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Thursday, December 4, 2014

If I Cancel Christmas, It's On Me

     On GMA this morning, they ran a fluff story about parents who decided to “cancel” Christmas for their three young boys. I’m torn about whether to admire them for their stick-to-it-iveness or view them as child abusers. 
     Who hasn't threatened this? This couple's actually doing it! Amazing! While I'm tempted to follow suit, I'm afraid I don't have the Christmas balls for it. Or maybe it goes deeper than my backbone or lack therof. *adopts Grinch voice* Cancelling Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
     Granted, I am a lenient parent. It stems from being the product of one overprotective parent and one who suffered a mental illness. My mother was on a mission to keep anything bad from happening a la Marlin from Finding Nemo, and my father was often in a fugue state. That’s right, he sometimes acted like a zombie, i.e., sitting in a trance, not paying attention to anything going on around him. He was in a world of his own. One time, in order to demonstrate this eccentricity, I jumped over him while he was watching TV. The friend hanging out with me that day thought it was hysterical, and I got that thrill one always gets in successfully entertaining an audience. My father didn’t flinch. 
Not much fun for little Elmo.
     It never occurred to me how cruel my actions were. I was just a kid--typically a very good kid--maybe around eleven years old and at the mercy of some forces I didn't understand. (No one told me about my father's mental condition, for instance.) I still should’ve been nicer that day. I don’t know what got into me.
     Based on reading this, you’ll probably dismiss any parenting advice I can give. But I’ll argue that being the daughter of a man who suffered multiple mental breakdowns and at least as many suicide attempts over the course of my youth makes me a better, far more understanding parent. Besides, anyone can give parenting advice. So there.
     And as an officially screwed-up child who grew to be a mediocre mom who--to her credit--tries like hell to be an awesome one, I advise these parents to reconsider their decision. Grinch parenting is as effective as Finding Nemo parenting = Not Very. If you really want to teach your kids the meaning of Christmas, I would go a less punitive route. Take it from someone who once doled out an overzealous punishment, and has lived to regret it. 
     About eight years ago, my daughter got reamed in kindergarten for eating the “special snack” of a child with allergies. (Gluten, I think.) Kindergarten was a horrible year for us. I knew it would be a hard transition, because my older daughter had gone through it a few years before. It's the perfect storm of factors that can cause kids apprehension. The teachers are getting to know the children. The children are acclimating to school, some of them without the benefit of having attended pre-school. Patience is a must in most instances—which is why most kindergarten teachers are the cream of the crop, chosen specifically to ease the burden of transition and establish a good impression of school and a firm routine.
The snack thief, eight years later.
     My middle daughter’s kindergarten career posed even more challenges than usual. The personality of her teacher didn’t meld well with hers, for one thing. I came to find out years later that the teacher was basically just teaching kindergarten because she wanted the part-time schedule to be home with her young daughter. (I know this, because she told me so, in those exact words.) And my older daughter has since had the teacher for a higher grade, which made it clear that some of the problems were not entirely my middle daughter’s fault, but resulted instead from this particular teacher's method of dealing with strong personalities. 
      Back to the Snack Incident. The kindergarten teacher lost it. She called me in, sat me down with my daughter and read us the riot act. We were stoic through the onslaught. How could my daughter steal the snack (a bag of cookies) from a child who is already suffering from the stigma of not being able to participate in birthday treats and regular snack time? How could I just be sitting there, not disciplining her? Don’t I see how cruel and calculating this is? How could I sleep at night knowing my daughter had done this?     
     That same week, a group of boys snuck a peanut-butter-smeared item onto the placemat of a child suffering peanut allergies and the administration laughed that incident off as a harmless lunchtime prank. (To me it sounded like attempted murder, but what did I know? I was raising the Anti-Christ.) Since the ranting to which I was subjected echoed what the pre-school teachers had said the prior year, I figured my daughter was a snotty, entitled brat. The teacher suggested “severe consequences” while skewering me with her one good eye. (A glare seems more effective from a one-eyed person, doesn't it?) I took her advice to heart.
     At the time, my daughter was in a horseback riding class offered through community education. My husband had coached kiddie soccer and received a voucher, which we used for the class. I decided to withhold her next horseback riding session. That would teach her a lesson about stealing snacks from poor unsuspecting gluten-free kids, I thought. This course of action would certainly please the one-eyed teacher. (I’m a pleaser, did I mention that?) Worst. Decision. Ever.
     I took my daughter to the horseback riding class so she could explain to the instructor in her own words why she wouldn’t be in class. There were tears from my daughter, a befuddled look from the instructor, trauma, despair-filled whinnying, snickerings from the other kids (or maybe that was the horses, too). It was horrible. Essentially I punished MYSELF.
     Now, I don’t know what the children of The Grinch parents did to bring on a cancellation of Christmas, but it should be more than simply being bratty. Everyone’s bratty. Everyone. Some grow out of it. Some don't. And, if you haven’t noticed, most people are also losing the meaning of Christmas.
How come they got to park on the street?
     Let me tell another story from my overly-punitive past. My mother didn’t like cars parked on the street in front of the house. The rule was I could park my car in the street all day, enabling her to get in and out of the driveway, but in the evening I had to pull it off the street. Which meant I had to get up the next morning and move it before my father left for work. We affectionately called this The Suburban Shuffle. One night I didn’t feel like moving the car. I was either too lazy, too tired, or I’d figured out that if I parked it on the street (where everyone else parked, by the way), I could sleep in later than 6 a.m., which is when my father would have to leave. I worked at a department store and rarely had to get there before 8.  
     That night a vandal came through our neighborhood and shot out people’s windows with a b.b. gun. He had chosen random cars to take out—mine and a few of the neighbors’, all the way around the block. The next morning, I walked out to my car to find the window in shards. I was devastated. I knew it would be expensive to replace, and it was also a mess to clean up.
      My parents gave me no sympathy. You can imagine what they said: if I’d parked in the driveway, like they’d suggested, my car would’ve been spared. What lesson did that teach me? To listen always to my parents? No (Thank God, because sometimes my parents made mistakes and this incident actually made me trust them less.) That I had control over bad things? No. What it taught me was to fear the unknown. It taught me that I couldn’t rely on my parents for support in times of need. If I asked for help, I’d be accused of bringing my own problems upon me. Note: The punishment was rendered not by my parents but by the FORCES OF THE UNIVERSE, emancipating my mom and dad from the title of “the bad guys”, although they deemed the punishment fitting with their attitudes.
     How does this parallel the boys losing Christmas, you might ask? Obviously, in this case the parents are the bad guys. What if my parents decided to sneak out at night and shoot a b.b. gun at my poor Sunbird for the purpose of teaching me a lesson? No one would support that but isn't it--in a sense--the equivalent of the way these parents are holding their kids up as examples? It might not be as bad as staking skulls on swords outside the castle wall (Game of Thrones moment)...okay I'm gonna drop this allegory in the middle of a sentence. All I'm saying is it's very hard to resist the lure of the distorted view of Christmas that ADULTS have helped propagate. 
     I’ve had problems and obstacles since my car windows got shot out, some of which I might’ve “brought on myself” and some that just happened. They happened regardless of whether or not I followed every rule to the letter. Just as Christmas comes without ribbons, tags, packages, boxes or bags. Christmas, you see, is a similar force with the same potential to be negative or positive. It certainly depends on the perceptions of people experiencing it, but it's also a powerful tradition steeped in history and myth. Unfortunately, it has morphed into a strange cultural hybrid: a multi-billion dollar industry, a political conundrum, observed legally but defined by laws of etiquette that make it wrong to express Christian sentiments in the same public buildings that close their doors for the holiday. Giving these children the incorrect impression that they can somehow control this cluster of confusion that Christmas has become is wrong and damaging.
     Let me note here that I think this is a GREAT idea (check it out on this blog) if it isn’t tied back to the kids’ behavior. Parents who sit their children down and explain that society in general has lost perspective and that’s trickling down to the family, so they’ve decided not to do a big thing this year have my full support.
    If not handled this way, I fear that withholding Christmas might actually bring more attention to the consumerism aspect. The kids’ goals for next year will most likely include “earning” their presents back. And what if they behave like angels, yet their dad or mom loses his or her job and the family can’t afford the presents that allegedly correlate to their improved behavior? What lesson will that teach?
     Of course, it will be all-out brilliant if next year the boys insist upon the exact same scaled-back celebration, preferring it to the bigger extravaganza. I will gladly eat my words if that happens. Only time will tell.
 
