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Friday, August 5, 2011


I took Mary to Wegman's this evening, which makes her deliriously happy. She loves riding in the shopping cart, eating her free cookie, and helping me unload the groceries onto the checkout belt. I take her to a lot of places for fun, but nothing beats "Buppy," as she calls it.

As we were leaving, there was a mom with a toddler walking out at the same time. He was screaming and kicking, and I felt sympathy for her. She was pushing her cart quickly, not giving in to him, and I admired her. She was ignoring other people's stares, and not trying to talk him out of his tantrum. Just as I was congratulating her in my mind, she slapped him across the face. This did nothing to diminish his wails. I cringed, but chickened out and didn't say anything.

I didn't want to scold her - I wanted to tell her that I've been there, that I get it. Kids are enormously frustrating. I'm not against spanking, in general. Mary gets a swat on the butt from time to time when she is deliberately disobedient. However, slapping a child in the face crosses the line. I've found that once you can talk with your child, spanking becomes useless. Taking away a privilege, or having an excruciatingly long talk about the misbehavior is a much more effective deterrent once they reach the age of reason. 

I wanted to reach out to that mom because she made me remember a time that I lost control with Mary. She was five months old, and screaming her lungs out while I was rushing to pick Ben up from preschool. It was a trying day, and I had had it. As I was unbuckling her from her car seat, she screamed even louder, and I snapped. I slapped her, which stunned both of us for a moment. Horrified with myself, I picked her up and cuddled her. I was ashamed and bewildered - who does that? I needed help, but I'm terrible at accepting it, and even worse at asking for it.

I had postpartum depression and didn't know it. It wasn't like I was Brooke Shields - I didn't lay in bed for days at a time, and I didn't want to throw the baby out the window. I was tense, on edge. I would blow up at the smallest things, planning my days to the minute and freaking out when I ran behind. I hate the term "depression" for what I had - anxiety was more like it. I kept going and going until I dropped, to the point where I actually weighed less than I had before the pregnancy (and I am not a person who loses weight easily), and I looked haggard. Pictures of me form that time show a zombie, dead behind the eyes.

I'd like to say that I called the doctor that day, but in reality it took me a month. She gave me Lexapro, which I didn't want to take, but I felt like I had no choice. She promised that I wouldn't have to be on it forever, and proposed trying it for six months. It was a miracle. I was calmer, happier, and able to enjoy things again (including food, unfortunately). When the six months was up, Mary had just been diagnosed, so we agreed that it wasn't the best time to stop the medication. I ended up taking it for another year, and then stopped cold turkey. That's not the best way to do it, but it was fine for me. I was ok again - still type-A, but with self-control.

Parents need help, from family, friends, or even pharmaceuticals. I want to tell that mom to take time for herself, get a sitter, put the kid in front of his favorite show. This is advice that I never would have taken myself, I know. Admitting that you can't do everything by yourself is not a sign of weakness. I wish I had learned that sooner.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Clean-Up, Clean-Up

     People who say that they like to clean are liars. Nobody truly enjoys the act of cleaning. It is the time after the job is done, when the air smells of bleach and the floors shine, that people enjoy. Conversely, nobody really likes living in a dirty house, either. People who claim that are just good at ignoring the mess, transcending the clutter. I am of the former persuasion. While I don't dance through the house with my dustrag, I can only truly relax when the house is clean.

     I keep a clean house partly because I like it that way, and partly because I don't want to be embarrassed when someone stops by. I was a typical teenage slob, and my college apartment was disgusting. I had a full course load and waited tables five days a week, and I didn't see the point of cleaning a place that I was rarely in. When I moved in with my husband, I embraced cleaning, and found that it made me happy to keep a nice home. Very 50's housewife, I know, but it gave me satisfaction.

     After kids, the housework got harder to keep up with, but I managed. When Mary began home therapy, it became a huge daily task. Therapists coming over every day, sometimes twice, was a great motivator in keeping everything immaculate. It hurt my pride, a little, that I couldn't do everything for her, that I couldn't teach her the things a mom should. At the very least, I could vacuum the carpets and pick up the blocks, to make their job easier.

     Cleaning was a way to maintain control over my life. If the dishes are done and the toilets are scrubbed, I can relax, knowing that there is nothing more to do. However, I am very much an out-of-sight, out-of-mind person - my basement is like that episode of "Friends," where Chandler finds Monica's closet jammed with crap. I enjoy home-makeover shows on HGTV and Style network, and I think that I've got a great idea for one. "Dirty Little Secrets" would feature homes like mine, which appear in order, except for that one room or nook that holds all of the odds and ends. To any tv execs reading: I volunteer to be featured on the first episode.

