Friday, May 17, 2013

Old Cats

My cats are old. Old enough that they're pretty set in their ways. I know that Clawdio (15) is the cat that no one sees. Luke (13) is the big, friendly guy who doesn't make eye contact. And Maya (12) will cuddle with just about anyone as long as they sit still.

Lately, when I crawl into bed at night, Clawdio has been curling up on my hips and shoulder diving into me for attention. If anyone else comes near us, he whacks them away with an open paw and a hiss, but no claws.

When I am sitting at my desk downstairs, Maya comes over stares at me. She climbs into my lap a lot and just sits there. I thought she was deciding she would be the "downstairs" cat. But now, I think she's just annoyed that I'm in her favorite chair.

Before my surgery, I got tired of moving of the kitchen table chairs back and forth to the desk, so I broke down and went to Pier One during one of their sales and got this blue flowery chair. It's probably the girliest thing I've every purchased. It was comfortable to sit in and it was 40% off with an extra 10% for getting a Pier One credit card. That's not bad.

And since then, Maya has been sleeping on it. So, if you see me walking around town with a bunch of cat hair on my behind -- it's courtesy of Maya, who would like me to very much go mow the lawn so that she can take a mid-morning snooze, now that X-man is at school on HER chair.

Monday, May 13, 2013

When You're Related to a "Monster"

In the last few months, there has been a lot of media coverage of "monsters." People who have gone out of their way to hurt other people in some really sick, violent ways.

I have to admit, I initially avoided the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings and the manhunt, because I didn't want it to turn into another 9/11 TV news time vortex. I don't have local or cable television at my house, because I filtered all those funds into my Internet connection. And let's face it, I can get the highlights (if not the whole telecast) online, most of the time. But I didn't want to sit in front of the ugliness, a slave to the horror. Because let's face it, you could sit in that stupor for days before the Feds were able to release any real information about the investigation. And who needs to watch TV newscasters desperate for updates repeat assumptions and incorrect news for hours at a time. It's not Scandal, I don't need that kind of drama. But over the weeks that followed, I dutifully caught the updates of the investigation.

Then the news of Ariel Castro came out. It was the same thing. The reports of the investigation got uglier and uglier.

And in both instances, loads of family members were found by news organizations as coming out as being disgusted by their relatives (brothers, daughters, uncles, etc.). They disowned them publicly. And it got me to thinking, could I ever really separate myself from my child or my sister or my best friend, even, if it turned out they weren't who I thought they were? Could I walk away from them? Publicly abandon them? Even in the face of them committed the worst kind of tortures.

I think it would break me in ways I might not be able to process. But somehow, in my own brain, I think my first instinct would be not to pick up the phone to talk to a reporter, or get in a car and drive around with the windows down acting alienated by reporters asking me questions about how I felt about my loved one being an alleged murderer. I'm pretty sure, I'd go on communications lockdown and deal only with the authorities and an attorney -- and my loved one.

I'm pretty sure, I'd keep that personal horror private -- and get a good therapist.

I get particularly emotional when I attribute that kind of scenario to the emotions of parents of violent criminals. That criminal is still someone's baby. Usually, I'll admit, it turns out that there was abuse in the family or mental illness that was left untreated. But in situations when there wasn't any of that, it's very difficult to get your brain (and heart) around the idea that something went so wrong in his life to cause him to hurt others, particularly children.

When I read the Chicago Tribune online today, there were more awful reports. A mother held her 11 year old down while her father whipped her with an electric cord for finishing all the ice cream in the house without asking. They think of it as appropriate discipline for stealing.

A mother and her boyfriend beat up a 4 year old boy to the point where both of his eyes were swollen shut and he had brain injury, lacerations on his liver and spleen, cuts up and down his legs (from nail clippers), etc.

Often, this is the kind of stuff that happens to children, to have them grow up to be the Ariel Castros of the world. Abuse is a viscous cycle.

