is enclosed in a PVC sleeve.
He sighs.  "I thought this would work to steady it, but it won't.  I need to go back to Home Depot."

"WHY?" I bark at him.  "Why do you need to go to Home Depot AGAIN?"

"I need a pole!" He exclaims.
"You HAVE a pole! In the cement in the tire!"
"It isn't sturdy.  I don't like it.  I am just going to get a steel pole and another tire and more cement and just do it that way."
"WHAT?  Are you kidding me?  Are you serious?"

Mr. A looks at me, shocked.
"Yeah, so?"

"So basically you are telling me that you are going to Home Depot for the FOURTH time for this stupid thing and that basically the only thing we will be using from this BRAND NEW tetherball set is THE BALL?

"I just want it done right" he tells me.
I go inside in a huff.  Engineers.
The box, with promise EASY set up.

A few days later I complain to my friend about how we still do not have a playable tetherball set.
"Just go buy the same set, screw it into the ground and be playing it when he gets home from work" she suggests.  I laugh.

I laugh hard.  I laugh and know that I will still laugh in the years to come about this stupid tetherball set.  Perhaps Mr A and I  attack our projects in a quite different manner, but somehow, we make it work.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Just Go With It.

Day two of Miss J and M's summer vacation involved public nudity, a library meltdown and a dog that went missing...twice.  Things definitely could have been going better.

Day three:  Miss J was invited for an all-day play date at a friend's house and, for me, a dental cleaning.  I dropped Miss J off at her friend's house and explained to M that we needed to go to the dentist.

"I get my teeth cleaned?" he asked me.
"No, bud!  I am getting my teeth cleaned.  You don't have to today.  But I do need you to have a calm body and a quiet mouth while we are there, okay?"
"I get my teeth cleaned?" he asked again, this time with some concern in his voice.
"No...just me. Not you."
And then... M began to cry.
"I get my teeth cleaned too!"
I was confused.  "You want to get your teeth cleaned?"
"YES! I get MY teeth cleaned!"  And just to be sure I fully understood what he was saying, M proceeded to repeat himself a dozen times.

M is really mad now.  He is pointing to his teeth and insisting he get them cleaned.

Let me explain something:  M does fairly well at the dentist, but he has NEVER begged me to take him to get his teeth cleaned.  He basically TOLERATES going

I try to reason with M.  I try to explain that today's appointment is for me and that I will make an appointment for him.  (He is due anyway).  He continues to cry.

I am stumped.  I call the dental office and ask if M can take my appointment and I will schedule another for me.  Let's face it...if your seven year old begs you to get a dental cleaning, you go with it.  I am told that if I can get over there soon, they will take us both today.  And off we go.

M tells the hygienist that he will go first.  He climbs into the chair and finds a comfortable position.  He settles into the chair, arms folded behind his head and ankles crossed.  He looks like a little prince and I think the only thing missing is a pretty girl fanning him with a giant leaf and hand feeding him grapes.

He opens his mouth wide for the hygienist.  He is still while she checks his teeth and he giggles when she polishes them.  He is fascinated by the spit-sucker and the metal tooth-poker. He could not have been more cooperative.

The one thing M has never had are X-rays. Since M's teeth are healthy and he's never had a cavity, they haven't pushed the issue. She looks at me and whispers, "He's doing really well.  Do you think maybe we can get an X-ray?"

I explain to M what will happen with the X-ray.  In the past, he has turned his head away and says, "No, thank you." but today, he answered by opening his mouth as wide as possible. We got all the X-rays we needed in one shot. Finally, fluoride is brushed on to M's teeth and he leaves the chair.  He sits perfectly still and quiet while I get my teeth cleaned.

I am so very proud of him and praise his behavior.  I tell M we can go do something fun now.  I ask him what he would like to do.

His answer?

"I go get my haircut now."

And, if your seven year old asks for a haircut, you go with it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What Is Normal?

"M is weird, mom." Miss J laments to me.
"That isn't very nice.  You know, you're pretty strange sometimes too." I tease back.
Miss J sighs heavily.  "No mom, you don't get it. He's just not....normal."
"I know, J" I tell her.  "It isn't easy.  But honestly, all brothers are a bit weird."
Miss J shakes her head and walks off.

Later that day, I ask Miss J if she'd like to work in the garden. She'd been asking to make a vegetable garden with me, and this summer we finally did it.  Miss J has worked very hard at preparing the ground, building the raised bed and carefully selecting the plants.

Miss J and I get to work on our garden while M explores the back yard.  Before long, he has found a dirt pile where the herb garden used to live before we moved it by the vegetable garden.  Like many little boys, M likes dirt and he finds a shovel and seats himself in the middle of the dirt pile to dig.

