Sunday, May 31, 2009

Thankful Sunday

Since I have been having a hard time blogging lately, I thought maybe it would help me if I had some sort of regular feature. My friend, Mel, started a 'Feed Me Fridays' entry that I've really enjoyed, so I'm going to start my own 'Thankful Sundays' post.

Before M was born, the other half and I discussed the topic of religion and how we wanted to raise our children. We are both well-lapsed Catholics, and neither of us felt the call to raise our kids in the church. (much to my parents' dismay) I have always felt more of a spiritual call than he has, however, so it was important for me to have a plan; some sort of regular activity that our family engaged in that connected us to a higher plain. We decided that on Sundays we would do some activity together that brought us out into nature so that we would have the opportunity to not only witness such beauty firsthand, but so that perhaps we'd have the impetus for natural questions about things like 'where did this tree come from,' etc. When speaking with other mothers-to-be I'd say that we wanted nature to be our church. Well, it would seem that plan was made from good intentions, but never quite got off the ground in the way we had discussed. It's not that we didn't go out in nature on Sundays, it was just that it wasn't a regular outing. And with M's language deficits, we certainly have not heard any introspective questions from him. (Though I feel certain they must exist given the calm he so often exhibits on a nice walk in the woods)

While we were on our getaway last weekend, we spent three hours of our Sunday walking through Van Damme state park. We walked for several miles slowly, deliberately; pausing to skip rocks, to admire the unfurling of a fern leaf, or to tell stories about the 'troll' that must be living under the bridge. It was a typical north coast day, gray and quiet; the cloud cover making it necessary for a jacket while simultaneously enveloping us in a sort of warmth that almost makes you feel like you are living inside of terrarium. It was lovely, and it put all of us in a great mood, reminding us how important it is to take time to be together like this without the interruptions of television, phone calls or a schedule.

So this Sunday I am thankful for last Sunday. I am thankful that B lasted as long as he did on the walk (with many a bribe, but he made it!) and that M's body provided him with enough muscle and strength to walk like a champ with little assistance from us. I am thankful that we were able to extend our trip so that we could explore the beautiful north coast a little longer. And I am thankful that we had such a nice time that we are already talking about going back! What are you thankful for this Sunday?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Autism Mothers

Someone posted this on one of the support boards I read. I had no idea what it was even about before watching it, but something about the music paired with the faces of all these Moms who have kids with was just too much. I had myself a good, cleansing cry and then went to the Autism File website to see what this was all about.

How did we all get here? We never saw this coming. We did not plan for having a child with such a unique disability. We did not know that our lives would be turned upside down and that we would lose a lot of our prior selves...while gaining a new self; a self that sees this crazy world in a totally different light.

Ahh...I don't want to be one of the statistics! I don't want my child to be one of the statistics!! And yet, here I am, so I need to make the best of it and do all I can to help my beautiful boy. I am grateful for the other Moms of Autism I have met. I could not do this without them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Many of you know that I had the pleasure of volunteering for the amazing rescue group, Blue Dog Rescue. During that time I fostered around 13 dogs and transferred probably 100 more out of a rural shelter and into a no-kill facility or to other rescue groups on the mother ship.
Those numbers pale in comparison to the number of dogs the other members of the group have rescued, but I am quite proud of what I was able to contribute nonetheless.

One adorable puppy I was able to adopt out fairly quickly was a lab/cattle dog mix I named Zoe. Zoe went to one of the most outgoing, enthusiastic people I have ever met, S. S and I became friends and kept in touch even after she moved to another state, to Switzerland, and then back to the mother ship again. While overseas, she was totally blindsided by her husband when he told her he wanted to divorce her. Seriously, these were the people you assumed had the greatest marriage ever. S came back to the mother ship and struggled to find a new job and start anew, all the while keeping a smile on her face (at least when I saw her) and a positive attitude. About a month ago I learned that S had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately, she had moved back to her hometown for the support of her family when she received the diagnosis. S is only 40 years old. She teaches pilates and yoga (even while going through chemo!) and was a vegetarian for years. She takes care of her body, and yet here she is. Her prognosis is excellent, and I have enjoyed cheering her on via her Caringbridge journal. Even though S and I are on very different paths, I can relate to the spiritual questions she is asking herself. I think anytime we experience something really major - really life-altering - we have to become introspective and seek out the bigger questions, the purpose of it all, and how we can become better because of it. This doesn't have to be in a 'God' way. Well, I should say more specifically that it doesn't have to be in a Christian God way. I haven't yet committed to going down any particular spiritual path, or many spiritual paths for that matter, but I have begun to feel that need within me to find greater meaning and hopefully solace from some source.

