Don’t assume, ask–a rule to live by

When I was a kid, maybe fourth or fifth grade, one of the highest honors you could get was to be chosen as a school Portrait of a young boy crossing guard standing on the road holding a stop signcrossing guard. Remember those kids? They would wait with the professional guard and help others cross the street, take care of stragglers, all that sort of thing.

At Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Euclid, Ohio, in order to be selected as a student guard, you had to have all A’s and B’s and be a good, reliable student. I’d transferred to the school in fourth grade, so I didn’t get chosen right away, of course, and that was fine. So in fifth grade, I was ready when they announced the names, because I always had good grades and was a teachers’ pet kind of gal. But they didn’t announce mine.

So I worked even harder, and when they announced the names for sixth grade, I just knew I’d be included. They nominated other girls who lived on my street. They nominated just about every one of my classmates in the top reading group. But they didn’t pick me.

I was devastated.

What was wrong with me? I mean, I remember being one of those nerdy kids the cool kids picked on. My stepmother had an odd sense of children’s fashion, and I didn’t have a lot of friends. But this could have been a real self-esteem builder and verification to the other students that I wasn’t a total loser.

It took me awhile, but finally I got up the courage to ask my teacher why I hadn’t been selected. She smiled quite fondly and said, “Oh, Barbara dear, we didn’t think your parents would let you participate.”

So they hadn’t even given me the chance to ask if I could–the school officials had just made that decision for me. Expecting I’d be disappointed by my parents saying ‘no,’ they were being kind by not inviting me.  Forty years later, I still feel that disappointment and loss of vindication.

Raising children on the spectrum brings me into a confrontation with this issue a lot. How often do others–or even us as parents–leave our kids out of activities because it’s assumed they won’t like it/do well at it/be interested? Are we being kind when we shield them from potential failure?

If I assumed that Little Miss couldn’t deal with loud activities because of her sensory issues, she’d never have signed up for chorus, which is one of her favorite classes at school now. She loves singing at concerts. IMGP0394

She would have missed one of the greatest concerts we ever attended–and one she loved–because we’d have skipped it rather than helping her cope with a set of good headphones and a blanket to cover her head when it got overwhelming.

We might have assumed that she couldn’t compete with other children in the county fair contests, but she tended her flowers and won a ribbon every year. She attended dance classes, even though she opted out of the performance. That was okay with me, because I asked her opinion first. She wanted to dance with Miss Heather, but she didn’t want to participate in the end of season event. I don’t see that as someone who doesn’t finish what they start, I see it as someone who’s empowered to make their own choices for age-appropriate activities.

The boys, too, have been offered options–martial arts classes, music classes, theater classes, after school gaming sessions. They don’t choose many, not being particularly ambitious. But they get the first chance of refusal, which I believe is the right way to go.

What about you? Have there been events or activities you’ve offered to your children that you thought they couldn’t/wouldn’t like or be able to participate? Is it better to keep them from the disappointment of failure? What have they tried and succeeded at that surprised you?

***

VoodooDreams_w7507_medOn the same note, I will not assume that you don’t like free books, but I will ASK if you’re interested in this, the third book of the Pittsburgh Lady Lawyers series, standalone novels of romantic suspense, all with a heroine who’s a lawyer in the great city of Pittsburgh. VOODOO DREAMS is FREE for Kindle December 17-21. You may get one for yourself and as many friends as you think would like it for Christmas! Here’s the storyline:

When her big trial goes bad, corporate attorney Brianna Ward can’t wait to get out of Pittsburgh. The Big Easy seems like the perfect place to rest, relax, and forget about the legal business. Too bad an obnoxious–but handsome–lawyer from a rival firm is checking into the same bed and breakfast.

Attorney Evan Farrell has Mardi Gras vacation plans too. When he encounters fiery and attractive Brianna, however, he puts the Bourbon Street party on hold. He’d much rather devote himself to her–especially when a mysterious riddle appears in her bag, seeming to threaten danger.

