Black and white

I got a few desperate calls from Rob, the Democratic “Voter Protection” guy in New York, and called him back, wondering what was up, since I’d already confirmed my voting precinct here in town, signed up for online training, and arranged to pick up my official credentials in Pittsburgh, 90 miles away, on Saturday.

Well. Seems the Democrats had arranged to protect the most crucial 1,500 precincts in the state, the ones that had to make sure people got the chance to vote if they wanted to, but also that would likely give the Democrats the important numbers they wanted. As I suspected when they first asked me to be an attorney poll watcher, nothing in Crawford County was even on that list. (We’re pretty low-key here; pick-up trucks with shotgun racks, and so on. Rep. Murtha really wasn’t so far off. I’m not sure why everyone got insulted.)

So, I didn’t really need to cover the precinct where they’d assigned me. However, they were having some issues that I would never have expected. Over in Titusville, the second largest city in our county, Rob said, there had been a particularly successful voter registration drive at the local branch of the University of Pittsburgh, including some 800 new voters who are black. Titusville is about as ‘white bread’ as you can get. See the problem coming?

Surely with all the suspicion about ACORN and people interfering with voters, people would be very careful about trying to influence or block certain segments of the population from voting, wouldn’t you think?

You’d think.

But Rob said reports had come in to the national offices that there had been ‘misinformation’ directed at these new black voters from the Dean’s office about their ability to vote. The registrar had interfered with their school activities. They were told by the uniformly Caucasian officials that if they put up political signs, none of them could have Obama’s face on them.

Odd behavior from a place that commits itself to “freedom of thought and expression” and supports “a culture of diversity.” See the Pitt Promise.

So Rob is instead sending myself and another attorney I know to share Election day in Titusville, to make sure that each and every person who’s registered is not hampered from entering the polling place on campus and casting a vote for his or her candidate of choice.

The whole situation makes me sad. I know I was somewhat puzzled that they thought they even needed people to watch polls here, because we’re not Philadelphia, Brooklyn or Chicago. Discovering that the evils of racism and discrimination are blatant and poisonous here in our midst shows me I’ve really turned a blind eye to the truths of our community.

Just let them try to mess with these kids. I’m ready to pick up the phone and call the election authorities, the party lawyers, heck, even the newspaper and tv. This is the twenty-first century, and we’re better than this.

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Moments in bad parenting, vol. 8

One of the first oddities I noticed about living in this town was the fascination with Halloween. Many folk here decorate for Halloween in much grander style than they do for Christmas. They even have the largest nighttime parade in the state of Pennsylvania, often taking over three hours to traverse a mile or so of city street, filled with local participants, princesses, bands, fire companies, floats and much more. All throwing candy to the kids, more than they even get at trick-or-treat.

Over all the years I’ve had children, we attended the parade to see D’s Miramar float (actually drove the truck for it one year), M’s high school show corps and majorette groups, B with the wrestling cheerleaders atop a fire truck, S with marching band, my ex with his volunteer fire group, the Cabana Boy with his vintage toy shop entry, then I was even in a couple years, on various floats.

So over our nearly 20 years here, some family member has been in the parade probably 14 of them. As you can imagine, because of the parade’s late date, the weather is always a tossup. Maybe three times in those years, it’s been warm. Half the time it’s been tolerable to sit on the street and watch, as long as you have a big thermos of hot cocoa or coffee. The rest it’s cold, windy and rainy and…well, late October weather.

We have developed an alternative tradition at our house for those times when we really don’t feel like sitting in the cold and wet. Because the parade is broadcast on the local cable, we go to the store and buy bags of candy and eat it while we watch in warmth and comfort. Not quite the same experience, but you don’t have to walk three blocks to the Burger King and wait for the only public bathroom for six blocks with half the other parents and their kids.

This year, we chose several parade standards to signify the time to throw candy at each other. I thought these would be fairly common, so they were safe: fire truck, marching band, and Democratic signs (added because the local political candidates and parties always figure in big–it’s two weeks before the election, y’all!).

I added a provision that if they saw Republican signs, they could steal a candy from someone else. (Okay, maybe over the line, but I got a jolly from it.)

