I Love You…Quirks and All

The model "ski lift" my son and I built together out of cardboard, string and pipe cleaners.

The model “ski lift” my son and I built together out of cardboard, string and popsicle sticks.

I knew from the moment I laid eyes on my younger son, a preemie with dusky, lanugo-covered skin, that he was unique.  Others were scared to hold this fragile, funny-looking baby.  But to me, he was beautiful.  I could hold him and his twin brother for hours watching their tiny, newborn features.  While his brother’s round, pink face relaxed into a smile as he slept, his contorted into mesmerizing expressions, eyes a-flutter, as we listened to classical music in the nursery.

This little boy, whom we affectionately call “Bear,” has always been his own kid.  As a toddler, he would crawl in and out of his bedroom doorway, thumping his little legs before turning back.  Once he could walk, he became obsessed with doors, so much a compulsion we had to tear him away, kicking and screaming.  Oh, and there was the time in between when he stopped babbling.

Autism, we were assured, it was not.  A double-ear infection could explain why he ceased to say “Mamama.”  But what about the other behaviors?  My husband confessed it once crossed his mind that our son may be autistic, but no, he didn’t think so anymore.  And our son’s occupational therapist agreed.  Your son is not autistic.  While her direct words and extensive experience with autistic children did not convince me, this did:  the speech therapist working with my son had a child who liked doors, in the same couldn’t-tear-himself-away manner.  Her six-year-old had his “quirks,” she said, that’s just who he was.

Quirks.  Even today I use this term to describe the habits of my now ten-year-old.  While the door compulsion has gone the way of the past, “Bear” has exchanged it for an obsession with ski lifts.  He knows their maker (Doppelmayr) and which ones at our local resort are two- or four-seater and which do or do not have a safety bar.  His enthusiasm  for skier transport and dogs (poochies, he calls them), loud voice and repetitive speech habits garner him inquisitive looks, especially as he is the size of a boy several years his senior.

Yes, he has his “quirks.” He has an interesting palate:  he won’t eat cheese but can’t get enough hand-rolled sushi.   He adores signage…and will spend hours designing his own and posting them throughout our house.  He began reading at age two.  However, “Bear” just gets by in school, impatient and restless with the whole process.  He can be picture smart (he loves maps and navigation), sometimes body smart (he loves biking the BMX track), and has always been music smart (Alice Cooper was a favorite when he was a toddler…I blame my husband for that.).  But an education truly based in multiple intelligences that nurtures nontraditional learning styles is tough to come by.  Luckily his fourth grade teacher recognizes he is a concrete thinker and that’s a start to finding the guidance to help unleash his special gifts.  When that happens, I truly believe “Bear” will be unstoppable.

I’ve always felt that way about him, even as a tiny barnyard-sound-making preemie.  But even I realize a mother’s unconditional love cannot supplant the very real possibility my son will struggle to find his way.  Recently, though, I received concrete(!) proof that people with “quirks” can circumvent the traditional method of learning and do not just average, but fulfilling and amazing, work.    I watched a TED talk by Temple Grandin, a published author, professor, and advocate for autistic children.  She herself is autistic and didn’t speak until the age of four.  She describes herself as visual learner who struggled both academically and socially in school.  Fortunately, with the support of her parents, speech therapists and academic mentors, Temple Grandin became Dr. Grandin, with a PhD in animal science.

Temple Grandin’s journey has given me hope for my son.  He will find his path.  It will take my husband’s and my support and our taking initiative with his education, and maybe even a counselor’s assistance with his “quirks.”  His path may include college…it may not.  Only he can determine that.  But Temple Grandin’s story is one that has inspired and reassured me.  I’m inspired to find a way to penetrate his mind and interest him in learning, as he doesn’t click with traditional educational method.  And I am reassured he has an exciting life path ahead of him.

My son has many wonderful, intriguing “quirks.”  But my absolute favorite is that he is a hugger.  He hugged his Kindergarten teacher the day he met her, surprising her with a full-body, open-armed lunge.  Even though in fourth grade, he will break rank in the hall and rush up to give me a huge all-consuming squeeze as I shelve books in the library.  And he loves group “huggies!” his freakishly long arm span nearly encircling both his dad and me.  He is loving, and doesn’t care how and when he shows it.

And my sweet Bear, I love you, too.

Quirks and all.

I know my Bear is a hungry one when he makes up a detailed restaurant menu, with all his favorite foods.

I know my Bear is a hungry one when he makes up a detailed restaurant menu with all his favorite foods.

Winning: Is That What it’s All About?

My sons' cars.  And my daughter's pink "D1."  Hers wasn't the fastest on the track but it was the fastest built…20 minutes before the Derby.

My sons’ cars. And my daughter’s pink “D1.” Hers wasn’t the fastest on the track but it was the fastest built…wheels went on just an hour before the Derby.

Pinewood Derby Fever recently took command of our household.  As our boys’ searched the internet for design ideas, assisted Dad with the shaping and drilling of the wood and gleefully sprayed paint on their carefully cut creations, it was hard not to get caught up in their enthusiasm.  The best part was learning to fix mistakes, like the misplaced drill hole that was transformed into a brad-covered “gas cap.”  Parents and their boys, spending time together, building something by hand.