This wasn't meant to be a post about spirituality. Aside from S, I just got another email last week from K, a woman I adopted my very most special foster dog, Zuma, to after fostering Zuma for nine months. Zuma was extraordinarily special to me. I connected with this dog better than I do with my own three dogs. I secretly never wanted to find a perfect, forever home for her until I met K. K had fostered dogs at one time, and was the loving owner to a very old mixed-breed dog named Max. She wanted to adopt a younger friend to keep Max happy and as active as possible. Zuma fit in there perfectly, and though it absolutely crushed me to leave her at K's house, I knew it was the right thing to do. Not even a year after K had adopted Zuma, Zuma was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of lymphoma. She had to be humanely euthanized a couple of weeks later. K was heartbroken. I was heartbroken. Though K & I had not really hung out during the time she had Zuma, after Zuma passed it was evident that K and I shared a bond through that wonderfully amazing animal. We made it a point to keep in contact ever since. About a month or so ago, K had to finally put down her other elderly dog; no doubt very hard on her as well, though this dog had lived a long, full life. So for another friend it was a rough year of loss, even if some people might debate the impact losing pets could possibly have on a person. But back to the email from last week...K, also a 40-year-old, very active and healthy woman, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Unlike S, it sounds as though K's was not caught quite as early and she will have to undergo drastic surgery to stop it.

I have this completely irrational feeling that I need to contact every female I ever adopted a dog to in order to warn them to go get a mammogram. Isn't that ridiculous? But seriously, what are the chances of this? Their diagnoses have made me realize that we are getting older and that no one is invincible to hardship and disease. Why do some people have to carry such burden and meet such obstacles while others do not? Why are so many people getting cancer? Why are so many people diagnosed with autism? Are the preservatives and pesticides in our food, or the chemicals in our water to blame for all of it? I so wish I knew the answers once and for all.

But in the meantime, listen to your bodies. Do your monthly breast exams. Get a yearly physical. Do it!!

And swing on over to S's site and offer her a word of encouragement. She is amazing in light of all of this.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Getting Away From It All

First off, have any of you ever noticed that I always capitalize each word of my post titles? (I am betting that a certain vice-principal, writer-extraordinaire, reader has! haha) I love punctuation, if you haven't already noticed. I found James Frey's 'A Million Little Pieces' utterly fascinating because of the way it was punctuated. Check it out and you'll see what I mean. It's my geeky way of being literarily-rebellious. (And look-I just made up a new word!) I also like to end sentences with prepositions. Take that, eight grade English teacher, Mrs. Woodard. I'd like to see one of your appliqued sweaters and your pointer stick try to be so daring...ha!

Okay, back to the point of this post. Yes, I seem to be lagging quite a bit between blog entries. I think of something to write at least once each day, but I can't quite wrap my brain around taking the time to sit down and let it spill out. (A-ha! Another sentence ending in a preposition!!)

I think part of the problem is that most of what I am thinking about seems too personal to open up about. (Yes, 'about' is a preposition) It's not that I don't feel comfortable writing about these things, it's just that I am pretty sure I'd feel obligated to qualify each feeling with an 'I realize I am very lucky,' or 'I wouldn't change my life if I could,' yada, yada, yada. You know...all of those things the guilt of society makes us feel we have to say. It's not that I am not thankful for being so blessed in many ways, or that I'd change things if I could, it's just that, dang it, sometimes I want to expand upon the feeling of, 'This SUCKS,' or 'Why me?' Yes, I realize I do that to an extent, but sometimes you just feel like having an all-out, sprawled on the ground, kicking and screaming, two-year-old, temper tantrum, ya know?

