On Husbands

Zsa Zsa Gabor, who ought to know, said, “Husbands are like fires; they go out if unattended.”

As I’ve said before, I’ve had three husbands (yes, yes, I did marry one of them twice, quit NAGGING me about that!), which is, perhaps more than my fair share. The three were very different, and perhaps each suited a particular life phase. As a comment on my earlier post about marriage pointed out, people grow and change throughout life, and expecting one person to be a perfect match all along is a real stretch.

Both husband #1 and I were starter spouses; neither of us was probably ready to get married, but we were ready to be done with college and be grown up. Or, in the vernacular, “seemed like the thing to do.” We dated while he finished his last college semester in Ohio, then he took a job in Montana. Zoom, there we went across the USA in our new used Ford Pinto station wagon.

We arrived in June, realized soon thereafter the job wasn’t going to work out, and bam, he joined the Air Force. He went off to basic training and I drove with our first child from Montana to Texas in December (who knows what I was thinking). We only slid off the road once because of black ice, and nearly got arrested in Colorado for driving the speed limit. By the time basic training was done, the Air Force decided to ship him to South Florida, because we had requested all the bases in Washington State, Idaho, Montana…you get the idea. Thank you, Uncle Sam.

Child #2 came along, much cheaper at the base hospital than the first had been, but by that time, the differences between us were becoming obvious. Within a year or so, we acknowledged it had been a mistake. I moved off base into an apartment, to continue my life as a newspaper reporter and single mom; he bought a motorcycle. Go figure.

Husband #2 was a police officer, more flash than dash. We met as the result of a news story I wrote where a fellow officer claimed my ex had framed him by putting drugs in his car. Well, we didn’t actually MEET then. First, the word was on the street he was out to get me because of the story. Then he demanded that I come talk to him about it, which I agreed to do, thinking he might incriminate himself further. 🙂

But what happened was quite the opposite. It appeared I’d been played by politics. So he and I started speaking when we’d meet on the street in his sleepy Southern town, then we had a few dates, including my kids and his. Turned out he liked kids and was pretty good with them. Big points in my book.

In the long run, though, it turned out he liked women too. Not just one at a time. In fact, there was one incident where I was at his apartment packing up the last camping supplies (he’d headed down to the campsite in the Florida Keys already, one of my daughters with him) when the phone rang. It turned out to be his fiancee. Which was somewhat amusing because he’d been seeing me for several months. Well, not so funny, really. She and I agreed to go down to camp and meet him together.

Now this is the funny part. My ex, who’s always been a big guy, close to 300 lbs., actually cleared a six-foot fence when he saw us pull up, according to the kids. Later he said he thought I had the gun and was planning to shoot him. As if. It’s still a family staple, that story. Needless to say, the other woman broke off the engagement and he and I eventually married. Lasted long enough to produce a host of interesting stories and a daughter. Ended because of a woman. Again.

Some time passed before I was brave enough, but then came the Cabana Boy, who you can read about here. He’s a water sign to my fire, he rolls with the figurative punches, he is loyal and tenacious as a bulldog. Thanks to his patience and insistence on discussion instead of slamming doors, we are still together, despite his addiction to World of Warcraft.

And he’s never suspected I had a gun and would shoot him. Not once. Though I bet he’s counting the days till the hot flashes stop. Yes, sirree.

Customer service? Maybe

There aren’t too many occurrences that leave me speechless. Between a family law practice, seven kids and three husbands, I think I’ve about seen it all. However, tonight I received a response to a letter I wrote about a wraparound agency that was thoroughly incompetent, the first one our kids had. I wrote the letter in August 2004.

What? you ask. It took four years for them to respond to your complaints? Apparently.

Obviously we don’t use this agency any longer–didn’t, as of the time I wrote the blistering three-page diatribe about the people who were so hostile and arrogant with us that we were physically ill every time we had to deal with them. Captain Oblivious had a TSS worker who used to be a phys ed teacher, and her idea of therapy was to march him two miles a day from downtown to a park, even if he threw up at the end. When she wasn’t walking around doing her personal errands while “giving him therapy.”

Little Miss had just graduated from early intervention into TSS therapy, but her new college grad worker had already booked her summer full of personal plans, cancelled half the sessions, and really didn’t know anything about autism (though she insisted Little Miss was just the cutest thing.)

