Saturday, April 26, 2008

Prom dress story

My feature on prom dresses ran in today's FYI: Family section of this weekend's Patriot Ledger.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Overcast in the sky

Well, here I am in beautiful, sunny Rochester, New York. Well, as sunny as it ever seems to get here, which is mostly cloudy. At least it's not snowing.

My sis, Chris, and I flew out of Logan this morning without a hitch. We started giggling in the car on the way to the airport and never really stopped for long until we landed. Along the way, we joked inappropriately about airport security, endured aural and olfactory distress due to the snoring, smelly man sitting directly behind us on the plane, and had to wait for Mom to pick us up for a half-hour at the Rochester airport.

We couldn't figure out what was taking Mom so long. The woman is never late. Then we realized we were waiting at departures, not arrivals. You'd have thought that all the people getting dropped off for their flights would have clued us in. It just proves that two brains are not necessarily better than one.

Dad drove up from Wellsville, packing 7 dozen cookies, a dozen (day-old) donuts, half a loaf of banana bread, an entire panful of frosted brownies, two loaves of salt-rising bread and one king-size loaf of white bread. He said he baked for 6 hours on Wednesday. I haven't sampled everything yet but I'm working on it.

In other news, the Milton Times published my feature about South Shore Habitat for Humanity in yesterday's issue.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I was tagged by Naomi's blog, so here are six random things you may not know about me:

1. I have anxiety dreams about my teeth falling out.
2. I used to be called Jules in high school. I decided I didn't like it in college, where there was another voice major who went by that nickname.
3. I hate olives, any kind of hot peppers, and beer.
4. I wanted to be an astronaut. Then I hit physics class in high school. Physics hit back, hard.
5. Be-Bop-a-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie commercials on A Prairie Home Companion crack me up every single time.
6. Sometimes I wish I could sing cabaret or folk stuff. But how?

Quick! Call Supernanny!

Lately I've been feeling like the worst mother ever. How else can you explain my being unable to control -- even partially -- Abby's behavior?

When we last left our favorite six-year-old, I was wondering how I would find her mood at school pick-up time on Thursday. Update: she was fine. She was also fine the next day, mostly. And most of Saturday.

And then it was Sunday: the first day without CCD. And the day before Earl was leaving for Canada for a quick trip to check out the cottage. And the day of a playdate that had to be postponed from Saturday.

Sunday morning saw her as out of control as she's ever been. Yesterday's and today's mornings saw that, too. Her therapist (whom I called for help) asked me what it looked like, and it looked like this: Abby yelling, screaming, flailing, flopping around; hitting herself, hitting me, even trying to bite me; slamming doors, throwing books and toys; Brian and Timmy staring in shock and looking at me for cues about how to handle it.

Besides remaining calm, I'm afraid I didn't have much to offer the situation. Abby worked through it, each time. But in general, these behavioral displays correspond with the emotional and social development of a toddler, not a six-and-a-half year-old. And I can't deal with it like I'd deal with a toddler, namely, picking the child up and removing her from the situation, because the situation is inside her, and she's too big for me to pick her up, anyway.

I see myself on an episode of Supernanny, where that voluptuous Mary Poppins would descend on our house, cluck her tongue, and upbraid me for all the things I'm doing wrong. Then, after breaking down in front of millions of viewers aghast at my lack of parenting skills or even common sense, I'd plead with her to straighten the whole mess out. And she would. Right?

No. What I really need is SuperBCBA. Or Superhypnotist. Or Super-PDD-curer.

And what I've got is: me. And Earl. And Abby's fabulous therapist, and a concerned school team, and sympathetic friends and family. And lately, they haven't been enough.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Overcast in the house

Can it be only a month ago that I wrote about how Abby's good humor and new-found calm was like sunshine in the house? I think I remember it, but it's been gray in our house this week.

Maybe it's the violin lesson that wasn't, maybe it's the coming school vacation week, but Abby's been teetering on the edge of a swirling anxiety vortex for a few days. Yesterday she was swept away by her worries while in school. She couldn't stay on task, would not do her work, even flopped on the floor (!) when she didn't want to do something her teachers asked her to do. As a consequence, she had to stay in from recess and finish her work.