So what do you do when you're feeling the stress? You high-tail it out of town, that's what. On Wednesday night the other half (who has been lacking in spontaneity the past five or so years) said, 'Why don't we go somewhere for the long weekend?' Sounds great to me, as I'm always up for a road trip, but, uh, it's Memorial Day weekend; one of the busiest weekends of the year. Well, since we like to do it up stress-style 'round here, we searched for a rental house until finally finding one in Mendocino at 5pm on Thursday night. We were packed and in the car by 5:18 and on our way up the coast. We stayed in an amazing house the first two nights. It even had a full-size arcade game programmed with all of the oldies like Burgertime, Space Invaders, Joust, and Jungle Hunt. We lounged around, went to the farmer's market and saw more dreadlocks on pre-pubescent kids than I've ever seen in my lifetime. I finished my second book in over a year (so sad that I've lost my ability to take time to read). I read TWO People magazines. We hot tubbed. We saw wild turkeys. We ate a feck-load of bacon. We danced to Pandora. We left food on the counters without worrying that a dog or cat was going to eat it. But perhaps most important, the other half and I co-parented better than we have in a very long time. He stepped up to the plate with the boys way more than he has in quite awhile, and I really, really, REALLY needed that from him. I've come to realize that part of my problem (only part, not all...there is no blame game going on here) is that I take my frustrations out on the kids and become overly-stressed with them because I am frustrated with him. I have felt like I am the one constantly dealing with the struggle that is getting M dressed (and subsequently, often being hit), or taking him to appointments; or the only one responding to B's relentless whining and requests. I suspect the other half has finally noticed my resolve crumbling. Heck, who are we kidding? It's not just crumbling, it's coming down in a torrential landslide at this point.
We were so sad to have to check out of our little paradise less than two days after we'd gotten there that we decided to find another rental for another two days. The second house was not nearly as plush as the first, but it was very family-centric in its layout and ended up working out very well for us. Television was not a focus on this house, so we took walks, collected wildflowers, and played in the yard. The second house struck a chord with us because the owners had noted in their guest book that their son had been born with a serious heart defect that had resulted in several surgeries and ultimately, a heart transplant. The family wrote that they did not know how long their son would be on this earth, so they built the home knowing that they needed a place to make cherished memories and to get away from the stress, worries and fears of home. My gosh, could we not relate! The other half and I both noted that you could really feel the presence of the little boy in that house. I do not know if he is still physically present on this earth, but I sense that he will always fill the rooms of that house no matter what.

We took the scenic, coastal route home; anything to extend the familial high we seemed to be on.

When we got close to home you could sense that we all felt the anxiety rising once again. The worst part was that M started crying when we turned onto our street.

We dreamed of a vacation getaway similar to those we rented. We spoke of ways to continue that feeling of being on vacation in order to help us through the tough times. We decided that we need to visit places like Mendocino more often. Places that give us that peace our bodies need in order to stay healthy; places that bring us together as a family and remind us that we do love each other and that we are, after all, quite blessed.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pointers & Things I Wish I Didn't Have To Understand

Ask any parent of a school-aged child with special needs about all of the things they now know about the education process, and you'll get an answer filled with acronyms, legalese, and likely a somewhat glazed-over look as they spew out the information.

I've been attending IEPs (individualized education plan meetings; also referred to as 'ARDs,' back on the mother ship, or admission, review & dismissal meetings) since before M turned three years old. I remember the very first one and how frightened I felt. (BH, you probably remember my apprehension!!) I had NO IDEA what to expect and sort of felt like the meeting was the beginning of the end for my child. Fortunately, I left that meeting feeling like I was on the path to helping my child instead, which I continued to feel for the next 2.5 years.