Just imagine Mr. Rogers on there. No!
    Until then, I advise the parents who have shouted this non-traditional parenting decision from the rooftops and thus garnered numerous blog hits, interviews on national morning shows, and my attention (last but not least): Unless you relish being visited this Christmas Eve (and bitch-slapped) by the ghosts of Dr. Seuss, Mr. Rogers and Dr. Spock (I know, my head is swimming from the guru mash-up right there), I’d get those boys some gifts for Christmas. The devolution of our culture is certainly not their fault. At least, I don't think it is. (Is one of them named Damien? If so, all bets are off.)


Friday, November 14, 2014

Celebrate Small Football Stadiums

This post marks my continued participation in the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop, originated on Viklit's blog (Scribblings of an Aspiring Author). Please join us every Friday in expressing gratitude for everything from tiny triumphs to giant sports facilities. G'head, click on the list below.
     Today I'm grateful that our high school football stadium has made it to the top ten in the MLive's Best Stadium search. I'm not a big football fan and I only visit the stadium when forced. Since my daughter marches in the band, I'm required to attend every home game, and occasionally I drop my son off on the field for soccer practice. Football is our sport, you see, and when I say football, I'm not talking about the American version. You might wonder why I care at all about the outcome of this vote. I guess I just feel that the fact we've gotten this far in this contest says something about my little town....something that I love.
     We aren't going to win. There is no way in Hell, MI that we're going to win (Yes, there actually is one. I might even retire there.) The stadium in the lead has 30 thousand votes or so, ten times more than us. The one ranked second is running neck-and-neck with the first one, with votes in the 30,000's. And still we keep voting. It's kind of inconceivable, seeing the odds are stacked so high against us. I vote every time I think about it, and since I'm at my computer all day long trying to make my goal of 50,000 words for National Novel Writing month (1/5 there! Whoo hoo!), it's working out okay. (You can vote every hour on the hour right here all the way until November 17). Other people must be doing the same, because--while a neighboring school district that also made the top ten is losing ground--we continue to toggle between seventh and sixth place, and have gotten as high as fifth.
      We won't give up. No matter how unlikely winning becomes. And that's a pretty good summary of the essence of the people here. When it comes to our kids, we won't quit. We'll keep plugging away, refusing to be discouraged by the gargantuan strides of others all around us. They might think they're on the right track, but only time will tell.
     Unfortunately, I don't think that slow and steady will win this race this time. But it makes for a pretty decent place to live. And a kick-ass philosophy (I'm talking a Kim-Kardashian-size ass too, Like the one plastered across Paper) to apply to larger issues, like real life. Or Nano. (Slow and steady just might win that one.)
     Besides, the stadium is super pretty--I mean, handsome. (Football stadiums probably don't consider it a compliment to be called pretty.) Already a backdrop for some fond family memories, it's sure to provide more of the same for my kids over their high school years. Sometimes, if I close my eyes, I'd swear I'm being sucked into an episode of Friday Night Lights. Then I forcibly redirect myself into The Music Man. That's more my cup of tea.
If you liked this post and have a second (that's literally all it takes), vote for Ortonville-Brandon--Blackhawk Stadium.
And join us on the hop, below!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Onion Cats

(All I can say by way of explanation is: It's Nanowrimo and I'm sorry, cat lovers.)   