Of course, when her teachers threatened to take away her recess, she responded that she didn't like recess. When I talked with her about it after school, she said the same thing. She stressed that she didn't have to go to the principal's office, and that she just had to fill out a "problem-solving form," a tool used at her school to help kids identify, own and take control of their behaviors.

I am shocked she would act so out of control in school. At home, it's a regular event, but never at school.

Speaking of home, this morning was a disaster. Earl actually had to physically hold her for a minute or so to keep her from thrashing around. Somehow she got it together and got out the door, and I left her in the care of her capable, caring teachers. And calm conditions have more or less prevailed at home in the intermittent hours.

And now I have to go pick her up. There's blue sky and sunshine out there today, but I wonder if a storm is waiting for me in the schoolyard.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Violin, schmiolin

Abby has been talking about taking violin lessons for some time. We found a local teacher, who was kind enough to invite us to observe a lesson. Abby seemed moderately interested during the lesson, but not dying to jump right in. I was very impressed, but wondered if the teacher's style might be a bit intense for Abby.

So I looked up another local teacher, and we set a time for a first lesson this past Monday. Abby had been looking forward to it, and then on Monday morning, she decided she didn't want to have anything to do with it. After a couple of phone calls to the teacher and another conversation with Abby after school, I decided it would be best not to take her. And I now feel like a wimpy parent.

It's very interesting, as a piano teacher, to be on the other side of the parent/teacher relationship. Sometimes parents tell me they have difficulty getting their kids to practice or listen to the recordings for their lessons. I do my best to suggest strategies that could help. But it's a totally different feeling, being the parent of a kid who seems to want to learn an instrument but somehow can't get over the hurdle of taking that first step. Now I can see more of where these parents are coming from.

Part of my mommy-consciousness thinks, too bad, we committed to the lesson, we should just go (too late for that now, but that's what I was thinking on Monday.) But another part, the hyper-sensitive-to-the-PDD-and-anxiety part, thinks, Abby has enough struggles just getting through the day sometimes. Why force her to add something when she's not bursting with enthusiasm to try?

On the very day of the lesson that wasn't, the Suzuki volume I CD, book and piano accompaniments arrived from Amazon. Even though Abby had decided not to go to the lesson by the time we opened the box, I put it on anyway. And immediately had two air-violinists at the dinner table, in the form of Brian and Timmy.

Brian would jump at the chance to learn violin if I offered it to him. So would Timmy. So why don't I just rent them tiny little instruments and jump right in?

Because I feel guilty about offering them something that I really had hoped Abby would want to do. In her thoughts and conversations, at least until lesson day, Abby already played the violin. She's been talking about it for weeks. How will she feel if her brothers are the ones who get to do it?

It's a sticky situation, and we haven't even broken out the rosin yet.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Magazine piece!

The new issue of Grit is online, with my very first magazine piece! Here's the link to my "Looking Back" column, Blackberry Memories. Be sure to check out the illustrations, in the upper right corner.

Give til it hurts

I joked in this space a couple of months ago about writing until my fingers bled. Today it happened. No joke.

I'd like to say it was because of a looming deadline, but it was because of a bloomin' staple. And I wasn't writing. I was doing paperwork. Making a copy, actually, and trying to get a staple out without a proper staple remover. I didn't even realize I'd cut myself until I saw the blood on the number 7 key. How I sacrifice for my art.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Adopt-a-pet story

The Patriot Ledger ran my article about pet adoption in today's Family section.

I submitted the story several weeks ago, and I knew it would be running this weekend. The timing turns out to be ironic, though, because my sister learned a few days ago that her beloved boxer, Nissa, is in the final stages of lung cancer. Chris and Dave have made the decision to put her down tomorrow. They are so sad, and my heart aches for them.

Nissa is the center of their world at home. For the past two years they have devoted themselves to giving her a good life, and she has blossomed into a sweet, affectionate, faithful companion. She loves to run with Chris, or at least she did until she started acting really tired and coughing a week or two ago.

