Running out of time

How does it happen, every year? Summer starts when the kids get out of school and you have this huge vista before you, all the things you’re going to accomplish, both educational and just-for-fun, and the next day comes, and the next–and suddenly it’s August already and almost back to school! How does that happen?!

Not that we haven’t done anything. All three kids have dutifully gone off to camp daily since the second week in June (with its three-hour round trip driving), until the annual visit to Memaw’s house. We’ve had picnics, and put up the inflatable pool (okay, so it’s a little green at the moment from disuse, but it’ll get better next week after camp. And some algae stuff.). We’ve visited family and friends within a reasonable radius (Hey, Jen and Seb!), had a blast at motel pools on the way, hit the Erie zoo, we’ve seen movies and plays.

So now we hit the stretch and all those things we were going to do this summer to get everyone ready for school are sitting at the top of the downhill slide. Little Miss has a stack of papers her teacher sent home, as well as learning a typing program so she doesn’t have to face so much handwriting as she enters fourth grade. Ditto Boy is going to spend days with his dad learning how to do household things–hanging drywall, repairing broken items, changing the car’s oil–all designed to help with his self-esteem and self-confidence.

The Captain — well. Seventh grade. The Cabana Boy has a program of computer learning ready for him, and we’ve finally decided to put a computer in his room with Internet access (appropriately limited) so his thirst for trivia can be fed and maybe he’ll just learn something. Plus, he’ll have access to online communities of peers who may be easier to communicate with, less ready to judge. Over the last ten years, my closest friends have been those I’ve met online, not in real life; maybe that’s not such a bad way to go.

There are still movies we want to see, places to visit. Our museum membership in Pittsburgh gets us into half a dozen places free, and we want to take the kids downtown to gaze up in awe at the crystal palaces of the business world. Two major Irish festivals remain, featuring Gaelic Storm, who delights us all. We’re not quite ready for Cedar Point or King’s Island, but we might try Waldameer. Still haven’t made it to the beach. Or the park. Or the library. But we’re gonna! Sometime! Maybe about midnight on a Wednesday in a couple of weeks! Hurry up! Time’s a-wastin!


If you have any time left this summer, come visit the Parents Helping Parents Carnival, where there’s a lot of good advice and funny stories about the parenting life, and gain some perspective at the Carnival of Work-Life Balance.

Moving on up

On the whole, we’ve been unimpressed with the workers from the wraparound agency we’ve had for Captain Oblivious and Little Miss this summer. Their main function is, apparently, to babysit them while they’re spending time with “normal” kids so that they don’t miss an opportunity to correct a social misstep. They do that. But we haven’t heard much else.

However, the Captain’s mobile therapist made a comment the other that that really put my mind to thinking. He pointed out that when the Captain is with peers, he doesn’t have much in common to discuss with them. Even television, his fixation, is inadequate, because what he watches are the Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network cartoons, for the most part, and Disney movies.

I pointed out we’re not a big TV household in general. I’d bet the adults watch maybe 10 hours a week, and half of that is morning and evening news/weather. We don’t watch American Idol or any of its clones, no Big Brother, not much of anything unless it’s really something we want to see. We don’t watch Hannah Montana or what’s the new thing over at Disney Channel? Something about a camp.

We’re aware we may be narrowing their focus by this, and so we’ve all watched the Super Bowl games, especially when the local favorite Steelers were playing, so the boys would have something to talk about the next day. Ditto the Nickelodeon Kid’s Awards. They also see movies in the theater that are PG-rated. We hate to let them see kung-fu type violence because then that’s what we see for the next week at home, particularly around the last few glass objects we have. But other things. And they read. And read.

The mobile therapist says maybe we should let him watch more tv, since it is something he could at least discuss with his classmates.

So I ask the Captain at dinner the other night, what shows the kids in sixth and seventh grade at his camp watch.

South Park,” he says. “Family Guy…and American Dad.

The Cabana Boy and I just gave each other a look. We’ve seen at least two of these programs, and frankly, I agree with the South Park creators when they put on their disclaimer “This show… should not be watched by anyone.” (Although the Christmas eppy was awfully funny.)

But, wow. Is that really the way to bring him into the junior high world? Let him watch these foul-mouthed little cartoon characters? It’s been ten years since I had a seventh grader in the house, and the world has changed a lot. What media is available to show an awkward, emotionally-immature Aspie boy the way to become a fine young man? Surely not Eric Cartman. Anyone have other suggestions?