Big Three Automaker Unveils Car Fueled by Cats

  In response to consumer demand for more fuel efficient car options, Dingler Automotive has revealed a new technology that enables engines to run on cats. This is a huge step toward the automaker’s ultimate goal of keeping foreign electric-car manufacturers overseas where they freaking belong.
      “If you can’t beat them, ban them,” said automotive CEO Robert Gangston. “I don’t like electric cars myself. I’m old-fashioned. Give me a good old gas-guzzler any day. But when our consumers made it clear they wanted options, I was happy to oblige.”
     The felines used for fuel fall within a wide range of breeds, including Siamese, Bermese, Persian and American Short-hair.
     “We tried to nab some of those ugly hairless cats to test the engines too,” said Lynn Ellerton, engineering lead on the project. “Unfortunately, it turns out hairless cats are rare, so we had to settle for tabbies. There are tons of tabbies running wild on the streets of Detroit.”
     Consumers can also stock up on superfluous cats at animal shelters or on the foreclosed properties of creepy cat people, as well as through retailers specializing in car accessories.
     Abducting neighbors’ cats for fuel is not recommended.

     “In this global market, people are even harder to satisfy,” said Gangston. “Addressing their tedious needs sometimes calls for drastic measures. Companies like Tesla feel they can come over here and provide a product just because some new-fangled market research has deemed it desirable to US citizens. Never mind that our engineers have worked their asses off to come up with two—count them, two—electric car models over the years. It’s never enough. From an automotive standpoint, the jump from gas to electricity to cats made perfect sense.”
     So as not to make a mountain out of a molehill, the controversial research was secretively performed in an abandoned warehouse smack in the middle of a blight-infested downtown neighborhood. Gangston confirmed that the engineering team had to forcibly remove twelve squatting crackheads in order to proceed.

    “They went above and beyond,” he said.
     The hard-won results promise to revolutionize fuel economy. Each cat equates to approximately 100 miles of driving (107 highway), saving the typical driver thousands of dollars per year in fuel. Auto emissions will likewise be improved, since the festering wounds from cat fights are contained in special fuel compartments that facilitate the cat-powered engines. Bodily fluids are then secreted out the tailpipe, where they will be washed down into the sewer system, which NHTSA is quick to point out doesn’t fall under the regulatory organization’s jurisdiction.
     “We don’t do sewers, thank God,” NHTSA said. “Just air emissions.”
      In a stroke of poetic brilliance, the automaker is letting the cat out of the bag just in time for cooler weather. Drawn to the heat of cooling engines, the felines have a tendency to mold their bodies to the metal undercarriages of cars in driveways and parking spaces. Many speculate that means the animals had it coming. In fact, They Have It Coming is the tagline of the ad campaign that will accompany the cat-engine launch.
     “I’ve got all these alerts on my facebook feed to check underneath my car to make sure I don’t run over any cats,” said Gangston. “Anything stupid enough to crawl up under there gets just what it deserves. This time next year you’ll be able to grab the cat, insert it in the appropriate compartment and be on your merry way! Unless it’s a skunk. Don’t try it with a skunk.”
    The automaker’s stock rose slightly with the unveiling. Shareholders and automotive employees are optimistic that their leaders are on the right track to continued recovery from the recession of 2008.
     “That’s what I call enterprise: popping pussies into cars,” said Ernest “Sweeney” Hobninger, a union steward at the Lovett Road assembly plant. “At the very least, it should do wonders to control the stray cat population.”
     Our publisher contacted the Humane Institute of America, but the organization was too dumb-struck at press time to issue a comment.
     When asked if there were any concerns about citations of noise pollution, what with all that yowling going on, Gangston chuckled.
I know, he looks a lot like Christian Grey.
    “I can’t believe we’ve done this entire interview with you thinking the cats are alive. The cats are dead, you silly goose. I mean, anything else would be considered inhumane. What kind of monsters do you think we are here in Detroit? No, wait. Don’t answer that.”
     The first model to make use of the new technology is the 257 cat-power Twitch SE. It will be spotlighted at the 2015 auto show in January.



     

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I am Spartacu--I mean, Renee Zellweger

The post in which I wimp-out of playing God. Scrolling through my facebook feed today, I feel like God must feel. Bombarded by the wants and needs of a world in crisis. Disgusted by the wrongness of it all. It’s overwhelming, and I don’t even know where to start to make it less alarming. No matter how much I go around “liking” all the good things on facebook, nothing seems to change. I probably should just stop reading the feed entirely.
     But I can’t. As Leonardo DiCaprio observes to Kate Winslet as she dangles from the rail of the Titanic, I’m involved now. I’m going to have to dive into freezing cold water, risk skin-piercing pain and save my facebook friends by talking them back onto the ship. (Yeah, yeah. I know it’s going to sink anyway. Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.)
     We’ll start out small.....with
Item 1:
...Renee Zellweger’s appearance. I often wondered what happened to her. Kind of figured she got fed up with the Hollywood scene of ageism and gender discrimination and took off to lead a more fulfilling life. Like Ben Affleck when he pulls into Matt Damon’s driveway in Good Will Hunting only to find his friend MIA, I noted her absence and smiled a sappy smile, thinking, “Good for her. She’s meant for better things.” Then I looked wistfully off toward Harvard or Princeton or whatever college was in Good Will Hunting.
      A few male stars have likewise disappeared from the face of the earth at one time or another. Their absences haven’t been lost on me, either. It just seems like they always come back, tail between their legs. I respected Rene for actually sticking to her decision. She stayed away.
    Imagine my vexation when she reappears in order to attend the Elle Women in Hollywood event and starts all this buzz about appearance. Stop being so stupid, everyone! This shouldn’t even be on my facebook feed. Or God’s. Or anyone's. Just walk away, Renee. (I've always wanted to say that!)
      Rene Zellweger looks different in part because it’s been ten years. It can’t be entirely plastic surgery. Plastic surgery makes you look more like the Hollywood norm, not less like it. She left to avoid having to live up to this ideal and looks exactly like what she is—a woman living an ordinary life at 46. It’s Hollywood’s vampiristic refusal to age that has our perceptions all skewed and unhealthy. The people who stayed in Hollywood are the ones with addictions to Botox and Photoshop.
     Besides, Rene insists she’s happy. Shouldn’t that be all that matters? The thing is, we’ve been raised to believe happiness is this miracle elixir that will make you forever young. Truth be told, happiness doesn’t affect one’s appearance at all. You can be plain and ecstatic or drop-dead gorgeous and a miserable jerk or any combination of these elements: ugly/happy, mediocre/happy, miserable/ugly, mediocre/ugly….Urgh, my brain hurts. Quick! Let’s get the GWH math genius on it. *Matt scrawls out every variation on the nearest chalkboard while we check out this official statement.*
     I’m sorry if you are having a hard time coping with this “transformation”. No doubt your horror stems from the suspicion that if it happened to Rene Zellweger (and It here means the normal aging process), it will also happen to you. Guess what? It will. Your one saving grace is that your demise won’t be plastered all over facebook, inspiring dialogues that strive to negate all the positive changes you’ve made in your life. Sadly, she is used to it.
     In conclusion, let’s analyze a scene from Good Will Hunting: Ten Years Later (Trust me, it’s in the works) A wizened Matt Damon shows up at the local bar to meet Ben Affleck for a drink. Matt mentions he’s recently gained tenure as a professor of mathematics. The puckish, youthful Ben chugs down his beer and belches, saying, “Jeez, that’s great, Matt. But you look like shit. If you ask me, you probably would’ve been way better off staying in town and laying bricks for a living.” Ben flexes his Batmanesque muscles and slaps Matt on the back. “It’s okay, buddy. I’m buying the next round with my union overtime.” The prosecution rests.
     Item 2: This