And then...the moved happened. And though during the previous 2.5 years I'd learned about how hours of various therapies were calculated (trust me when I say it is crazy confusing!), or how I could request help at school with things as seemingly benign as potty training or washing hands, I was not prepared for the smack down that is California education law. I joined two local Yahoo groups for parents like myself; groups where the questions that are asked many, many times a day involve answers containing references to state assembly bills, federal special education laws and mandates (Wright's Law, IDEA, etc.), and information about the best special needs advocates and lawyers that you, too, can hire for $200+ per hour in order to go to due process against your school district that is disregarding FAPE (free and appropriate education) for your child.

So now when I go to meetings, I know that I need to be armed with way more information than I ever thought I needed, because this isn't necessarily just about what is best for my child, it's about what is best or most affordable for the school district, and ultimately the state.

I have another meeting with the district soon to discuss the fact that I am not in agreement with M's current placement. Yes, again. The good news is that they know I'm not just giving in to them. The bad news is that I need to be way more prepared for this meeting than I was for the last. I need to have all the right rebuttals to their claims of progress rather than just sitting there, wanting to cry, feeling that burning sensation in my throat, knowing that they are winning.

I spoke to the director of the private school I want M to go to. She sent me an excellent outline of questions I need to ask the IEP team...questions that put the ball in MY court rather than theirs. She has advised me to challenge their claims of progress by asking them how they can prove that it is truly 'progress' vs. natural, biological maturation. This makes great sense to me. I DO believe that any reported progress is simply maturation and him getting more comfortable with the life change that occurred when we moved.

Sometimes I fight this need to be in the know on all of this stuff. I delete some of the posts that come through from the Yahoo groups, thinking that I'll leave those questions to other people.

But as time goes on, I realize that I am becoming one of those other people. The need to learn all of that stuff that I naively assumed didn't apply to me now does. As happy as I was to leave college knowing that I didn't have to study things I didn't want to ever again, I know that I am now a student of the system, and I need to strive to be at the top of my class.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Still Trying

I haven't shared with most of you what the private school I want M to go to has said after the director's meeting with the school founders. I waited on pins and needles for a WHOLE 10 DAYS until I finally sent an email asking what had happened. She had apparently been out with the flu (non-swine, fortunately!) and was apologetic for leaving me hanging. Well, there really wasn't any good news for us at all...just talk of the school seeking out non-public school accreditation (which would allow public schools to refer students there) and then a slight mention of 'let's talk soon about what we can do for M in the meantime.' We have not yet spoken, though I continue to attempt to wait patiently!

I have made another futile attempt with the current school district. I sent a message last night that said that after much thought, I still do not believe the placements offered are appropriate for my child and that I needed x, y & z per the professional assessment we provided the school. They've scheduled another meeting (for when, I am not yet sure) and I'm sure we'll have another go-round of how much progress M is making and how their research shows that all of these transitions and different teachers he works with is better for him, blah, blah, blah.

The next step is putting our house on the market. We are very close to doing this. We have a few suggestions for potentially better public schools/districts. It's fairly dumb to try and chase the perfect district since none of them are 'perfect' so to speak, but there may be more money available in some districts to pay for my kiddo's particular needs. Again...we shall see.

I can't believe I'm still waiting to see how this will all play out! This is definitely a test on what little patience I have.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Watching It All Go Down

Today I'm writing over here. Come take a look around!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Not Much To Say...

...except that sometimes a girl needs to drink some wine and talk to her girlfriends. Thank you, R, for letting me say what was really in my head tonight. Isn't it a blessing to have people in your life to which you can say those things that you wouldn't normally say out loud to anyone else? It's sort of like going to confession, but better. And from this well-lapsed Catholic, that's a big deal!

More soon. Keep my boy in your thoughts. He's going through a rough patch right now and to be honest, it sort of freaks me out. He's very anxious and showing aggression to me more. Wishing we had an answer that would make it all better. Anyone have a genie in a bottle I can borrow?