As the first fire truck went by, the Cabana Boy and I, seated on the couch, toasty warm, tossed handfuls of candy to get everyone started. Little Miss only got a few, but she quietly ate hers, leaving a trail of papers on the floor. The Captain got into the throwing, but for some reason he thought his Milky Ways were bullets and he nearly put some eyes out. Ditto Boy gleefully raked in handfuls of the treats and gloated over his large piles.

For some reason, there were a lot of gaps in the parade as it moved along the street, during which the announcers rambled about nothing, the children’s attention span wandered, and the candy slowly dwindled. We never got to either political party, but the ZemZem guys were cool. Finally we bargained out of parade-watching altogether with an offer to toss all the rest of the candy in a grand finale and switch to Ghostbusters II.

So the children were perhaps cheated out of the live experience; instead we had an evening at home together bolstered by two bags of peanut butter cups. Not as scary as a haunted house, perhaps, but a fine old tradition.

With any luck, it will rain again next year too.

Keeping democracy honest

I received an interesting phone call today from a gentleman named Rob in New York City who wanted me to spend election day as a poll watcher. He was recruiting attorneys, law students and other legal professionals, he said, because they were expecting trouble at the polls.

Now I know, of course, that this election is very close, and each party needs every vote it can win. The negative ads show that people don’t hesitate to play dirty, right up till the end. Next week I expect it will be worse. I don’t even want to think about the first three days of November. But our little county is pretty rural, and pretty laid-back.  Did we really need to worry about these things here?

According to Rob, we do. Our county has five targeted precincts where the national committee has determined that some sort of interference with the voting process will likely take place. This interference could take the form of open challenges of each voter by a party representative, making each person verify their identity and prove they are registered and belong in that district, to the point of harassment and delay that might cause people to give up and leave the polls. (I’m not sure why people would come to vote without ID and voter’s registration card. But in our small county, no one has ever asked me for it. I just walk up, give them a name, and they sign me in. Then again, I’m a pretty ordinary-looking white woman.)

Some of the other tactics he described mystified me. He suggested that in some counties, it has been documented that whites rented up a bunch of Lincoln Towncars, put on suits and dark glasses, and cruised the neighborhoods where primarily black voters were going to the polls, intimidating them. Some people really don’t have enough to do with their time, I guess. Others are openly discouraged from voting once they’re inside the polling place and can’t be seen from the street.

Here in town, the courthouse is closed on election day; time for all the courthouse workers to drive their friends out to vote, I guess. This county is heavily Republican, has been for years. The county is 97% white. One would think Obama would have an uphill battle. But not this year. There are Obama signs all over the place, amongst the McCain signs. People wear Obama buttons, have bumper stickers. The Democratic headquarters finally has people moving in and out of it all day–the first time I’ve seen this in years. Are we ready for change?  Yeah.

No. HELL yeah.

So I agreed to go to the training to learn how to “protect” the voting process. I’ll be at the polls where I’m assigned on election day, and I sure hope I’ll be able to protect the same freedoms our troops and elected officials are fighting for: making sure each of us has the right to have our say. I’ll show my children I’m willing to take the stand.

Make sure you’re out there, too.

Pass it on

As I sit here packing up a box of old photos to send to M, I consider her reaction. It’s the same reaction I get from any of my children when I give them something that’s been in the family for awhile.

“Are you sick? What’s the matter? Are you going to die?”

Because, after all, that’s when people pass on things like that.

So. Am I sick?  Not any more so than any other day. Am I dying?  Not that I know of. (But then again, who knows?)

On the other hand, I am, in my family, the Keeper of Things. I have photos of each child going back to the womb. I have elementary school papers, ecology projects, ceramic handprints with sentimental sayings, report cards, mementos of first high school dances, graduation gowns and much more. I also have mine. And my mother’s. I have old McCall’s handicraft magazines with my mother’s designs featured in them.  I have magazines featuring my articles. I have my grandmother’s beautiful frilly square dance dresses that I remember her wearing when I was a kid as she and my grandfather kicked up their heels in small town Indiana. I have baby clothing too cute to recycle and about a million shells that we collected in Florida over 12 years.

This is why, as I get to the point of seeing my mortality in the distance– and seeing my cluttered house much closer– that I am going through the photos and the family hand-me-downs, and passing them on. I gave my great-grandmother’s pieced quilt she made for my birth to B a couple of years ago. I’ll be giving the small table and chairs my mother and mother-in- law refinished to M for her little ones. Better they should be enjoyed now than rest in a closet for the next ten or twenty years, wouldn’t you say?