Holy shit! I wish I were that articulate at 15. I wish I were that articulate now. I wish I knew whether or not Rene Zellweger was that articulate (or that I knew anything at all about her current life besides that everyone thinks she looks bad—or not bad, different, which we all know means bad). I wish young girls would be perusing the Mighty Girl web site right now and modeling their vocabs after this young woman’s instead of scouring Instagram for dorks to model their priorities and bodies after. I wish.
     Item 3: Gamergate
Is that a thing? Upon reading a grim article, I conclude it is a thing and a deadly one at that, resulting in ugly threats and the attempted stifling of female empowerment. And in this spot I was about to render an insightful article on this issue. Unfortunately, people tell me this issue is dead. Gamergate is no more, which brings up another bad thing about God’s facebook feed. By the time He gets to the bottom of it, there’s something more important drawing his attention right back to the top. An unending loop of need and life. Man, it sucks to be God. Once again, Thank God I’m not.
    

     

Friday, October 17, 2014

I'm Grateful for My Shitty Computer

Do your eyes deceive you? No. They don’t. Today for the Celebrate Small Things blog hop, I’m truly grateful for my shitty computer. That's right. If a person showed up at my door today, right now, and offered me a free I-Pad, I’d decline. Even if it was an I-Pad Air. I’d say: No way! I’m good with the computer I have. That old desktop over yonder, on the…well, on the desktop. 
     So what if the graphic driver’s shot? I like a computer that blinks on and off as I’m typing. It reminds me of my brain. 

      And so what if it takes about a million years for the little icons to materialize on my screen every morning when I turn it on? That gives me time for another cup of coffee. 

     So what if it crashes more reliably than the blood-sugar levels of a kid who makes a steady diet of Twinkies and Dots? Gives me an excuse to get off it and go do something else. I guess you could say that my shitty computer has taught me some invaluable lessons.

    Here are a few other things I learned from my crap computer.

Save. Save the freaking document! Save it every time you breathe, every time your heart beats. Every time you think of Colin O’Donoghue and how he never wears anything but that stupid pirate outfit on Once Upon a Time. Save when you imagine you’re getting a whiff of the B.O that needs must waft odiously from O’Donoghue’s leather-encased pits. Save when you find yourself feeling ashamed for dissing O'Donoghue—who is after all a one-handed man (or plays one on TV). C'MON! He still should be able to afford an alternate outfit. Trade rum for it, for God's Sake. Rum's a commodity. Where was I? Oh, yeah. Save! Save! Save!

Back it up. Okay, so you forgot to save. Again. No worries, you have the last draft backed up in the cloud or some other such idyllic, hypothetical place (A flash drive doesn’t count.) Hurrah for you. Because even if you did save each and every time, something unexpected still might happen. Always have a back-up plan.

Your computer is not alive. Sure, it’s been with you right from the beginning, cheering you on with those indecipherable beeps, challenging you to rise above the blue screen of death, making you persevere no matter how many uncertainties the task you're asking of it entails (printing, emailing or just listening). Sometimes you would swear that it's alive. Here's ultimate proof to the contrary. Your computer will be the sole thing that manages to brave your company in November, which marks Nano, an activity that will make you so insufferable that anyone who actually is alive (like the rest of your family and friends) will avoid you like an Ebola-stricken traveler. 

I'm sorry to bust your bubble, but despite the fact that you bounce ideas off it, swear at it, threaten to throw it through a window and plug most of its orifices with electrical devices, it isn’t alive--(and you should thank God it's not, by the way, because you might be up on charges if it were, especially after that last line). Don't you realize that any live thing definitely would’ve objected by now to the continuous stream of coffee spittle dripping down its screen? (Which of course would be the equivalent of its face in a live version of itself.) Don't look at me that way!The Internet is funny and I spit when I laugh. Up until now, you’ve simply been projecting human traits on it. Calm down! It's understandable. After all, you spend about eight hours of your day immersed in a world of your own imagining. Plus you’ve always been a bit nuts, if you want to know the truth.

Just because something is nuts, doesn’t mean you have to run out and replace it right away. Chris Cooper said it best in Seabiscuit: “You know, you don’t throw a whole life away just because he’s banged up a little." *abandons un-dead computer to watch Seabiscuit twenty additional times.*

You can find a bright side in anything if you put your mind to it. Amen to that! This holds true especially if you’re a writer.