An Open Letter to Michael Savage

Dear Mr. Savage:

I took my two children with autism and my ADD child out to dinner this evening for Kids’ Night at Ponderosa. We went in, paid our check, everyone got their food at the buffet, then we sat down, and surprisingly well-mannered, we ate.

Meanwhile, all around us there was pandemonium. One family (yes, complete with a father!) watched aimlessly as their neurotypical (that means non-autistic, sir) toddler crawled down from the table and wandered over to the salad bar, where he proceeded to try to take down the curtains along the side. The parents, both obese, sent their overweight daughter, about 13, after the boy, and she watched as he acted out, with a puzzled expression on her face: What am I supposed to do? she seemed to say as she looked back at her parents.

A normal child a couple of tables over was singing at the top of her lungs and wouldn’t stop when her mother tried to correct her. Several other small children an aisle over thought it would be delightful to toss their food onto the floor.

But there my “fraudulent”, “bratty” children were, eating their mac and cheese and blue Jello and filling out the word search puzzle, and even giving the server praise on the comment card.

Have my children ever behaved like those others? I’m sure they have. They’ve had their share of frustrations since we got the diagnoses some five years ago across the board. Speech therapy. Mobile therapy. Occupational therapy. Constant supervision in school. At one time 70 painful, invasive, family-destroying hours of therapy A WEEK my husband and I put our family through to help them get to the place where they are now, that we can go out to dinner and they can behave.

Oh, yes, they have a father. He works like hell to make sure his children know what to do. And a mother who does the same. We aren’t afraid to discipline them when they need it. On the other hand, we know they are struggling to deal with their disease, and we support them when we can. We try to make their lives as normal as we can. Because someday they will have to live in the world. They will have to know how to go to movies, go on an airplane, wait in a doctor’s office, attend classes…eat in a restaurant. So we take them to these places now.

You said during the July 16 show, “I’ll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out. That’s what autism is.”

You said, “They don’t have a father around to tell them, ‘Don’t act like a moron, you’ll get nowhere in life. … Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, idiot.”

So. Now that we’ve shown you that our autistic, ADD children behave just fine, why don’t you turn that eagle eye on the neurotypical, so-called “normal” kiddies of the land, who feel free to act out any way they want while their parents (yes, even the fathers) just stand by? Because we know you’re not talking to us.

The Mountjoys

For those who haven’t followed this debacle, here’s a link. And here’s one too.

So Long, and thanks for all the Mice

I have an excuse for not writing, and I trust the companion piece I’ll post later tonight as a separate page, will allay the irritation some blog readers have expressed at my long delay.

Primarily, the last two weeks have been spent appreciating the children–or more accurately, their absence–during their annual trek to grandmother’s house. (which is, oddly enough, over the river and through the woods in South Carolina. Seriously.) I had an agenda; several, actually, though Carol at A Different Nest and the Cabana Boy had perhaps the healthier attitude, which was to kick back. Ha! Fooled them, says I!

So, yes, we weeded the garden, and tended the influx of Japanese beetles. We mowed the yard. We cleaned–interminably–children’s rooms, clutter and closets and winnowed and sorted and threw out, threw out, threw OUT. We saw two movies without a babysitter! We stayed out late! We read books in peace. We got medieval for a day. We saw a play, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) which I reviewed for the local paper. This in addition to the regular work schedule, which was taken somewhat lazily while there was time to refresh.

But the best part was our reward, wherein we took a trip to the Culinary Academy at Punxsutawney, PA. They have a great program where members of the public and even parents can come for a formal multi-course meal prepared as it would be at the Four Seasons or the Biltmore, served in black tux apron and white gloves. K reserved a table for us, and we enjoyed an assortment of fancy feasts, straight through from lobster ravioli, ciabatta bread with mediterranean butter (butter whipped with some dried tomatoes and fresh basil and oregano–to DIE for!), veal and pork medallions, to the bananas foster or creme caramel with hazelnut cappuchino. The food was amazing, but even better was watching K in her element. She has so clearly found her niche, and she was confident, well-liked by peers and competent. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I found myself wiping away proud tears, seeing she’s grown into a young woman of skill. Watch out, Top Chef--K is coming!

