Saturday, October 31, 2009

Theatre preview

From today's Patriot Ledger -- my preview of Sondheim's Assassins, opening at the Curtain Call Theatre in Braintree next weekend.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Brief update

Things going on here:
  • Marriage Encounter is the best thing ever. Earl and I did it last weekend, and it was such a gift to our relationship. It's a great "tune-up" for couples whose marriages aren't facing serious trouble, but which could use a boost. I cannot recommend it enough.
  • I thought I'd never get the stories done in time, but I met two deadlines today, easily.
  • I've almost met the third, which is tomorrow's. Final tweaking and editing in the a.m.
  • Since my last lap swim update, I've swum 20 laps on two separate occasions. That seems like the right amount, for now, especially since I always swim after first lifting weights.
  • On the other hand, I've not exercised for two days and feel like a slug (see deadlines, above.)
  • My brother and his family are visiting us this weekend, which means the cousins will get to go trick-or-treating together. Hooray! My kids are so excited about Halloween, they're not walking, they're hovering.
  • I'm growing my hair out (which is a relative term, of course) and it's in that I-hate-it stage. It sticks out in the silliest places and there's no good way to deal with it. Even my usual disguise of a baseball hat can't cover all the crazy exuberance of hair that is more than an inch and a half long.
  • I hear there's a World Series going on. It's worth noting that we've moved on in our house, particularly Brian, who is now following hockey, basketball and football.

We're all healthy and happy and hoping we stay that way, with all the colds and flu going around. Off to bed. Immune systems undoubtedly work better when they're well-rested.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Good things going on here today:
  • I lifted weights at the Y and swam 15 laps (30 lengths) of the pool. Yay me!
  • Abby's pink cowgirl boots arrived today. They are adorable.
  • I changed the language on my Facebook page from English to Pirate. It's killing me, it's so funny.
  • Three more days until Earl and I get away. Can't wait.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A few random thoughts

I'm really enjoying teaching Abby CCD this year. I wouldn't want to teach a classful of kids, but a little structured faith-sharing with my own daughter is wonderful. It's proving to be another nice way for us to connect.
Brian learned the right hand of "Cuckoo," practiced it for two days, and then learned the left hand. He's playing hands alone every day now, and even played left hand while I played right this morning. He will be putting it together in no time.

For those readers unfamiliar with Suzuki piano study, "Cuckoo" is a big deal. It's the first piece where each hand has its own line to play (i.e., not unison.) The coordination it takes to play a melody in one hand and an accompaniment in the other is phenomenal. Forgive me if I gush about my boy, who is showing all signs of tearing through Cuckoo, just as he did the Twinkle variations.
I am the only person I know who can take a walk in a suburban park and get lost. I had 15 minutes to kill before I had to pick up Timmy today, and decided to explore the far recesses of Cunningham Park, starting with the community garden plot, meandering through the pines along a paved road, going up an interesting-looking staircase and discovering a neighborhood I didn't know existed, and then flagging down a state car to ask for directions back to the front of the park, which is across from Timmy's preschool. I felt a little silly, but had been wanting to explore the park for some time, and made a good start today.
I am supposed to do my 7-point housecleaning today. I've done three of those points and am totally unmotivated to do the others.
On the other hand, I did do some flinging today, getting rid of stuff we don't need or love or want. If it were up to me, I'd fling an awful lot more, but the kids might miss their toys.
My hairdresser is coming tomorrow, and not a moment too soon.
It makes me outrageously happy when people I don't know personally become fans of mine on Facebook. I'm also thrilled when friends decide to "fan" me, too, of course. (Want to become a fan?
I am writing this blog post because I am trying to fend off a primal carbohydrate craving. Usually the afternoon coffee takes my mind off it, but not so today.
Earl took Abby and Timmy to a costume store yesterday, while Brian was at a birthday party, and found some pink cowgirl costume pieces for Abby. Hooray! I bit the bullet and ordered her a pair of western boots last night, after explaining to Abby that she would be wearing them long after Halloween. There's no reason a girl in Massachusetts can't be in touch with her inner cowgirl after the fun of trick-or-treating is past.
I am off to do at least one more housecleaning task. Not to eat any carbs.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The cat's out of the bag

I spent yesterday afternoon cooking and baking, in anticipation of my sister and brother-in-law coming over for dinner last night to celebrate his birthday. Abby helped me make the coconut cupcakes (Dave's favorite) and while they were in the oven, I decided it was a good time to talk with her about her diagnosis. I told her I wanted to get the book from her therapist and read it with her, and she was game.