This blog hop is hosted by Vik Lit (Scribblings of an Aspiring Author) and co-hosted by: Diana WilderLG Keltner @ Writing Off the EdgeKatie @ TheCyborg Mom, and CaffeMaggieato @ mscoffeehouse 
If you'd like to join us in finding gratitude in unexpected places, please click below. My computer commands you.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I Laugh in the Face of ADHD (Um, no I don't)

I don't get it. Does this mean the book is NOT a best-seller?
This Wimp-out Wednesday, instead of a self-serving summary (alliterate much?) of my pursuit of employment, I’m delving into an Important Issue with caps. Content Advisory: if you don’t like serious topics interspersed with irreverent humor, proceed no further. I’m just warning you. I plan to blog about Kelli Stapleton, who is about to be sentenced for first-degree child abuse after a failed murder/suicide attempt involving her autistic daughter. It’s certainly no laughing matter, but I approach everything with humor. If I didn’t have that defense mechanism, I would probably be in Kelli’s shoes. Who knows? Maybe I am.
     As the mother of an ADHD child, I have experienced a small taste of the stress Kelli Stapleton had to deal with. Small taste, mind you. Although autism is much more difficult on families than ADHD, there are similarities (they are related, after all). Some of the drug treatments overlap, ADHD kids can become violent and act out in frustration, parent support of both ADHD and autistic kids is lacking. Being imaginative, I can easily make the jump. And that scares me shitless.
     I’m thinking if I can, there are probably others who can see themselves at risk for this tragic consequence. Others who haven’t had the best childhoods to set an example for functional family life. (The news article said that Kelli’s was “chaotic”) Others who might be going it all alone (while I have a husband who actively participates in the raising of my kids, Kelli did not). People who are so busy struggling to get appropriate treatments and therapy for their children there is no budget left over for themselves. They may not be able to articulate this fear, but I would bet a million dollars that right now there are women (and some men) out there who might find themselves in the position of seeing no other way out than concocting a drastic plot to end the suffering.
     Kelli Stapleton most likely could be defined as legally insane when she gave her daughter sleeping meds and lit a pair of charcoal grills inside her van with the intention of killing them both.That is not something a mother with fully-functioning faculties (again with the alliteration. MAKE IT STOP!) would do. But I checked out her blog (and you can too, here).
      Now tell me if that sounds like the ramblings of a crazy person. (Hint: My blog sounds more like the ramblings of a crazy person.) Correct answer: It does not. She was quite obviously at one time fully vested in her daughter’s treatment and well-being. Before her mental health deteriorated, she was an advocate for autistic children; a former molecular biologist who gave up her career to attend to the demands of raising kids in general, and specifically a child with special needs; a single mom; a woman who had found a good, effective behavioral treatment program for her daughter and was trying to afford it when she lost insurance funding.
     Her husband said she was crazy and that the daughter wasn’t violent. I find that pretty hard to believe. More likely, Kelli Stapleton was a sane woman who became so afraid for her own safety that she cracked and lost all reason.
   
My oldest helping at O.A.T.S
   Autistic children all have episodes of violence. My daughters volunteer at a therapeutic horse program for children with special needs, and there are a lot of special needs kids that volunteer (sometimes in lieu of riding) as well. (I don’t really see my ADHD child as a volunteer with special needs. Her needs aren’t special special needs—more like moderately charming and sometimes extremely irritating needs. Or something like that.) Anyway, there is one high-functioning autistic teen in particular who helps out with the horses. I didn’t even know she had special needs—she’s that mainstreamed—but when my kids brought their new baby rabbit to the barn to show the program directors, and the girl I mentioned asked to hold the bunny, my daughters didn’t let her. I thought it was cruel until I was told by everyone in the place that she would immediately throw the baby bunny across the room if it made even so much as one move to cause her any discomfort. No one wanted to risk a bunny death. Yet her parents deal with the possibility of that same spontaneous violence every day, like a ticking time bomb.
      My own ADHD child has threatened me with a hammer, kicked and bitten her siblings, and once I got the distinct feeling that she considered punching me in the side of the head as I drove down a winding road. I had to remind her that the car would most likely run off the road if the driver was rendered unconscious. (Better safe than sorry, huh?) Once she threw a rock at her brother, chipping his tooth so that he had to get a root canal at the age of six. The tooth still occasionally becomes infected, causing him a lot of pain and calling for a dose of antibiotics. I don’t even know if that act of violence had anything to do with her ADHD. It might’ve been just a dumb kid mistake. It was kind of a blessing in disguise, because  1.) it didn’t hit him in the head and 2.) she’s had the opportunity to witness how an impulsive act on her part can have far-reaching effects. And I think it scared her enough to keep her from throwing rocks in the future. That’s what it takes to teach a lesson to an ADHD kid.
     Guess what? It takes even more to teach a lesson to a child suffering from autism.
Brianna rides sometimes in exchange for helping.
     Our family has been in our fair share of therapy sessions since my daughter has been diagnosed, and before she was diagnosed I’d been lectured by a number of pre-school and kindergarten teachers about the task ahead of me, i.e., raising The Anti-Christ. You see, they’d written my daughter off at that point as a bad student, a wicked child, instead of considering she might have an attention disorder. Even today—five years after her diagnosis—I sometimes wonder if the early teachers were right about her (It was her second-grade teacher who suggested we take her to a psychiatrist for evaluation). I often wonder, could she be bad? Our relationship is so damaged, that I can barely see how to patch it up—yet I’m trying. I wonder how Kelli’s relationship with her daughter was. Not good, I’ll bet. So heartbreaking for a mother.
      It’s hard to tell which behaviors stem from the ADHD and which are just plain brattiness, because no child is perfect. Mine has had to work extremely hard at what has come easily to her other siblings: things like empathy, sharing, appropriate hygiene, kindness. I need the Lady Gaga concept of “She was born this way” constantly reinforced by her therapist, who also reminds me at every session that my daughter has a lot of good qualities (all common among ADHD kids). She’s driven (and I need to stop seeing this as obsessiveness), quick-witted, confident (and I need to stop seeing this as being a know-it-all), able to appear competent in pretty much any situation (and I need to stop seeing this as conniving behavior that will someday result in her heading up a Ponzi Scheme), punctual (And I DO mean punctual. She freaks if we are running late for anything—even though she is often what causes us to be running late), demanding of perfection, loyal to the end of days, imaginative (not manic, as I sometimes fear). I’m sure Issy had her strengths too, but the light of these was probably doused as she and her mother soldiered on trying to stay one step ahead of Issy’s disorder.
     The question is: why didn’t this family get help? All they had to do was ask. Okay, if that’s what went wrong, here, I am officially asking for help on behalf of every parent of a child with autism/ADHD/bipolar disorder/schizophrenia and any disorder I might’ve missed. They need help. We need help. So now that I’ve issued this official plea for help by proxy, does that mean that if we fail to come to their aid the next tragedy is on us?