Strangely compelled to follow the riddle’s clues, Brianna is pulled deeper into the twisted schemes of a voodoo priest bent on revenge. To escape his poisonous web, she must work with Evan to solve the curse. But is the growing love they feel for each other real? Or just a voodoo dream?

 

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Summer trip, Part Two

DSCN0611I’ll start with the view from our campsite at Curry Hammock State Park which was interesting in a number of ways, including how close we were to the beach, although pursuing the wildlife was much more fun. The park is “green”, so the restroom/shower facilities were all specially designed to fit with the local ecosystem.

The wildlife that popped up all around our campsite included some fabulous green iguanas like this guy:

igianaThe area, though is known for its blue crabs, which had hideyholes in the ground all over the place, several around the campsite itself. My daughter had the chance for prolonged conversation with some in the mornings, since she is an early riser, but I didn’t get to see so many.

Out time in the Keys sadly came to an end, and we headed north, where M and kids rented a car to head home, while we stayed in Satellite Beach with a friend of mine from the old newspaper days. It was two days full of fun, great food and success!new adventures.

Linda’s friend Rob was so generous with his time–one afternoon, he took the girls to his neighbors’ dock. Here’s the result–they each caught one!

success strikes againAnd yes, Mr. Redfish was delicious.

While we were there, we also had the chance to visit Kennedy Space Center. Yurie was excited to go there because of the rocketships and the history. Little Miss just went for one reason:

DSCN0637Yes. Angry Birds in Space. A whole building devoted to it, with a maze, and games, and the opportunity to sling birds at pictures of pigs. What says space travel more than that?

She actually did pay attention to several of the other exhibits (though she was still pretty obsessed with the Birds), as she demonstrated in later conversation. We took a bus ride out to see some of the outbuildings (including the one where Rob works!) and then came back to sit through a mock-up of a moon landing, which was cool (especially for those of us old enough to have watched it on live tv) .

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DSCN0632It was great reconnecting with Linda. We’ve both gone on to interesting lives, she as a counselor/teacher and me as an attorney/writer. But to take just a moment to relive those escapades as young writers–driving out onto the flight line at the air force base, checking out the drug hangouts in Florida City and nearly getting nabbed by the DEA–was awesome.

Then a sad day as we drove to Miami for Yurie to catch her plane home to Japan. We all survived the logistics of getting her to the airport during rush hour in Miami in a giant RV, AND of getting her multiple suitcases to the baggage carrier successfully (and the fact that the Miami Heat apparently won some sports event and we could have been marooned in city traffic for days, but we didn’t know it at the time). Goodbyes were tough. We’ll miss you, kid.  😦

The next leg of the trip was to Fort Pierce to visit another old friend of mine. We were both a little worse for wear for the years that had passed, and both dealing with chronic pain. But it didn’t stop my friend from being a delightful hostess, and we had a wonderful couple of days. Here she is with her friend going to a Mad Hatter party:

DSCN0642She looked great, and I’m so glad we stopped to see her. She lives in a beautiful condo overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and invited me to come stay with her on a more permanent basis. Have to admit, I’m keeping that in the back of my mind. There are worse choices.

Little Miss was more delighted with the two miniature dogs living there:

DSCN0644They were cute, but definitely fonder of her than of me or other visitors.

Finally, north to Asheville, to complete our travels, to visit with K and her lovely partner L. We always have a good time with them, and they work so hard at creating a life together with L’s son, even though the state of North Carolina is much less than helpful in its acceptance of gay rights. We took the chance to do nothing a lot of the time, preparing for the long drive home, and took advantage of the KOA’s nice facilities, pool, park, etc. to just let go.

DSCN0654poolAnd of course we visited L’s new job–Asheville’s Ultimate Ice Cream shop. With unique flavors like goat cheese and bing cherry, chocolate and ginger, and even caramel with blue cheese (to DIE for…), it was an amazing tastefest. That was before we got the maple and bacon ice cream.

Yes, I said bacon.

It was unbelievable. Please put it on your bucket list. Right now. I’ll wait while you get a pen.

