Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cake Healer

Last night I wanted something sweet. The kids had made a sheet cake earlier in the week, and there was one nice-sized piece left. Vanilla with chocolate icing. I could already taste it. As I was uncovering it, my son looked over and said, "Hey, any cake left over?"

I sighed. I hadn't had any of that cake and I really had a sweet tooth at the moment. But as a mom (and a woman who's always thinking about whether I really need the calories), I thought, just give it to him.

Suddenly I was struck with inspiration. We had another cake mix in the cupboard--carrot cake, my favorite. "I'll make you a deal," I told him. "You can have this piece of cake if you mix up the carrot cake and put it in the oven."

He agreed readily. Only AFTER agreeing did he seem to realize what he had agreed to. He tried to talk his sister into doing it, spent some time arguing with his dad, then stormed off to his room. I was so confused...what was so hard about mixing up some cake batter?

I called through his door. "Hey, it's kind of uncool to agree to make a cake and then not do it!" After a couple of moments he appeared and began to dig around in the kitchen. He had trouble finding the correct measuring cups, then trouble finding the right sized bowl to use. He struggled with finding the right sized pan. As I watched him, I bit my tongue, and began to realize that the more he struggled the more he doubted his ability to do anything with this cake. I couldn't watch him struggle any more.

"Hey," I said, "I think we probably need a bigger bowl for all of this...why don't we try this really big one?" He took to bowl from me readily. I started to read the directions out loud and he went to get the eggs. I poured in the mix and he began to crack the eggs. Hard, on the side of the bowl, with egg whites on the table and shell in the bowl. It's incredibly hard for my son to take direction from anyone, but I dove in anyway. "I think you may want to try doing that a little differently, because some of the egg is falling on the table," I told him. He responded, "Maybe more gentle?" "Yeah," I said, and he cracked the last one beautifully. "Look at that," I said, "you did it perfectly!" He proceeded to mix the ingredients in the bowl, and together we poured them in the cake pan. He put the cake pans in the oven, and we were done.

After we finished, he hugged me. He's developed a habit of half-hugging, like he wants to hug but can't quite bring himself to hug firmly. "Give me a real hug," I told him, and he did.

My son does NOT take instruction from me without huge disruptions, blowups, arguments, or resistance. Yet he used the bowl, cracked the egg, stirred the mix, helped to pour the batter. His ability to take direction through this task was nothing short of miraculous.

And the fact that together, we made a cake without pain or suffering, was a gift. Just a mom and a kid, making a cake, like any other mom and kid. What a blessing.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Splintered and splinters

Life with attachment disorder really sucks sometimes.

My son has been acting out on an average of about once a week the last several weeks. Some of the acting out is not directed at me in particular, but all of it is worrisome and all of it is hurtful.

Last night, he got a splinter in his foot. Now, I may have mentioned a few months ago that he has literally pulled toenails off his feet because something about one of them was "bugging" him. I was unaware of said splinter until an hour after his bedtime when I still heard him moving around. I called him to my bedroom and he told me he had a splinter. He had wrapped his toe in medical tape (because in the mind of a concrete-operational child, medical tape is for medical emergencies--never mind the gauze) so I removed the tape and gazed heartbrokenly at the raw remains of the bottom of his toe. You see, he had spent the last hour using nail clippers in an effort to free his toe of the splinter. What was left of the bottom of his toe was red and raw, and the splinter was pushed deeply into the flesh. After attempting to remove it myself, I realized we needed a doctor's assistance.

Fast forward to our doctor trip. The arguing began as soon as we got to the car and continued in between periods of silence for about forty-five minutes in the doctor's office. In an attempt to quiet him, I told him angrily, "Fine! You're right!" He had insisted his toe felt better after he had cut the flesh from it and I couldn't argue with the illogical nature of it anymore. At the doctor's office, my worries took hold of me from the inside out. Every doubt about this child's ability to keep himself safe, his ability to make reasonable decisions, seemed to be smothering me. My own questions about his ability to function in our home reared their heads. And when he asked me, "Can't we just start over right now?" I snapped, "No!"

No, we can't start over right now. You drew a picture of a boy two weeks ago and surrounded the picture with frightening words of pain and death, enough to warrant a call from the school counselor, and a consideration of putting you in a hospital, despite your pleas of a misunderstanding. You screamed at me for forty-five minutes the other night about how I disrespected you by telling you that you HAD to share a book with your sister, and then you proceeded to rip up the homemade valentines I had made for you, letting them fall at my feet. And now you cut your toe up, and I don't know what to do. I don't know how to fix this. Your therapist says that he does not feel you're a danger to yourself right now and I pray to God he's right. You swear the same thing.

