Sunday, March 29, 2009

Defying definition.

I wanted to sit down and write so many times this week. But, it seemed that every time I did try to sit down at the computer, someone needed something. Sometimes, I feel like the human snack dispensing "Queen of need fulfilment", without any power...or a crown..though I could probably pick one up at Walmart...Hold on a second, I have to get a yogurt and a banana, and cookies for Oscar, Sammy's markers from off of the fridge, put Lily to bed, and walk the dogs. Now, where was I...

At first, I thought I was going to comment on the campaign to get rid of the "R" word. I had a lot to say about promoting respectful language for everyone. That, changing a word doesn't necessarily change attitudes. I had examples, charts, graphs... a guest speaker.(not really)..but then, Sammy needed more paper...and the cat needed to be fed...By the time I sat back down again, I lost my train of thought..

So many things have happened recently, there is much to discuss. There was President Obama's gaffe on"The Tonight Show". He compared his bowling to that of someone in the special Olympics...which brings me back to the "R" word campaign. If we are going to get rid of the "R" word-then we also have to do something about the word "special". We have "special ed", the "special bus", "special needs" and of course the "special Olympics". If you were to ask someone just exactly what the word "special" meant in any of the above phrases, more than likely you would be told...retarded. "Special", by definition, means "distinguished by some unusual quality" or "held in particular esteem". If that were truly the case, then president Obama's comment should have been construed as bragging. But, since he did call Tim Shriver, head of the "special Olympics" to apologize ...I guess that isn't so. How did the word "special", become less than ...special-and why? Have we ever held people with developmental disabilities in particular esteem? If the "Special Olympics" are so special, why aren't they televised-in prime-time? This in turn led me to think of other words whose meanings serve a dual purpose. The word "gay" has two very different definitions. Either "Happily excited/merry" or "homosexual." So I guess that would mean that prop 8 in California could make a gay person.. not so gay? Hey Mormon church, mission accomplished?! I mean absolutely no disrespect to any person ..I'm just trying to make a point. Focusing on one word to define similar traits among many people in order to group them together, is a dangerous thing..

I decided to look up the definition for the word "autism". Which, according to Websters dictionary, is "a variable developmental disorder that appears by age three and is characterized by impairment of the ability to form normal social relationships, by impairment of the ability to communicate with others, and by stereotypical behavior patterns" Does the above definition describe my boys? Yes, to an extent...they are both so different. However, autism does not define THEM, nor does "special" or any other phrase that may be tossed around. Which is why I don't use those words with my kids. Besides, I was lambasted a few months ago by someone who decided that my kids didn't have "real" autism. I asked him if he thought they were faking it...he had no answer. "Real "autism. IS there a definition? Some magical word or phrase that defines a person with autism as a whole? I don't think so. I look at my kids, all of them. Each are unique, individual, with their own set of needs. Special in the real sense of the word.

My question is this...Is there any word that defines any of us as a whole? Is it even necessary to have one? I know that I wouldn't want to be defined by words like "retarded, or "special" or even "autistic"...Nor do I want to be called "fat ass , lazy, ugly( sorry, I mean "buttocks enhanced", "motivation challenged," and "handsome") or any other such word that in turn suggest that I am somehow less, or second class. It is 2009, and we are still using the "R" word, and the "N" word and many other consonants that seperate us from the one thing we have in common. Humanity. Unfortunately, To quote George Orwell in Animal Farm, "All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

If you give a baby a baby...

I walked in to my daughters room today and witnessed a scene worthy of a C.S.I. investigation. "Dog walking Barbie" and plain old "Barbie" were sprawled naked on the floor. Their arms and legs akimbo, their heads twisted in unnatural positions . Their faces locked in masks of perpetual happiness, actually the faces looked like they always do-but it was creepy!..Poor Barbie's! What had they done to deserve this? Who was responsible for this macabre display? Sigh. This isn't the first time I've run into similar "crime scenes". There have been others. Dolls found stuffed head first into couches, floating face down in the bathtub, sprawled naked on a cold floor. The more I think about it, the more I wonder, just what kind of example am I setting as a mother?

My daughter begged for a baby doll at Christmas. One that she could change and feed-a baby of her very own. I was surprised by this request. She had never shown an interest in dolls before. In fact, the only other time she was given a doll(for her first birthday) she screamed and threw it across the room, never to touch it again. I thought that her change of heart may have to do with going to school. She had only her brothers as playmates before now. And, as she was starting to interact with little girls -I thought her interests might be changing. Santa brought her some Barbies and a baby, whom she promptly named "ponytail". For two days she played with her. Changing her, feeding her, carrying her everywhere. Although I was surprised at her behavior, I didn't comment on it. It turned out to be a short lived phase. Three nights after ponytail came to live with us...I found her naked in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. I questioned my girl about it the next morning. "Lily, you left ponytail naked and on the floor last night. What happened?" Lily looked at me and said" That's o.k. mama, she's just practicing crawling" It is now three months later, and ponytail still hasn't moved. I guess she's still practicing.