The book, called All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, captured her attention right away. She loves animals, especially dogs, but cats are a close second, and the cute and cuddly kitty photos drew her into the book immediately. She wanted to read it herself first, so I let her, and then we went over it together afterwards.

I grouped some characteristics touched on in the book, which Abby has or has had in the past, and she was able to self-diagnose. We talked about it for a little while, and then she wanted to move on to something else, which was fine, of course.

I told her that she could talk with Earl or me any time she wanted. I also explained that not everyone knows what Asperger's is, unless they have it or know someone who has it. She immediately responded, "Okay, then I won't tell anyone I have it."

I explained that it didn't have to be a secret, but that it might be complicated to explain it to people who didn't know what it was. She seemed to understand.

When I tucked her in bed last night, she was reading the book again. She hasn't brought it up today, and that's okay, too.

It is snowing here this afternoon, and it was a really, really big problem for Abby a few minutes ago. It's not the winter. It's still the fall. Will the snow come in the house? Will we have to shovel? What if it snows on Halloween? You name it, she was concerned about it. Big sobs, big tears. Big hugs from me, big reassurances from Earl.

Snow in October is an unexpected change, and unexpected changes can be really hard for people with Asperger's. Things that the rest of us would shrug off with an "Oh, well," or an "I can't believe it's snowing!" are disproportionately stressful to some people with Asperger's, or any form of autism spectrum disorder.

Abby has calmed down, now, but it was a good 10 to 15 minutes of weather-induced emotional crisis in our house. Thank goodness it's blown over, for now.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A funky week

I've been in a bit of a funk for the last several days. I claimed I didn't know what was wrong with me, even though I had my suspicions.

I wish I could say that I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and shook off the funk, but instead, I muddled through the first three days of this week, moping around, grudgingly going through the motions, and eating way too much of the wrong things. Eating poorly is counter-productive, and I know it, but I honestly could not seem to help myself. It was bad.

Yesterday, I finally made myself sit down to write a column, which I need to file tomorrow, and confirmed what I'd been suspecting since last week: I really didn't have anything amusing to write about. Life has been chugging along here, and it's been fine, but not all that entertaining. I've been focused on Abby, her changed diagnosis, and how I'm starting to do things differently because of it. It's been very exciting to me, and interesting, but not exactly lighthearted fare for a general audience to read on a Saturday morning.

Finally, I decided on a topic from my running list of column ideas. I forced myself to start it yesterday, and when I went back and looked at it this morning, it was okay, and I was able to finish it. As soon as I completed my draft, my mood lifted, immediately and unmistakeably. Struggling with a little writers' block was really weighing me down.

Not coincidentally, I realized last night I had to reorient myself spiritually, yet again. I'm starting to think it's a constant thing; that I'm not suddenly going to automatically point to true north without continual adjustments on my part. I knew this once; why do I lose sight of it so often now?

At any rate, the column is written, I'm feeling better and more grounded, and I'm not eating poorly today, either. Everything is connected to everything else, even writing, prayer and food.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A good day

The kids had the day off from school today, for a teacher in-service. We needed to take the van to the repair shop first thing, so I was facing a (forecasted) rainy day with three kids and no car. What to do?

For starters, we kept to our normal morning routine. Both Abby and Brian practiced, and Abby, in particular, was really focused and playing very, very well. She was also pointing out to Earl the musical similarities between her current piece and a piece she worked on a few months ago, explaining her dynamics and martelé bowing to me, and playing with excellent tone and mostly excellent intonation. She's blossoming into quite a musician.

Brian got a new piano practice plan; he's thrilled to be working on the B major scale, with its unusual left hand fingering and five whole sharps. He just eats this stuff up. He's playing "Honeybee" hands together with dynamics. "Cuckoo" won't be far off, at this rate.