Miss J and I continue our work, moving between the front, back and side yard.  M is happily occupied and I am paying little attention to him.

When we return to the backyard, I see that M has discovered the garden hose.  He has added water to his dirt pile and has created a wonderful mud puddle for himself.  I know that with or without the mud puddle, M will need a bath, so I decide to let him continue.  He is happy and Miss J has my undivided attention.

Miss J and I have moved to the front yard where we are filling large pots with soil and are planting flowers to brighten our front walk way.  I make my way  to the back for another bag of soil and find M has decided he is done with the mud and is filling his elevated water table with the hose and is attempting to get the mud off of his hands.  I watch him for a moment, quite proud of his self directed attempt at clean up.

He sees me watching him.
"Look, Mama!" He yells across the yard.  "I get clean!"
I praise his efforts. "Nice job, M!"  and return to the front yard with my bag of soil.

Miss J and I get our flowers planted and placed just so.  We clean up our tools and return to the back yard.

When I round the corner to the back yard, I gasp.
Standing there is M.  He is gleefully splashing at the water table.
He is as happy as a lark and as naked as a jaybird.
Naked.  Totally naked.  His ultra white bottom practically glowing in the sun.
He sees me and shouts, "Mama!  I clean now!"
I nod, ever so thankful for all the tall tress and thick bushes that provide our yard with privacy.

Miss J gives me her best, "are-you-kidding-me?" look.
"See mom.  I told you he was weird."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Confessions Of A Summer Mother

When the weather changes and the days are warmer and longer,  my alter ego emerges.  She is Summer Mother.  She is quite different from the year- round Me.

I am a woman who prides herself on order.  I like schedules and predictability.  I like to do things "right", especially in my parenting.  I parent well.  I balance Miss J and M's day with school and play and meaningful activities.  I check homework and sign assignment notebooks and practice spelling words and math problems.  I keep track of doctor's appointments and dental appointments and make sure books are returned to the library on time.  My children eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and low on the processed junk and I am diligent about making sure teeth are brushed before getting into bed by the established bedtime.  I am a stickler for hand washing and getting enough sleep.

But sometime in June, the Summer Mother arrives.  Miss J and M might say she is more fun, relaxed and, dare I say, cool.  That is partly true, but mostly, Summer Mother is just plain lazy.

This Summer Mother has little need for a schedule.  Miss J and M are in no rush, no hurry to go anywhere most days.  On mornings when the sun is shining impossibly bright and the grass is still wet with the morning dew, I will send Miss J and M outside to play in their pajamas.  They find this to be fun and slightly rebellious.  I score a few "cool" points, but that is not my intention.  I know they will just get dirty, so rather than dress them only to have to change them again, they play in their jammies. It means less laundry for me.

My children are frequently shoeless during the summer.  They romp through the grass and dirt of the backyard until the soles of their feet are blackened from hours of play.  And while I know any decent mother will slather her children with organic, 200 SPF sunblock, I admit that I like how my children look when their skin darkens like an old penny and streaks of blonde push through their unbrushed hair.

They live on a steady diet of peanut butter and jelly (to my credit, the bread is whole wheat and the jam is homemade) and hotdogs (free of nitrites, of course.).  They eat too many freeze pops.  They aren't the organic fruit juice variety, but the unnaturally bright Fla-Vor-Ice I sucked on as a kid that make their mouths glow neon orange and purple.  They eat far too much ice cream too...either from the many shops we will visit (when strawberry ice cream counts as a serving of fruit and dairy and can be justified as being an acceptable lunch) or from chasing the ice cream truck for two blocks when I then shell out way too much money for a frozen concoction on a stick.

Dinners consist of anything that can be served cold or cooked on a grill and eaten with fingers.  M will often have an ear of corn in one hand and a wedge of watermelon in the other.  The juice runs down his arms and drips off his elbow....but that is okay because in the summer, a run through the sprinkler and a swim in the pool count as good enough bathing.

Miss J's teacher gave her a math packet to work on over the summer and I already can't find it.  I have given notice to M's therapists not to expect us until school starts up again.  For now I will muck around in the vegetable garden and make s'mores and catch fireflies and spend lazy days at the beach with Miss J and M. I will offer them extra freeze pops so that I may have just five more minutes on the patio with a trashy book or allow them to watch too much television so that I may have a few moments of quiet.  And when I really need a break, I will send them on playdates or to visit their grandparents.

And come fall, when all the summer gear has been packed away, the Summer Mother will depart and I will be ready to start the new school year...tanned, relaxed and ready.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Men and Women Parent DIfferently

I can usually get all of my errands done during the day after I get off work and before the kids are home from school. Sometimes, no matter how well I try to plan,  it just doesn't happen that way.

