Thursday, September 19, 2013

The inexcusable

She was sick. I get that. She was probably tired. Afraid. Maybe alone. I get all that, too. 

Another child with autism has died at the hands of their mother. Once again the media has rallied to the defense. Once again the blame has been placed on the difficult nature of the child. There was no mention of the grievous loss of a life that ended too soon; of what might have been.

I have been struggling to find the right words to respond only to find there are no exact right words. Remove the "autism" and this act would be decried as senseless, inexcusable and tragic. There would be universal outrage. But because this child was diagnosed with autism, I am to believe her actions are understandable. That this child's life was unworthy of living.

Each time the media reports this way, they devalue the life every disabled child. They devalue my child. Each time the media spins the story suggesting an act of violence against a “difficult” child is acceptable; we are placed in the position of defending why we, as adults, have no right to harm any child.

Her life was hard, they said. The child was difficult.

I haven't lived this woman's life. I am not judging her mental health. I have lived a version of her life, though. I have lived through behaviors that are beyond challenging; I understand the kind of care that consumes a life. I understand despair. I understand fear. I understand endless sleepless nights. I understand exhaustion. I understand feeling alone. I understand. That a mother was of the belief she had no other choice is heartbreaking. 

There are options other than taking a life. The media needs to understand this.

I object to the notation it is somehow excusable to harm a child out of frustration, exhaustion or lack of resources when that child has autism. I object to the notion that certain children are less worthy of protection. A child’s most challenging times are cries for help. You do not answer that cry by taking their life.

And to my Sam I say: I signed up for this. You didn’t ask to be born. Like those vows I took in marriage, for better or worse in sickness and health, you are my child. We are bound together for life. It is my sacred oath, my privilege to keep you safe. You are my heart. 

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Friday, September 6, 2013

About Blonds

Sam has always had a thing for blonds. I remember him as a toddler. He would look with interest at the glossy pictures of magazine models, always brightening when he saw a smiling blond.

One day I showed him a series of ads. Sure enough, he smiled at the blonds and dismissed the brunettes. In preschool, he preferred his blond sitters and therapists. Eventually his fascination with blonds seemed to wane until I forgot about it.

Then, years later came the summer I remember as the “Summer of the Blonds.”

It was the summer Sam woke one morning and decided our home was undesirable. Honing his Houdini skills he escaped whenever he could to the neighbor’s house: a beautiful family with a picture perfect blond mom and dad and four equally perfect blond kids and a TV just like ours.

The split second we were distracted, the phone would ring. Mrs. Blond’s kind voice would say, “Yes, Sam is here again.” We’d assure her we really did watch him. Though I am sure she didn’t believe us; though she likely thought us the worst parents ever, she always patiently said, “Don’t rush, he is fine, watching TV my kids.”

Ninety seconds later I’d be on her doorstep. Once inside, I would find Sam with his dark curly hair and Mediterranean coloring in the middle of her sofa in command of the remote control, surrounded by her blond children, watching TV. 

The blond children wore colorful shorts and tees. Sam wore his escape uniform: underpants on backwards and white tee shirt. The contrast between Sam and the other children always reminded me of a work sheet where you chose the item that didn’t belong. 

Sam visited for about one summer and then, as curiously as it began, Sam stopped visiting the Blond Family, marking the end of his second blond fascination.   

I didn’t think about Sam’s periodic interest in blonds until this summer when I heard Sam ask, “Mommy! Let’s go shopping!” “What should we buy?” I asked, expecting him to inquire about a favorite DVD. Instead I heard, “A new different Mommy.”

“A new different Mommy?” I asked, surprised. “Yes! A new different mommy” he confirmed. Though I already knew the answer I asked, “What color hair: blond or brunette?”

“Blond. Yes. Blond”

“Sammy,” I said, “I don’t think you can buy blond mommies or any mommies.” But Sam insisted we go shopping prompting me to ask, “Where do they sell them?” Sam answered confidently, “At the drug store. Mommy. Go shopping. New different Mommy.”

Tonight we’re shopping for a new blond mommy. At Rite Aid. I don't know why Sam wants a replacement Mommy. I am hopeful he is only looking for a spare, just in case I wear out. Still, if we happen to find one on sale, I am not paying. He can use his own money for that.

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Learning experiences from Sam and Mr. Dog

As far back as I can remember, everyone knew my father.. People just remembered him. I once asked him why. He said when you have children or a dog, you meet a lot of people. And they remember you.

My father was right: you do meet a lot of people when you have a child or a dog. He never gave his opinion on why this happens. It doesn't matter. I am sure his reasons would have been different than mine. For me, blending into a crowd is all but impossible with Sam. The recent addition of Mr. Dog makes us stand out a little more, if that is possible. Navigating the world with Sam and Mr. Dog is like traveling with a giant neon sign blinking over my head. We are that hard to miss. 