After our morning routines, the kids miraculously decided to entertain themselves with drawing, coloring and reading independently and to each other. I took care of a few household things, and after lunch, we took a walk down to the auto repair shop, since the van was ready. It's just down the street, and it was good for the four of us to get out of the house for a bit.

Then, back home, the kids watched Martha Speaks, and we worked on our big project for the day: making "monster cookies" -- really just glorified chocolate chip cookies, but colorfully named from Abby's own kids' cookbook. Timmy measured the brown sugar, Abby dealt with the butter, Brian helped with eggs and they all took turns measuring flour. They were all great little helpers and it was a lot of fun. The cookies were pretty good, too.

After the boys' dance class and Abby's choir rehearsal, Abby and I made dinner together. She had chosen a chicken fingers recipe from the same kids' cookbook, and she prepared the crumb topping and breaded the chicken strips. She also helped season the oven fries, and put together a veggie plate, including peeling cucumbers, virtually on her own. It was such a treat to have her so interested, and focused, and connected. Everything turned out pretty well, too.

We had family game night -- a 40-minute cutthroat game of Uno, then snacks and bedtime. Abby was perseverating on tsunamis a bit; Brian brought up the topic (which he called "salamis" but then explained what he meant) and Abby ran with it. I hope she's able to put it out of her mind to get to sleep. She seemed pretty worried when I tucked her in, despite our reassurances.

I'm so grateful to have had such a nice day with the kids. Abby has been in a very good place lately, overall, and that makes life so much easier for everyone. Plus, I feel like I actually have a daughter to relate to, instead of a project to work on. I write that, fully understanding that it sounds cold and distant, but for me, that's how parenting Abby has been for most of the past eight years. This new connectedness is such a revelation, an emotional opening-up, that all I can do is be thankful and enjoy it.

Abby said a very funny thing tonight. We play Uno with a set of cards that have characters from the last Batman movie on it. On one card, there's a clean-cut man dressed in a suit. Abby played that card, looked at it, and said, "He looks like he's going to work!"

I agreed, and she continued, "He's like, 'See ya later Batman, I'm going to work!'"

I agreed again. And then, the clincher: "He's like Dad but with a different head!"

We all cracked up, and Abby joined in the laughter. I don't know if she meant to be funny, but she was, and she enjoyed it, too.

I wish I could lock up all this connectedness and ease and laughter and get it out again when I really need it, the next time Abby goes through a tough time. Like the next extended school vacation, or next summer. Her connectedness and disposition and entire demeanor has improved tremendously since she started school little more than a month ago. It's amazing how the structured environment of school just helps her so, so much.

What I would give to have her so connected and together, year-round.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A little movement

Today was busy enough that I didn't really have time to sit around and wonder why I was just sitting around.

I started off by sleeping 90 minutes later than I usually do, which I needed. Then, of course, I got up when the kids got up, so I had to be Mommy immediately, instead of easing into it with my alone time, as is my habit. But, as I said, I needed the extra sleep, and I fully understood the trade-off when I turned off the alarm clock the third time it beeped at me this morning.

After morning routines, including practicing with Abby and Brian and taking them to school, then bringing them home so Abby could get her backpack, and bringing them back to school, I was off to the Y and grocery shopping in the morning, then stopped by church to pick up Abby's religious education materials. There are no volunteers to teach third grade CCD on Sunday mornings this year, so we're homeschooling her for this. Despite it being another thing to do, I'm looking forward to it. It could be a great opportunity to connect with her in another way, yet with enough structure that she could stay focused and enjoy it. That's what I'm hoping, anyway.

Then, home to quickly put away the food that needed to be refrigerated, and then Earl and I took off for the meeting with Abby's therapist. It was a good meeting; we brainstormed ideas on how to "backfill" her leisure skills so she has some activities to fall back on socially as she gets older. We also discussed talking with Abby about her diagnosis, and the therapist asked me what I was afraid I was going to say wrong.

(Wait a minute...I thought she was Abby's therapist.)

