Skip the ammo, pass the Nyquil!

So Little Miss is home sick. She’s finally learned to share–though the sharing of germs was not really what I had in mind at the time of that lesson. Yes, that means I’m home too, hacking up a lung. She doesn’t seem nearly as sick as me, but that doesn’t reassure me much.

I don’t know about other kids with autism, but Little Miss is  particularly oblivious to sickness. She very seldom indicates that something hurts, even if I’ve seen her fall. It may hearken back to the early days when she would just be ‘somewhere else’ every time she didn’t want to deal with whatever was going on in front of her. Her pain threshold may be different than everyone else’s–last fall she got a nasty case of plantar’s warts and sat and watched as the doctor scraped off the remains without any anesthesia. Didn’t seem to hurt her a bit. The doctor was amazed, but then she has a kid on the spectrum too. So I think she was more interested in understanding why.

Apparently Fate believes Little Miss has enough challenges and doesn’t inflict passing viruses on her often. So we’re grateful. The consequence though is that sometimes I don’t realize something’s wrong with her when she is sick. I’ll never forget the day I ended up at the doctor’s office because she suddenly spiked a 104.5 degree temperature. Turned out she had a major strep throat that must have hurt like hell, but she never said a word. The doctors looked at me like I was the worst mother ever.

After 8 years, I’m finally starting to detect non-verbal signs of something not quite right. Her behavior and focus diminish when she’s not well. She doesn’t listen, as if she’s elsewhere. Alternatively, sensory events that she’s been able to handle for a long time will set her off. But none of these are guaranteed. She’s also becoming more verbal and I’ve tried to explain that if she hurts or doesn’t feel good, she should say something.

I’m still wondering if I should buy a mini-doctor’s kit to be able to check her ears and throat every so often, just to be sure. The doctor’s comment was “No, no, that’s not necessary. By the time it gets bad enough she has to have treatment, it will be obvious.”

Somehow, that’s not so reassuring.

Meantime, please pass the tissues and the cough drops. Enough to share. Thanks.

Timing is everything

Donald Trump had it wrong: it’s not about location. It’s all about timing.

Opportunities are laid before us every day. Many we ignore because our eyes are focused elsewhere. Others are impossible at that particular moment because of where we live, our families, our other choices. From the first decision we make as a child, each new road cuts off all the others. We move forward.

This meditation is sparked by a recent weekend in Pittsburgh. I found myself drawn to an alternate lifestyle, mysterious, rich and attractive: what I call the “Sex and the City” world. I don’t mean the bed-hopping, money-dropping glamour of the women on that TV program, but the luxury of being able to meet girlfriends at 5:30 for drinks, or a visit with your laptop to the coffee shop at 10 p.m. to compose something marvelous over a latte macchiato. Or being able to sleep undisturbed on a Sunday afternoon just because you have nothing pressing and you want to. Or dressing in a chic suit with matching accessories every day, looking fabulous from a routine at the upscale gym.

In our rural town, there isn’t much to do of an evening, so it isn’t a great sacrifice to stay home, tending to the family. But the city lights reveal a whole different level of civilization–and freedom–that other women enjoy. It pained my heart. For a minute.

I suppose I could have that life, if I wanted to, leave the family and move to the city. Other women do that, when they’ve had enough. That’s not me, though. The time’s not right. I’ve taken on responsibilities for these children and this man that I intend to fulfill.

At nearly every moment in my life when the time would have been right to choose that exciting alternate lifestyle–and there have been many–I chose motherhood. With three birth-children, three adopted children, four step-children, even a couple of exchange students over the years, I’ve gotten good at it, the earlier ones unwitting preparation for the challenges of these last with special issues. I still have the occasional compulsion to take in more, working as I do now on the outskirts of the foster care system. But I think I’ve finally kicked that urge. I hope.

Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said, “Creating a warm, caring, supportive, encouraging environment is probably the most important thing you can do for your family.”

So the pretty city lights, the twilight tapas and wine, and the silk scarves go to other women in other lives. My life is spent with a husband and children who delight and confound me, who fill my days with unexpected complications and occasional joy. Perhaps that alternate existence awaits me next lifetime. I’d prefer to think I’ve succeeded brilliantly there already, my reward the fullness of THIS mother’s life.