Chris says that she's been told boxers are "cancer machines," and she knew this was a possibility. The specialist at Angell Memorial told her there was nothing anyone could have done. But that doesn't make it any easier.

Here's a link to Chris's blog. You can see photos of Nissa the magnificent there.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Marathon article and more

I interviewed four runners for a piece on the upcoming Boston Marathon for the Milton Times. All those years of reading Runners' World paid off! Here's the story with two photos.

I had to laugh when I saw the Times yesterday. At right is the front page photo, featuring Brian! He's pictured with some of his preschool classmates and their wonderful teacher, Mary Beth Callahan, who is being honored with a professional recognition award for her excellent work in early childhood education. Brian is in the green striped shirt in the front...not looking at the camera, of course.
I had another story in the Times about a recent teen drinking forum, which I can't find on the website. And Earl was quoted in an article about a recent school committee meeting. Too bad Abby and Timmy weren't in the paper somehow!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Signed, sealed, delivered

Abby's IEP for the coming year is finished! Earl and I are very happy with it, and are confident that the plan will meet her needs and help her progress next year.

The whole Team process was different this year, and better. For years, I'd been writing goals in an effort to communicate to Abby's teachers and therapists the kinds of things we wanted included in her IEP. My input was generally not well-received (with a few exceptions.) I then tried a different approach, and corresponded or spoke with individual team members prior to the meeting, to try to get them to clue me in as to what they were thinking about in terms of recommendations. I was told more than once, with attitude, that the proper place to discuss such things was in team meeting.

This is why our Team meetings never ran under 3 hours and were usually more like a team meeting miniseries, which ran over several weeks. For some discussions and decisions, it was absolutely necessary to have the whole team there. But not for everything! It was a big fat frustrating and draining waste of time.

This year (cue the birdsong) the administration approached us about having a preliminary meeting, to open up the lines of communication and talk in general terms about what we were looking for. That meeting was very productive, and while the full Team meeting a week later still was very long, it was wonderful to, at last, feel like our input was welcomed and valued, and not begrudgingly accepted as it had seemed in some cases in the past. We did have a couple of things to work out after that meeting, but we and the administration did it. We signed off on the final IEP and sent it with Abby to school today. Total time from preliminary meeting to signing the plan: 2 weeks. A record.

And the entire process was so, so much better. No one took anything personally; no one said "that's the IEP and if you don't like it, you can reject it,"; no one had to get all legal and threaten (or move for) a hearing with the BSEA, as had happened for two out of the past three years. No one cried in the meeting. No one stormed out.

To be sure, some of this is because we're getting better at the process, ourselves. We're more experienced; we're calmer. But the biggest change has been in the school leadership, and that leadership at Abby's school is the best we've ever worked with.

One IEP down, one to go (Brian.) Hopefully that process will be similarly painless.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Grit, true

My first magazine piece has been published! I received two copies of the magazine in the mail today. I was so excited and happy I nearly cried.

The magazine is called Grit. According to the letterhead, it's been America's Rural Lifestyle Magazine for 124 years! Now, what is a suburban girl like me doing contributing to a farming magazine, you ask?

It's kind of a long story. Grit actually started out as a newspaper published in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, not too far from where my grandmother lived and my parents grew up. My grandmother used to subscribe, and I would read it when visiting her as a child.

Fast-forward to last year. Sometime last summer, I wrote a nostalgia piece called "Blackberry Memories," about picking blackberries with my dad near my grandma's house, and helping my mom and grandma prepare the berries for jams and pies and cobblers. The whole thing was very wrapped up in my love for my grandmother, who died in September of 2001, shortly after Abby was born.

A few months ago, I hit on the idea of looking up Grit. I wondered if it were even still in publication, and if they accepted manuscripts. Turns out the magazine has a regular department called "Looking Back," a nostalgia column. I decided to send in the piece, along with a cover letter explaining how I knew of Grit when it was a newspaper (it's now a bi-monthly magazine published by Ogden Publishing out of Topeka, Kansas.)

Lo and behold, I got a bite from the editors in the form of an email in February. I wrote back and hadn't heard anything since then, so I was wondering what was going on. Then the contract came last week, and the magazines (with a check) today!