This is not the only time that I've witnessed doll neglect by my kids. During both of my boys evaluations, they were given a doll and toy food to play with. Sammy just threw some "food" over to the baby(he was more interested in the other toys) and Oscar glanced at the food and the doll and let them both slowly drop from his hands,with a look that said "I'm just going to pretend I didn't see them". On both occasions, it was commented on that neither of them showed any inclination towards feeding or holding the dolls.That they had no interest in nurturing. It was implied that their lack of participation could be a problem.(What would they think of Lily!) Apparently, the boys should have been attempting to model my behavior. Or, perhaps they were..? "No", I assured the observers, "I don't throw their food on the floor-they do" Although, now that I think about it, I probably should have. More food wound up on the floor at mealtimes than in their mouths-it would have saved on clean up time.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe that modeling good behavior is important. Children do learn by example. I frequently see myself or Omar in the kids facial expressions, gestures and language. Sometimes though, they come up with things all on their own.. Zoe, my youngest, loves opening our front door to greet the school bus-stark naked. She also enjoys standing on top of the nine foot snowbanks in our driveway, dropping her pants to her ankles, and dancing. I can't tell you why she does these things. They are certainly not modeled after anything I have done. (I'm such a prude, I was born clothed) I can only hope that she out grows this by the time she is sixteen.

So now, when I happen upon abused Barbies and the like, I take it with a grain of salt. My kids just aren't that interested in playing with dolls. At least not in the way they are supposedly meant to be played with. The care and feeding of little ones is a huge responsibility. When and if the time comes, I hope they are ready for it. Until then, I'll live with the unpredictability of what I may find in their bedrooms. I will continue trying to set a good example , model loving behavior and hope that one day they will ALL keep their clothes on.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bleacher wail..

March in New England brings melting snow, the desperate hope of spring and the youth basketball season to our little town. Every Saturday, parents of eight to twelve year olds gather in the school gymnasium to watch their children compete. This is my son Sammy's second year playing on a team. The games are short enough for him to keep focus (about twenty five minutes) and he enjoys being with the other kids. Every Saturday morning, I gather up the herd, and we make our way over to watch that weeks game.

My other three kids love going to Saturday basketball. For one reason. The bleachers. Those gigantic wooden structures, that unfold from the walls of the gymnasium, creating instant seating for a hundred or so people. I hate them. The person who invented these anxiety causing monstrosities, was definitely not a parent. What mother in her right mind would design something that rises fifty feet in the air with seating resembling an enormous staircase, WITH NO RAILINGS?! What is the FIRST thing that any kid wants to do when they see them?... Run to the top.... And then back down, fifty thousand times. My kids can be particularly creative. Simply running up and down is boring to them. No, they need to challenge the laws of gravity, to laugh in the face of age their mother. They will run up sideways and come down backwards, they will go up sitting and come down sliding. They will hop and twirl and play balance beam. They will come down backwards hopping on one foot with their eyes closed,while reciting the alphabet.They will do all this without regard to life, limb, or their mothers mental health. There is so much tension in the gym on Saturday mornings, and none of it is from the basketball being played.

I try to keep track of the game. I am there to support my son. It is just so difficult to both watch a game and keep your children from killing themselves. On the court, the boys, all attired in baggy shorts, run back and forth-all elbows and knees. Sammy gets the ball and immediately passes it to another player. This is a big improvement from last year. Back then, if he got the ball, he would giggle uncontrollably. Or, if he saw a friend on the opposing team, he would drop the ball in order to give him a hug. This year, he is much more focused. He passes the ball with intent...he picks a player to guard, and jumps up and down in front of him frantically waving his arms. Someone shouts "way to go Sammy!" My boy is appreciated.( There are definite attributes to living in a small town.) I on the other hand am twisting and turning, trying to watch the game AND catch any of my kids should they take a misstep.I am NOT poetry in motion. I am more like a bizarre contortionist who lacks direction. One eye on the game, and the other tracking the antics of three very creative acrobats. I think about covering them all in pillows-or at least duct taping them next to me.When, finally,the buzzer goes off. The game is over. There is no winner, they don't keep score. But, I feel like a champion. All of my children are walking out of the gym alive. We have survived another Saturday basketball game.