But don’t worry, I won’t give it all away. I still keep the albums with the photos of the face M made when she ate her first sno-cone, and B’s days at nursery school on the University of Miami campus, while I was a single mom in law school. There’s evidence of all our family trips, to Key West, to the California coast, to Michigan, to Mammoth Caves, to Washington D.C., to Toronto and more. And the hair. The 1980s hair. Teased bangs how high???  (Don’t worry, I’m saving those for blackmail opportunities. Yes, I am truly evil.)

It’s been a great life, not always what I’ve expected or planned, but maybe that’s better. Now the children can have their part of the heritage, seeing a little bit of me, and a little bit of them as they move into adulthood and write their own stories. Nothing’s permanent. Life’s joys and sorrows, as they say, are better shared.  So, pass it on.

Helping the Helper

One of my peeves has always been that many of my clients think when they have wraparound services, they are now in mommie heaven. The problem children are taken off their hands, and they can just search their homes for bonbons, if the little critters haven’t stolen them already.

The peeve carries over to the workers. No question they have a hard job– going into strangers’ homes, many of them less clean than you’d like, maybe lice-infested, to deal with kids who may not have been raised under the best of circumstances. Often they just “babysit,” give the kids a break from a bad home, take them for ice cream or to the library or other things the parents just don’t do. Works for the parents, and apparently it works for them. I bet the kid feels better, too, when someone’s paying one on one attention to them and buying them nice things.

But that’s just not the situation here. We keep our house pretty clean, we have what we need and we actually pay attention to our children, especially the ones with issues. (Probably we govern them with too tight a grip–but that’s a subject for another post.)

The Captain’s mobile therapist has come several times now, and most of them have been afternoons I’ve baked granola–she’s so amazed we have real food. Home-made, even. Little Miss’s TSS and BSC have come several times, and all they keep saying is, “Wow, she does so well! Our other kids aren’t anything like this!” The TSS was surprised we’d done homework with the child before she came; apparently in her other families, that’s left for the “babysitter.”

So we’re working through the new relationships. The TSS is supposed to focus on language development, pragmatic and receptive speech–so she brought a word search page where you had to search for six-digit numbers. I asked her what the purpose was for that, genuinely curious, and she said it wasn’t therapeutic, but something she knew Little Miss would like. Except of course, she didn’t do it fast, being very meticulous, and then the TSS wouldn’t let her finish it–a major issue with her. She has to work things beginning to end before she’s ready to let go. It’s all over her file. So there was some grief about that.

I tried to stay out of the room at first, because I wanted them to get to know each other and build a rapport without me. But I drift in eventually, and they’re going over some category association cards, and some question and answer cards that headed in the right direction. So it was all okay until Little Miss asked if she could play with play dough (also home-made).

The TSS agreed she could, and she got it out, with her Bob the Builder set that has molds inside little houses and so on.  We were all three playing, and talking–Little Miss was telling the story and answering questions, doing very well–and when Little Miss gathered it all up into a ball about eight inches in diameter, I said, “What would happen if that came rolling down the street and crashed into the house?”

She laughed and played that out, knocking the house sideways. Then she set it up again, and held the ball overhead. “Or like this!” she said, and dropped it on the house from above. That inspired smiles and giggles all around. I asked her, “What would the people do in that house?  What would they say?”

She considered a moment and nodded thoughtfully. “God damn it!” she said blithely, and she pulled the dough off the doomed house.  “Then they would call 911.”

Meanwhile, the TSS and I are laughing so hard we couldn’t reply. Little Miss went on telling what would happen when firefighters arrived and so on. And somehow I had the feeling the TSS thought perhaps Little Miss’ s language development was coming along just fine.

Have you played the “A” card?

Parents of special-needs kids often have a lot to cope with: meltdowns, perseveration, echolalia, single-focusedness, sheer obliviousness. All this coping tends to drain away patience and sometimes even your ability to remain polite, especially when people who don’t understand get on your last nerve. Often at Wal-Mart.  I’m not sure why that is. Maybe they’ve got some sort of blue-light special on last straws.

Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin says that special-needs kids will have “a friend and advocate in the White House,” if the Republican ticket is successful. She says this, no doubt, based on the fact that she is the parent of a special-needs child. So, isn’t she using her Trig as an excuse to get special treatment, i.e. to get people to vote for her?