Recently I noted that our milk and bread supply was dipping to dangerously low levels and had to make an evening run to the grocery store after Mr. A had come home from work.

"What do I need to do with the kids?" he'd asked me.
"All you have to do is put them to bed." I answered as I walked out the door, shopping list in hand.

When I'd returned not more than two hours later, I was greeted by a slightly nervous Mr. A.  
"I think you should check on M" he said.  "When I went to check on him, he felt warm and he was clammy. He may have a fever. I hope he's not sick"

When you have a child with the lengthy medical history like M has, you take the word, "fever" very seriously. I put my bags haphazardly on the counter and made a beeline for M's room.  

Mr. A was right, M was certainly clammy.  His forehead was beaded with sweat and his damp hair was sticking to his head.  I pulled back the covers, and as soon as I did, I let out an audible sigh of relief.

Mr. A had dressed M in fleece pajamas.  It had been almost 90 degrees that day.  M wasn't sick, he was slow-cooking.

"It's a million degrees outside...why did you put him in fleece?"
"I didn't know. They were in the drawer.  I thought it would be okay."

I tried to wake M so I could get him into cooler pajamas, but M was sound asleep. I peeled the fleece bottoms off and took off the blankets and let M sleep with just a sheet in his shirt and underwear.

The next morning, I was folding laundry in the living room, which happens to be next to M's room.  I could hear M beginning to stir and knew he'd be up soon.  

Instead of his usual, "Good morning, Mama!" I heard an incredibly  freaked out M shouting, "Oh no! Oh no!  My pants!  My pants are gone!  Where my pants, Mama?"

I found this to be hysterical and I called Mr. A to tell him what M had said.  He wasn't nearly as amused as I was.  He didn't get it so I called my dear friend and my mother and both responded with a hearty belly laugh.  Women just see things a bit differently than men do I suppose.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Second Chance Dog

We have two dogs.  Our first, Georgia, was purchased with money I had received for my birthday when Miss J was three and M was one.  My mother had given me the money with strict orders that I must "Buy something for myself" with it.  It was not to be put toward bills or other household expenses. Admittedly, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the shock and surprise in her voice when she asked what I had bought and I answered simply, "a dog."

Georgia was an eight week old puppy when we picked her up from the breeder. A black lab, she was a round ball of black energy.  (Since we were raising a child with special needs, careful consideration was given to breed and dog selection.)

People thought we were insane.  Our son was but a year old with a lengthy list of medical and developmental concerns and an uncertain future.  What business did we have getting a dog?

I saw it differently.  We needed something different to focus on.  We needed a different kind of chaos in our lives...a good chaos.  We needed something else to do and talk about besides what was happening with M.  For me, it was a perfect idea.

I spent my days playing with Miss J, managing M's care and training a nippy, chewing puppy.  It was perfect.

We loved the joy that Georgia brought to our lives so much that four years later, Mr. A and I thought about getting a second dog.  I loved the idea of having two dogs and felt Georgia would benefit from having a playmate.

This time, we decided to adopt from a local shelter.  I had promised seven year old Miss J that she could be part of picking the dog.  Miss J and I visited the shelter and looked at all the dogs. I hadn't noticed that Miss J had wandered off until I heard her call from another part of the shelter, "Mom!  Come here!"

Far away from all the other dogs, quarantined from the rest, was a dog. She was a tall, lanky dog, curled up into an impossibly small donut on the cement floor of the cage. Bones protruded from her spine, hips and ribs. Her sad eyes told a story of a life hard lived.

"I want her."  Miss J told me.  She wasn't asking me for the dog.  She was telling me.
"Honey, " I began, "She looks very sick.  We don't know what her story is.  I'm not sure this is the dog for us.  Let's keep looking."

Miss J didn't budge. "Mom.  No.  She needs us."

I looked at the sickly dog and I looked at Miss J.  I sighed and asked one of the volunteers about the dog.

There wasn't much information on her.  She was new to the shelter and was an owner surrender.  No one was sure why.  She was listed as being a purebred black lab, about a year old, although she looked like she may have some Great Dane in her. She was emaciated and may have been abused. She was quite ill with an infection and was on her third round of antibiotics.  If we decided to adopt her, we'd have to wait until she off the medicine and her health had improved.

I looked at the scared, shivering dog and I thanked the volunteer for the info and we left. Miss J sat quietly on the ride home.  Finally she said, "She needs us.  She's had a hard life and we can give her a good one."

Miss J had the best intentions and the best heart.  But she was a little girl who still didn't understand there was so much more to consider. I wasn't sure I had what it took to essentially rehabilitate a dog like this. She looked so sickly I wasn't even convinced she would live.

