Susan's Blog

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Short and Sour

Having a shitty day. I don’t even know why. I miss Max, he’s always out with friends. He leaves a hole in the family. Nat’s lying around too much and I don’t know what to do about it because I lack the energy to push myself and him.

I’m bored out of my gourd. Can’t read anymore, can’t write a thing. Tomorrow night is Yom Kippur, which always puts me in a dark mood.

Anyway, real chocolate, is necessary. No splenda, no maltitol. Maybe a bagel. Maybe a movie and nachos for dinner.

Here is one bright spot: heard from a fairly new but very lovely friend whose husband has started a blog. They are a smart, caring couple so I think they will have a lot to say of value. Check it out. Now I’m crawling back under my rock. See you later.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Making Peace With Me

I’m a bitch, I’m a lover
I’m a child, I’m a mother
I’m a sinner, I’m a saint
I do not feel ashamed
.
I’m your hell I’m your dream;
I’m nothing in between.
You know you wouldn’t want it any other way.
–Meredith Brooks, “Bitch”

Why do I talk about so many superficial-appearing things? Why do I talk so much about gardening, clothes, parties, flirting, make-up, hair, workout? Does my all-over-the-place blog cause you dismay? Did I lead you astray when you read Making Peace With Autism? Did I lead you to believe I was a martyr, or some kind of noble woman who only thinks selflessly about her kids and autism, only to discover that I’m shallow sometimes, selfish, moody, cranky, bitchy?

I did not mislead you. I am all of those things; I am what you thought, and I am not. I write the way that I do, and the things that I do, because I’m trying to be me. Really me. I’m trying to show, through my blog, that people are not one- or two-dimensional: be they autistics, moms, middle-aged, or young. One thing I hate is to be misunderstood. I hate to be summed up, dismissed. I hate it when people think they know me, because I don’t see how that’s entirely possible when I don’t even completely know me. I keep changing. So do we all. That is how I experience people: constantly shifting, never really the same one day to the next. That’s why I take such profound and primeval comfort in my relationship with Ned: he is more the same, day by day, than anyone else I’ve ever met.

I have written about my OCD and my struggle to gain control or let go, accordingly. The OCD comes in part from the way I perceive reality, as being soft underfoot. In my days of terrible struggle, I searched for certainty; medical certainty. How could I know, for example, that the lumpy crap in my breast was not a cancer lump? What was that pain in my right side? How could one possibly learn to take responsibility for one’s life and say, “I’m okay.” Even medical tests are only a certain percentage accurate. I was plagued, in my twenties, with the question, “How do I know?” and “What is real?”

In my thirties, the questions shifted as I wove my own carpet of certainty to stand on. I gradually learned, from my experience with Nat, that I knew what was what. I was the first one who felt that something was different about him. I was right, when everyone else, even my rock-solid Neddy Sweets, was wrong. This did enormous things for my self-confidence — but over time. So during my primary mothering years, in my thirties, the question in my mind became more, “How do I accomplish what I need to?” And not, “Am I okay?”

So here I am, in my forties. Suddenly I have two high-school-age sons who are doing pretty well, and a self-assured third grader (knock wood). I fufilled a few of my dreams (the book, earning some money, a few fabulous parties because of the book, Nat’s progress, Ben’s progress, and Max’s progress, a second book project). I have a lot more time to myself, and much more is resolved that I worried about in my thirties, and certainly the shit from my twenties is long over, with only a small regression every now and then. I have found that the questions I ask about life are something like, “What else should I do with myself, with my life?” I’m sure there’s some pompous psychological description for what I’m talking about, some Jungean thing to illustrate where I’ve been and where I am. What is important here, however, is that I have gotten to a point, or rather, my entire family has gotten to a point, where we can take a breath, look around, and make a choice about what’s next, instead of having it forced upon us.

I now have the opportunity to do things for myself that I did not have in my thirties, and that I could not do in my twenties. So I’m looking beyond the routines of my life, as well as looking closely at it, to decide what about it I like and what I want to change, and what else I want to do.

And I decided, a couple of years ago, that I needed to have more fun. I needed to figure out what makes me happy, and do it. So I write and write because that’s the number one thing that makes me happy. And I enjoy creating beautiful and fun surroundings, so I garden, buy and make pretty outfits, and try to stay connected with people who excite me: some are women, some are men. Sometimes I just have to throw off the mantle of motherhood, as much as I love my boys so much, and just be a bad girl. So when I go back to all the soothing, cuddling, cooking, cleaning, and cooing, I am my very best.

