Friday, October 30, 2009

Pint-Size Bullies

"Hey Abigail (name has been changed) - there's a unicorn on the playground. Hurry...come see before he runs away!." Abigail ran to the window and peered out across the playground. Much to her dismay, there was no unicorn; instead what she received was an eruption of laughter as the group of girls who had called her over started retelling the story to the rest of the class.

This story was told to me by Abigail's mother this week. We were discussing how the school year was going for our special children and this Mom was, rightfully so, heart-broken over the pain her daughter endures on a regular basis. For three days in a row last week, Abigail came home in tears after sitting alone for lunch. No one would sit with her or let her sit with them. Abigail is in the 5th grade and has Aspergers (a high functioning form of Autism). She attends a typical school where she participates in a typical classroom. Academically she does great - it's socially where she struggles. Abigail's Mom told me that after the "unicorn incident" she asked Abigail: "Honey, did you really think there was a Unicorn on the playground?" Abigail responded: "No, but I thought 'what if there is?'"

As the mother of two children with Autism, this story hurt my heart. Yes, I worry about the big stuff: Will my son learn how to talk? Will my daughter learn to tolerate change? Will my children become independent adults some day? These questions torture me daily, but just as troubling is the fear of them being socially stigmatized. In some ways, my son has it a little easier in this regard because he has no interest in other children. He wouldn't know if someone was making fun of him nor would he care...I guess ignorance is bliss in this case. My daughter, however, LOVES other children and desperately wants their attention and acceptance. It would devastate her if some mean girls decided that they didn't want to talk to her or manipulated her into doing something that would embarrass her.

Let's be honest - kids are mean. Well, actually, most of them just want to survive and by deflecting attention away from themselves and onto someone else they can escape the pain of being the one that everyone is picking on...but it is still mean no matter what the reason. The realization that there is nothing I can do to protect my children from this, is agonizing. As Mom's we want to fix everything. Give us a problem and we will tackle it with every morsel of energy we have. But what if we can't fix it? Then what?

So, hearing this story about Abigail made me sad and afraid - afraid for my own children and sad because I know that countless children suffer every day at the hands of pint-size bullies. All I can hope is that my children know how much they are loved and trust me enough to come to me with their problems so that I can offer comfort and encouragement.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are

Like a lot of parents with small children, Bill and I don't get the chance to go to the movies very often, so when we do, it is critical that we make a good choice. Luckily, we recently chose wisely when we picked Where The Wild Things Are. It has always been my experience that books are much better than the movies that are based on them, but this movie is the exception. Although the book is an exciting tale for young children, the movie is really best suited for tweens and older who can benefit from its brutally honest look into the complexities of belonging to a family. I'm not going to go into much detail first, because you should go see it yourself, and second, because it is way past my bedtime and I need to wrap this up, but I will give this movie my ultimate compliment: I'm so glad I used my movie night to see it!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Being a "Grown Up"

I was flying down the highway this morning on my usual commute to Cleveland - I'll be glad when the drive to Will's school changes from 62 miles to 4...but I digress - I was jamming to my IPOD, as usual, to some Miley Cyrus song (I was channeling my inner teenager), and I it strange that a 34 year old woman is still "rockin out" to music that 18 year olds listen to? Is it time for me to start acting more my age? Than I thought: what does that even mean? Act my age! I'll be honest, I feel the same today as I did when I was in college. Yes, I have WAY more responsibilities and a greater appreciation for what is truly important in life, but I don't feel like I thought I would at age 34. Is that bad? Am I still going to feel like this when I am 44 or 54? I hope so. I still get excited about my birthday. I still get so excited about Christmas morning that I have trouble sleeping on Christmas Eve. I still love blasting a good song on my car stereo and singing along at the top of my lungs. I don't know how to explain it really, except to say that being a "grown up" feels different than I thought it would...and that's a good thing. So, that's my strange thought for the day.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


We bought a house. I keep telling myself that this is a good thing, and deep down I know that it is, but I'm scared. We have lived in this house since Will was 16 months old -- he'll be 8 in February. It's home. Now we have to start all over making a new house a home. I'm not trying to be overly dramatic. I know it is just a house, but with so much of my family's life revolving around unpredicted changes, it has been comforting to have one constant...our home. We have been spoiled by having all four grandparents close by to lend a helping hand whenever we have needed them (which has been quite frequently). Once we move we will be over an hour away and definitely more on our own.