Over the years I have learned many things. Some from Sam. others, more recenly from Mr. Dog. Many serve to explain why that giant blinking light will likely never turn off:

Sam and Mr. Dog are in cahoots. 
The unexpected is my norm. 
Sam is Houdini. He can defeat any lock and escape through a crack.
He is also a human tape recorder. If I don't want it repeated, never say it ever within his hearing. Not even once.
Mr. Dog is also Houdini. He can defeat any lock and escape through a crack. Fortunately he does not repeat what I say.
If I don't unpack my overnight bag immediately, Mr. Dog will find my bra, eat half and wear the other half as a party hat.
Hide all men’s underwear. Mr. Dog eats men's underwear.
Sam knows the very second I stop watching. He will use this to his advantage in ways that defy imagination. Yes, Mr. Dog knows this, too and is equally creative.
Though I crave it, though I am tempted to enjoy it, quiet is my enemy. Always investigate when the house grows too quiet.
The minute I leave the room, Sam will escape to the neighbor’s house. I will find him sitting in his underwear (worn backwards) watching their TV. On more formal occasions, he will also wear a tee shirt.
Be prepared. Mr. Dog thinks the beach is a giant toilet. Urinating in front of a crowd is just fun. Pooping on the departure ramp of a ferryboat as hundreds disembark is even more fun.
Sam has amazing hearing. He can hear a candy wrapper open three states away. He will lunge for that candy across a canyon if necessary.
I am not expected to attend the secret parties that Sam throws in the middle of the night. I am only needed to rinse the empty ice cream bowls in the morning for use the following night.
If I leave my Facebook account unattended, strange posts will appear.
Pronouns will be the death of me: When Sam passes gas he will most certainly announce "You pooped." His voice will punctuate the room and everyone will look.
Ditto burping.
The minute I brag about Sam, Murphy's Law will strike and he will do something dreadful.
Sam will periodically wake me at 4 AM to remind me he is not a vampire.
Mr. Dog loves to eat laundry. Clean will do; dirty is preferable. The doorbell will ring and Mr. Dog will greet the visitor with underwear hanging from his mouth.  
If something doesn't smell right, investigate. This is applies to both Sam and Mr. Dog.
The best place to take a nap or recline is on my freshly ironed dress laid on my bed. Just ask Sam and Mr. Dog.
Mr. Dog eats plants. Mr. Dog eats anything. Mr. Dog will eventually eat the entire house one piece at a time.
Mr. Dog is blessed with a powerful nose and can smell an ancient crumb of food 5 miles away.
Mr. Dog thinks the beach is a seafood buffet. He will eat vast quantities of wet sand and puke. He will not puke outside. He will wait until he gets inside the house. Preferably on a carpet.
The doggie poop bag will refuse to open at the worst moments.
If I yell, "Jesus Christ!" while driving because someone cut me off, the world will know. Sam will repeat to everyone for several weeks, "Mommy yelled: Chezets Christ!"  
Mr. Dog stalks power cords. He will carefully select the most expensive one and chew it in half.
Do not brag about how easy it has been to housebreak Mr. Dog. He will urinate on the most expensive carpet within 2 hour of said statement. Guaranteed.
Be prepared. Pants fall down (and I do mean fall down) at the most inopportune moments. Ditto bathing suits.
The front of my shirt can double as a napkin. Or tissue. Or whatever. 
No matter how many dog toys I buy, Mr. Dog still thinks the scrub brush for your toilet is a chew toy.
Sam will leave the refrigerator and/or freezer door open on the hottest day of summer. On the bright side, my kitchen is cooler.
Mr. Dog is blessed with a shrill whine that will wake the dead. He will use this gift most effectively at 5:10 AM.
Sam will only flush the toilet when a giant roll of toilet paper has fallen in. The toilet will then flood.
Rain on an otherwise clear day = investigate. Odds are the bathtub is overflowing and it is "raining" down the ceilings.
It's always "Dancin' time" somewhere.
If my face is in the same zip code as Mr. Dog's, he will find a way to lick it.
Tennis matches include a celebratory dance. Sometimes there is an accompanying song.
Do not leave discarded dryer lint unattended. Mr. Dog will chew it until it is disgusting and soggy and spit it out like used tobacco. I will step on it, barefoot. 
It is fun to push a hassock with wheels down a flight of stairs and watch it roll past an unexpected victim.
If I think, "Sam would never do that!" in a haughty manner, odds I am right. He will instead do something far worse.
My muffin will be eaten by Sam or Mr. Dog. Likely by both the moment I look away.
Mr. Dog's idea of nirvana includes sniffing another dog's butt.  
Sam will ask if I am wearing underwear the second a crowded room grows silent. Everyone will stare at me waiting for the answer.
If a towel is on the counter wet and you do not know how it became wet, do not use it. I repeat. DO NOT USE IT. Trust me on this.
Be afraid of door number three. No matter how much you are tempted, don't open it.
Mr. Dog will sometimes smell like, well, a dog. Sam may at times smell worse. Those smells will merge on my shirt and I will smell like Eau de Peuw.
Any sentence beginning with the words, "Janet, you need to see this." will not end well. 

The most important lesson I've learned? It's all OK. Even at the most challenging times I would not trade either of them. Not even for a moment.

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