I did not mean this to sound like an apology. I was trying to figure out how to embrace all the parts that are this blog. Meredith Brooks’ tough girl song came to mind right away. I am a full plate, a jumble of contradictions, and I think that makes some people uncomfortable, because they want mothers to act like Mothers, and girls to be girls. But sometimes, as the Kinks say, “Girls will be boys and boys will be girls.” And autism moms can be sex kittens and garden club ladies.

It all depends on what costume I pull out that morning…

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Control? Get Smart!

I have an excellent therapist. She has been with me all from the birth of Max forward. That means she saw me through The Diagnosis. What you may not know is that she also saw me through OCD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Back then, when Nat was 2 and Max was born, I was in the throes of OCD, probably using it to mask the pain of my world slipping out of control. I found it easier to imagine that I was going to die of some rare disease than to face the fact that my little son was not quite what I had expected out of a baby. Those days, I cleaned and cleaned, a veritable Lady Macbeth on germs. I checked and rechecked. I looked for stuff that wasn’t there. I felt utterly and miserably responsible for terrible things that never even happened.

Maybe I’m not supposed to say this so publicly? Will it make y’all squirm? Will people think I’m a nutcase? Honestly, any number of my posts will help strengthen that assumption!

No, I’m not a “nutcase.” God, what a horrible, insensitive word. As if someone’s existence could be boiled down to being a box of nuts, say cashews, or walnuts. Nuts are delicious. And good for you. Actually, there are worse things a person could be. Think of them yourself, and you will see what I mean.

I am sane, but I have my quirks. I am sane, I think, because of this woman. With her quiet, still manner, her unexpected laughter, and her common sense, she gently shoved me back over the line. She repeated things to me, simple facts, that led me to realize I was safe, even though I could not be certain. She cleared away that dirt so that I could look at what I really was supposed to look at: my sons needed me, badly. My husband needed me. I needed me.

Today we talked about my difficulty letting go, which still surfaces every now and then, but now it is more in the form of how I deal with people. My therapist suggested that being raised to believe I was to control everything I could meant also that I was raised with the sense that any problem could be licked (beaten, overcome). This was the empowering side of how I grew up: believing that I could decide for myself what was what. I could decide to be a thin person. I could decide to transfer to U Penn, and get in if I wanted to. I could be a writer and get published. I could, through rigorous care and exercise, bring my genetically high cholestrol under control. I could decide how best to reach my autistic son, the experts be damned.

Totally empowering. But implicit in that body of beliefs is a kind of uber-responsibility for what happens. If first I don’t succeed, try, try again…and again, and again? My therapist referred to my need “to wrestle to the ground every monster that comes along and tame it.” To never give up, even when all evidence says I should. To make every schmuck who enters my life live up to his/her potential and Be Good. She suggested that if I cannot wrest something I want under my control, that I find that nearly impossible to tolerate. Because I was raised to be In Control, and not to be in control is my own fault. If someone has wronged me, it is somehow my fault. I should be able/should have been able to set it right.

In reading Expecting Adam, I am learning of a similar woman who believed at first that the world worked in a rational, if-then, mode. If I am a smart person and follow the rules of a good diet and a healthy lifestyle and have my kids young, I shouldn’t give birth to a retarded child.

It’s magical thinking, however. Life just bursts out of its seams, like stinky toes from a sock, no matter how well darned. Birth defects happen. People act stupid. Good people do bad things sometimes that make no sense. You can’t make them understand how they hurt you. You can’t make someone else change unless they really, really want to. But then that’s not you doing it: it’s they who are doing it.

The other side to this rich coin is that just as you can’t control everything, you also can’t have everything your way just because you worked really hard and tried really hard. You can have a lot, but you can’t have it all.

Ned likens my inability to let go to my behavior with cake. He reminds me that ever since following hardcore Atkins, I have lost my ability to digest cake without becoming ill. Yet every time we have a birthday party and there is cake, I forget all the illness. I see how almost sexy that slice looks, springing back just a little from where it was sliced by the knife, firm yet soft, layered in colorful shiny icing. I cannot resist. I think, “Maybe this time, I won’t become sick. Maybe it will be different.” I eat the cake, and I become sick. I regret eating it. I vow “never again.”

So maybe now that I know all this, it will be a little less alluring next time and I will be able to resist the destructive gorging. And one day, the memory of cake will fade altogether from my mind, remembered only in a flicker of faintest desire, a remnant of my crazy, driven younger self.

My therapist says, “Yes, this is how it will be.” And I know she is right. She told me, all those years ago, that once I could walk past something upsetting on the ground and not check it out, just keep going, I would know that I could always do it. And she was right. That is how I walk now. I just go from place to place.