And it looks great. They assigned an illustrator, who really did a beautiful job (Dad, you never looked so good!) They did some light editing, which I think made the piece better, too.

So it's the May-June issue of Grit, America's Rural Lifestyle Magazine for 124 years. Big purple flowers and a larger-than-life honeybee on the front. Look for it on your newsstands soon!

Grandma, this one's for you. XXOO

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Saturday catch-up

First, a couple of recent images. At right is a note Brian wrote to Thanh, one of Abby's school friends. We'd been talking about how we need to invite Thanh over again for a play date, since it's been a while. I plan to invite her next week, but Brian wanted to write his own note of encouragement to her. He wrote the entire thing himself, with some help on the spelling of words.

And here we have Officer Timmy. Well, I suppose it's really Captain Timmy, since it's more of a nautical hat than a law-enforcement one. But he certainly doesn't look amused as you're fumbling for your license and registration, does he?
In other news, it's been a good week. We had Abby's team meeting for her IEP on Wednesday, and it was a good one. This year was Abby's three-year re-evaluation for special education services, and the many tests and reports we received as a result of that re-evaluation process were very helpful in identifying Abby's strengths and challenges. Moreover, we really got the feeling that the 12 (!) people around the table really knew Abby and truly had her best interests in mind when making recommendations. There are a few things we're still working on as a team, but overall it's been a really productive and comfortable process. We're hopeful that her new IEP will be in place soon.

I've also been productive, writing-wise, meeting a couple of deadlines on Friday and getting to work on two more stories. And I received my first magazine contract this week! I'll be sure to post the link when the piece is published, in a couple of months.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Response from a friend

My high school friend Pam, who lives in Arkansas, sent me this response to my last post, and I got a big chuckle out of it for a few reasons (see below.)

Pam wrote:
I think the whole situation sounds pretty "normal" to me. We hear Spongebob being repeated around our house and don't always realize that is where it comes from until we turn the tv on the next time either. My friend's daughters occasionally get the incredible urge to yell "It's my money and I want it now!" across the house. From the opposite side of the house, the other daughter responds by repeating "It's MY money and I want it now!". (Do you have that commercial in MA? Because if you don't you can't appreciate the humor in the thought of them saying that). It's just more obvious that they are repeating tv and it's much less purposeful than Brian's comment. Maybe that line just struck him and he seized the opportunity to use it since he wasn't in the mood to stop what he was doing at the time...??? The whole scenario suits the comment and maybe he felt it summed up how he felt about the inconvenience?? After all, someone had to say "gag me with a spoon" before everyone else repeated it.

My reasons for chuckling:
  1. Of course, she's right -- all kids repeat what they hear. How else would they learn to talk?
  2. She's right again, in that Brian used that phrase ("Okay, but it's not as easy as it looks") more or less appropriately -- even if it was rather unexpected, and therefore pretty funny.
  3. And the biggest thing that made me laugh: I am forever commenting on my friend Naomi's blog about the differences between our worlds because two of my kids are on the autism spectrum. It's nice, and plenty ironic, to get a comment that essentially points out that my world is the same in many ways, too.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A funny interruption

Brian was holding his beloved bear, Kaloo, yesterday after dinner. Suddenly he threw Kaloo to the floor in disgust, and said in frustration, "I have to use the toilet."

His exasperation at the inconvenience was obvious. He didn't want to do it, but couldn't avoid it.

Our lovely babysitter, J., went to turn on the bathroom light for him, and told him he was all set.

"OK," conceded Brian. "But it's not as easy as it looks."

And now, the inevitable autism addendum (15 minutes later):

I just turned on Caillou for Brian and Timmy, who love to watch episodes on demand. This episode was about a friend who plays the tuba. Caillou asked if he could try, and the friend said (can you guess?)

"OK, but it's not as easy as it looks."

It would have been so wonderful if Brian had come out with that phrase on his own. It's still funny, but I have to say that hearing that line on TV and knowing that Brian still has some delayed echolalia burst my happy mommy bubble.