But I couldn't stop thinking about her.  I couldn't stop thinking that perhaps Miss J was right.  Perhaps, because of all that we had endured, we were the perfect family for this dog.

Without telling my family, I returned to the shelter the next day to see the dog the volunteers had named, "Shady."

I sat by her cage and talked to her.  She came to me.  I petted her.  Her head was low and her tail tucked between her legs.  She was shaking.  She was due for her medication and the volunteer handed me the pill.  Shady took it without a fuss. She curled up onto the towel that was laid on the cement floor for her and fell asleep.

Mr. A and I discussed it further.  As a family, we returned to the shelter again to see Shady.  We took her out into the play area.  She was shy and uncertain, but appeared to be gentle and sweet.

Two days later I returned again with M and his wheelchair and tried to walk Shady on a leash. She would need some training, but she already knew some basic commands. The shelter volunteer handed Miss J the leash.  Miss J commanded, "Heel" and took Shady to her left side and proudly lead her around the play area.

I returned one more time with the entire family, including Georgia, to see how the two dogs got along.  She remained quiet and reserved, but showed no signs of aggression.  For the first time, I saw the hint of a tail wag.  I was watching Shady closely and she was passing every test.

We'd visited Shady several times and had come to like her.  Her health was improving and she would soon be ready for adoption.  We had to made a decision.  Mr and I turned to Miss J and asked, "Do you still want her?"

Shady curled into a ball in my lap and slept on me the entire ride home.  She was calm and quiet when I scrubbed her tip to tail that night with Johnson's baby shampoo.

It felt right.

When it was time for bed, we crated Shady.  She howled and barked that entire first night.  I discovered she wasn't housebroken. She chewed up everything in sight. The next morning she bolted out the door and took off running.

I began to second guess my decision to bring this dog into our home.  I asked Mr. A if we'd made a mistake and if he felt we should return her.

"You can't" he told me.  "She's ours now."

Slowly things improved.  She learned to walk nicely on a leash beside Georgia and she stopped running off at every opportunity.  She became housebroken and she stopped chewing on things that did not belong to her.  She does remain a counter surfer though; a habit I suspect may never be broken.

Her health improved.  She reached her ideal weight.  Her coat thickened and took on a glossy shine.  Her copper colored eyes were lively and bright.  Though she had been emaciated, she never guarded her food.  When M would crawl up beside her as she ate and would stick his fingers in her bowl, she never once snapped or growled.  She would gently eat around his hands.

She is still a nervous dog, but she is no longer fearful of everything she encounters. My biggest concern for our guests' safety with Shady is centered around her constantly wagging tail.  She wags with her entire body and with such force that her tail will slap you like a whip.  Her excited tail has left red lashes on the legs of unsuspecting guests more than once.

Georgia was initially unsure of this interloper who invaded her space, but the two now enjoy each other's company.

By no means a watch dog, when new people come to our home, she hides behind my legs; yet if Mr. A or I roughhouse or play wrestle with the kids too much, she will bark loudly until we stop.  When we take a family walk, she cries if Miss J ventures too far ahead of the pack.  At home, Shady is my constant companion and follows me wherever I go.(She sleeps beside me as I write this.)  And each afternoon, when she hears the engine of the school bus rambling down our street, she runs to the front door to wait for Miss J to return home from school.  If Miss J spends too much time talking to her friends and takes too long to walk through the door, Shady will whine at the door as if to say, "Hurry up!  I've been waiting for you all day!"

Shady has been with us for nearly three years.  Miss J was quite right when she said that Shady needed us, just as we needed her.  She is the right fit for our perfectly imperfect family.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Thick Skin

Two weeks ago I was sitting in a hotel bar with Mr. A and some of his work colleagues celebrating an incredible award they'd received.  We'd just eaten a fabulous dinner in a beautiful hotel and had come to the bar for a few drinks before calling it a night.  It was a night for celebration and good times.  Everyone was having a wonderful time.  Drinks and conversation flowed and the vibe was great.

Until I heard a "short bus" joke.

The person who made the remark took it a step further and commented on "the 'most special' of the special kids who ride the short bus. As a parent of a "short bus" rider, the comment did not sit well with me.  

My happy, good-time vibe was gone, as quick as a single pin prick to an inflated balloon.

I know it was an ignorant mistake and not meant as a cruel and intentional insult at handicapped children.  But still, I felt the sting of the words.  The hot tears that started to come unexpectedly caught me off guard and I forced a smile.  

I am not one to cry and when tears intrude, I am angry.  Angry that I can be broken.  Angry that few can understand any of this. And sometimes, angry that I am so intimately acquainted with all of this. Angry that M's acceptance in this world takes work.

Through my years of parenting M, I have grown a thicker skin.  But apparently, still not thick enough.