And all of this raced through my mind as he lay on the examination table. What I said was, "I worry about you all the time. And I'm tired from worrying." And he cried and argued that I worried for no reason. He doesn't understand. He can't understand. He's a twelve-year old child with neurological deficits.

The doctor removed his splinter, and when I went to stroke his hair, he whispered, "Mom, please don't." So I removed my hand from his head, but a moment later I heard the plea again: "Mom, please...please..."and his hand had curled up by his chin, out from under his jacket. So I held his hand as the doctor worked, promised he would be okay. He was and he is, as far as his foot goes.

But I am aware on days like this, it doesn't take much to make me feel splintered. As if my whole life is falling apart; as if there is a painful sharp piece of something stabbing underneath my skin and I am red and raw from trying to claw it out, to make things right.

I don't know what right is for him. I don't know what it is for me. But every night when I go to bed, I pray that tomorrow feels right...more right than today.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hope is not a friend

I was talking with a good friend this morning over the phone, catching up on the last few weeks. Actually, the truth is that I was doing most of the talking and she was listening avidly, offering her honest, unabashed opinions. It's actually one of the things I love and appreciate about her most--she has never been anything but blatantly open with me, even when I don't want to hear it. I sometimes wonder how she manages to make it through life with that kind of honestly; it has an edge of nakedness to it but when you hear it, you know it's her truth. She often reminds me of the little girl in the story of the Emperor's New Clothes, crying out "But he's in his underwear!" as the rest of the crowd pretends he's royally clothed. And for me, it's virtually impossible not to respect her for it. I have known her for nearly twenty years and consider her as close to a soul sister as anyone could be.

So we were talking about my son. I was telling her how difficult the past few weeks had been. She offered advice, based on her training as a special education teacher, her understanding of children and neurological disorders, and of me. I rejected most of it. I believe I whined something along the lines of, "I've already tried that. It doesn't work." And it doesn't--that was not a lie. She suggested changing the dance--if I respond differently to my son's actions, then HE will be forced to respond differently. It was at this point I felt my frustration. This is the point where so many well-meaning people accidentally hit the "nerve". "What you need to understand," I told her, "is that I already KNOW how to dance! I've danced around the name the culture and I've done the dance."

She laughed. She made a joke about me dancing African and Indian dances. I was thinking the samba and the fox trot. And the defenses came back down again. This is why I appreciate her so much--instead of arguing that there must be some obscure dance that exists in some region of Southeast Asia, she accepted my answer and moved on.

She told me about a theory she has that she believes keeps me from being happy. She basically said I'm too smart, and that smart people end up having all sorts of issues. Issues? ME??? I argued back that it's true that some smart people do isolate or have trouble connecting with the world, but that intelligence is only one small factor in those lack of connections. Her point, though, was that by being intelligent, you're able to envision and predict things that the average person doesn't even think about.

I'm not sure if I agree with that or not. I can't possibly say if it's true because I only know things from my own perspective. I've only been me, and that's all I can operate from. In my own assessment of myself, I consider myself to be quite reflective and intelligent but I wouldn't say that I'm really any smarter than most people. Of course, some people--like idiots who try to outrun a train and get killed or people who need a coffee cup labeled "hot" to keep from burning themselves--I might have an extra IQ point on them, but I think most people do as well.

The main point that my friend wanted me to hear is that all of my thinking takes away from my hope. And to that extent, I think she's right. I overthink, overanalyze, overwrite, overexamine. And at the end of the day I have a million reasons NOT to hope. Not to believe that my child has the ability to be better, to succeed, to survive and be a happy camper. My experiences with my child have led me down a road of disappointments. My hope has not been a friend.

A few years ago my husband had a stroke. That life event shook my faith in God deeply. It has taken years for me to shakily rebuild what I once thought was strong. My faith is strong on some days but weaker on others; I know in my soul that God is with me but I get angry with Him. I ask all the questions that most doubters do: why all the suffering? why all the pain? And most of all, why MY child? Wasn't the pain he went through as a baby enough? Why must he suffer through life?

My hope has led me to believe in the past that things could be fixed. That my child could live the same life as any other child. My hope has led me to believe that *I* had control over things beyond my capacity. My friend asked me to hear what she said: that hope is important for us to hang on to because without it, we have nothing. And to my dear friend, what I couldn't express earlier to you is this: Hope has not always been my friend. At times it has been my enemy. I'm angry that I am losing hope in this battle. I'm angry that the hope I had has been destroyed. I continue to *hope* for the best my son can have in life, but I don't know what that is. And so hope is an incredibly heavy topic for me right now.