I know sitcoms tell us otherwise, but there are families that exist that aren't emotionally close. I'm reading reports about Michelle Knight, Castro's first victim. She went to the hospital, saw her mother once, and then asked not to have any visitors. Before she was taken, she was in a custody fight over her own child, who she hasn't seen in a decade. 15 months after she was reported missing, the FBI took her off of their list, because they couldn't get in touch with Knight's mother to confirm that she was still missing. It was assumed, per ABCNews that the family thought she had run away, and since she was 20, everyone stopped looking, like she never even existed. Neglect.

It's all just so harsh, and so unhappy.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Thinking about Work

I know that the first step to moving somewhere -- is actually finding a house and getting into it.

But I've been looking at wanted ads lately, and I'm having a hard time deciding what kinds of things sound good. I thought I might want to go back to school. And then I got annoyed with the thought of doing homework and writing papers in APA style.

So I started to look around. And, of course, I can find jobs varying from part-time library clerk, which only work 10-12 hours a week, to full time low paying jobs (Americorps has a literacy project going out there that looks really pretty amazing), and for more corporate kind of jobs writing, editing, communications, etc.

Then I stumbled on this odd job that I'm not even sure how to deal with. It's at Google. And it's a Social Impact Principal. It requires a lot of research to find projects that push the envelope for solving real world social problems,  and then writing reports as to why and how these social entrepreneurs are worth investing in, tracking the work they do and keeping updated profiles for each.

And I have to admit... I got a little excited. I looked at the requirements, and, of course, I've never worked for a grant giving foundation where people applied for money.

I think I may look at it again later this week. There's this voice in the back of my head that reminded me that I'm not there yet.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Day with the Family

Today, we went to two different parks. We played this morning at a neighbor's 4-year birthday celebration at Porter Park in Champaign (they really need to put some Port-a-Potties out there, so people don't have to throw their kids in the car and run them to the dog park on the other side of Windsor). X-man got picked as the big kid friend to the 4-year old's sister. That was very sweet of her. Plus, X-man was not about to complain about having donuts and cupcakes and playing ball and climbing things all morning.

Then we ran home and let Lily out and got back in the car to drive to Decatur. We were meeting up for a goodbye playdate between myself and one of my former students from Millikin. He has a son the same age as X-man, so we met at a park and let the boys go crazy. One was way into sensory and the other was way into pretend play, so there was a lot more adult/child interaction than child/child interaction. But hey, that's the way it goes. We ate lunch in Decatur while we were there and I ran X-man down to Millikin to see where I went to college. Of course, as we're driving through he exclaims that he needs to go to the bathroom, even though he'd just gone at the restaurant before we left. So I stopped at Shilling Hall and took him into the building. It's Saturday, in May, so it was pretty much abandoned. All the lights were dim and X-man was scared he wasn't supposed to be in there because he was "too big." (meaning too little)

But he got over it as soon as he realized I knew exactly where I was going. :-) We played at Forsyth Park north of Decatur with our friends for an hour and a half. There were cops and robbers, digging in pebbles, running on a log play equipment, climbing walls, etc. We even rolled down a big hill a few times.

Then we came home, and X-man was tired, so he sat down with an iPad. MacTroll went up to our bedroom, and Lily went outside with me. I'm pleased to say that the strawberries Rachel gave me two summers ago have really started to go nuts in the front garden. Here's hoping I get some berries this year! I only pulled two off last year. Of course, this might have been due to the sneakiness of my bunny population, too.

I also had to weed the Knockout Roses in the backyard. If you look beyond our fence in to the "back 40" you'll see NOTHING but thistle. It grows right up to the fence and is starting to come through the fence. We have a lawn service, so as soon as they come through, it usually prevents taking over the yard, but it blows into the south gardens and the sandbox, so I have to stay on it. I used to have peppers and tomatoes where the roses are now, so I didn't want to spray anything toxic around them. But now that they're gone... I'm seriously considering it. Because getting between pokey rose bushes to pull out pokey weeds is a terrible job.

