Thursday, October 30, 2008

Old-school women's lib

In 1997 I studied overseas in Jerusalem. While there, I had the privilege of observing and participating in various holidays for the three major world religions. It was a fantastic experience. One of my favorites was the minor Jewish holiday of Purim. Here's my version of the Purim story:

Purim celebrates the delivery of the Jews from annihilation while they were in exile in Persia. The star of the show is Esther, who became queen after the original queen, Vashti, refused the king's order to strip naked in front of the court (technically it's "display her beauty" but considering the patriarchal society, I don't think it's a stretch.) My response would have been a swift right hook. But poor Vashti didn't have the decades of women's liberation movement behind her like I do.

Along comes Esther, handpicked by the king from all the fully-clothed women of the Persian empire. What good ol' king Ahaseurus doesn't know is that Esther is Jewish (oh no, she didn't!) Esther turns out to be pretty good at her queenly duties, discreetly watching out for her peeps with help from her cousin Mordechai, who's on the inside.

Enter big, bad Haman. He's the newly appointed Prime Minister. He gets ticked at Mordechai and plots to kill not just Mordechai but all Jews in the empire. Esther catches word of it and orders the Jews to stop eating (okay, to fast) and pray-- for three days. Then she puts on her best threads and bling to appear before the king. There's a feast with Esther, king Ahaseurus, and big bad Haman, who thinks he's all that.

Then there's another feast. Haman is livin' large as PM and Esther is decked out once again. But sista's got plans. She tells Ahaseurus about Haman's evil scheme to kill all Jews, including herself. The king pops a cap in Haman (technically, he hangs him.) But Haman's extermination order can't be repealed, so Esther and Mordechai write a new law that allows the Jews to defend themselves. Mayhem and blood ensue. Later, Mordechai is appointed one of the king's brothas.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Dishwasher, meet Platypus

We recently had to buy a new dishwasher. This was due to a grim diagnosis given by the repair man (the appliance was, after all, fifteen years old.) We also needed to get rid of it because it was creating a puddle on the floor below it. My escapade to buy the thing is chronicled in an earlier post.

Anyway, our five-year-old took a shine to our brand new dishwasher, and it has become his not-so-imaginary friend. He talks to it, sometimes from across the room. He checks to make sure it is closed properly. And he invites it to dance with him. It doesn't seem to matter that the dishwasher never talks back, except when it delivers delightfully clean dishes.

Flash forward to Hallowe'en. My seven-year-old, for a long time, wanted to be Yoda this year. I went online to find a budget-friendly costume but didn't actually order one yet, which was a good call. About a week ago he changed his mind and declared that he wanted to be Perry the Platypus from the Disney show Phineas and Ferb. Why a platypus? He may be a cross-eyed teal colored lump some of the time but he's also a spy-- a semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal of action. Brown fedora and everything.

Once again I went online, only to discover that the show is too new to have an established line of costumes. Get with it, Disney! Usually you are so on top of things. I hit the fabric store and decided to make a teal-colored sweatsuit. The challenge? To find some creative way to attach a long, flat tail in such a way that he won't get a wedgie when he sits down. So that's my current project of desperation. I stayed up until 12:30 this morning in hopes of sewing enough of the costume that I could have him try the costume on, then I would hem the pants and sleeves while he was at school. But my two-year-old had other plans.

My alarm did not go off. Or should I say, the time was changed. By tiny fingers, I believe. I woke with a start and saw that it was too late to do any costume work before school. Aargggh! I stayed up late for nothing!!! As I frantically packed lunches and prepared breakfast and dressed children I heard my five-year-old say, from the next room,

"Watch out for the platypus, Mr. Dishwasher."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Guilt

I have the guilt. The guilt that all parents feel when they have too many school projects lying around the house. Seriously. For those of you who do not have children, I'll describe it for you: mountains of paper, in every nook and cranny, on every level surface that can hold something. It's viral. It's intimidating.

I know that teachers want us to see that our child is doing something during the day. That they are making progress. I get that. But when you consider how much they are sending home, you really wonder about their motivation. Multiply those projects by 25 students, and it becomes clear. In the words of the late, great comedian Mitch Hedberg, it's like they're sending home the projects and saying, "Here, YOU throw this away."