     
For more information on autism, visit Autism Speaks 
Families coping with the myriad challenges related to autism can also call a 24-hour hotline for assistance: 1-800-273-TALK.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Grocery Ninja I Am Not

Ground-up kitten? I'm there. Cats are so smug.
Must. Blog. *army crawls along floor to old desktop computer, does pathetic pull-up on rolling chair, arranges self in chair and takes a swig of coffee, being careful not to drool all over the keyboard*
"Mmm, pumpkin spice."
     The experience of grocery shopping is becoming more and more surreal. My trip to the local Meijer store yesterday clinched it. The flaws of the entire world were evident around every corner. Not only was the place torn up, people were running into each other--with carts, without them. Items had been moved from one end of the store to another, rendering all of us grocery-shopping rookies despite years and years of experience. People were coming unhinged. In all fairness, no one wants to be made to feel incompetent, especially not the average afternoon clientele of Meijer, which includes new moms with young children in tow, retirees, the occasional person on lunch break…and me. 
     I overheard various complaints to store employees about the construction. I wonder what the heck these customers expected the employees to do about it. No one complained to the construction workers who were standing around in this hollowed-out pit in the middle of the produce section. I suppose they were afraid the construction workers would resort to catcalls, because it did appear as if a street of New York had been magicked from some burough and set down in the middle of the potatoes. It just seemed to me that they’d be more likely to have answers about the logistics of the move. Is there some unwritten rule about not engaging construction workers in conversation? (They don't only speak in catcalls, do they?)
     Anyway, signs and prices were inaccurate, full sections of shelving were empty, carts of merchandise en route to other places were blocking aisles. I saw right away that it was going to take some extra time to navigate this food labyrinth. Still, I was confident I’d get out alive, even though from all directions came the sound of folks exhaling huge gusts of breath in frustration and despair. This was no more discouraging than the venomous glares directed at anyone not engaged in a fight to the death for groceries. I'm sorry. When did this become The Hunger Games?
     At one point, when I had made a conscious decision to wait patiently for an older woman who’d wandered about twenty feet from her cart, leaving it directly next to another cart belonging to a woman who was scouring a shelf in vain, searching for an item she'd never find because the store HAD BEEN COMPLETELY REARRANGED, the shopper behind me edged her cart in front of mine trying to squeeze past. Unfortunately the gap between the two stationary carts was no wider than a scooter. When it became obvious she couldn’t fit (which is why I DIDN’T ATTEMPT IT), she stomped out from behind her cart (completely blocking passage for a cart-less shopper behind her who could’ve easily slipped through the scooter-sized gap if Ms. Proactive Grocery Predator hadn’t decided to make her move). She rolled the old woman’s cart up, all the while skewering me (yes, me) with a gaze that said in no uncertain terms: “Why didn’t you think to do this, you dumbass?”
     Here’s my answer, lady: because it’s rude. It occurred to me, fleetingly, that I could push the hindering cart aside and get past, but honestly I felt the bulking form stewing behind me and figured Ms. Proactive Predator was about to go in for the kill. By that time I’d seen about five cart collisions and didn’t want to be involved in one personally. I’d even observed two women that had already collided meet up again in another aisle. While this time they were able to ward off direct impact, they exchanged a chuckle about the irony, saying something like “It’s you again. Ahhh, we’re two women on a mission. Yuk. Yuk. Yuk.” Yes, it’s so amusing to run people down over bags of Cheetos (although they were kind of cute—they were shaped like skeletons! Have you seen those?)
     Did I mention the store was in shambles? ATTN: Proactive Shopper Types. No one’s finding anything they need! This is the fault of store managers and corporate executives—NOT mine or the elderly woman who left her cart for about five minutes in search of something that has been methodically hidden from her under the guise of making her life better. I’m trying to be patient, here, in the face of adversity. So chill the fuck out! Capiche?
     Don’t get me wrong: I can be aggressive enough when the situation calls for it, but grocery shopping doesn’t call for it. I mean, the actions required for such a task are light lifting and basic math. I never saw grocery shopping as an opportunity to show-off ninja skills. To me, getting a can of tomato sauce into my cart two minutes earlier isn’t worth making an elderly woman feel as if she were just taking up space on this earth. She's been here longer than I have. It isn’t worth fostering the impression that any fellow human—all of whom have every right to occupy a human-sized area, mind you—is merely in the way. Besides, everyone in the store was in everyone’s way.
     I could tell just by looking at this poor, unsuspecting woman who’d haplessly abandoned her groceries for a brief instant, thinking no one would be affected by this reckless deviance, that she’d be mortified if someone moved her cart. And I was right. The moment she saw movement in her peripheral vision, she snapped to attention. Even though she still hadn’t found the object of the mission that resulted in the unfortunate cart abandonment, she returned with due speed. Emitting an audible gasp, she meekly tried to move the cart even further out of the way (I suspect she would’ve made it disappear entirely if such a thing were possible, although even that wouldn't have satisfied Proactive Shopper Chick.) She then proceeded to apologize to the other woman…for her very existence. The cart-moving woman, intent on getting in front of people who had actually arrived BEFORE her and were thus entitled to get to their grocery items first IMHO, responded by making some sort of grunting noise in acknowledgment of the older woman’s apology. I translated it as: “Well, that’s okay that you’re alive and here, adjacent to me, at this very second. Just don’t let it happen again.”
      I tell you, it was a most ridiculous scene. (Not the most ridiculous scene EVER, though. I've got tons more where this came from.) I wish I could’ve video-taped the interaction in order to have it sent out to a university and analyzed by sociologists. I’m sure it says something about our culture. I’m just too depressed right now to figure out what.