Hard to believe all this fit into 16 days, but it had to come to an end eventually. What didn’t come to an end, of course, was the pile of work waiting for me when I got back. But then that’s what the real world is about. Time to start dreaming of next year’s vacation!

 

 

Florida fun!

Travel is really one of my thrills, and I was thrilled indeed to make a pilgrimage to my old stomping grounds in south Florida last month, with some new experiences thrown in!

My traveling companions included the ever-faithful Little Miss, but we also had our exchange student Yurie, who packed DSCN0542and re-packed her belongings for her trip home at the end of the visit, and daughter M and her three children.
We missed the worst of the rain, but we did get the south Florida heat square in the face–after all my intervening years as a Yankee, I have to admit I was a bit of a wuss!

Also it was my first long solo trip at the helm of the RV, so I was a little stressed and intimidated by that for awhile, since I’ve been the only one who’s managed to run into something with it. BUT NOT THIS TIME! YAY!

 

We landed at Pensacola just long enough to pick up our passengers, then headed out to the Florida Caverns in Marianna. I sat with the cocker spaniel in the RV while the rest took the cave tour. Little Miss, though, will always remember how the tour guide showed the control panel with the switches for the lights and the one he said was for self-destruct. Apparently she screamed at him not to push that one, in a dead panic. Overall, not bad advice, but still…we do tend to take things literally. 🙂

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Then south to Naples, and east to Everglades City, where we took a trip on an Everglades airboat–something I’d always wanted to do but never had, while we lived there. I was thankful there were headphones for those with sensory issues, and it made it so easy to ask questions! We saw a manatee, some pelicans, and of course alligators:

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But I think we all were excited by the race through the mangroves–not exactly the tour of the “River of Grass” I’d envisioned, but still quite an adventure:DSCN0553

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Then it was on to the Florida Keys, where we’ve spent many happy weekends.

Camping was easy at the state parks, thanks to M, who’d made our reservations many months ago. We were joined, by fortunate coincidence, by daughter D, whose family happened to be going the same time we did, and though we all didn’t fit in the RV, we did camp next to each other at Bahia Honda (one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida) and we shared a big dinner one night, which was nice.DSCN0571

The water off those bridges in the Keys (even the Seven-Mile one!) is SO gorgeous, tones of blue, green and everything inbetween.

 

We took one day away from those wonderful beaches and went to Key West, where I researched an upcoming romance book with pirates. It’s always been one of my favorite places–we honeymooned there. Still as beautiful today:

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Here’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which had a fabulous royal Poinciana tree blooming in front. DSCN0585

 

 

 

Also a giant banyan tree, where the roots grow down from the branches into the ground:

Of course we stopped at the Southernmost point in the continental United States:

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After a bit of shopping, we went to dinner at a Cuban restaurant with the whole gang:

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But the real beauty of the scenery was just to sit and take it in. Especially at the quiet points of the day, like this moment at Bahia Honda with Emma:

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More on the second half of the trip coming in Part II.  🙂

Our newest creation

Yes, yes, I know I haven’t posted here as often as I’d like–hopefully you’ve missed me! The good news is I’ve been doing substantial amounts of writing-related work, which is a good thing! The latest venture is this little bit of video, a book trailer for my first published novel, The Elf Queen. A book trailer is supposed to be like a movie trailer, giving enough of the story to entice folk to come see/read my book. (and hopefully the rest of the series!)

So what did you think? Is it exciting? Suspenseful? Must you go buy the book at Amazon right now? Okay, if you must. Pssst:  pass it on…  🙂

Also, come visit blogs around the country where I’m posting, as Lyndi, on the subject of writing, reading and life:

At Southern-Fried Gothic on the importance of setting to your story

With Nicki Markus on how every little change is the beginning of something bigger

and today and Friday with The Greater Fort Worth, Texas Writers, on connecting with readers. Leave a comment on Monday’s or Friday’s post and be entered into a drawing for a free copy of The Elf Queen!