Isn’t that the point?

It should be.  But Pinewood Derby is a confusing combination of handshake agreement and paperwork.  It’s understood that the building of the cars begins when the wood, wheels and axels are passed out at a meeting a few weeks before the event.  It’s understood that the boys help craft their masterpieces.  It’s understood the race is just friendly competition.

Or is it?

This is the confusing part.  There are rules that govern the Derby, numbered and lettered like a legal document, more points than The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.  This says something:  given the rabidity with which some approach the Pinewood Derby, a simple dozen guidelines would not hold back those addicted to the idea of winning at all costs.

Everyone who participates is a winner, right?  The Cub Scout motto is “Do Your Best.”  Not “Winning is Everything.”  But it seems to me the rules of Pinewood Derby lend themselves toward the idea that yes, winning is everything, and we need painstaking details to keep those misguided by tall trophies from cheating.

What a sad reality.  It would be nice if the rules simply pertained to the construction timeframe, the weigh-in and the car dimensions…the guidelines that make the effort of building a fast, creatively-designed car a little more challenging.  It would be nice if the minutiae that embodies the rest of the guidelines didn’t need to exist.  But I guess there will always be participants who will miss the point:  to have fun, bond and

Do Your Best

Remind Me, Who is This For Again?

The cake freaked me out…so the decorating is my husband's handiwork.  He was Margarita-free.

The “tire” cake freaked me out…so the decorating is my husband’s handiwork. He was Margarita-free.

Take a look at Pinterest, she said.  There are some really cool ideas, she said.

Boy, were there ever.

I “pinned” five.  I liked even more.  That unsettling combo of excitement and stress started to bubble up from my stomach toward my chest and pulsed into my head, which began humming with white noise.  Then, in a rare moment of clarity, a voice said:

Stop.  This is ridiculous.

Who is this actually for???

It was time to plan the annual Cub Scout Pinewood Derby.  My boys’ den leader, whom I greatly admire, approached me and asked if I would help plan decorations and snacks with her.  She mentioned Pinterest, and I took the plunge.  There were ideas for free-form snacks (oreo “spare tires,”  pretzel “axel rods”), balloon arrangements taller than me in the shape of traffic lights, a three-tiered “tire” cake with perfectly-sculpted frosting “tread.”

That’s when I started to feel dizzy and buzzy and that only lead to the worst of all possible Mom emotions:  guilt.  Guilt at my apparent inadequacy in using a glue gun (which I keep in a holster on my hip, just in case) and my inability to write my sons’ names on a birthday cake unless I have had a Margarita.  Because, clearly there were fabulous moms in the stratosphere who can glue and frost…likely at the same time without mixing the two up.

I know I am not alone but I really try to keep my guilt to myself, or if I let someone in on it, my target is  my poor patient husband.  But I know moms who can’t help themselves and I hurt for them.  They are easy to spot because they are the ones who reply to the group email that asks for school treats with:  “I’ll bring a triple berry tart with a homemade almond flour crust!”

Darn it all if that doesn’t sound yummy.

Anyway, what stopped me from volunteering a lopsided three-“tire” cake, or a balloon arrangement that wouldn’t survive 5 minutes with a roomful of rambunctious cub scouts was this:  the event is for the kids.  Not the adults.  Why would I try to impress the adults?  Furthermore, why would I try to impress the kids?  Kids don’t expect anything fancy, they are happy with pretty basic party “stuff.”  Do they really think it clever if I  label a Tupperware full of Teddy Grahams “Pit Crew?”  No.  They are hungry and will see junk food and dig in.  (Ok, I confess I did label the Teddy Grahams.  Please believe me when I say it was a social experiment.)

So after my foray into a collage of amazing ideas, I slept on “Pins” and needles and the next day I returned to Pinterest and chose two reasonable projects to try, nixing the balloons in favor of a putzy, colorful snack idea and an idea for a flat tire cake (something I could goof up and would still look ok.  Hey, it’s a flat tire so it can’t be perfect, right?)  I decided to make “Pit Passes,” too.  I could have had them professionally printed, laminated and strung on fancy lanyards.  But for a mere few cents apiece, I used white notecards, stickers and a sharpie.

And you know what?  The kids still liked them.

Fruit and veggie "cars."  I can't glue but I am fierce with the toothpicks.

Fruit and veggie “cars.” I can’t glue but I am fierce with the toothpicks.

 

Strep Throat: Easy Fix, Not Easily Suspected

Well, it finally happened.  My kids had their first bout of strep throat.  My girly daughter was thrilled with her “pink”-acillin, happy to take a plastic shot glass-sized amount twice a day.  My younger son was stoked, thinking he would get the same pink goo. But he ended up with a liquid that he said tasted like “poison cherries,” tortured to take it three times a day.  And it only went down hill from there:  my older son ended up with amoxicillin capsules, the bitter contents of which we sprinkled in applesauce and he slurped down with nary a breath. Continue reading

Jenny McCarthy, Mouthpiece Mom

Tired of all the vaccine talk?  I kinda am.  And I thought it was just receiving vaccines that caused sleepiness (my kids crashed big after boosters).  But no, this time it is my brain that is tired.  But to lay this issue to rest (at least for now) I need to get something off my mind.