Not that I'll have to worry about this particular garden in six weeks... MacTroll is flying out on Monday to go look at houses. Let's hope there's one out there that he gets!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Not Alone

X-man got in the car yesterday after playing at the park. I watched him for 30 minutes wander between two groups of children, trying to find a place to fit in. It took him most of the first semester to learn to like playing tag, so if there's a game, he wants in on it. I love tag -- because I get to watch him run. He does this interesting thing with his arms. Instead of making fists, like I see so many runners do on the road, he extends his fingers out, but keeps them all together. You see sprinters do this or hurdlers. But he doesn't bend his head down for speed. Instead, he stays upright, and kind of swishes his hands in front of him front and back rather than using his whole arms.

Anyway, the version of tag going on was really a first grader chasing a fourth grader and a group swirling around them trying to intervene to help the fourth grader escape. But since he was a 10 year old escaping a 7 year old, there really wasn't much to do in the intervention process besides run along side. X-man, trying to figure out why the other kids thought this was fun, kept interjecting. "I want to play. What are we playing? How do we play?"

One of the fourth graders finds X-man annoying because he talks so much. But no one is stopping to explain to him the game, so he just keeps chatting. He disappears checking on other kids in the playground to see if they're doing anything he's interested in. But he keeps going back to that group, because he's 7 -- and he has Big-Boy-itis, pretty badly (wants to play with the older kids).

He got mad when I said it was time to leave. But then I pointed out that three of the other families were also leaving and he relented and avoided a tantrum.

Then we get to the car and he says, "Mom, I'm not going to get to go to the Kindness Café on Thursday."

The Kindness Café is a lunch that is served to children in his class if they accrue enough "kindness" tallies. In hopes of inspiring the children to be nicer to each other, it was an award system created at the beginning of April by his teacher. It's a fundamentally good idea, but difficult for X-man. Because what he sometimes labels as kindness -- doesn't come off as such. Shouting at people to not run in the hall so that they don't get in trouble, doesn't feel kind to the person being shouted at. They don't understand that his intention is for them to avoid getting in trouble. And indeed, X-man also thinks that just by following the pre-set rules he is being kind, when really, he's just doing what he's supposed to do.

His main issue though comes in how the "kindness" tallies are received. Your teacher can give them to you, but so can other students. And in his skilled observation, X-man has noticed that people have friends giving them tallies at the end of the day, but he says he doesn't have really close friends. He has one, who he loves, but she's a girl, so according to X-man she only speaks up for the other girls. He seemed slightly frustrated with that, but in the end he forgives her because in truth, the boys really only give kindness tallies to other boys. His -- he says -- have all come from his teacher, who recognizes that he's trying in his own way, but that his kindness really doesn't translate to the other children.

So we had a big conversation about why he doesn't belong. He listed three cliques at school and says he sometimes plays with two of the three. The third, he said, has kids who generally spend a lot of time getting in arguments and going to the principal's office, and he understands that as a bad thing, so he doesn't want to get mixed up in it, but one on one those kids are fine.

But he asks me why he doesn't really have a place to fit in. Is it because no one likes him? I told him that I think that sometimes people have a hard time seeing the world the way he does. And that often times, his tone is rougher than he realizes. But that in the good column, if he isn't a core member of any of those groups, that means he's pretty open minded because he plays with everyone.

He smiles a bit. Then he asks, "Why is it people have playdates at our house, but never invite us to theirs?"

I don't have a real answer for this. Not one I can put my finger on. All I know is that in all of my reading with kids who exhibit social disorders, is that this is a common situation. When neurotypical kids develop in kindergarten and start to understand that your child isn't typical, they stop inviting them over. The birthday parties invites for kids your child has known since he was born stop, too. And this isn't just on the kid front, it's on the parent front, too. It doesn't make it an easy situation for anyone.

I've been reading the book, "Easy to Love, Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories" by Kay Marner and Adrienne Ehlert Bashista. And it's been kind of nice to read these stories about quirky kids, regardless of their labels and the insane lives their parents lead just trying to get through each day, let alone wondering if their children will be able to function at 23 without parents (usually Mom) there to translate their unique ways to the outside world and vice versa. (For the record, most of them seem to function just fine later in life.)