From there, we headed west for an evening in Pittsburgh. I’ve always liked this city, and riding the T downtown for a walk among the skyscrapers as the sun wound down was fabulous. We weren’t sure where to eat, but we came across Primanti Brothers, a Pittsburgh fixture. For the uninitiated, the Primanti Bros. sandwiches come with coleslaw, slice of tomato and fries ON THE SANDWICH, melted together with cheese. Can you say dining heaven twice in one day? I can. Then a ride back up the Incline with a final stop in Oakland by the University of Pittsburgh for some Sumatran coffee and a killer blackberry scone.

In the morning, we took our time and cruised the bookstores off East Carson Street, where one of my novel manuscripts is set. The visit brought back memories of time spent in Pittsburgh as I researched my lady attorney and her knight errant, a police lieutenant, dealing with a city councilman with a secret to hide. I got the book, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, as people always ask if I’ve read that when I tell them I’ve written something post-apocalyptic. We meant to hit the Andy Warhol Museum, but frankly we were just having fun lazing. So we gave up and headed south.

Our destination was the New River Falls Lodge , a B&B on the New River just outside Beckley, WV. The Cabana Boy booked us the Riverview room at a price that compared with any hotel in the area, though as it turned out, our room became the whole building, as no other guests booked for the weekend. Everything was high-end, executed perfectly and delightful. Our host, Paul, was accommodating in every way. Canoes and rowboats were part of the experience, so the Cabana Boy and I braved the river, though not the rapids, and spent some time by the nightly bonfire on the river’s edge.

Friday morning, we went for a short drive to Sandstone Falls, a national park area, and this is the subject of my new page here. Incredible, incredible day. The woods, the water, the wildlife–a definite recharge. Topped off with some together time, we felt satisfied at last.

Saturday, of course, back to reality. We met the MIL in Beckley, and came home with the children. They were happy to see us, and vice versa, and we had an easy trip home. The oddest occurrence was coming downstairs this morning to find a window screen pushed loose, a small shelf of antique pitchers all over the floor, the mulch bucket dumped and chicken bones chewed, and the cat food bag ravaged. Clearly one of the feral cats from the neighborhood had discovered the loose screen and come in to get something to eat. He was gone when we got up, but right on the kitchen windowsill was a dead mouse.

You’re welcome, cat. And next time you jump up to come through the screen, I want to be watching when you hit the glass. Oh, yes I do.

Summer, we love thee

Greetings Ye Lords and Ladies, Ye gentles and Peasants, and Welcome to Ye Olde Ode to Summer!

Still recovering from the Medieval Faire, as you might note. That was a delight except for the 46 minute thunderstorm right in the middle. But we met some charming people very close up, as we huddled inside the faire sales tents and thronged around the glassblower’s 1000-degree ovens, which kept us warm. Our favorite performing band from last year, E Muzeki, had broken up, but the main members were there in a new configuration called Elysium, so that was a huge plus.

But on to the subject of our muse, i.e. Summer. We picked with great delight our own home-grown vegetables this week, peas, spring mix, black raspberries and squash, with the green bean and broccoli crop coming on close behind. I expanded the herb garden this year, so we have a wide assortment of smells and tastes that I will be picking to dry soon for the winter.

little beans

little beans

The Cabana Boy and I have been weeding and trimming for a few days now, and I can finally sit back and admire. The flower beds are a burst of luscious colors surrounded by the deep green of the trees. In summer, our yard is truly beautiful. This season is what lured me from the tropics, the leafy verdant glades and woods of my childhood.

flower bed

flower bed

The warmth is an additional delight this year because though my fibromyalgia ramped up to phase 2, my doctor has prescribed the new medicine Lyrica for the pain–and it’s been a miracle. Within 24 hours the pain I’d carried for months faded, and the tense muscles with it. I’m not depressed, my energy level is high, and I can move again! Lyrica doesn’t work for everyone, I know, but I’m grateful for its help.

Our bean teepee

Our bean teepee

And finally, six months into this blog adventure, I crossed the 10,000 hit mark last night. I have made so many nice connections through this small window into the world, and I wish warm days, fresh delights, bright flowers and good health to you all! Come back again soon!

red flowers

red flowers

Butterflies and breakage

What you get out of something clearly depends on what you put into it.