Is that wrong?

I stopped in mid-rant today to contemplate whether I’ve used my children’s condition as a crutch/excuse from time to time, and had to conclude that I had. For example, the time I was running late to take Captain Oblivious to the eye doctor, and they’d given up on us, ready to close up shop. When I explained I’d been picking up the children from camp, and I got held up because of an issue with a therapist, and dropped the “A” bomb–autism–suddenly they turned on the equipment and welcomed the boy with a warm smile.

I’ve frequently mentioned the different difficulties we deal with at home and school to clients, to show them I can have some understanding of what they’re going through with their own children. In a recent case I had, I ended up being an expert witness of sorts for my client because the judge and the other attorney had no idea what Asperger’s Syndrome was or what it meant for a child. By explaining what our family went through–playing that “A” card–I was able to help my client successfully conclude his case.

And sometimes you just drop it to make the complaining person feel like a heel. (We’ll add up the karma points later.)

Of course there’s the big one:  Disney World. By playing the “A” card at a Disney property, you get a magic pass that allows your whole family to go to the Fast Pass lane for many of the most popular rides. How does this help?  Well, here’s one example: We went on the Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster ride, and our wait was as long as it took us to walk up to the gate. That was it. The next car came up, and we were allowed on. If we’d gone the regular route, we’d have had to wait an hour or more.

So is it wrong?

In this case, I think it’s not. The nature of the issues our children have is that if we’d had to wait an hour for the ride, our children would not have been able to have that experience at all.  We couldn’t have been patient that long without some sort of incident. On rides where it was clear it was only a 15-minute wait, we got in the regular line and took our turn.  That’s a life lesson kids need to learn. But if it was use the pass or miss the experience–we used the pass.

The changes we saw in the children as a result of being able to experience the Disney parks didn’t happen just in those five days, but continued to expand them (especially Little Miss) over the next several months. We are very grateful for the chance to let them participate, and glad we could use the “A” card to help them. Here the card was played for their benefit.

As for the way it’s been played in the election?  That one we’ll have to wait and see.

Waiting, Take Two

Everything is in flux again, which of course means Momma is not a happy camper.

Most urgent is the impending office move, and the resulting house chaos as we clean and sort and put away things that have taken up that space previously for years. The new window is lovely! The new walls also smooth and painted, thanks to the Cabana Boy’s efforts–and also insulated for the first time so maybe it will be warmer this winter! The new rugs and curtains have arrived but are piled awaiting furniture movement.

We’re also awaiting the results of Little Miss’s school psychological evaluation, which began yesterday and is expected to take a couple of weeks as the psychologist (who’s watched her for four years, and knows her patience) tests her in bits she can tolerate. Ditto Boy is also undergoing auditory processing testing– not the kind at the local hospital where they deal with him for half an hour and say, “Oh, he can hear fine,” but the kind at the specialty Barber Center in Erie where he goes for six hours over three weeks and they thoroughly assess him. We get those results next week. And meantime, the rounds of TSS and mobile therapy have begun, further clogging my schedule with time that is now unavailable while we wait for therapy to proceed.

(In other news, the Captain is having a MARVELOUS year at junior high–he’s a straight A student, even in the honors classes, and his behavior hasn’t caused a fuss once.  Who knew???)

We’re waiting for all the children to make their final holiday arrangements for visits. It seems like we’ll have a houseful, and that’s great! We’re waiting for this election to be OVER before I have to toss the television out the window if I see one more commercial designed for the median stupidity voter level.

Lastly, I’m waiting for November and NaNoWriMo. The edit of the urban fantasy is going very well, and I think I’ll finish in time to get some queries sent out before November. This Saturday a bunch of the area NaNoWriMites are having a meet-up at a local Borders, and that will help spur on some enthusiasm. I recruited my sister to November madness, too, so she has her own NaNo page set up and the beginnings of her first novel’s plot with a single mom, university faculty politics and danger.

I should also get my check and authors’ copies of my first Cup of Comfort book (yay!) soon. Nice to see one’s work in print, I must say. In preparation, I’ve shared my work around at several blogs this week; come see mine and other’s writers pearls of wisdom at the October Scribes blog, at the Creative Carnival, at Modern Families and at Rants and Reviews. Come by and check it out!