     Now that Mary gets all of her therapy at school, I worry less about keeping the house clean. I no longer rotate the toys every two weeks, and it's been way too long since the upstairs was vacuumed. Maybe that's a sign that I'm relaxing more, accepting life for what it is. Then again, this week my son and I spent a full morning shoveling his room out. He was so happy, he actually played in it, instead of dragging his stuff around the rest of the house. I'm making one just like me! You're welcome, Ben's future wife.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What a Good Boy

In the interest of fairness, and to round out my story, this post will be about my 8-year-old son Ben. The parents of disabled children tend to get a lot of sympathy, but the siblings aren't often considered. Ben is shockingly patient and kind to Mary, even as she rejects his affections constantly. He understands when we have to suddenly go home from someplace fun, thanks to Mary's behavior, with more maturity than I have. I'll be sitting in the car, flushed and embarrassed from her outbursts, and irritated with her for ruining yet another dinner out, and Ben will serenely say, "It's OK, we can just get Chinese." 

Ben is a regular almost-third grader, who loves fart jokes and his iPod, recently recovered after a two-hour shovel-out of his bedroom. He forgets to wash his hands, talks back, and prefers Disney XD to reading a book.  A three-sport kid, we spend many hours at practices and games, which Mary hates and protests loudly. I still make her go sometimes, though. I figure that it's the least she can do for him, considering the disruptions she causes in his life.

A study of siblings of disabled children, conducted by PRISMS, concluded that they are more likely to be empathetic, and that they are glad to have their siblings, despite all of the difficulties that go along with them. Ben likes to talk about Mary's future. "When Mary gets older" stories are common topics of discussion in our house. He is hopeful, sure that she'll speak intelligibly, and go with his for ice cream once he gets his license. I've tempered his expectations with a dose of reality, but I don't want to crush his dreams about her.

He mourns, in his own way. His new cousins, both under 2, delight him in a way that Mary doesn't. They interact with him, are happy to see him, and soon will start talking to him. He asks for another sibling, but that's not happening. This factory is closed! But I get it - he wants a sibling to relate to, to play with, who will respond to him with something other than cries of distress and kicks. 

What a good boy, what a smart boy, what a strong boy.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Am I the Only One?

      Mary has been glued to my side for most of her life, with brief dashes over to Daddy. This week has been especially trying - no school plus hot weather equals one cute little girl extending her arms and saying "uppie" all day long.

     Daddy and I did manage to get away for an overnight at a friend's lake house this weekend (thank you, Gaga!), which was a nice break for my sore back and tired arms. As soon as I returned, though, my little shadow clung to me like crazy, and hasn't let go since, unless Yo Gabba Gabba was on. Which it is, in our house. A lot. Way more than that hour per day recommended.

     Even though we've seen lots of family this week, people who Mary loves, she wants only me. When passed to another person, she calmly puts her thumb to her chin and says "Mama," with big eyes and a serious expression. She is not joking around here. And I cave every time, to avoid unpleasantness in the form of a huge tantrum. Maybe I enjoy playing the martyr, or maybe I just want to keep the peace. Typical middle child stuff.

     My husband always tries to take her off my hands, but when we're out of the house, I just take her, to make things easier. Today, at the amusement park, I did hand her off once. I had held her through several cycles in the wave pool, and I just needed to be free for a few minutes. I swam away, she cried, and then she got over it. Out of sight, out of mind.

      Others have told me that when I am not there, Mary is much more willing to engage with them.  Maybe I'm holding her back, or subconsciously enjoying being needed. It is nice to have someone on your life who is always happy to see you, and wants endless hugs and kisses.

     Or maybe I just like the gun show I'm packing, thanks to carrying around a forty pound preschooler.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

School's Out for Summer!

      Today, dear Mary graduated from preschool. At least, I think that she did. There were so many camera-happy parents in front of me that I couldn't see a thing. While I get the impulse to take photos, Mary was the last kid on the stage - did all of those people really want a picture of someone else's kid? Maybe. Personally, I lost interest in other people's children when I had my own, but hey, whatever works for you.
      Tiny Mary was in the last seat of the last row of children today. Not the best idea, since she is not a great waiter in general. By the time her name was called, she had removed her robe, thrown a few small hissy fits, and fallen asleep. I imagine that she staggered across the stage, protesting all the way. Again, I have to imagine, as I couldn't see a thing.

     Nobody wants her kid to be last, and I tend to be pretty relaxed about this kind of thing. I'm usually content for Mary to participate however she can, but this time, I was furious. These people know Mary, and know that she gets tired and cranky after sitting around for too long. As do I, by the way. We had to be at her school an hour before the graduation, and sit there waiting for things to get going, so maybe I wasn't in the best frame of mind. The ceremony itself was a little over half an hour, a long time for a four year old to sit still.