The children are putting many things into their visit with their grandmother, and it seems to be going well. Mostly. Of course, it wouldn’t be our children unless Captain Oblivious and Ditto Boy pulled at least one caper. Apparently, they dragged out their Dr. Destructo act and somehow broke the chains on one half of their grandmother’s porch swing, crashing to the ground, taking out the table with the vase of flowers. Ditto Boy says it was C.O.’s fault (what a shock!); C.O.’s comment was that he couldn’t find a swing setting on the thing. Which, since it wasn’t electronic, was probably true. If somewhat irrelevant.

Little Miss, on the other hand, is enjoying the unstructured time and spending a lot of time out at the barn where her grandmother’s horses are kept. She has always been sensitive to animals, and them to her. Her support class has gone horseback riding for several years now, so she is used to horses. She will go up to the fence, and they’ll come over to her so she can feed them by hand.

We have put many things into our week as well. The house is at last clean and uncluttered, the yard in mid-tend; the garden is bringing us fresh chemical-free vegetables daily. We visited a local winery for a wine-tasting. We’ve slept!! I finished the first edit on my new manuscript. The Cabana Boy toyed with his World of Warcraft for days. I even got some work accomplished at the office. Today we’ll be off to the Great Lakes Medieval Faire, where the Cabana Boy will don his killer Irish accent for a day and we’ll eat, drink and make merrie.

But I’d have to say the most interesting point of the week was our visit to Lily Dale. We’ve been meaning to go for several summers now, just to see. A friend recommended a particular medium who had been accurate in the past, so we made an appointment to see her and then spent the rest of the day on the grounds.

I walked a labyrinth, which I had not done before; thought-provoking experience. We studied the artifacts at the library, which has a huge collection of Susan B. Anthony documents and history. The service where various mediums handed out messages from beyond, a la John Edwards, was great theater, at least; some of it felt less than sincere to me. The Cabana Boy pointed out how he could do better than that, just with the techniques he’d picked up from various evangelists when he was studying ministry years ago.

I have to say, though, that he does have gifts in the psychic area. He often acts on a thought that I have–he reads me that well. He also has studied many manners of healing–the only thing that helps me through with my fibromyalgia some days. He says when he finds someone who is similarly gifted, a resonant buzz of sorts comes to his head. One of the four ladies who spoke at the service did this for him, as did the woman with whom we met. Our reading was half an hour, sitting in a small, cool room just off the front porch of a pretty little house on Marion Street. The medium made a CD of the session on her laptop that we could take with us–a nice touch.

I hadn’t had a psychic reading before, but I was determined not to be one of those folk who jump at every vague suggestion and give too much information. The Cabana Boy agreed, so we listened more than we spoke. She seemed almost surprised to be saying what she did; the messages she was getting were not those of the usual sort. She saw a butterfly over us, she said, which showed a new beginning. She determined that we would sell our house and get a new one, something about a castle, with turrets. She picked up his Native American ties as well as the fact that the house we are now in is haunted. (Both true.) We asked about two sets of our children, and she nailed both situations without a word from us. She even confirmed my inner belief that E and I have met before, in one or more previous lives, particularly in Victorian times, when then, as now, he was my support as I worked for causes in which I believed.

But the most startling revelation for all three of us was her insistence that we belonged at Lilydale. E, especially, had many gifts, she said, and he could give messages or participate in the healing services. It came out of her mouth repeatedly, and each time, she gave a little nervous giggle, as if she couldn’t figure why she’d said such a thing.

Given much food for thought, we thanked (and paid) her, and came on home. We had been teasing before the reading about how he could, in fact do this work; but to hear it from someone else was a little surprising. Could we make a living at it? Assuredly. At $50 a half an hour, he could finally be in my league. The community there is beautiful, set right on a lake. It would be a safe and welcoming place for our special ones to grow up.

So, as I said. Food for thought. No plans to sell our haunted mansion just yet, and no castles on the horizon. But if there’s one thing living through these generations of children has taught me, it’s that you never know what’s just around the corner. Best to approach it all with an open mind and be ready when life strikes.

The Expedition

Each year when the children are gone, we steel ourselves for the ultimate evil–cleaning out the children’s rooms. Of course, they are expected each week to pick their rooms up and keep them neat! But as we have found particularly this year, they have found new sneaky and intricate ways to keep from meeting that goal.

Little Miss wasn’t so bad; her main problem was that she still had too many clothes that were too small now that she went from size 10 to 14 in a couple of months. We also did a judicious weeding of the stuffed animal collection and added some books to her dressertop.