And one more note--you won't be getting that public acknowledgement on Facebook about your intelligence theory anytime soon! ;-)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dr. Loveline

In the early nineties, I was a young twenty-something who loved to go out with my friends, dig my music, and watch certain shows on MTV. One of my favorites at the time was Loveline. I don't know if anyone remembers that show. I think Adam what's his face hosted it--the guy who used to hang out with Jimmy Kimmel--and there was some female host too. There was a studio audience, average guests, and callers, and everyone would discuss love, relationships, and sex. It was a twenty-something's version of Dr. Ruth. And of course, with a show that had such potential to go awry, there had to be a voice of reason. Thus came the intelligent, attractive, kindly Dr. Drew Pinsky.

The first time I saw Dr. Drew, I was distracted by his prematurely gray hair, his glasses, and his classy suit and tie. Way too old. Then he spoke. Aaaahhh. Only a man of sheer genius could understand women the way he did. Only a man who was in touch with how women thought and felt and experienced the world could say the things he did. And thus, a love affair was born.

Poor Detective Goren. Yes, there were men before you. And (I shudder at the thought) there will probably be ones after you as well.

I watch Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. I don't think he gets nearly enough screen time. He puzzles me with some of the things he does--for instance, I don't understand the need for a stethoscope while you're having a group or individual therapy session with a person. Kind of goofy. But one thing I'll say for the guy--he GETS women. I have the feeling he gets all people, but he REALLY gets women. If I were some rich spoiled person who lived in Pasadena and needed a doctor, I'd look him up. I think I would probably trust this guy with my life. If you've ever heard him talk about addiction or relationships, and you've ever experienced either (or known someone who has-that should include everyone out there!) then you can understand his ability to translate complex information about these ideas to the average person.

I've had a lot of doctors in my life. The doctors I have had who came close to understanding any of my physical or emotional struggles are few and far between. I know TV is a limited outlet. Sometimes I like to imagine that Dr. Drew really lets loose on some of these people and tells them exactly what kind of spoiled losers they are. Sometimes I think about what it would be like to be his wife and if he's real at home or kind of a ninny. Does he ever yell at his kids or tell his wife he's had enough already? Regardless, I think Dr. Drew has done a tremendous amount in educating plenty of Generation Xers (and Yers, for that matter) about the nature of addiction and the nature of relationships...and the nature of people.

It's always interesting to imagine what people are like off camera. That's one of the reasons I so very clearly LOVE the character of Bobby Goren versus the actor Vincent D'Onofrio. Don't get me wrong--I think D'Onofrio's an amazing actor. But what do I know about D'Onofrio's real life? Enough to know I wouldn't want to be in it! (No offense to D'Onofrio, but you've got issues like most of us, dude...and you're not as sweet as Goren! Plus you're married and so am I, so it would never work out. Sorry.). Dr. Drew may be the same. He's human with his own issues and whatnot. But I love, more than anything else, the idea that somewhere out there is a man who GETS how I think, and doesn't think I'm pathetic for thinking that way. A man who gets the fact that our humanity is not necessarily a negative thing--our vulnerability can be lovely when it's not used against us.

Go, Dr. Drew! Now if you could only convince these whackjobs that treatment for addiction should last longer than three weeks...

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Valentine's Day is tomorrow, a wonderful opportunity to remind the people we love how and why we love them. I know that traditionally we think of Valentine's Day as a day to celebrate romantic love, but it's never been that way for me. Valentine's Day always serves as a reminder of how lucky I am to have so many people I love in my life. So I thought I would dedicate this post to some of the amazing people (and others) whose love has changed my life.

First and foremost would be my husband. We met online in 1996--I believe it was August--and what caught my attention about him was his sense of humor and his knowledge of music. More particularly, different types of music that I really liked. We had a long distance relationship for a long time, and he was one of the most romantic men I have ever seen. I always felt like a princess in the early days of our relationship. As time went on, things changed and evolved, and thirteen years later, here we are. He's got a wicked sense of humor, a tremendous loyalty to people who love him, and he's insanely smart. He drives me crazy but I love him dearly. I can't imagine my life without him.

My kids would be next on the list--those sweet little children who were so scared when they entered our home. Over time as I've gotten to know their personalities, watch them grown, influence their choices, I have an intense gratitude to God for having had the experience of being their mother. They have taught me as much about myself as I have taught them about the world. The love for one's child is unconditional, and experiencing that kind of love is a gift that can't be described.