Now, the place I’m going is realizing I can’t do it all, I can’t have it all. And it is not my fault. I will just keep walking, happy with what I’ve got.

And hey, it ain’t bad.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Thanks, Dad


When I first learned about him,
I was crazy with it
Losing my mind
Chewing off my own leg to get away

You said, “he’s still our Nat.”
And I stayed.
I did not realize then how much strength and courage it took
For you not to cry
But to think of me instead
And to think of Nat
And how he is, still just Nat.
Just that, but so much.

You knew from the first moment of our black certainty
What I needed
Despite what you needed —
The pain, the broken dream
Of the first grandson
Not broken at all
You smiled and shrugged
Wisdom in your not-knowing
He can live at home
He can do anything
Let’s get out the books
Let’s pick up the twigs
Let’s get out the bikes
Let’s get out the prayer shawl
Let’s run.

He’s still our Nat,
After all
And that is that.

Sweet Nothing

On this beautiful fall day I felt the sun on my skin like God’s kiss. I felt warmed and loved from the moment I got up. Ned was already in the dining room with the coffeemaker belching out its brew, almost ready. He looked beautiful the way he always does when he first gets up, silver-blond hair raked back casually from his high forehead, sparkly blue eyes warm in recognition and welcome. We had our laptops flipped open together. I read through the emails, some political, some friendly, some business, some flirty, dispensed with them and drank my first cup, one of my favorite things to do all day. We talked here and there about what the day had in store, things we had thought about in the time between saying goodnight and our morning time.

I wasn’t going to exercise because my (intermediate level) belly dance class begins tonight, and I’m pretty sure it will be a hard workout. I went over the few errands I would have to run and decided that these would take me to the part of Boston where Mahoney’s was. I would do some final gardening.

Mahoney’s used to be located in Cambridge, right off Mem Drive. As nurseries go, it was a small one, but an urban gem in the heart of Cambridge. They had a huge supply of shade-loving perennials because their customers were largely urban gardeners, and that means a lot of building-caused shade (pardon my awkward syntax). It was there that I first learned the joys of pulmonaria, heuchera, Jacob’s ladder, turtlehead, windflower, and scented geranium (the perennial kind, not the pelargonium, the ubiquitous, unoriginal annual that everyone calls “geranium.”). I used to look forward to the first Mahoney’s visit of the year the way some look forward to Christmas, or birthdays. You park in the congested little lot, walk around the building, and suddenly, like Dorothy leaving her house and entering Munchkinland, you would be in a land of beauty and delight. You would walk in, surrounded by technicolor flowers, deep blue ceramic pots, arches wound with clematis. The thick, clean smell of leaves and garden dirt would fill you up like a favorite snack.

My favorite part of Mahoney’s, in spite of the wealth of shade flowers, was the full sun perennial section. Rows and rows of all the favorites, nestled together: delphinium, digitalis, peony, poppy. A whole different area for roses. Vines and shrubs, across the dirt road. I built two houses’ gardens from that place and helped many friends start their’s. In a previous post I said I was a writing whore, who will write anything for anyone. I am also a gardening whore: I will create, shop for, plant, and talk about gardens to any of my friends. No charge.

Then, one day two years ago, it all came to an end. Mahoney’s was gone. Apparently, Harvard bought them out (another reason to hate Harvard, along with the fact that 1) their school of government dean has made anti-Israel statements; 2) their grad school rejected me for their PhD program; 3) they rejected Ned from their engineering school even though he had three generations of Harvard on both sides of his family.) Mahoney’s had to leave. They resettled across the river, in Brighton, a neighborhood of Boston, in a much smaller, much less charming spot. They have improved bit by bit, but it is still not nearly as joyful to shop there as it used to be.

Nevertheless, I ended up there today. I wandered through the sun perennials and chose an indigo hyssop; a peach verbascum; a fuscia aster; a white aster; and just for fun and experimentation, a rose mallow. Who knows? As I planted, I had that brimming happiness I get when I have beautiful things around me. I had a little frisson of fear, thinking that somehow I might get reinfected with Poison Ivy, that dreaded b-itch. I tried hard not to scratch my face because of that, or to hitch up my ill-fitted bra (one does not want Poison Ivy on the face, etc.) And I dug and dug. I have now widened the front walk garden so that it is a large arc around the stone path, a melange of purple, pink, fuschia, indigo, and white. No unsightly yellow. No rusty colors, for God’s sake. Jewel tones and pinks. Like my wardrobe. Which is next, God help me. I have bought almost no fall clothes and Ned just complimented me on how disciplined I’ve been in my clothes spending. Alas: Anthropologie is about to have the first fall clothes moved to the discount area in the back, and I hear the call.