Without a doubt, speaking X-man has become my key role in life these days.

In the opening sections of the book, which is a collection of essays written by parents, one of the editors brings up the overall idea of what these parents go through. I'd like to share it...

"Like so many girls and young women, Eve has a fantasy of parenthood, formed during childhood play, and reinforced through years of romantic musings. Finally, it's her turn to live the fantasy. Her son, Eli, is born (or adopted). Eve's a mother!

Before long Eve is confused. Although she loves him, the experience of parenting this child is nothing like she thought it would be...He won't follow directions, has violent tantrums, sometimes for little or no apparent reason. He never wants to slow down enough to eat. He doesn't share or take turns at playgroup. Eve would love to connect with other mothers there, but she is unable to relax and talk with them, because she's constantly chasing, correcting, and redirecting Eli. Neither of them is getting anything positive out of it. They quit going.

Eve had expected standard discipline tactics to work with Eli, but they just don't. She's frustrated and angry, with Eli and herself. She reads parenting book after parenting book, and tries strategy after strategy. Nothing works. And when they don't, Eve blames herself. Eve starts to question her ability to parent.

The idea that Eve is at fault is reinforced by others. Family members, friends, the parents of her child's peers, his teachers -- even strangers in the grocery store -- are critical of her parenting abilities. Eve is far from a lazy parent; in fact, she has no choice but to work harder than most, but her efforts aren't reflected in her child's behavior for others to see. Some people express their criticism of Eve outright. Others show their disapproval through their expressions, their reactions.

Eve often feels shame in situations where other adults can observe her with Eli, and she starts to withdraw from her former supports. She begins to feel isolated...

Something about this child is different. Something is wrong.

The first inkling cements into valid concern around the time Eli starts preschool, and then kindergarten, when he is expected to conform to more rules. According to his teachers, Eli can't sit still on his carpet square, keep his hands and feet to himself, or color inside the lines...

Eve begins the search for someone to diagnose Eli's problems, unaware that this is just the beginning...

Eli's peers seem to mature more quickly. They stop inviting him to birthday parties. He joins Scouts, but quits because he feels excluded. No one plays with him at recess. Sometimes he's teased or bullied. Eve aches for him. Her pain is as palpable as Eli's own.

Eve's isolation grows in tandem with her child's. Since Eli isn't invited to sleepovers, doesn't excel at team sports, and isn't part of various other groups, Eve's not part of the mom cliques that surround these activities...

Finally, Eli's problems reach crisis proportions. He sees himself as reflected by those around him -- bad, unlikable, stupid. Eve can no longer sit back and watch this happen.. In addition to ADHD, Eli has a mood disorder (or OCD, Tourette's syndrome, autism an eating disorder...)...

By now, Eve is no longer trying to "fix" Eli's problems, to "cure" his condition. Instead, she focuses on finding coping skills and tools to help him... Eve also opens up to a few others about some of Eli's symptoms, and how he deals with them. When there's no shame, there's no secret. When there's no secret, there's no shame."

It's just a creative sample at the beginning of the book, but many of the essay share bits and pieces of what I have found parenthood to be. Most of all, though, over the past two years, I've found it very isolating. I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what it is I do or don't do that makes it incredibly hard for me to be close to people. I think people just get sick of hearing about what I'm fixated on at that particular moment. But that's what I'm dealing with. That's what is affecting me most, emotionally. And it's hard not to talk about it. But when there's no one to talk about it with, you learn to be quiet.

At least until someone gives your kid this sideways look at the park. And you realize the "few" people you talk about your son with are also parents of "quirky" kids.

Suddenly, you're not alone. But you're definitely on an island. Others are either on islands within shouting distance or they're sailing by on boats of their own trying to shout their stories as their own kiddos keep them on their toes.