We are all quiet on the way home. They all played hard,and they are tired. I am exhausted. Seven more days until the next game. I wonder if it is wrong to pray for a snowstorm.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

dancing at wits end

It's 5:30 a.m. on Monday morning. My husbands alarm clock finally stopped going off at fifteen minute intervals , I am about to drift into a deep sleep, when MY alarm clock starts ringing. I drag myself out of bed, stumble down the stairs and pour a cup of coffee. Lukewarm coffee. Because my husband lovingly poured it from the coffee maker into the carafe in order to keep it hot for me. Only, he didn't screw the lid on correctly-so now it is closer to cold than warm. I glance out the window-and to my absolute horror, at least two feet of snow has fallen...and is still falling. For the love of god-it is going to be ANOTHER snow day-the kids WON'T have school. It is now 5:45 a.m. Monday morning and already the week has been too long.

I think about going back to bed...and just as I begin to make my way up the stairs, I hear the herd starting to wake up..Which is remarkable, for had this been a regular school day, I would need to prod, poke, pull and threaten them out of bed. It never fails...if it is the weekend, a holiday, or any other day in which there is no reason to wake up early-they are up at the crack of dawn. I wonder if there is some unwritten rule or code. A law that tells children "Thou shalt not let thy parents sleep late." If I do by chance, try and go back to sleep, they will tip toe (like a pack of elephants) into my room, stand next to my bed, and argue about whether or not I am awake...They think that they are whispering...but a whisper to them is one decibel below shouting. Sammy, will try and make everyone be quiet."Shh, mama is sleeping!!...Oscar, will get anxious saying"Oh no we are waking up mama!!"...Lily will tell Zoe that she is a baby and needs to go back to sleep...Zoe will scream(her face two inches from mine-she is checking whether or not my eyes are open)...I will pop up from the bed saying "Why are you all shouting?!!" to which they will reply.."Mama's awake!"Can we eat...I can't find my socks...Zoe pushed me...Sammy told me I had to go to bed...I did not!"...this will follow me to the my coffee..until I can actually quiet them with breakfast..

I get dressed and quickly walk the dogs. I am hoping to get a workout in. Working out with four kids at home is an adventure. If I ever meet Jillian Michael's, I will ask her how many extra calories this burns. In addition to following the workout routine, I chase my three year old who runs off with my weights, do push ups with a five year old (and various stuffed animals) on my back...have a ten year old who is all elbows and knees( with the coordination of a headless chicken) trying to mimic what I am doing and all the while I am asking my eight year old to "Please stop hopping up and down in front of the television". It takes roughly 2 hours to get through this 45 minute then it is lunch time..and my kids are hungry...they behave as though they hadn't been fed in months...I also notice that none of them have gotten dressed...with the exception of my three year old who is walking around in just one sock...this is her idea of a fashion statement.

I give them lunch and quickly walk the dogs(again). I make a pot of coffee and avidly watch the weather report-dear god let there be school tomorrow! As I try to drink a cup of hot kids all clamor that they are bored and want to go outside and play in the snow. Four pairs of snow, coats..hats, gloves and 30 minutes later they are outside..As I look longingly at my coffee pot my oldest comes to tell me that the snow plow guy has pushed all of the snow in front of the garage(I now look longingly at the wine bottle)...On go my own snow pants, hat, gloves and coat..I trudge towards the garage ready to do battle with the 5 feet of snow blocking the door...when my three year old has to go to the bathroom. Into the house we come the hat,coat, mittens, snow pants and into the bathroom she goes...and out she comes...on go the snow pants, hat, coat and mittens...out the door we go when..."mama, I'm cold, I want to go in..." followed by a chorus of "me toos"..I plead- "Doesn't anyone want to help me shovel the snow?""Come on! It will be fun!"(I try to look enthusiastic) They look at me as if I have lost my mind. They do however agree to "help". Help consists of my ten year old shoveling the snow that I have moved- back to where it was, my eight year old rolling in the snow I am shoveling,my five year old lying in the snow complaining that her legs are tired, and my three year old repeatedly needing her mittens put back on. Three hours, two snack breaks, and one snowman later, it is done.

We go back into the house where I settle the herd in front of the t.v. with hot chocolate and even more snacks. I walk and feed the dogs. I clean up the kitchen and put a load of laundry in.
Finally, I pour myself a big cup of coffee and think about sitting down with a book. When my oldest comes in and hugs me saying "I love you mama"..I hug him back saying "I love you too buddy."He pulls away, looks at me and says "whats for dinner? I'm starving."

I have a few options...I can cry...I can drink coffee and cry..or I can turn on music...I put on The Black Eyed Peas "Pump It" crank up the volume and watch as my kids start to dance..I see no other choice but to join them. It has stopped snowing, there will be school tomorrow. I dance all the way to the kitchen.