I explained to her that I just wanted to be sure that she and we were on the same page regarding terminology and timing. She shared with us two books we can use, which I need to review before I either show them to Abby or write about them here. They look promising, though.

Abby's therapist also explained to us that Abby will probably have some feelings around the diagnosis, like anger, grief, confusion...not unlike what we had when we got her initial diagnosis of PDD-NOS four years ago. And, to be honest, not unlike what we still feel from time to time today. She encouraged us to sit with Abby in her feelings and to help her celebrate her strengths -- her musical talent, her incredible memory, her reading skills, her growing ability to adapt to changes in her life.

As I said, it was a good meeting.

Then, it was the afternoon whirlwind of putting away groceries, getting ready to teach, and teaching, and then the evening whirlwind of dinner, showers, review homework, snack and bedtime.

The house is quiet now; Earl is downstairs watching the Red Sox in the playoffs, and the kids are sleeping. It's the first time I've had to sit and think about the day.

I like being busy and feeling productive. But, as my friend, Naomi, and my sister-in-law, Jen, pointed out in their comments on yesterday's post, sometimes not being busy is good, too.

The idea of stillness, of inner silence instead of inner chatter, is something I've been doing a little thinking about, in particular. Earl has lately been visiting Glastonbury Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Hingham. He bought a book, entitled Finding Sanctuary, about applying monastic principles to one's own life, which he read, and gave to me to read, too.

I've just started reading it, and am not quite sure what I think of it yet. I mean, I love the ideas; of laying down silence as the floor of one's sanctuary; of finding time to be silent on the inside as well as on the outside. Of eliminating needless chatter. Of pulling up the weeds of unnecessary distraction and creating the time and space to allow the flowers of God's whisperings to grow.

But liking the ideas, even understanding the ideas and agreeing that they're good ones, is not the same as actually putting them into practice. I want to grow spiritually, but right now it feels like another thing on the to-do list, and something that I feel like I can't take on.

And yet, perhaps if I made a little time for what is really important, it could help me to see more clearly the other things in my life, not all of which, let's face it, are really that important.

I pride myself in my ability to plan, to organize, to carry out. But all that puts me squarely in the center of my own little universe, where I believe I can control things. And life doesn't always work like that, to my chagrin.

Maybe five minutes of "be still and know" could help me loosen my grip on the controls, and to be comfortable with it, in time.

God lives in the hard places, I think.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I'm typically in motion, either physically or, more often, mentally. I'm teaching, or writing, or mommying, or FLYing, or planning my next move for any of those things. I do take breaks, of course, but rare is the time when I just exist. I often feel guilty if I'm not being productive in one way or another.

But this week, I've hardly been moving at all. I have exercised, of course, and taught, and written, and mommied and even FLYed, a little. But I've also done a lot of just sitting around. I haven't even been making my famous to-do lists, and when I have, I have been ignoring most of the entries. The guilt is piling up, along with the tasks on the lists, and I don't seem to be able to make myself do anything.

Yes, I'm consumed with Abby's issues right now, between attending the AANE conference last week, and tomorrow's meeting with her therapist to discuss how we're going to talk with her about her Asperger's diagnosis. But it's not like I'm doing extensive research, or preparation, or anything particularly constructive about it.

I feel like I'm waiting, and I don't know what I'm waiting for.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Just call me the little mermaid

I've gone swimming twice in the past three days. I'd forgotten how much I love it.

A couple of friends from college days, with whom I've reconnected on Facebook, swim a lot, and it must have been all their status updates that got me thinking. About a month ago I decided that I should get a bathing suit that I could use for real swimming, not my BJ's $20 tankini with too-long straps that fall off my shoulders all the time. After hemming and hawing and searching online for a suitable suit with free shipping, I bit the bullet, paid the lousy $5 shipping and got a wonderful x-back tank from Land's End. It's not as streamlined as a racerback, but it works, fits and stays on my shoulders, which is important for all sorts of reasons.

On Saturday, when the kids were in their swimming lessons, I ducked out to the member services desk at the Y and bought a swim cap and some goggles. I changed super-quickly into my new suit and managed to squeeze in a few laps before it was time to collect the kids after their lessons. Feeling refreshed, buoyant and powerful, I resolved that I'd swim every Saturday.