This is the part about being a parent that is so hard. Advocating for him, so that he has someone, when you, as a parent, often feel like you don't have anyone at all. So I hope, that as he gets older, he finds someone else, quirky like him, that he can spend his life with.

Cause I gotta tell you, I am thankful every day, that MacTroll is as wacky as I am, and that we're over our heads in this together.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Back in the Saddle

I just finished the Couch to 5k, Week 5, Run 3. I've been doing the Free podcasts on my phone and then uploading the workout to MapMyFitness. 

Today's workout was walk 5 minutes, run 20 minutes, walk 5 minutes. Before this, the longest interval I'd done was 8 minutes. But since I haven't really been able to run in two years, it felt -- wonderful. Except I have to admit that my brain seems all messed up about the whole thing. I know physically I can run for 20 minutes. I mean, I've been doing it on an Arc Trainer for the last six months, and I've gone through 60 minute Body Attack classes. I can jump in the pool and swim for 45-60 minutes, no problem.  Cardiowise, and breathing wise, I'm fine. In my head, though. I'm scared.

I know that my PT said that she'd recommend running not be my main everyday exercise routine. I'm going to be on a bike or in exercise class for at least two of my five cardio days. Given my biomechanics and injury issues, I'm not meant to withstand long time periods on concrete. But there's just something about getting -- outside that I love. I've missed it.

In a way, I think I've missed that more than the running, because I have to admit at 15 minutes into the run portion, I knew that I could finish it, but I didn't want to. My body isn't to the point where I finish and feel amazing. It's at the point where I finish and feel tired. 

But my brain does something else. It looks at my body differently when I look in the mirror. I don't dwell on what it looks like... because I ran. I used it. It got me not just from point A to B (like walking does), but it made me sweat and made my body feel used in a good way. 

When I don't run, I look at my body with a sense of bewilderment. What am I supposed to do with this girl, now? When I run, I feel like I've done what I'm supposed to do. And it pretty much doesn't matter what size the body is, it can move. It can go. It wasn't just sitting. 

So I've got three more weeks to this program, and then I'm going on to the Runner 10k App ($3.99) on the iTunes store. And then I think I'll be a 10k girl, 3x a week. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Putting it all together

We're down to our last six weeks in C-U. And I'm starting to plan for everything coming to an end by June 2. X-man will finish with his behavioral counseling sessions with April Keaton. He'll be done with his Occupational Therapy on May 29th. Soccer is done on June 9th. For the first time in two years, we didn't go and renew our pool passes or our dog park passes. Hell, I even mowed the lawn and thought, just six more weeks of this.

I still need to find a home for our snow thrower. I contacted a friend of a friend but never heard back. So, if anyone out there wants to prepare for next year, it's a small, electric, Toro. It's very reliable, corded, so you don't have to worry about battery issues, and it can handle up to 8" of snow without any problems. I did the driveway twice during our snow in March. It's a bit like vacuuming, if that makes any sense. It's also FREE.

What else we have to get rid of will depend, of course, on where we're moving to. MacTroll is going back out there the week of May 15 and the week of May 21. He knows his job is to find us a house. :-) So, let's hope the stars all line up.

I ordered stickers with X-man's name on them, so that when I start packing his room, he can tell which boxes are his by putting his stickers on them.

I did sign him up for half day Harry Potter camp at the Orpheum in June. I figured while I was packing, he could be having some fun (and not be so under foot).

I taught at MMO three times this week. It was a lot of fun. But, boy howdy, can you tell it's the end of the year. We were trying to get the kids outside as much as possible, since it was so cold and rainy in April. I was hoping to go for a walk, but it just wasn't happening. I had a rope for my class last year that they could hang on to to keep everyone together, but I'm not sure what happened to it.

I'm still trying to figure out a good "adventure" for X-man to invite some friends to as his "goodbye" party. I was kind of hoping for just a park play date with some treats. His buddy JA is coming over this weekend to play. He's wild crazy about that. Plus, we promised him a video game play date with Big Jack before we go. :-)