Team Kale
     You see, I forgot to buy cabbage, kale (if they even stock kale anymore. I think I saw a sprig of it peeking out from underneath a construction worker's boot, so they must have some somewhere) and cooking spray. I’m not going back. We’ll just eat grass in place of the kale, timothy hay for the cabbage, and I’ll grease up the crock pot with some K-Y Jelly. That’ll work.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Chill

Today I'm grateful for apple-cider air ripened with sticks of cinnamon, mounds of pulp and a little smoke chaser--just the way I like it. The liquid equivalent of this magic scent I'll slurp out of a chintzy plastic cup the size of a giant's thimble, while wasps bump at my elbows hoping I'll spill some for them. Generations of orchard-keepers will watch and nod, satisfied their work is done.
I'm thankful for soft sweatshirts with frayed sleeves, nubby flannels, leaves that make your car windshield into a mobile kaleidoscope, summer flowers hanging on for dear life as full-figured mums nudge them aside. Scarecrows, corn mazes, screaming football fans. The chill that snubs your spine in favor of the nasal passages, leaving you wondering how you ever took a single breath before. I don't care what the results to my color season surveys say. I'm an Autumn.
Happy Friday! Happy Fall!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Smooth Sailing

This Friday, I'm celebrating smooth sailing, which is how I'd describe the first week of back-to-school. I guess I can go ahead and say it now, since it's the last day. That's not counting my chickens, right? Just in case it is, I'm going to throw some salt over my shoulder.
     I'm a superstitious person. I'm also a little paranoid because I hail from Detroit, home of the Tigers: you know, the ball club that was seven games ahead of everyone else at one time, and now has fans sweating it out wondering if they'll even make the play-offs. I knew it was a mistake to buy tickets for a game so far in advance. They should really suck by mid-month. Then again, around here it's not over until Aretha Franklin sings.
     As for school, you'd think I'd let out a breath. Do a happy dance. Meet some friends for lunch or arrange a bus-stop coffee clutch. But no. My neurotic dog and I pace around, disconsolate in the wake of a sense of impending doom. So what if everyone seems excited in the morning, content when they get home and generally well-adjusted? It might be just an act! It doesn't help that the dog is acting really weird (maybe she's just responding to my anxiety), shadowing me everywhere and the children! The children! They're abandoning their electronic devices when they get off the bus and going outside to walk their rabbits or play football with the neighbor kids. They're laying out their clothes the night before and packing their own lunches. It's like a sequel to the Stepford Wives, The Stepford Children. Do you think they might've been abducted by aliens, injected with some behavior enhancing serum and restored discreetly to their beds without me knowing?
     My middle daughter says she loves Middle School, seeming unaware of the horrors that await just around the corner. (Unless perhaps Middle School is kinder to middle children since they're both "Middles"?)
     My oldest loves high school. She even has a senior (whom she calls "My Senior") to show her the ropes. In my day seniors pretended underclassmen didn't exist. If we called them "My Anything"--unless it was boyfriend or girlfriend--we'd get beat up or otherwise ostracized.
     My son in third grade proudly displayed his first agenda book last night before brushing his teeth.
     I guess I should just enjoy this peace and harmony while it lasts, but it's kind of hard to do when I'm waiting for an anvil to drop on my head. The real issue, I think, is I see my friends bidding adieu to their college-bound sons and daughter and I know that will be me before I know it. I sense my family on the brink of going their separate ways in both body and spirit, and here I am, backpedaling in vain, desperate to keep us as psychically together as possible. Staying physically together every moment will soon be impossible. I mean, look at these pictures from our trip to the zoo. They're so obviously separate, so contemplative of their own thoughts they couldn't even pose for our traditional fountain picture. Growth is relentless, each little dig on our door frame representing a moment to which we can never return.
     Not that I want to stunt their growth or anything. (Can I do that? How?)
     This week I'm celebrating that my kids are capable of leading functional lives separate from mine. And cursing that same reality.
     This is a hop hosted by the following blogs: Scribblings of an Aspiring Author
Diana WilderLG Keltner @ Writing Off the EdgeKatie @ TheCyborg Mom, and CaffeMaggieato @ mscoffeehouse 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Being Thankful