I made a colossal school-project mistake recently. It was my choice of garbage bag that did me in. I had discreetly tucked my 7-year-old's schoolwork into the bottom of the kitchen trash bag and covered it with various and sundry kitchen cast-offs. What I did not consider was the only-slightly opaque nature of the white Costco trash bags that we use. On trash day, my son spotted the covertly disposed schoolwork and threw a fit. He apparently was quite attached to his math work of weeks gone by and did not want to see it go. After his much weeping and wailing and my refusal to go dumpster diving, I wrested the bag to the curb. Thank goodness he's got a short memory.

I once heard of a great idea from a parenting magazine/public service t.v. spot/Dalai Lama or somewhere. The idea is to place your child's beloved work into a gigantic envelope and mail it off to a poor, unsuspecting grandparent. It's like telling your child that his deceased Rover has gone to live at Happy Farm with all the other doggies. The child is appeased and thrilled to know that his work is in a better place.

But what of the inhabitants of that "better place?" Do these poor grandparents really know what has hit them? A manifestation of love in a deluge of paper. Actually, it's more like me saying across 3,000 miles, "Here, YOU throw this away!"

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Say what?

Last Sunday evening I happened upon a water puddle on the floor of our basement. It was in a strange place, which prompted me to look up rather than around. Sure enough, water was dripping from the crossbeams. I noted the sound of our locomotive-style dishwasher whooshing away and thought, oh dear. Or something like that.

So I did some research online and found that dishwashers are impossible to shop for in cyberspace. I would just have to shop the good old-fashioned way. I am a very tall person and therefore need to be particular about the dimensions of an appliance with which I spend so much of my time. After a trip to Home Depot and a chat with a salesperson, I found what I liked. Then I went home and searched thoroughly online for any consumer complaints. Nothing. Hopefully it's a good sign.

On Friday I went back to Home Depot with the entire gaggle of boys in tow. There was a different salesperson this time, a woman. I asked her to follow me and told her that I was ready to buy a dishwasher. I pointed to the one I wanted and pulled out my wallet. She took one look at my face, glanced at my boys, and said, "You are ready to buy a dishwasher. Let's get this done."

We scrolled through the many features on a computer screen. I didn't care about most of them, just the the child lock-out button and the Sanitize option for when the stomach flu makes a round in our house. There were so many lovely features that it seemed Maytag had it all covered. Except for one.

"Would you like to purchase a power cord?"

"I'm sorry. My boys were hanging each other over the side of the cart by their toes. What was that?

"A power cord."

"You've got to be kidding me." Most of the time I can employ a verbal filter instantaneously, thus avoiding any uncomfortable situations. This was not one of those times. "The dishwasher doesn't come with a power cord?!!"

She looked sheepish and assured me that this was a relatively new thing that Maytag was doing. Oh, how comforting. I wonder what else is not included with the dishwasher.

"Well, since I intend to USE the dishwasher, I suppose I would NEED TO BUY A POWER CORD."

I mean, really. How ridiculous is that? Is this the new trend in appliances? Maytag: "Yes, we know you want our product but here's the true test of whether you're actually going to use it. Will you buy the... (drumroll please) power cord?"

I suppose the hundreds of dollars I had already handed over wasn't proof enough.

ADDENDUM: When we unpackaged the new dishwasher, we discovered that yes, indeed, a power cord was included. I have no idea what that associate was thinking.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A quarter past crabby

We hauled our gaggle of boys to a fair in a quaint little town called Waterford today. The town is filled with quaint houses surrounded by quaint lawns with quaint old, well-preserved cars out front. It was a lot of fun, namely because we stayed far away from these quaint little houses that, if exposed to our brood, would no longer carry the quaint label.

Instead we enjoyed everything else there was to offer. There were traveling minstrels and a squeeze organ playing, of all things, "Country Road" by John Denver. Periodically cannons would fire and scare the heck out of our little guys. We watched a blacksmith, working over coal, twist and turn strips of metal into hooks. All the vendors at the fair wore costumes of yesteryear and yore. There were bands were tucked into every corner, singing gospel and folk and strumming their mandolins. We even watched a fife-and-drum group, dressed in Confederate garb, beat out "When Johnny comes marching home again" and "Dixie," among others. During that last song, the vendor ladies nearby stood up, in their hooped skirts and bonnets, and sang the words proudly like they were the national anthem. At moments like these I am reminded that Virginia fought for the South in the Civil War. It's easy to forget when you live in a very blue Northern Virginia.

I had a great time. The older kids, however, complained during most of the fair. My legs are tired, or I'm hungry, or I want to go home. Even my husband wasn't too thrilled to be there. We decided to call it a day after about three hours. My two-year-old had been an angel in his backpack carrier, never muttering an ill sound (though he did growl a little.) We bought our seven-year-old a ginger ale from the local brewer's table, which was served in a beer bottle. Great. We looked like fabulous parents.