The boys’ room, however, was a different story. I’ve had to take a break after four hours. The volume of garbage they’ve shoved in their drawers, toyboxes and closets is staggering. It has become an archaeological journey of sorts in that we have found a number of things that give clues about the denizens of that room. The closet was rife with empty food containers and abandoned, filthy silverware; Captain Oblivious stealing food again. There were half a dozen family games that the boxes were torn into bits to disguise them, and all the pieces scattered into a jumble impossible to recover. Several books that we had put away because of their adult subject matter were buried in the closet floor, as well as several computer textbooks, my pinking shears, the Cabana Boy’s good pair of slippers, some screwdrivers and four inches’ thick of everything else.

We also learned why the boys could find no clean socks in the laundry (because they were all dirty and buried in the toybox), and why they had such a hard time finding clothing to pack for their trip (ditto).

What amazes me is that these boys can spend six to eight hours every weekend “cleaning” this room. Granted, it would be a 15 minute job if they’d just do it, but it’s something like opening the hood of a car when there’s a bunch of guys standing around. You know the look I mean. They’ve finally got the hang of making the surface appear clean. But clearly the issue runs much deeper.

So we resolved to make the job easier for them, two-fold. First, we moved Ditto Boy into his own room again. We tried that a year or so ago and he missed his brother so fiercely, we put them back together. But he’s much better at tending his things–alone–and so we’ll give that a shot. Second, we removed many, many items. Four tall wastebaskets of burnable trash alone came out, as well as three garbage bags of what could not burn, and two laundry baskets of items to recycle through Goodwill. If Captain Oblivious cannot keep things organized when he has things, we’ll make a room where there are very few things. He can come and ask to use items if he needs them. But I don’t intend to see the room like this again. Ever.

Philosophically, I suppose this runs counter to my theory that they should be responsible for themselves, i.e., if they want to live like pigs, as long as it’s not medically dangerous, maybe I should leave them happy in their muck. But somehow, it seems like this clean sweep is all for the better, as it’s also been my goal this week to de-clutter the whole house, open the air to better feng shui. Can’t hurt, right?

Ah, brief respite!

Poet Anne Shaw says, “Fond as we are of our loved ones, there comes at times during their absence an unexplained peace.” This is undeniably true.

One of the few advantages I had as a single mother for many years is that my children’s father lived 1500 miles away. (No, not because he was far away! Though that was a blessing, too.) This meant that the girls could go visit him/his mother every summer for a number of weeks. From the time I tearfully put them on the plane until I welcomed them home, I had an amazing amount of time to recharge my personal batteries, worn down to an extreme after 10 months of single, working parenthood.

So now I’m not a single mother; the Cabana Boy and I are solely responsible for our three, who create a huge need for respite. As I’ve discussed previously, it’s hard to find someone to watch the children because of their issues. Even people we absolutely trust find they have problems. While my father lives in town, he has never been much of a grandparent–it’s just not his style, unless it involves teaching pinochle or bridge. That, he’ll do. He could never watch them for more than 30 minutes while they’re glued to the television. So we get stretched pretty thin.

The Cabana Boy’s mother has taken the children each summer since we married, I think the first summer because she was a little wary that this cougar would steal her grandchildren away along with her son. But since that time, and since the diagnoses, she’s been more reluctant to actually take them. Last year’s proposal was that she could take one for two weeks and then the “other” two for a week. Never mind we kept trying to explain that Little Miss and Ditto Boy made a MUCH better pair to visit than any combination involving Captain Oblivious.

As it turned out, camp hours basically forced us to send them for the same two weeks, all three of them. No major tragedies, unless you count Captain O’s blatant verbal attack on some certainly very nice Southern Baptist people in a hotel elevator as he informed them in no uncertain terms that he was an Atheist because Bill Nye said there was no God and they were wrong. I understand my dear MIL nearly fainted dead away, as she’s a steadfast Sunday school teacher. Oooops.

This year, because of gas prices, we all agreed that they’d go together. So Friday we’re taking them down to South Carolina for another summer visit, two weeks without the children. The Cabana Boy and I are seriously hoping to find some time to destress and reconnect, do all those things we can’t do when the kids are here. Maybe even eat dessert first occasionally. We do want to make the trip to Lilydale and consult a psychic. We will also visit K, and taste some of her fabulous cookery at culinary school.

And then we’ll hope that the rule is not that out of sight means out of mind, but that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Really.