My parents. I remember a time when I wasn't so grateful for my parents! I was a typical teen whose parents "just didn't understand". It's amazing at how much more those same people understand just a few years later! I can't imagine my life with any other parents, nor would I have wanted to go through this journey without the parents I have. I don't regret a moment of it.

My wonderful friends, who are spread across the country. Many of my friends I met through work; some through school; still others I have never met in person. But I feel so fortunate to know them, and love them all. I believe strongly that each person we meet has the potential to teach us, and I constantly hope that I am learning the lessons.

My brother and extended family continue to offer me lessons in life, too. I love them for a million different reasons, even if we don't always agree. Disagreement is something that flexes the mind and the soul, and creates a more complex person. Regardless, I love them for being good people and for flexing my soul!

My students--all of them--enrich my life more than they ever could imagine. Whether they are two or twenty two, I learn from all of them on a daily basis. I love the curiosity and excitement they bring to the classroom. I love the faith they have in me initially, and the faith they learn to have in the process of learning.

And lastly, no ode to love would be complete without a mention of Amanda and Gabi. Amanda, my canine companion for seventeen years, taught me about unconditional love and devotion. There was literally nothing in this world I could have ever done that would have changed Amanda's reaction to me. She loved me in the kind of way that humans aren't always capable of. Our cognition often triggers strong emotions that get in the way of remembering the basic tenet of love: that it is, at its very core, mystical and unconditional. Losing Amanda was incredibly painful for that reason. But Gabi is a living reminder of all the things that Amanda taught me. As I write this, my little eight-pound wonder is resting at the edge of my laptop, surrounded by her chew toys. Is she happy? I think so. Goodness knows, she is loved. I don't think Gabi is cognizant of any kind of existence where she would not be loved and adored. I wish that were true for everyone.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Unsettled Endings

Well, the countdown is on. Today I saw a preview for season nine of Law and Order Criminal Intent. You know, the season where the show I love and adore ceases to exist in any semblance of its original form. Sigh. There have been suggestions in cyberspace that Goren is going to be accused of some horrific crime and taken in, and sentenced unjustly to an awful fate. There's also the possibility that Eames will be killed off. I cannot imagine a world without Goren and Eames. Can't they just run off together to the Caribbean? Or at least let Eames become a captain somewhere and Goren join the FBI. Sheesh. Doesn't everyone know that's the way it should go? And they've been joined at the hip for nine years with literally NO significant others. So they've got to at least be pretty close, friendship wise, one would think. I mean, even Stabler on SVU is married (depending on the season) and Olivia dates once in awhile. I think it would be quite the little shocker to stick a zinger in the end about how they've been seeing each other for years, and the audience just didn't know it. Haha. Kind of like when Serena Southerlyn asked on the original Law and Order in the classic, worst-moment-ever, during her firing: "Is this because I'm a lesbian?" Of course, everyone in my house responded with, "'s because you're a terrible actress."

Regardless of whether Bobby ever calls Eames "Alex" again, or if Eames is ever able to confront an honest feeling with Goren, I do hope the writers will do these two justice. As weird as their relationship is--strained, formal, yet incredibly trusting and dependent--they deserve to go in a way that does their characters justice. I guess that everyone has a different idea of what that would be. I would absolutely HATE to see Bobby go the way of his biological father, landing in prison and spending his life there after being such a strong (headed), if quirky, detective with an incredible sense of morality. And Alex? Does she really deserve anything less than her own squad room? That poor woman's been through hell and back, and all she ever wanted was to be respected for being a good cop. Captain Ross, sorry dude, but you can end up swimming in the East River for all I care. You were mean to Goren and Deakins was always way nicer than you! But please, writers, don't destroy the legacies of the two detectives!

Really? If I got to write the end for Goren and Eames, it would be something like this--Eames is promoted to Captain of her own squad somewhere in the NYPD. She meets some guy--I don't care who as long as he's decent--and they have a family. Goren moves elsewhere, closer to his family, gets some sort of job in law enforcement, and meets some nice woman and eventually has a kid. Or heck, I'd settle for little Molly, the nine year old niece, to be his long lost child. All I'm asking for is a little happiness on the way out. Transfer them both to other squads. Transfer them to ONE other squad together. Let them be best partners for the rest of TV history. Why not?

Most people can put up with a lot of torture on a journey if they know there's going to be some reward at the end. For these two? I'm just not sure. That's the part I would most regret. And if USA screws my detectives over for some horrible ending of death and destruction, then something tells me that USA will be following the path it has laid for Goren and Eames!

Monday, February 8, 2010


Every once in awhile, it just overtakes me.