This wasn't a decision we made lightly, but one that was definitely necessary. Will just started his third year at the Clinic's Autism School and he isn't showing any signs of leaving any time soon. The commute has become increasingly difficult for him. Hours every day that are wasted by him strapped into a booster seat - hours that need to be used for intervention. So I know we made the right decision, but I'm still scared. Scared to leave my familiar lifestyle. Scared to leave our support network. Scared of all the unknowns: Will the new school district cooperate with us in meeting our children's needs? How will the children react to this tremendous change, when they don't even like it if I rearrange furniture? And scared of the new house itself and the challenges it will present to me due to its multiple levels (stairs are not an above the knee amputee's friend and the new house has lots of them).

But...the eternal optimist in me knows that we will be fine. My family is extremely resilient - we'll make this new house a home because it will be filled with love from the second we move in (that and a platform swing that will get hung in the kids' playroom; a ridiculous amount of toys that will quickly fill every available empty space; a huge jungle-gym set that will take up what small amount of green space we'll have, but love is the big one). So, yes, I'm scared about what lies ahead with this move, but I am also confident that we have made the right decision for our family - and that confidence will give me strength to tackle any fears I might have.

So let me start again...

We bought a new house and I am excited about the journey that lies ahead.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thanks Allison

Not too many of us can pinpoint one exact moment that changed our lives forever...but I can. For me it was 16 years ago today, October 18, 1993. I was a freshman at Ohio University. I was only 18 years old, with my whole life ahead of me. When I woke up that morning I had no idea that the days events would set in motion a journey that would lead me to where I am today...a happily married, mother of two.

The day started off like any other. I stumbled out of bed (with the help of my handy "alarm clock" - my roommate, Amy) and made my way to my 8 a.m. class - Freshmen English - yuck! After class I grabbed a copy of The Post (our school newspaper) and headed back to my dorm to kill some time before my 10 a.m. Political Science class. I was startled by the phone ringing. I had fallen asleep on the floor while reading the paper. It was my friend Allison. We had Poli Sci together and usually met in my dorm lobby to walk together to class. I told her I was too tired and was going to skip class that day (I think we can all see what kind of student I was shaping up to be but this story isn't about my academic career). Allison, being the dedicated student that she was, tried to convince me to join her for class. Repeatedly I rejected her reasons why I shouldn't skip class. She gave it one last ditch effort with: "Bill is teaching class today."

Bill was the graduate teaching assistant in the class and, like most of the girls in the class, I had a huge crush on him. What can I say - he was older - he was brilliant - and he was adorable. I hustled down to meet Alison and we headed to class. The class was on issues in American politics and that day's subject was abortion. I won't bore you with the details but the discussion got VERY heated. For those of you who know me well, it should be no surprise that I had plenty to say on the subject, and spent most of the hour arguing back and forth with several other students.

Skip ahead a couple of hours...

That afternoon Bill called me in my dorm! I almost passed out. He said he really appreciated my participation in class and wanted to know if I wanted to check out the campus pro-life meeting that was taking place that night. Not the best pick-up line I've ever heard but it sure worked. After the meeting ended he asked me to go get some frozen yogurt & he paid - yep, this was definitely turning out to be a date in my book.

As I sit here typing this blog I can still feel the way my stomach knotted up when he walked me home that night and I'm proud to say that I haven't lost that feeling. I can be having an exhausting day with the kids - feeling about 100 years old - and he comes up behind me and gives me a hug and I feel like that 18 year old girl again. So, tonight I want to say "thank you" to Allison. Thank you for being such a dedicated student and convincing me to NOT skip class that special day.