Actually,  I need to get someone off my mind.  Jenny McCarthy.  Mom, famous-person, apparent anti-vaxx advocate.  It says something when a well-known individual’s stint as Playmate of the Year gets upended by her staunch support of the vaccines-cause-autism movement (McCarthy even went so far as to write a foreword for Andrew Wakefield’s book Callous Disregard).  But I’m not here to add to the mountain of criticism of McCarthy for her position.  In fact, I want to do the opposite.  Even though I vote “pro-vaxx” I am even more “pro-mother.”  As you might know, Jenny McCarthy’s son was diagnosed with autism.  She writes fervently in her book Louder than Words:  A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism about her efforts to find successful treatment for him.  And what I took away from reading her desperate words was just that:  desperation.  And anger.  And frustration. Continue reading

Grocery Store “Gangstas”

No, that's not my son's hand.  It belongs to some random shopper whom I almost warned to not eat the peppers, but I think he thought I was weird enough already to be snapping photos of produce.

No, that’s not my son’s hand. It belongs to some random shopper whom I almost warned to not eat the peppers.  But I’m sure he thought I was weird enough already to be snapping photos of produce.

He was so proud.  He loved bell peppers and tiny things in general (still does) and showed me the diminutive green pepper while we shopped the produce section of the grocery store.  I turned away for just a few seconds (it’s always “just a few seconds,” right?) to select some lettuce and when I turned back to my son, his tongue was hanging out of his mouth and jalapeño seeds falling to the floor. Continue reading

Why We Vaccinate

[For this week’s photo, imagine a seven year old girl with glasses, opening Christmas presents.  That little girl is me, with the chicken pox]

The answer may seem obvious, but why do we vaccinate children against diseases we may never have heard of, much less whose names we can’t pronounce?  Parents and guardians who consent to having their children vaccinated do get that information (it is a federal law that families receive vaccine information sheets, otherwise known as VIS’s).   However, parents who chose to forgo vaccines for their children are not required to take VIS’s.  Why not?  Every parent should have adequate information regarding vaccines before making an educated decision.  But as seen in the state of Colorado, opposition to that idea made waves in 2014.  A house bill proposed that families denying their children vaccines be required to complete an online tutorial and obtain a healthcare provider signature that vaccine education was completed.  But the bill was shot down, and only a proposal for a voluntary vaccine education module made it to the governor’s desk.

That gutted version of the bill was passed into law in May of 2014 and the online education module is still “Coming Soon!”  But I say, “Why wait?”  Any parent on the fence about vaccinating their child should know why kids need the alphabet soup of shots that is now recommended.  So below is information on some of those vaccines: Continue reading

Another Important Fact About Childhood Vaccines

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After posting Should I Vaccinate My Children? yesterday and “sleeping on it” I realized another important piece of information needs inclusion.  Any parent considering or reconsidering whether to vaccinate their kids needs to know this:  it’s never too late.  If your child is school-aged (even a collegiate) and never been vaccinated or only partially vaccinated, age-appropriate “catch-up” protocols exist.

Grown ups may also apply.

Should I Vaccinate My Children?

I‘m going to give this to you straight. As in 23-gauge needle straight:

∗Vaccinate your kids.

∗ Let them eat dirt.

∗Don’t freak if they eat their boogers.

∗(Do freak if they eat someone else’s.)

Evidence supports doing the first two. The third falls under the “can’t hurt ‘em” line of thinking.  And the fourth, well, goes without saying.

What can hurt, as we know, is the sting from a needle delivering a vaccine, often several administered in rapid succession. But what can hurt even more are the repercussions from choosing to forgo “shots.”  Continue reading

A Reason to Recharge

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The other morning I needed to recharge.  I went to Friday Flow yoga and reconnected with some amazing people.  I got my favorite Chai from my favorite local coffee place.

“Me Time” at its best.

Maybe it was the clarity that only yoga and a jolt of spicy tea can provide, but I got to thinking about this thing we call “Me Time.”  The time we take for just ourselves.  The time we rarely indulge in because we have responsibilities and commitments.  A sense of obligation, and even guilt, makes “Me Time” sound too decadent and selfish.

But “Me Time” not only benefits the individual who takes it.  I know I feel awesomely content and relaxed having taken that break from the daily grind but I realized something:   my family benefits as well.  I am in a better place to help with homework, “run the bus” to activities and engage in meaningful conversation with my husband if I set aside my “to-do’s”  and instead recharge my batteries doing something I not only enjoy….but need.

So perhaps, rather that calling it “Me Time” that little break is better called “Restorative Time.”  That’s really what it is.  Maybe we won’t feel guilty taking five (or more) if we realize we are better caretakers for doing it.  So take that time.  Our families deserve it.