How many ends does that candle have??

“It’s better to burn out than it is to rust.”

These words, attributed to Neil Young, embody my usual philosophy. There isn’t much time– fill as many minutes as you can with usefulness. I’ve driven several family members mad with my need to be constantly “doing.” Personally, I don’t see this as a flaw. It’s why I’m a lawyer, a parent, a quilter, a writer, a musician, an artist….The list goes on. Several of those titles are full-time occupations in and of themselves, but I cheerfully try to shove them all into 24-hour periods with sleep–sometimes–as a bonus.

Which brings us to the issue of burn-out.

Every few years, I have to confront the feeling that I just can’t stand X any more, X being varied subjects, depending on the day. Over the last seven years, it’s often been trying to learn about and deal with the needs of our special kids. We have no family within five states, so we’re it. Fortunately, we’re a couple that pull together when dealing with this issue instead of falling apart like so many others do. I may finally have a handle on them, though, thanks to an excellent BSC (yes, you, Heather!) who showed us how working with our instincts was REALLY the right way.

Now the emphasis of frustration has changed to the work. The more time I spend writing, which gives me a wonderful creative boost and rush, the more I realize I’ve lost that same quality in my law practice. Most days I dread even stepping in the office door or answering the phone.

Many of my colleagues would point out family law is a difficult specialty, one steeped in personal involvement with people living in hell. They aren’t at their best–who could expect them to be? They are demanding and afraid and needy, very needy. My stationery reads ‘Counselor at Law,’ instead of attorney, mostly because I often do double duty. The big successes are far between. It’s not like real estate law, where someone wants to sell their house, someone wants to buy it and everyone leaves the transaction happy. In family law, more often, everyone loses and occasionally there are some trimmings left for the kids.

After 21 years of it…it’s starting to get old. I wonder how much more I have to give, at least in this form.

I’m certainly not alone. Burnout is a way of life in America, all of us pressured to do more and more, faster and faster, with less satisfaction than ever before. Stress is a national disease, as shown by the rising sales of prescription medication and self-medication. Can you afford to let either catch up with you?

Try this test for burnout: http://www.mindtools.com/stress/Brn/BurnoutSelfTest.htm

If you see you could use some help, here’s a site with some suggestions to help catch burn-out before it hurts you: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/burnout_signs_symptoms.htm

There are many more. Check them out. Take care of yourself. You deserve it.

The Things We Celebrate

Not so long ago, my daughter came home from school with a stern note from her teacher: she’d kicked a boy in the crotch in the lunch line.

We were ecstatic.

(I can hear all the parents out there cringe. Literally.)

Let me explain. The important part of the story is WHY Little Miss found it necessary to kick this boy. She did it because he was picking on her friend, a boy smaller and younger than they are, and she was defending him.

For your average student, this may not be surprising. For a child with autism to have that much empathy and take action on someone else’s behalf– amazing. Another major step in her emotional recovery.

So we gave her the standard company line on the inappropriateness of kicking her classmates. Then later we all cheered quietly. A lot.

Authors Unite!

You may notice a new feature on the blog today: The Polka Dot Banner (PDB). No, this is not a nostalgic reminder of all those cute little dresses we all wore back in the day. It’s a group of authors banding together to promote their work.

The site’s founder, Jamie Saloff, author of Transformational Healing, acknowledges that one of the fundamental changes in the book publishing business these days is the expectation that authors will contribute to their own marketing and sales. The PDB offers authors an easy chance to connect with readers and also to manage marketing by making contacts for workshops, signings and more right through the website.

Many agents and publishers ask whether an author has an Internet presence, and that becomes a crucial connection with the market. For those who don’t yet have their own site, the PDB can be a place where your book and contact information is available to millions of potential readers. The basic author subscription is for FREE, but very reasonably priced levels are available if you want more than just a basic listing. If you have no time to fuss and have another site already, they’ll do the work for you, transfer the data, etc., with the right option package.

Better yet, you don’t already have to have a published book to join up! Jamie has created a special category called Book Friends. Book Friends have an inside track to talk to the authors, can post in the forums and discuss their favorite books, and are eligible each month for free prizes and giveaways like gift certificates to Amazon.com. It’s a win-win for everyone.