And then I got thinking...why not stop by during the week for a few laps? It's not like I have the swimming technique, the stamina, or the time to spend an hour in the pool or anything, but why not jump in and do a little bit after lifting weights? It's a little more exercise (and every little bit helps) and it makes me happy. Why not?

So today, I was a whirling dervish in the Nautilus room, trying to get all my machines done so I'd have time to swim a little before having to pick up Timmy from preschool. I whirled myself into the pool area, discovered 3 lap lanes open (and one of them EMPTY), swirled into the locker room and tore back out of there 2 minutes later in full lap-swimming gear, including earplugs this time. I found a safe perch for my glasses, put on my goggles and gingerly stepped down the ladder, relieved that the pool was much, much warmer than the ocean at Nantasket (and even warmer than the other pool on Saturday.)

I set off in my inelegant front crawl, which I taught myself to do in grad school when I first discovered fitness swimming. As usual, swimming into the deep end freaked me out; there's something about seeing the lane-marker stripe go down, down, down that just gives me the willies a bit. (Strangely, it didn't bother me in the other pool on Saturday. Maybe because that pool is much newer, and doesn't look like it would like to swallow me up for lunch.)

Soon, however, I was concentrating on breathing air, not water, and didn't have time to think about the menacing stripe too much. All told, I only did 5 laps, with some resting in between laps. I think I could have swum longer, but I had to whirl myself into the locker room (leaving quite the array of puddles, I'm sad to admit) and into my dry clothes and get back to Milton to pick up Timmy. I was only 4 minutes late. Next time I'll have to allow myself more time, and not stop at the bank on the way to the Y. I think I'll try again on Thursday.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

To the edge of disclosure

Abby and I were sitting at the dining room table on Sunday afternoon. She was getting a headstart on her homework for the week, and I was having my afternoon coffee and skimming the Boston Sunday Globe magazine. I turned the page to Connecting the Dots, a piece about an adult's discovery at age 41 that he had Asperger Syndrome. I skimmed the subheading and let out a little "huh."

"What, 'huh,'?" Abby asked.

I hesitated. Explaining Abby's diagnosis to her is on my agenda for this year, in conjunction with her therapist. While we all think it's time she started to understand it, we haven't really discussed the approach we'll take. I want to tell her but I want to do it the right way, and I'm not sure what that is.

Abby was looking at me. Sometimes her radar is very acute.

"There's an interesting-looking article here," I said.

"What's it about?" she asked.

"The man who wrote it just found out that he has something called Asperger Syndrome," I said.

"What's that?"

"It's a difference he has, in the way his brain works," I said.

"Is he going to die?" she asked, worried.

"No, no no," I reassured her. "It's not a disease. It's just a difference in the way his brain works. It makes it harder for him to make and keep friends."

She thought about that. "Do we know anyone who has it?"

"Well, do you remember Mommy's friend Erik, who came over for dinner a couple of years ago when Kathleen and her family were here?"

"Yes," she said. Of course she remembered. Abby never forgets anything.

"Well, he didn't have a doctor tell him, but he was pretty sure he had Asperger's, and I thought so, too," I said.

"Is he still alive?" she asked, worried again.

I took a deep breath. "Sadly, no," I said, "but he died in an accident. It wasn't the Asperger's."

"Do we know anyone else?" Abby persisted.

"Well, not exactly, but Asperger's is a kind of autism, and you do know someone with autism."

"Who?" she asked.

"Your friend P," I said.

"How do you know he has it?" she asked.

"His mom told me," I said.

"How does she know?" Abby asked.

"P's doctor told her," I explained. "And he also does some things that people with autism sometimes do."

"Like what?"

"He asks a lot of questions, he says the same things over and over, and sometimes he talks too loud. He's very smart but he has trouble looking at people sometimes, and he needs work on his friendship skills."

I was generalizing; I haven't noticed P's trouble with eye contact -- perhaps because eye contact is an issue in my own family -- and I really don't know about his friendship skills, but that terminology is something that Abby's therapist uses with her.

