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I wish I was obsessive.

28 Dec

My son and I saw Les Miserables this week. It was as good as I had hoped, maybe even better. I have been singing ever since. The performances by well known actors, not known for their singing, was extraordinary, as was their physical preparation for their roles.

I was reading about Anne Hathaway’s crash dieting (haven’t seen the same written about Hugh Jackman, though he was as drastically thin – hmm.) Anyway, she lost 10 lbs prior to filming, then another 15 in 13 days. For those two weeks she ate one wafer made of oatmeal paste, per day. The result was a believably bony, starving person. She talked about being very obsessively competitive about her craft, which allowed her to maintain this level of preparation. I so admire that, even while the concept of obsessive competitiveness completely eludes my comprehension.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not aspire to be a bony, starving person. The trouble is, I don’t much aspire to be anything! Sure, I would like to lose about 10 pounds. I eat well enough, work out pretty consistently, might be within fairly easy reach of my physical ideal. But if something smells good, or a girlfriend wants to go out for margaritas, or my husband wants to spend the weekend watching a Sopranos marathon, I am perfectly willing to forgo high protein and hot yoga in order to indulge.

Same with work, creativity, home repair. I like the idea of being an expert at something, at having my writing published, at finally repainting the interiors in my home. I dabble at all these things, but I rarely dive in with full resources and accomplish much. And I am pretty much ok about it. I might sigh ruefully the next time I notice cracks in the ceiling paint, but I notice it when I’m comfy: on the couch with the paper; in bed upon waking. I am too comfy to really care.

The real problem? I think it is that I am TOO HAPPY. Happy people don’t obsess.

I would make a TERRIBLE cast member of Les Miserables. No pun intended.


I can’t stop thinking about Adam Lanza.

19 Dec

We know so little. Of what we know, these facts haunt me:

His family moved to Newtown in ’98.

He was 20 when he died, meaning he was 6, a first grader, that first year in a new school.

Family friends and relatives say he had Asperger’s Syndrome.

He was withdrawn, socially awkward, painfully shy.

His mother eventually pulled him out of school to home school him.

She valued, owned and trained Adam in, the use of guns.

If all but that last fact were true, I can’t help but believe the 26 killed at Sandy Hook, and possibly Nancy herself would be alive today. I say that because there are so many children, painfully awkward, who struggle in school due to lack of understanding and acceptance. There are many mothers, like Nancy Lanza, like me, who fight with school staff and administration to make school a better, more understanding and accepting place for our ASD children.

Did she finally pull him out because she could not get the accommodations he needed? Or even with accommodations and great cooperative work between the school and the parents, was it too late for Adam to feel accepted, understood, emotionally safe in that building?

What if every time Adam passed that school he felt anew the pain of being different, of standing on the sidelines while the other carefree first graders made friends, played games, laughed and interacted with ease? What if, as his own world became smaller, the knowledge that those other childrens’ worlds stretched out invitingly before them became unbearable?

Oh, what if there were no guns in that home, no family gun hobby, no reason for Adam to ever consider using guns as a way of expressing his years of pain and isolation?

Reports indicate Nancy Lanza was a loving mother who tried to move heaven and earth to get her son what he needed. I think Adam probably loved her very much. I would not be surprised to find he killed her first, while she slept, with four bullets, to spare her the agony of what he was about to do; to spare her the loss of her son and the knowledge of his actions.

I don’t know anything, just those few facts with which I started. I realize I am conjuring a motive and trajectory all on my own, with nothing to back it up.

But I also know that there are so many kids who have experienced such similar rejection and isolation; so many parents who have torn their hair out trying to understand and help their children. Even when their efforts fail, even if their children jump off a bridge or hang themselves, two dozen innocents do not go with them.

Leaving Walgreen’s this morning

10 Nov

As I was walking to my car, a bumper sticker on a car in the next row caught my eye.

“My kid has autism. What’s your excuse?”

I found myself thinking how incredibly handy that bumper sticker would have been when Max was between the ages of four and twelve. Man, did that ever sum it up.

Intrigued, I peeked into the car. There was a woman in the driver’s seat, on the phone. Without analyzing my behavior, I walked over to the passenger side, leaned down and caught her eye, making the universal “roll down your window” sign. She did.

“I just had to tell you that I love your bumper sticker.” I began, continuing “I have an almost-21 year old son on the spectrum.” Unexpectedly, I choked up and tears filled my eyes. “So many years, so many struggles, so much progress,” I continued as she smiled and nodded knowingly. Then she pointed behind her to a boy, seven or eight years old, in his booster seat.

“This is mine,” she said proudly. “Max, can you say hello?”