   
Today I’m thankful for the end of the Facebook Thankful Challenge. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but between the Ice-Bucket challenge and this new challenge to list three things for three days, I’m getting the vibe that people might be overwhelmed. (I certainly am.)
     Let me be clear: this blog hop (which is Celebrate Small Things for those wanting to join us) is lovely. It’s just the right amount of thankfulness, thank you very much. A weekly inventorying of tiny triumphs is far more appealing to me than listing huge, far-reaching things (like family relationships and trips). As an added bonus, most of the participants are writers, so the celebrations usually deal with things that only writers can appreciate. Like adding a paragraph to your book. Or sending out a query. (Most everyone else would read that on a list and think: WTF? Seriously, that’s what this person is thankful for?) They’d shake their heads in pity as they scroll away.
      Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing what inspires gratitude in friends and family. Still, I find the facebook version to be somewhat skewed. When you know all the responses are going to be viewed by EVERYONE, your answers tend to change. They’re filtered through your impressions about what everyone else will think. For instance, I probably won’t be posting that I’m thankful my daughter practiced her bells on our deck today to get back at my obnoxious neighbor who starts his riding tractor up at 8 a.m and cuts his grass every three days. I'll put up a good front and be thankful about the things normal people are thankful for.
    See, I’ve been thinking a lot about the mentally ill in our nation (still can’t get over Robin Williams’ death. Click here to find out about a cool thing he used to do to help the homeless), and it worries me that so many people in crisis might be bombarded with everyone else’s huge triumphs while they are at their most vulnerable. I believe a lot of depressed individuals turn to facebook for support. This might be okay on a normal basis, but when the Thankful Challenge is going on, probably not so much. Anyway, I participated in the Thankful Challenge because my friend asked me to, but I will not nominate anyone else. The buck stops here. (Um, no it actually doesn't because the chain proceeds, with or without me.)
     The same goes for the Ice Bucket challenge. An interesting note about the Ben Affleck one (above) is that he and Jennifer Garner have been in suburban Detroit all summer. They've been spotted everywhere--at restaurants and traffic lights--and have been gracious to all Detroiters. Thus the tee-shirt. The "kid laughter" in the background makes this worth a watch.
     My advice for future social networking fundraising campaigns? (Because you know they’re coming!) By all means, take the opportunity to learn about the illness or issue, but don’t ever feel obligated to participate in them unless you want to. These campaigns are geared toward celebrities and the extremely wealthy who can, and should, help out. Donate money—or time, if you can’t spare the money—to the charity of your choice in private and whenever you feel it’s appropriate. And click the link below to join this blog hop hosted by Vik Lit (Scribblings of an Aspiring Author) and co-hosted by Diana WilderLG Keltner @ Writing Off the EdgeKatie @ TheCyborg Mom, and CaffeMaggieato @ mscoffeehouse  for just the perfect amount of thankfulness.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Celebrating Anonymous Media Whores

     “One of my favorite authors is Anonymous.” Ever hear that? And when’s the last time you saw by Anonymous, the New York Times Bestseller emblazoned across the cover of a book? 
Okay, it can be done. But today in honor of Celebrate Small Things, a blog hop hosted by Vik Lit (Scribblings of an Aspiring Author) and co-hosted by the following bloggers:
LG Keltner @ Writing Off the Edge
Katie @ TheCyborg Mom 
CaffeMaggieato @ mscoffeehouse 
I’m grateful that publishing usually requires that authors display their names prominently on their products. Because otherwise, I probably wouldn’t.   
     One of my favorite authors, Tawni O’Dell, has a darkly humorous personal story about having to fight to use her given name in her debut book. I say darkly because it has some really horrible undertones of the discrimination women authors still face (yes STILL). So it’s more than just a funny anecdote, and a great read for anyone hoping to publish. But I’m saving that for my next post on All The Crazy, a group blog I contribute to every sixth week or so. (Until then, you should check out the posts of my fellow contributors. There's something for everyone!)
     There are writers who rarely get their names on their work, and I was one of them for about ten years. Copywriters, PR people, writers for the wire services. In those industries, a code of honor is what keeps people from claiming work that isn’t theirs. The collaborative nature of the industry makes it hard to figure out just who did what.     
     So when my daughter’s softball team went to the playoffs for the third year in a row, I sent a write-up to the local paper again. I’ve been sending press releases all along, since I feel that it’s especially important to feature girls’ sports whenever possible. Besides, all you have to do is email names and a picture to the editor. When another mom said, “Did you see the girls in the paper?” I nodded and we talked about their great season. My husband was like “Why didn’t you tell her you wrote it?”
In First Place. Note the lucky rabbit.
     Because I didn’t really write it, I argued, I emailed names and a picture. Then I thought about my real motives, which trace all the way back to elementary school. Fifth grade was a bad year for me. It was the year my father tried to kill himself three times. There were probably more attempts over the years that I didn’t know about, but that time he was forcibly committed as a result of a psychotic break. My mother’s valiant attempts to keep his mental illness under wraps (even from me) failed when the police and the court system got involved. I had no idea what was going on and was, frankly, afraid to ask.
     At school—where I always thrived, probably to make up for the bad vibes I felt at home—there was an ongoing food drive. I happened to mutter the phrase “Don’t be greedy, help the needy” within earshot of a teacher. She liked it so much that she included that line in a PA announcement. Maybe I’d heard it somewhere before, but I like to think it was my first advertising tagline, circa 1981. When it sounded over the PA, my heart burst with pride, so much so that I mentioned to my best friend I’d come up with it. She stared at me. “You came up with that?” Not only didn’t she believe me, she proceeded to elicit opinions from the entire class. They all thought I was lying. The consensus was that teachers write the PA announcements, and Mrs. Kuechle, a charismatic, lovely teacher, whom I loved as much as any of them, definitely wrote that one.
     My best friend didn’t know that my dad was suicidal. She didn’t know that I really, really needed credit for something. Anything.
     Hurt at receiving cattiness instead of the congratulations I’d expected, I didn’t ask the teacher to clear it up. Deep down I was afraid that she too would deny it. Although I’d never been a boastful child and wouldn’t dream of taking credit for something I didn’t do, I realized that people must perceive me as being horrible. It’s like they knew that something bad was in me. Maybe the same bad thing surrounding the mystery of what my dad had done to wind up in an institution. Soon I began to doubt whether I’d written the stupid thing in the first place—or if it even mattered. I vowed to be more careful about sharing my ideas.
     Fast-forward to the present. When the playoffs ended, and the girls had won their championship, I sent another blurb, and parents commented again. This time, I admitted I’d sent the information.
     “You wrote that?” one of them asked skeptically.
Season Champs
     I gulped, exchanged a look with my husband and said, “Yeah.” Then I winced, waiting for the criticism, knowing I either spelled a name wrong, switched kids in the picture, listed the sponsor from last year instead of the current one. There is no end to the list of potential pitfalls.
     “Wow, that was so nice of you. The girls were excited to be in the paper, twice now.”
     I took a deep, relieved breath.
     “But won’t people think we’re media whores?” the parent added.
     Watch out, Kim Kardashian. Thanks to me, you just might be dethroned by the Brandon Township Girls’ Softball team.