Most days I stay busy and focus on getting my work done, dealing with the everyday ins and outs of my life and the lives of my family. I take my kids to school and pick them up; I work my job; I run errands and drop people off at appointments and take care of whatever else needs to be done. The typical life of the typical American wife and mother, I supposed. But then I have a day that just overwhelms me completely, for no logical reason in the world other than I am one person carrying a load that feels like it was meant for forty.

Tonight is that night. Work was fine and I feel like things are going well with my new supervisor and coworker. We seem to agree on quite a few things and are making progress. The day was dreary but fine. I picked up my son and came home, then played with Gabi, our dog. Surfed the web, did some more work, spent time with the kids.

And then--

My son and I had a blowup over homework. One of those arguments that had to happen because he will fail without hearing what needs to be said. Because he is determined he's right, even in the face of failure.

And the dam broke.

And now I sit here, alone, unable to control my tears. I know this is not about my son. My mother has recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness and my way of coping is to block it out, to pretend that the limits and lifespan and disease progression don't or won't apply to her. That by somehow denying reality, I can change it. But I don't. I can't.

I know what she has been diagnosed with and I have read enough about the disease to know that there is no positive outlook. The most positive outcome we can hope for is slowing the progression of the disease to give her more time and, hopefully, a higher quality of life. My mom is my lifeline and tonight I feel my line being cut, strand by strand.

It's incredibly painful. I've tried everything tonight I can think of to take it away without breaking some law. All of the typical things we do to numb pain--reading, eating, not eating, socializing, playing, watching TV--it's all failed. Nothing is working right now and so I'm left with dealing with it. And that completely sucks.

I have no doubt that if my mother reads this her concern will be for me. She has told me she is anxious but, as with just about any situation, she is worried about my reaction, my response. As a mother, I completely understand that because it's exactly how I respond to my own children. I would rather feel all of their pain and carry it on me than have them feel an ounce of it. And ironically, through all of this mess, my thoughts have been on myself--my God, how will I manage my life without my mother?

Perhaps it's easier to face that question first instead of the logistics and the realities of watching the people you love, who brought you into this world, grow older, grow limited, approach death. Easier to handle than trying to figure out how to make it less painful for them. I don't know. All I know is that I can't imagine a moment of my life without my mom. I've never wanted to imagine it and I don't now.

I guess, sometimes all there is to do is to cry...and hope that things will look and feel better when the tears dry.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Failure and Success

My son is struggling in school. I think in the back of my mind I knew this would be a possibility but he's always been considered by his teachers to be a bright child. We've never really had to deal with the effects of his diagnoses in the academic realm. But things change. The inevitable is happening. The struggles we have seen at home for several years are now branching out into school.

I am thankful that his behavior still seems to be on track. His major difficulty, as with many children who share a diagnosis of ADHD, is in focusing on the work at hand, completing assignments, and keeping up with the class. The fact that he has extremely poor auditory processing skills only makes things more difficult. This aspect of his disability makes it very difficult for him to process verbal information at the same speed and accuracy as you and I do. Middle school moves faster than elementary school, and children are often required to work more independently, with more verbal direction. So he's struggling.

Currently he's failing a subject that he's incredibly gifted in. The reasons he's failing have to do with organizational issues--not writing down due dates, forgetting to complete his work, that kind of thing. The kind of thing that I know he'll struggle with for the rest of his life. He doesn't want to have to write things down. He wants to be able to remember and prioritize like everyone else. I can relate to that want...the desire to have everything in me working exactly like everyone else. But as most adults can identify with, at some point or another you begin to realize that we all have our own "issues" that make us unique...whether you have difficulty retaining information or you have a medical condition that requires ongoing treatment, you start to realize that "everyone else" isn't so different from you.

Our son isn't there yet. After an open and honest discussion this morning in which he collapsed into tears, he admitted he's angry with himself and that something needs to change. We've outlined those changes and laid expectations out to help him be more successful. Hopefully he will follow through with little resistance. He wants to succeed, and that's a good thing. I think he also knows, deep down, that sometimes he is the one who stands in the way of his own successes.

Nelson Mandela once said that it is not our darkness that scares us; instead, it is our potential to shine brightly. We are afraid of our own light, our ability for greatness. I believe there is tremendous truth in that statement. How often we shy away from opportunities that would encourage us to shine! How often we set ourselves up for failure, because coping with failure's disappointment is easier than imagining the rippling current success might bring.

What I want to say to my son is what I need to say to myself, and it is this: Don't be afraid of who you are. Your light is unique to you, and a gift from God. If you use your failures wisely, they will lead to your successes. And those bring light not just to you, but to everyone.