The little boy smiled through missing teeth, waved and said “He-llo!” in a high, singsong voice. I said hello in return, telling them MY son was named Max, too. He was blonde like your Max and mine, Chris; had those eyes, Terry, that we have always said are so recognizeable.

We said goodbye and I returned to my car. I can’t find the words for what I was feeling: a combination of familiarity, nostalgia, sadness, and a sense of inevitability, too. So many Maxes. So many children, born every day into families who together will find themselves walking a road they never knew was on the map. All to experience so much misunderstanding from others – misunderstanding that calls for a bumper sticker.

33 lines, one life

10 Nov

She had asthma. She had allergies. She had glasses.
She had buck teeth. She broke them.
She had five dads and no dads. She had one mom and no mom.
She had a grandma who saved her.

Her grandma died. Her dad died. Her mom did not die.
She tortured frogs and flies. She set fires.
She had no boyfriends.
She had a white candle, a light inside her.

She ran away at 15.
She was saved again. She had a testimony.
She was a shining example of Christ’s love.
She sang. She danced. She grew her hair long.
She won an Optimist Award.

She got contacts, braces. She grew beautiful.
She was in a pageant. She didn’t win.
She went to college. She was raped at gunpoint.
She questioned her religion.
She did not question her faith.

She got married. She bought a house. She got divorced.
She had children! She welcomed them.
She and her children taught each other.
She worked. She traveled. She wrote.
She had boyfriends. She danced salsa.

She married a young man. She danced with him, sang with him.
She traveled to his country. She was loved by his family.
She tried to have his child. She failed.
She was betrayed. She questioned her love.
She did not question her faith.

She watched him grow.
She welcomed him back.
She and her family lived, loved, worked, grew together.
She sang. She danced.
She believed.

Just another weekend at my house

10 Nov

(Since I just created this blog today, I am populating it with random scribbles from the past few years to get it started. This was actually written December 6, 2010)

It started snowing Friday afternoon and just didn’t stop. The minute I came out of my room Saturday am, Cole said “Mom, look in the backyard.” Assuming he wanted me to see all the snow, I went into the bathroom to look out the window. I saw snow all right – but also saw our poor Tiki hut my husband had built two summers ago. One of the four posts had broken, and that corner of the roof was almost to the ground. It looked so sad! I texted Vini at the office; he already had plans to fix it when he got home. He said that post had not been set right initially and a lot of water had gotten into the base of it over the last 2 years; the weight of the snow finally did it in.

Meanwhile, Cole was hosting a Harry Potter Movie Marathon, with a total of ten friends. One had stayed over Friday night, and the rest kept coming. Of course they all came to the front door; I let a few of them in and finally started asking them to please go around to the back to save my living room hardwood floor.

Vini got home and started working on the Tiki. He asked Cole and a few of the guys to help him lift it so he could prop it up with the new post while he dug out the cement and readied the hole. So everyone trooped out and in again in their snowy boots – sigh.

My plans for the day had been to get the Christmas tree. Vini and I were going to walk over and get it, and carry it home. I decided not to interrupt his Tiki repair and to just go get it myself. How hard could it be to drag a tree 3 blocks, anyway? Especially with all the fresh snow to protect it from getting damaged.

So, I went and picked out the very first one I saw – it was perfect! Very tall, perfectly shaped, with a nice long single top for Gingajing (our Christmas angel, named by Cole as an infant) to sit on. I couldn’t imagine why the tree was still there, it was so perfect. Went to pay and was told they don’t take debit cards – I think I knew that but had forgotten. Walked next door to the Quickie Mart (not really but you know) to find their ATM out of cash. The guy refilled it from the cash register; said it was the third time already that day he had to fill it. I told him about the Christmas tree lot not taking credit and he got an ‘aha’ look on his face.

Went back, paid for the tree and made sure the fresh cut the guy made did not take too much of the trunk since I wanted that tree to stay tall. He then asked where my car was. “In the garage,” I replied cheerily. “I’m dragging it home.” “You’re dragging THIS tree? How far?” I told him it was only three blocks. No big deal, right?

I inspected the tree carefully to find the weakest side, which would end up going in the corner. That was the side I determined to drag it on, since any inadvertent flattening that happened on the way home wouldn’t be visible. I turned the tree weak side down, grabbed a foot or so up the trunk and pulled. Oof. It came, but not as easily as I had imagined it would. But along we went, out the lot and down the first sidewalk. I cringed when crossing the driveway to SuperAmerica; dirty slush instead of clean white snow to drag it through. But then I dragged it up an unplowed alley to clean it off.