Just another day

Some readers have asked lately why I don’t write as much about autism any more. “How are the children?” they want to know.  It’s kind of funny that this blog started out to connect to other autism families, to learn, to share, to get through the days, and yet three years later what we find as we hit the bottom line is, we’re all alone in this. And it’s not necessarily progress.

Nine years now, we’ve had the diagnoses to work with. And work we have. Hours of meetings, consultations, hospital time, psychological time, special teachers, special classes. The dedication of our lives to this process of helping these three children overcome the cards they’ve been dealt.

Doctor Doo-Be-Do, for the most part, has succeeded in his quest–as much as a boy just this side of adolescence can, I suppose. He’s still disorganized, still emotional, and has a hard time mastering the art of anger. Some of his flightiness is likely ADD, some is hormones, and– he’s a boy. Inexplicable to a mother who’s raised five girls.

He’s going back into therapy this week, mostly to learn to deal with his reactions to other people–how anger and misplaced sarcasm isn’t always the best choice, for example. And how to deal with his brother.

 Little Miss has spent all but the first year of her life in some sort of therapy, whether it was occupational, physical, speech, cognitive, hippo-, water, and now a round of medication. Incredible.

This week, she’s beginning work with a play therapist with the intent to strengthen her language skills. This therapist has been part of her life since she was about four, when all Little Miss could do at their intake appointment was sing the “Chicka-boom” song. She couldn’t answer questions, she couldn’t tell one day from the next, she had no idea of her place in the scheme of life. Now Little Miss has successfully overcome the hurdle into young womanhood, and she’s preparing for the entry into junior high school next year, with half of her day mainstreamed in regular classes, where she does projects extremely well, but tests less so.  In fact, Little Miss has been commended this year for her extreme empathy in assisting the little ones in the beginning autism support classes, helping them come to the right class and entertaining them till the bell rings.

I’m kicking around the possibility of home schooling her during her eighth grade year to really work on her receptive and expressive language skills as well as her life skills.

I’d add the depth of travel, which she loves, to give her tactile, hands-on experiences to flesh out her capacity to file words away and acquire the processing ability to keep her language available for use. With a firm plan of objectives from this long-time therapist, we could work toward goals, both mental and educational. Taking a truck and small camper, we can expand our world. Maps will trace geography. Museums, state and national park resources really bring science language home. Planning trips solidifies executive functioning skills; tracking our budgets enhances practical math skills. We will also read whatever we can get our hands on to make her language the same easy, effortless exchange it is for so many of us.

          If I can pull this off, the process will be documented in a book about that year, a story told in personal moments, therapeutic breakthroughs and pictures. B has suggested a companion volume to be written and documented by Little Miss herself–how interesting is that?? I hope her language expands to the point that’s possible. Maybe her volume can be primarily pictures. That’s the point, after all, to show how creative work can help give a person opportunities to become themselves in a world that doesn’t always see things their way.  Other autistic children might relate better to a book they can see without having to process words, too. She’s come so far already. What a gift for all of us if she could enter high school on the same page as her peers.

And then there’s the Captain.

After his ‘stellar’ behavioral record last year, several suspensions for outbursts and attacks on other students, falling grades, disgusting personal habits, the school sent him to a partial hospitalization program at the beginning of last summer. It was supposed to last till school began in September. Then they said they hoped he’d be done by maybe November. Then January. Now they’re hoping to effect some change by the time school begins in September this year. Maybe.

So far they’ve been able to make him stop hitting people, when it’s a ratio of two staff to ten students. He’s still disrespectful, angry, has tantrums–all the ODD stuff–and he doesn’t care to please others, and believes that he always does everything right and everyone else hates/sabotages/screws him over–all the RAD stuff. He’ll use the Asperger’s as an excuse, when anyone asks him to do something– “You can’t expect me to do that, because I have Asperger’s!” –but he won’t take time to learn about the condition, and the fact that Asperger’s people are just as successful, if not more so, than any other human being. They just have to make an effort first. An effort of any kind.