I’d nearly forgotten the medication fiasco until I looked up my letter on the computer while the guy was on the phone. Here’s what I wrote:

C.O. “was prescribed a second dose of his medicine to be taken during his TSS time. There was discussion with Creekside where they told dad they could not give him the medicine, but that the child could take it himself if we sent it. So we sent it in his lunchbox. The first day it came up missing out of his lunchbox; so we were told to send it in a pill bottle. The second day we sent it in a pill bottle but it was not the pill bottle with the prescription on it. So the TSS coordinator got in the bottle and got the medicine and was checking it against her PDR for some reason, at the same time protesting left and right that she wasn’t supposed to have anything to do with medicine even though she was a nurse. Our question was why did she have her hands on the medicine at all if she wasn’t supposed to deal with it? Why didn’t she just send it home and explain what she wanted, since she was unclear the first time? It made us wonder what really happened with the first pill.”

Like most confrontations with the agency, it was clear they wanted us to just shut up and accept what they gave because they were the experts. Many parents would, because they tend to use wrap services as free babysitting and respite from a difficult life. But, as I explained in my letter, we work hard and don’t get to spend as much time with the children as we’d like. We agreed to sacrifice our time with them so they could get 30 hours a week of help–but then we expected they would actually get help.

We have since changed agencies twice, and love the people we work with now. They value us as we value them and as a team, we are building up these kids into something great. I wonder what the real purpose was for this call from the supervisory agency. I discussed it with him and he assured me that many of those issues had been addressed, but he never asked me to come back. And I wouldn’t.

The whole incident reminded me of the Alex Barton story in a way, because it showed me once again that we as parents are the ones who are responsible for assuring our children’s education progresses as it should. We must observe and enquire and monitor to make sure we’re getting what they need, and not getting what they don’t. Our very special customers deserve service.

Will they come for you, too?

I’ve been gone for the holiday and apparently missed the hubbub about Alex Barton.

For anyone who’s not in the loop on this, here you go: Alex Barton’s story. Basically, a kindergarten teacher played Jeff Probst and let her 16 students vote one of their classmates out of their class–after they each got a chance to openly level ‘charges’ at him, stating to this five-year-old still in diagnostic process for ASD all the things they didn’t like about him.

This is all after he was sent to the principal’s office for appropriate discipline. The teacher, Wendy Portillo, took it on herself to humiliate the child further when he returned, and forced the children to denigrate their fellow student. She admits this happened.

Alex apparently screams now when he thinks he has to go back to school, and he hasn’t returned. Who could blame him?

His mother attempted to file police charges for emotional child abuse, but they were rejected by the state attorney’s office because they didn’t meet the criteria.

All of us with diagnosed children have days when we worry about how our child’s behavior will be viewed by whatever educational institution he or she is assigned to. Granted, we know they don’t always act like everyone else. That’s why we have IEPs and other documents that force the schools to treat our children fairly, taking into account whatever issues they might have.

But the rest of you shouldn’t sit back, complacent, thinking this can’t happen to you. Anyone have a seven-year-old boy? Think about those wild and wacky behaviors and the antics boys en masse can get up to on the playground. Think about the way girls are dressing “sexy” even younger and younger, and how even kindergarteners now have their own “Mean Girls.” Think about children in wheelchairs. Children of Latino heritage. Black children. White children. Children. Children in school to be educated about everything, including the differences among us.

It would be well to remember the words of Pastor Martin Niemoeller, very apropos, here modified by me to provide a jumping off point for discussion:

In our school they first came for the AIDS students,
and I didn’t speak up because I didn’t have AIDS.

Then they came for those on the ASD spectrum,
and I didn’t speak up because I didn’t have autism.

Then they came for the hyperactives and those with bipolar,
and I didn’t speak up because I didn’t need medication to participate.

Then they came for those of different skin color and heritage,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a white student in the majority.

Then they came for me —
and by that time no one was left to speak up.


Interview with Alex’s mother

For more support for Alex and his mother, see this. For thoughtful reflection on avoiding this situation with your own child, be reminded here.

And yet another good take here, on tolerance for teachers who cope with an awful lot on a daily basis.

All in the name of progress

I managed this week to conduct not only the “transition to junior high” IEP for Captain Oblivious, but also the first negotiating session with the new managed health care people. Let me say, either meeting was seriously worth several glasses of wine and maybe a Valium.