The process is so easy–I signed up last night in less than 15 minutes. Here I am!

http://tinyurl.com/36l7kq

Payment is through Paypal; a real piece of cake. Authors get a fabulous newsletter with tips on how to help promote your book, and the comfort of knowing that every time someone hits the PDB site, it may mean someone looks at your precious baby. PDB even lets you list a direct link to your publisher, Barnes and Noble, Amazon and other booksellers so if someone likes what they see, they can buy it. Right then.

Jamie has a goal of 100,000 hits to the site by the end of January, and she says they’re on track. I’m just encouraged that there are authors interested in helping each other be successful. If one wins, we all win. Come by, bring some coffee and put your feet up for awhile. You’ll find something you like.

Oh, ABC, Is That Really Necessary?

I have to admit I was disappointed to watch Boston Legal last night and see Christian Clemenson as Jerry “Hands” Espenson break into a bunch of tics.

I’ve seen this character in several episodes, and I was interested to watch how network writers would deal with the adventure that is Asperger’s Syndrome. His struggle with relationships seems accurate and understandable. His lack of impulse control–ditto. I’m not sure you can excuse threatening someone with a knife because of this particular diagnosis, but then watching my son, now 12, in his most sociopathic moments, sometimes I hope we’ll be able to.

Jerry is thoroughly aware of his tics, and he seems concerned about their impact on the other people he deals with, and makes the effort to control them. This certainly hasn’t been our experience, from head-jerking, to intense licking of the lips, to a range of noises. I wish it was.

Overall, though, I almost get the feeling the writers felt they had to one-up the Asperger’s because it wasn’t amusing enough. The sorts of tics (running in a circle in the courtroom after presenting to the judge, for example) we saw were bizarre. To balance this, of course, was Jerry’s adorable colleague, who’d burst into sympathy tics so he didn’t feel so out of place.

Comparing this to other impaired characters on television, I’d prefer the example of Adrian Monk. Even though he does odd things as part of his OCD, they seem very much more in character and not so calculated for laughs.

What do you think?

What makes a marriage?

A friend of mine recently decided in order to preserve her marriage, she needed to leave the marital home. She and her husband now live in two homes in the same city, while they work through counselors to cure the issues that separated them. So they see each other a couple times a week and share joint activities with their children.

Sounds like dating to me.

I know other families where one of the spouses works 60 or more hours a week to keep the bills paid, sometimes in town, sometimes out on the road, leaving the other to stay home and handle the domestic situation all alone.

Sounds like single parenthood to me.

There are even a few families I know in the “Leave it to Beaver” mode, where mom and dad cooperate to work and raise the family together.

Sounds like a pipe dream to most people–I know.

I didn’t grow up in a family like that, at least for not more than a year or two at a time. When my parents were still together, for a few years anyway, and then with my one step-mother for about another 18 months, there were two parents, each contributing and caring for the children. It wasn’t always 50-50 for each category, but it was cooperative.

My office files are filled with the broken dreams of those who hoped to achieve that goal, but found their relationships wanting. Many tried to work and compromise to produce a successful marriage, but because of some outside influence–alcohol, drugs, a paramour– they couldn’t keep it up. Some found that after years went by, that early shine on their mate that they’d found attractive had worn thin, like the veneer on a well-used coffee table. Others realized too late that they’d married for the wrong reasons and could never make it work.

So what does it take?

I’m probably no expert (though I’ve taken the plunge three times). There are some common themes: mutual respect, tolerance and a commitment to endure. The first shows you have the ability to trust the other person with the joint aspects of your life, including the children, the finances and your own insecurities. The second demonstrates the willingness to accept that neither of you are perfect–will never be–but that you can still accept your partner as they are, even when they don’t come up to “Prince Charming” standards. The third embodies the words of the wedding vows, keeping in mind that a marriage is not about that first fire of passion, but the glow of the embers that keep you warm for years to come, through wealth and poverty, health and illness, and all the events that the two of you face together.

Along with a generous slice of sense of humor and an occasional garnish of joy, this is what gets me through. That, and the fact that my husband is destined for sainthood. 🙂

How about you?