His hatefulness crosses over to home, too, and we are all treated to his outbursts and refusals to carry his share of responsibility. On a recent trip, he stayed home because of a variety of circumstances, and his little brother was a different person. Free. Happy.  One of those moments that really brings home how oppressive it is to have a child who sucks the life out of the family.

The doctors at the school seem to have the attitude that the Captain is just going to be like this, so we’d best adapt. But after nine years of therapy, including two years of 30-hour a week TSS and now 30-hour a week intensive partial hospitalization for the better part of a year, what else are we going to do? If the professionals can’t handle it, can’t make him see himself, can’t show him why responsible behavior and ambition and caring for others is a good thing, how can two human parents ever hope to?

So, true. I don’t have as much to share about our ongoing experience with autism on a regular basis, because it’s sort of settled into our lives. We still deal with it every day, sometimes on high notes, sometimes on low notes, but it’s now part of the routine, not something we can do something about. But the end of the story hasn’t yet arrived–don’t worry. I’ll keep you posted. 🙂

Whither my little girls have gone?

I’m on the road today, somewhere in Iowa, on my way to a five day intensive writing workshop with Margie Lawson, having a “deluxe continental breakfast.” Not really sure what continent it might be from, but the coffee is fabulous.

But the topic of conversation on the TODAY show overhead is whether mothers and daughters can be best friends. They interview a set who are, at the same time the experts are horrified and gasping “no! No!”

This is a subject I’ve been thinking about for awhile. Not about being best friends with my daughters, but my relationship with them. As I’ve said before, most of my girls packed up and bailed for parts unknown. M picked the Navy, traveled the world, met The One, has a lovely family now living in Florida and soon to take off for foreign parts, if she has her way. B lives 2500 miles away in Nevada. K moved to North Carolina. (D is still in town, but she’s so busy we hardly see each other!) It’s hard to stay close from that distance.  They have their own lives. Mother isn’t part of it.

I asked M recently if she’d done it on purpose, moved away to exclude me. She laughed and called me a “silly mom” and assured me it wasn’t like that.

So many people I know in our small town live here forever. As do their parents. Children. Brothers. Sisters. Cousins. Even the ones once removed. Big family parties, cookouts, so on.  I see B doing this with her new family, and I’m glad she has the support.

So am I wishing they were too frightened of the “big world outside” to leave to stay home near me? Of course not. Maybe I’ve just done my job and sent them out, free and secure, to fly on their own, like any good mother bird.

At the same time, I resent only seeing them once every year or two. I wish they were close so we could do things together, so I wouldn’t worry when they had hard times, so I could pop over with a pot roast when I knew they needed it.

Mary Quigley quotes Jonas Salk like this:

Good parents give their children roots and wings. Roots to know where home is, wings to fly away and exercise what’s been taught them. — Jonas Salk

She makes some good points in her piece on adult children. It’s certainly not my intention to become a helicopter parent. I hate flying, for one. But I have grandchildren I hardly know, and all three of these girls are just slipping away in the passage of time. None of us knows how much time might be allotted to us. We might say, “Oh, someday we’ll…” but we don’t know whether we’ll ever get that chance.

Meantime, I suppose, I should be grateful they’re flying so successfully. If they don’t need me then I’ve done my job, right? It makes sense. But sometimes it just doesn’t satisfy my heart.

As promised, a new page

Since I’m apparently going to be a “real” writer, it’s time to unveil my new writer’s site, entitled “The Growing Works of Barbara Mountjoy.” I know I said I thought it would find a home at WordPress, but I couldn’t find a template that worked for me there. So please stop by and check it out!

The contract on the novel is on its way to me, but the publisher and I have already had extensive conversation about the very real possibility of a series to follow this novel, complete with potential plots and details. The artist is available to work this summer on the project, so perhaps some six months from now we will all be able to hold a copy of “The Elf Queen” in our hot little hands. I know I can’t wait.

Stay tuned for further good words! If you’re a writer feeling like your day will never come (like I did last week), I urge you to hang in there and keep trying. The success is even sweeter after the struggle. I promise.