That dam*ned tree was much heavier than it looked! The worst thing by far, however, was my insistence on dragging it on the weak side. Because the fullest (heaviest) branches were NOT at the bottom, physics demanded the tree to continue trying to roll over so the heaviest side would be down. I refused to let physics win, which meant I ended up taking all the weight of it’s attempt to roll onto the side of my forearm, where a rather strong lower branch was leaning. It HURT but I gritted my teeth and continued holding it in the least damaging position (to the tree, not to my arm!)

Three blocks never seemed so far. I did get there eventually, then had to go up our 12 front steps. Yay, we were home! Now to get it in the stand and into the house. I peeked around the back to see how Vini was progressing; he and the Jeep were gone to the hardware store so it was just me and the tree again. Before screwing it into the stand I – OOF! – stood the thing up and did my best to lift it up and down, shake it and do whatever I could to clean off most of the snow before bringing it into the house. I did what I could, then eyeballed for straightness, hoped for the best and screwed on the stand.

I went to open the front door. Locked! Luckily PJ, freaked out at the possibility that yet ANOTHER teenager was trying to come in, went crazy, and Cole heard him. He opened the door for me, moved the couch out of the way as I dragged seven feet of wet tree through the living room. “That’s a lot of snow, Mom,” he said. “I know,” I grunted, “I’ll clean it up.” Then Cole helped me get the tree to it’s “feet” and voila, it was perfectly straight! A miracle! I had about 15 seconds to appreciate it before I heard cascades of dripping water start to hit the floor. The tree was SOAKED! I ripped off my boots (God the floor was so trashed) and ran for towels. Laid three or four around the base of the tree, and got on hands and knees to dry the path the tree and my boots had made from the door to the corner.

Oh and I neglected to mention that while it was straight, it was TOO tall. The tree was bending on the ceiling! I had to get on a chair, REACH and cut off that nice long single branch I had been coveting for Gingajing’s perch. (NOW I knew why myriad others had passed it by – clearly they could tell it was much too tall. Maybe because I am so used to 6’4″ kids my ability to discern height is skewed.)

Vini did help me carry the Christmas box down from the attic, then I decorated everything myself since he had a soccer game and Cole had – 10 friends in the basement! I felt extremely accomplished, drinking my eggnog and listening to the Carpenters and gazing at MY tree. Of course, today I have one heckuva bruise on my forearm to show for my efforts! It impressed my coworkers however

All but two of the kids (who had already been collected by their parents) were still asleep downstairs when we left for the Vikings game late Sunday morning. They were like a pack of warm puppies (very LARGE puppies), two to a couch, four on the floor, snoring peacefully. I left a note saying “Thank you for the NICE CLEAN BASEMENT before you leave” and lo and behold, that’s what we came home to! That and blessedly, just the one teenager!

Oh Children, by Kahlil Gibran

10 Nov

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

What I love about our house

10 Nov

My memory of seeing it for the first time; how it whispered “You found me – you’re home.”

The subsequent 20 years of memories of the boys growing up playing on it’s gleaming wooden floors, running up and down the stairs, hollering down the clothes chute; the Christmas morning the three of us took turns sliding down the stairs in their new snow saucers

All the Christmas mornings, rainy fall days, winter evenings cozy around the fireplace.

The love we’ve made in it, the fights we’ve had in it.

The solid core wood doors throughout that take muscle to open and close. I have practically broken a few hollow doors in cheaper homes by hauling them open with excessive force

Our neighbors, both sides, all up and down the block and behind us on the other side of the alley. We are close geographically (city blocks) AND totally look out for each other. We have seen each others’ kids grow up, parents die, husbands move out. We gather informally in each others’ homes the first Friday evening of every month for wine, appetizers and conversation. We catch each others’ escaped dogs, lend each other books, eggs, wrenches, shop vacs and marine/motorcycle expertise.

The screened in front porch with bead board ceiling which I “designed” by sketching it out on paper and got to see come to life by a talented construction team.

The perennial gardens I scratched out from the roots (literally, with a rented rototiller) and have watched grow and spread to maturity.

The cardinals that hang in the backyard all summer, drinking from our dolphin fountain. The wrens who return each spring to nest in the purple birdhouse Cole made in kindergarten which hangs on the southern corner of the front porch.

The view of the harvest moon out the study window in autumn.

The funny hum the upstairs toilet makes after each flush. Sometimes I harmonize with it.

The beautiful, 90 year old wood trim in the livingroom and diningroom which my ex and I took down, stripped and stained and put back up, fighting the entire time.

The “Rasta Room” in the finished attic that Vini and I made when we reunited after our separation.

The way the sun streams in the kitchen windows while we prepare supper in the evenings, practically blinding us and showing me when the windows need cleaning.

The tiki hut in the backyard where we grill, drink Lambrusco and hang out in the summertime, designed and built by Vini and a friend.

I could go on and on and on and on.