During the entire fair, we had walked through roped-off streets that were usually used for normal car traffic. Our autistic (middle) son had gotten used to the idea and enjoyed it quite a bit. Now, as we headed back to our car, we had to balance carefully on the edge of the road. There were cars whizzing by quite close so I held his hand tightly. He was confused about the change in family policy-- why couldn't we walk on the street now? I had to rein him in and explain repeatedly about the danger. We were all tired and I could hear in my husband's tone of voice that he was near the breaking point.

Our middle son began to growl and grunt loudly between his observations of the locals and their homes. This is something that I am so used to that I don't even notice. But there was quite a crowd exiting the fair, and I noticed people looking at us curiously. Their amusement soon turned to pointed stares when they heard my repeated injunctions. Many people who notice the interactions between me and my child jump to the conclusion that he is a naughty boy and I am a permissive parent. At this point I typically keep my eyes on the ground and just pray that we get to our destination as soon as possible. I would like to say that my feelings are not hurt that people judge me so harshly, but that would be a lie.

My son then proceeded to bump into me repeatedly, seeking what is called sensory stimulation. I wrestled him to the side of the road over and over, calmly repeating that he could get hurt. I forgot to remind him that his mommy could get hurt as well. At one point he bumped me so hard that I stumbled into the road, and I called his name sharply in alarm. My husband, who does not have the extensive experience of being in public with our child that I do, barked his name as well and grabbed his other hand. A couple walking in front of us turned to look at us again. I kept my eyes straight forward and wished we could fly.

The wrestling continued into the grassy parking lot. There was a gravel drive for the exiting cars, and my son tried to throw himself at it. I had a few ounces of water left in a bottle and told him I would pour it over his head if he did not cool off. My theory was that distracting him from one sensory problem with another sensory experience might derail him from his fixation. He did not stop so I poured the water. He immediately stopped his wrestling but then proceeded to howl about the water dripping from his hair. The couple turned to stare again, and my husband barked at them, "He has autism. You don't need to stare like that."

We made it to the car without further ado and collapsed into the seats. On the way home, our middle son continued to howl, and when I finally calmed him enough for him to speak, he cried, "I want to go baaaaack!"

All in all, it was a typical experience for a family that copes with an autistic child. I was able to shake the day off rather quickly. But my oldest son watches and learns from us, and it makes me wonder what he will do in future situations. Will he ever jump in and defend his brother? Or will he learn to keep his eyes on the ground? Will my husband and I ever figure out which of those two is the best thing to do?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Old Testament, and includes a covenant between God and the children of Israel. I have a five year old who has been diagnosed with autism. If you have not heard of autism, I must ask you to first climb out from underneath your rock and tell you to turn on the T.V. or radio or surf the web. We've all seen the fuss about it lately and I am glad for it.

So I will now set forth a covenant I make with my five-year-old-- not fifth child, like the book-- but five, as in years.

I will try not to be angry at you when you jump off the couch (right after I tell you not to) and break your foot.

If you hurt someone on the playground, I will try not to sound like I am making excuses for you. Instead, I will explain how your brain works differently.

When you hold completely still, move your eyes around rapidly, claim that the room is dark, and declare that your eyes are flashlights lighting up the corners, I will laugh at your joke.

When you paint a sun with many colors, because that is where rainbows come from, I will love your creativity.

When you crash into me repeatedly and then curl up into a fetal position on my lap, whimpering like a puppy, I will recognize your special need at that moment.

When you wrap the metallic sunshade from my car around your body and wear it up and down the stairs because it's your elevator, I will marvel at your ingenuity.

When you keep batteries on your nightstand because they will power your dreams, I will wish I had your imagination.

When you won't eat non-threatening bits of chicken but will eat meatballs rolled in grated Romano cheese, I will not shrug.

When you pour an entire bottle of Gatorade over the T.V. because it needed a bath, I will not raise my voice.

When you get angry because your Starburst has dissolved in your mouth, because you, "...didn't want it, so don't give it to me again!" I'll wait until you've rounded the corner to shake my head in befuddlement.

When you want to touch every baby's head and are incredibly gentle about it, I will always smile.

When you bring home your first handwritten "A", I will celebrate with you. And sigh in relief.

The first time you hug me and tell me that you love me, I cannot promise that I won't break down in tears. That is one covenant I would not be able to keep.