Abby thought about that for a minute. "Does anyone in our family have autism?"

"No," I said, choosing to interpret her question narrowly. "No one in our family has autism like P."

She didn't react with any sort of emotion. I thought she might be relieved, or disappointed, but she just took it all in.

"Can you help me find this word?" she asked, showing me her phonics word search.

"Sure," I said.

We have to tell Abby about her diagnosis, and soon. She notices differences between herself and her friends, and just last week, a girl in her class told Earl at drop-off time that a boy calls Abby a "weird girl." The sooner Abby can own the Asperger's, and therefore we can take a more direct approach to helping her succeed with it, the better.

I'm going to call her therapist today. This can't wait.

Friday, October 2, 2009

AANE conference and reflections

I attended day one of the Asperger's Association of New England conference today in Boston. The speaker was Kari Dunn Buron, author of The Incredible 5-Point Scale. She had a lot of good things to say about Asperger's, about anxiety, and, in particular, about social cognition as a part of human development that is missing or impaired in people with ASDs.

Much of Buron's morning presentation was derived from the research of Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge University in England. He is at the forefront of social cognition research, and coined the term "mindblindness" to explain the delayed development of theory of mind, which, simplistically defined, is the ability to take another person's perspective.

(It has always struck me as odd that Simon Baron-Cohen and Sacha Baron-Cohen could be related, yet they are. Cousins, to be exact. Theory of mind and Borat, from the same family. Wild.)

Back to the conference: this wasn't my first exposure to the 5-point scale. My dear friend, Kathleen, introduced it to me a couple of years ago, when I wasn't really ready to do anything with it. Then Abby's therapist used a similar tool last year, but it seemed kind of complicated, and I didn't really understand it.

Now I understand it better. It's a way of systematically teaching social and emotional concepts. Typically developing people generally absorb social and emotional knowledge from infancy. Generally, people with ASDs don't. Furthermore, people with ASDs generally learn best from a systemized, logical, rules-based approach. The 5-point scale applies this approach to social and emotional learning, making the unwritten "rules" of social interaction more manageable and easier to understand, and therefore, to learn.

I need to reflect and talk with Abby's therapist on how to use the scale at home for Abby, perhaps with regard to improving her willingness to do homework or around her difficulties with changes in routine.

Another thing I learned from going to this conference today is that I am profoundly grateful that I don't have to go into Boston for work. I used to do it every day, and tonight, at the end of the day, I had that old familiar feeling of my ears ringing and my eyes bugging out and my scalp feeling like it needed to stretch to make room for the buzzing discomfort inside my head.

People familiar with ASDs and Asperger's in particular will undoubtedly see the irony in my description of sensory overload, an issue that many people with ASDs struggle with. But seriously -- so many people on the trains, so close, with so much music spilling out from so many earbuds, the fluorescent lights, the squeaks as the trains went down the tracks, the jostling and going around curves -- the whole experience just overloaded me, not to the point of meltdown, but definitely past the point of comfort. I am so thankful that I work mostly from home. Not to offend people who rely on public transportation, but I found the entire experience dehumanizing.

In general, I am a huge fan of the concept of public transportation. I'm just grateful I don't have to commute anywhere.

East, west, (working from) home is best.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Lazy day

Well, it's actually not all that lazy. Just not hyper-productive. Cloudy and chilly, only one tiny deadline looming, nothing to panic about. I need to get ready to teach in a little while. A longish afternoon coming up.

Allowing myself to fantasize a little...what I'd really like to do is put on cozy pajamas and crawl into my bed and take a nap. After a couple hours of that, I'd like to get up and eat some warm cookies from the oven, maybe with a cup of tea. Then maybe back under the covers for some reading or more snoozing. Maybe a movie on TV later, then back to bed for real.

I must be ideal day would be spent in bed.

Instead of my fantasy afternoon, I'm going to finish this blog post, take a shower before my babysitter comes, teach five music lessons, put a supper together for everyone, and get ready for my conference tomorrow. Also will have to meet that tiny deadline tonight, as I'll be out all day tomorrow. And then, by gum, I'm going to put on cozy pajamas and crawl under the covers.