The IEP meant meeting the responsible people at the junior high, and realizing with more of a pang than I expected, that these professionals who have seen the boy through five years will no longer be a part of his life. A new autism support teacher–fortunately a young lady I’ve known since she was a child– means everything will be different. Everyone is well aware of his issues now, and the repetitive nature of the listing of needed supports for success hammered home how difficult he can be.

We joked about how he thinks he knows everything, and I said he should hurry up and get to be 18 while he still was smarter than everyone else, so he could get his own place and be right ALL the time. The school psychologist, who’s been a real support, wondered how I could be sure C.O. would be out on his own when he was 18.

“Because his father said so,” I assured her, and there was a big laugh.

But at the same time there was a little poignant pause when I really wondered.

The day before, I’d spent several hours with the new managed care team for mental health, where they analyzed the results of the two-hour evaluation the children had a month ago with a local psychologist’s intern. I didn’t get to see the report, “because of HIPPA,” they said, but I was aware the recommendation had been exactly along the lines of my request, 30 hours of mobile therapy and TSS a week all summer for Little Miss and C.O. for an inclusion summer camp to work on social skills. The director of the wraparound agency we used before was there, and she backed me up 100 percent as they went over the recommendations they had advised me we needed to have.

The county person kept popping up with useful statements like, “Oh, have you heard of Autism Speaks? They have an awesome website.” Yeah, no kidding. I’ve been at this seven years, pal. What’s your excuse? The rep from managed care seemed to understand everything we wanted as we went through the children’s strengths (relatively few) and areas of concern (how much time do you have?) and came up with a beautiful recommendation. We all left smiling but weary.

Then Michelle from my agency says, “Oh, by the way, you may not get it.”

“What? No! Everyone was happy. They wrote it all down!”

“They always do. Then they take it back and decide whether they’ll approve it or not. If it goes to Peer Review, even less chance.”

So I headed back to my car with a sigh, wondering if that whole six or more hours had been a total waste. And now, after a week of reviewing just how bad the situation is so we can get help, I’m looking for my rosy-colored glasses so I can get a positive outlook again. Bottom line is, every problem we overcome means we’re moving forward. And besides, C.O. came home from track and field day with his first blue ribbon ever today–and Little Miss got a blue, a 3rd and three 4ths. Just have to keep those blinders trained on the bright side.

Welcome to the real world

It was all the talk in motions court this morning.

Yesterday was spent waiting for the police to come to my office following a massive series of break-ins in our office building.

I’d known something was up when my secretary called to tell me they wouldn’t let her in the building on her arrival, but I was unable to get to the office for a couple of hours. When I did come, my office doors stood open, the furniture was all askew, there was a two-foot-square hole punched through my wall into the next office… I was horrified.

The police had come and gone by then, so we had to put in another call to catalog our losses. Like the other offices, we had lost unusual items, while more expensive things were left alone. The thieves missed a digital camera, a DVD player and TV, computers, other office equipment–but they took stamps. Lots and lots of stamps. And envelopes with my return address on them. And a box of pennies, but left the quarters.

All day, we prowled the office looking for explanation. Much discussion revolved around whether the culprit might be one of our opposing parties, who in domestic matters, often act irrationally and can be dangerous. Could one of those people have been in the office? Was there more damage we had yet to discover? Would they be back?

Just as many people say in these situations, it left us feeling violated and unsafe. Vulnerable. Who’s watching our offices for a weak spot? Did someone trash the other office to distract from a larger crime in ours? Or vice versa? (I obviously read/watch too much crime drama.)

So it was apparently good news that they caught the woman–woman?!? That was a shock in itself considering she kicked through two walls. Nonetheless, she was not familiar to us and seemed to have obvious motive for her random spree. The buzz is that she didn’t act alone, but so far she’s the face of the problem. For our purposes, we don’t have to worry that this was aimed at us or at our clients.

The building owner came and changed the locks before I left yesterday and even swept up the drywall mess himself. The Cabana Boy took off work early and came home to help out. So we’re back on track again.

All the same, there’s a lot more looking over our shoulders, and attention paid to strangers. We’re a little jumpy. The world is a little less friendly today. And that’s a shame.