Then, lunch with Ruth. The restaurant with the type-o sign. The owner asked me what we were laughing at last week! I was embarrassed, but I said, “Come on, I’ll show you.” I pointed out the funny stuff on his sign. He smiled but a little awkwardly. I couldn’t make him see the humor. In the end, I apologized for offending him and told him we were just silly ladies. Sigh. When Ruth showed up, we had another good laugh, albeit discreetly.

It’s all good.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Unexpected in “Expecting Adam”

A husband and wife are discussing the alarming results of an AFP (Alfafetoprotein) test, given during pregnancy to screen for birth defects. They are also arguing about what they should do about it.

“What we’ve talked about,” I told John in a low, dangerous voice, “is that I am pro-choice. That means I decide whether or not I’d abort a baby with a birth defect. You steer clear of this one, John-boy. It is not your call!”
John looked at me as though I’d slapped him. The anger in my voice shocked even me…
…I rubbed my eyes. I felt terribly confused. “But now…look, John, it’s not as though we’re deciding whether or not to have a baby. We’re deciding what kind of a baby we’re willing to accept. If it’s perfect in every way, we keep it. If it doesn’t fit the right specifications, whoosh! Out it goes.”
John shook his head. “Don’t be silly, Marth,” he said. “You know that isn’t true. We’re talking about the difference between a healthy, normal baby and a defective one.”
The word defective hit me like a hammer. I folded my arms across my growing abdomen as if I could shield the baby from it. I felt irrationally, almost violently protective.
“So what exactly is a ‘defective’ baby?” I demanded…
…I lowered my voice. “I mean, I know there are babies born so damaged they can’t survive on their own,” I said. “But what about the ones that would actually live unless they were aborted? Where do you draw the line? Is a baby with only one hand ‘defective’?”…”What about…oh, I don’t know, a hyperactive baby? Or an ugly one?”

Martha Beck, Expecting Adam, Berkley Books, 1999

Precisely. Or an autistic one.

What is disability: the person’s problem, or our problem?

I am not arguing the pros and cons of Choice here. I am realizing that abortion is a good jumping-off point for understanding the way so many people mistake disability for tragedy. The way we automatically assume that the ‘dis’ in ‘disability’ means being at a ‘disadvantage.’ Or someone to ‘dismiss.’

But they are only so because we continue to view them as such.

If you haven’t already, read the book.

Why I’m Happy Right Now

1) Laura is fine!
Thank you, everyone, who thought good thoughts for us.
I probably do not need anything else, but…
2) Told off a total bastard, tore him a new one (he is one), scraped him off my shoe, flushed him, etc. Told! Owned! as Max would say.
3) Reconnected with a friend from high school (he had been my prom date, actually! He is a wonderful man, so happy to see him again!)
4) Excellent workout, did it all, even stretching and icing
5) Reading a wonderful book
6) My Rosh HaShanah dinner was delicious and lots of leftovers that the kids love!
7) Great bike ride with Dad yesterday
8) Ate pie, challah, honey, the works, and gained no weight
9) Helped Max and his friend write a speech — they asked for my help; he is running for student government at the high school.
10)Benji’s social life is really thriving!
11) Mine goes up to eleven. Studio 60 with Neddy Sweets tonight!

Weight Not Want Not

I don’t know what this is. It is probably the beginning of a novel. Maybe it’s stupid. Maybe it’s funny. Or both. Or annoying. Either way, it’s straight out of my head. See what you think. I wrote it several years ago…