      This is a school that celebrates and embraces differences, but they didn't think to make a simple accommodation for Mary. Frankly, if they had put the kids who typically have ants in their pants first, the whole ceremony would have gone more smoothly. As it became apparent that she would be last, and as I watched her gradually losing her cool, I started tearing up. This is, embarrassingly, what I do when I'm really angry. It is so stereotypically female, and one of my worst qualities. Fortunately, today I could pass off my tears as those of a proud momma, which I am.

Fortunately, they took graduation photos last week, when she was in a better mood. Prettiest girl ever!

And no, I have no idea why the first paragraph is double spaced.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Girls Who Like Boys

     My daughter is boy crazy. Let me amend that - she is man crazy. At Ben's last soccer practice, she sat on one dad's lap and tickled his beard, grabbed a second dad from behind and tackled him to the ground, and asked a third dad to pick her up, and hugged him like he was a long-lost friend. The moms, she completely ignores. There is something about men that she just loves, which is cute. For now.

     Believe it or not, she is now showing a little restraint. Less than a year ago, she was marching up to complete strangers and hugging them. She was at an unfortunate height for this, as she was (and still is) crotch-height to most men. These poor guys don't know what to do. They look terrified, as if Chris Williams is going to pop out with his camera crew. The men would typically freeze, afraid to touch her lest I scream "Pervert!" in the middle of the grocery store. Adding to the awkwardness,  I get to detangle Mary from their waists, touching the belts of perfect strangers.

     Her one-to-one aide this year was a man, a rarity. He is wonderful with her, and she adores him. He has a longish goatee which she pulls with glee, and as a result, she now tries to touch the beard of every man she sees. I used this fancy of hers to convince my husband to grow his beard again. He gave it up a few years ago when I convinced him to try a new haircut, after 10 years of the exact same center-parted 90s slacker 'do. All of the female attention he received made him love his new look, which is great, but I miss the beard, like I'm sure he misses my much-smaller ass of our high school days. Sadly, Mary did not care for his beard, and he did not care for the grays that appeared in it, so off it went.

    She's not even five yet - what am I in for? Right now, she is the lone girl in a class of twelve. Since special ed classes tend to be boy-heavy, Mary will have plenty of opportunities for more age-appropriate crushes in the future. Once she discovers boys her own age, you'll find Gary and I at the local hunting store, shopping for shotguns. Kidding, of course!

Sort of.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sing a Song

     So I  have broken the cardinal rule of blogging - one must post frequently. Forgive my absence, dear readers, but I had a deadline to meet, for the writing I do that actually pays something. Mea culpa.

     I am a singer of modest talent. My family is very musical, in a VonTrapp kind of way. When you come to a family party, you can hear "Happy Birthday" in four part harmony, although curiously absent of melody - we compete to come up with the best parts. I'm more of a back-up singer than a front man, even when I'm alone in the car (it's kind of pathetic, that I'm not even a star when I'm rocking out alone, I know). However, I sang lead to my babies. Ben loved to sing with me until he was about 3, and then he moved on to other interests, but Mary is still my number-one fan.

     I am well versed in children's songs, having been a Pre-K teacher, but I  had no idea how useful it would be until I had Mary. Over the years, her favorite songs have changed, but she still likes my voice over anyone else's. Music opens up some kind of pathway to Mary, and she engages at a much higher level that during any other activity. She does not like to speak on demand, but if you stop during "Old McDonald," she will pipe in with the appropriate word, in her throaty little voice. I imagine when she does finally sing on her own, her voice will sound like Stevie Nicks'.

    It is handy to have built-in entertainment for Mary, and it certainly makes my diaper bag lighter, but sometimes even I get tired of hearing my voice. I recall driving to my brother's wedding rehearsal last fall, stuck in Long Island rush hour (yet another reason I am so grateful to live in a less-populated area), and Mary had hit her limit. I sang every song I could think of, from "Itsy Bitsy Spider" to "The Farmer in the Dell." I even threw in a few Christmas numbers and American folk tunes, before I ran out of songs. I just couldn't think of another thing to sing, and boy, did that piss her off. Not a pleasant ride that evening.

    But other than that, singing is my favorite way of communicating with Mary. It's funny how she demands routine in most areas of life, but when it comes to songs, novelties are welcome. Her Papa does a delightful variation of a well-loved children's ditty titled "Necks, Armpits, Butts and Feet" that sends her into gales of laughter, and give my throat a break. She's come to associate certain songs with certain people, and makes that their special thing to do whenever they see each other. My advice for those who know Mary, but can't seem to gain her favor - get a signature song. Mine currently is "Wheels on the Bus," especially the verse where the babies go "Wah wah wah." Mary thinks that's hilarious. Either she has a short memory, or she's sticking it to me, I can't tell.

     My last two postings have been song titles - anyone else want to help me keep it going?