Serendipity and blessings

There is no feeling like the one you get when you experience a gathering, be it conference, revival or reunion, where everyone is excited about a topic and all the energy flows in one direction.

Can I get an Amen?

I had expected the Pennwriters shindig this weekend would be exciting; to be surrounded by so many others who love to do what you do is inspiring. But the serendipity of the particular blend of folk who were there went beyond into a real blessing. The fiction workshop was well-drawn and planned by Susan Meier, who read our opening chapters and tailored a session for us, even though most were not writing romance. Melanie Donovan was a delightful and gracious woman, open and friendly, who joined my traveling companion and I for meals and drinks in addition to the actual pitch session. Joyce Carol Oates was dark and mysterious as one might expect, but gave a wonderful presentation and answered questions on all topics from attendees.

I had two editors and two agents express interest in my work and won second place in the non-fiction contest. (Four of us traveled from my critique group, in addition to my award, one took first place in story beginnings, one took third in short fiction, and the other took first in the costume contest; we are a decorated bunch.)

So I’m pretty pumped.

I also scored an interview with SF writer Keith R.A. DeCandido on his series work, which I will do soon, as well as being published by a fellow Pennwriter at the AIR Equation site. That deserves an Amen!

It turns out autism is now becoming an issue in children’s fiction, according to Melanie Donovan. She said she has one book coming out soon about autism, and another where a character may or may not be autistic. So I’m on the cusp here. Let’s hope that these other authors use their characters to create better understanding of characters like our children, and not just as a token to latch onto the latest flavor of the month.

And on that note, one of the sweetest moments of the weekend was Saturday night when I called home to make sure the Cabana Boy was surviving the chaos. The boys were full of exploits to share; Captain Oblivious had gotten his cast off and was thrilled, Ditto Boy had the latest Lost in Space episode to tell me about. Little Miss, however, has never liked talking on the phone. She mumbles or speaks so quietly that she can’t be heard, and bolts as soon as she can.

Except Saturday, when she got on the phone to speak with me, told me about her field trip to the local historical site, her dinner with her brothers, and then said “I want you to come home.”

And for that blessing, my brothers and sisters, I will give witness any time. Amen! Amen! and Hallelujah!

Still walking those streets

“Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.” — Moliere

After the joy that was NaNoWriMo last November, when my family and I agreed I could throw everything into those 30 days and write a novel, I’ve worked on many writing projects, including this blog, in off-hours from real life. This week, I have permission to enter the writing life at full throttle again–and I’m grabbing it with both hands.

Oh yes, there are a few client matters to be handled first, and a round of doctor visits for the kiddies, but those are under control. The real business of the week is the Pennwriters Conference, including the special fiction seminar spanning the day Thursday. Ah, sweet abandon. To be surrounded in a place with 450 others as enamored of this vice as I, to speak of it day and night, to learn techniques and shortcuts and formats, to steep in its heady liquor until–

Whoa. I’m getting carried away already. Sorry about that.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Making connections. When I went to my first conference a number of years ago, I was really a fish out of water. Since then, I’ve met a number of folk of the Pennwriters persuasion either online or in person, so I’m a little more familiar. I’m also published regularly now; then I’d been practicing law a little more full-time. I have spiffy business cards from my Firefox gig. I have a blog and a whole new cadre of friends. I’m an author with a book under my belt and a story in another coming out in December.

I have a literary agent– a new development last week that was VERY exciting. My agent read my NaNovel with the autistic heroine and it clicked with her–because she, too, has an autistic child. Serendipity. Her comment was this: “What better way to encourage understanding than through a fictional and incredibly interesting YA novel?” What better way indeed?

At the conference, I have a PennPal–this means I’ve been appointed as the guide and gopher for one of their celebrity guests, in my case Keith R. A. DeCandido. So I’m excited about that, though I don’t even know where it might lead. At least we can commiserate over the loss of my dear Firefly as we curse the Fox Network over a few drinks.

I have an appointment to pitch my novel to Melanie Donovan of HarperCollins Children’s Division. How often do we get to see a real editor face to face? Everyone knows editors don’t put their pants on one leg at a time! Eeek! I haven’t practiced my elevator pitch yet, but I’m giving myself time to do that this week. Maybe I can get it down to a two-floor long speech.

So yes, I’m getting ready to sell myself. I’m even getting my hair done. But I don’t think I’ll be selling myself short. Wish me luck.