The world of women is comparable to a bowl of fruit. There are the round dark plums, the hard, boyish apples, the melons, the exotics, and of course, the peaches. I was born to be plump, round, voluptuous, zaftig. Call it what you will. Not thin. Also, my hair goes with the body type: curly-to-frizzy, deep brown, always shoulder-length.
I was also born to be the nurturer in my family, the patient , supportive one, the understudy, the second born.
I was born a plum. Sweet, dark, round. Or maybe a sack of overripe plums.
This is more or less what I was thinking as I checked the mirror as I always do when I first got up that morning and tried to find an outfit that would disguise my bumpy stomach, camouflage my too- muscular thighs, and play down my too-voluptuous breasts (in conjunction with a minimizer bra). There was very little to call attention to, except for my eyes, I guess. That morning was no different from any of my others, except that morning I happened to read an article in the “Stargazers” column of the newspaper. Actually, every morning I do read Stargazers but this morning I saw an item about Jennifer Aniston. Jennifer is a slim blond peach — but I know better. On the inside Jennifer is a plum just like me. She’s actually dark-haired and curly but she has the staff to blow it out perfectly. Her highlights have been so artfully applied, so that over the years you forgot her first appearance on the show “Friends” where she was as brunette as Julia Roberts. But even Julia is no longer brunette.
I twirled a bottom curl, the kind that grew near my neck, around my finger and thought defensively, Why does everyone go blond? What’s with all the two-toned stripey hair? Then I pulled the curl and looked at it, its pubic thickness so dense and lacking in shine. Yeah, well. Okay. Blond is better. Unless you’re Catherine Zeta. Straight is better, too, while you’re at it, unless you’re Giselle.
But even more than the hair, I think Jennifer was once a fat girl. A true plum who became a peach. I don’t know for sure; I just feel it.
So naturally it caught my eye when I read the following in the paper:
Aniston, 33, is a follower of low-car b eating, Atkins in particular. “It’s the only thing that works. It’s the only way to get those extra pounds off, easily. Except every now and then I could kill for a bowl of pasta.” Aniston is one of many Hollywood stars now following the low-carbohydrate craze, a diet fad that inverts the food pyramid, placing meats and proteins at the bottom and grains and starches at the top, allowing the dieter fats to their heart’s content – or discontent. “The jury is still out as to what the longterm affects of such a diet are on one’s cholestrol and blood sugar levels,” said Dr. Lars Kunevsky of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. “Certainly a diet low in carbohydrates will, in the beginning phases, cause rapid weight loss. But what happens to a body deprived of such an important energy source over long periods of time? I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Ordinarily my eyes glaze over at the description of a diet’s philosophy . I don’t diet. The most I’ve ever done is Slim Fast, where you drink a “delicious shake” for breakfast and lunch, then have a “sensible dinner ” at the end of the day and the pounds just melt away. Well, I found the shake terrible and had one with my not-sensible lunch because the shake did not fill me up at all and it made me panic that I would not be able to hold out until my sensible dinner! Hence, the huge dinner.
But Jennifer followed this diet. And Jennifer lost weight “easily.” And Jennifer was a former fat girl.
So my mind churned up these creamy details, shaping them into a fine buttery idea, leading me to get out a bagel and toast it. And then as the hard slab of butter went limp around the edges as it melted into the brown and black surface of my bagel (which was so perfect and plump its hole was a mere crease in the middle. Desirable in a bagel, kiss of death in a woman.) I thought about this diet and me. I tore at the soft underside of my bagel and squeezed it like a sponge between my fingers. Some butter dripped from its little folds and I licked it. They said you could have fat. How could that be? What about that Dr. Kunevsky, what about what he said about longterm health?
What about what Jennifer said, about losing weight easily?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Ten Questions

Mom NOS has a great post today. So, these are apparently the ten Bernard Pivot (I don’t know who that is, but I hear he turns on a dime) questions James Lipton, Dork Extraordinaire, asks his guests on his show. By the way, Will Ferrell does a great take-off on this guy. (Sorry, even the greatest technological prowess in the northeast — Max and Ned combining their efforts — could not find me a video link showing this.)

I love ten things, ten questions, ten anything. So here goes:

1. What is your favorite word?

yes

2. What is your least favorite word?

whatever

3. What turns you on? (creatively, spiritually, or emotionally? i.e. not sexually)

a great writing idea

4. What turns you off? (also creatively, spiritually, or emotionally, i.e., not sexually)

not being understood

5. What is your favorite curse word?

F*ck

6. What sound or noise do you love?

The return of the spring birds

7. What sound or noise do you hate?

Repetitive dog barking
8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

belly dancer
9. What profession would you not like to do?

soldier

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

“Hi. Your grandparents are right over there, and everything you eat will not make you fat, and you will always look and feel your absolute best, unless you want a bad day every now and then.”

Thursday, September 21, 2006

It’s Just Another Day

Busy today in a lovely way. The sun is streaming through the windows of home and car, and it’s the kind of weather where you can wear either a pretty fall sweater (mine is palest pink with tiny white buttons) and jeans (Abercrombie hiphuggers) or shorts. Hair falls in perfectly crisp lines down the back and mine — chemically and heat-challenged though it is — even shines.

I met my friend Lori for coffee and we worked on a book review together; she needs help jumpstarting and I am a writing whore: I will write anything for anybody, even for free, I love it so much. After a satisfying writing session, I drove deeper into my Brookline, towards the Jewish neighborhood (A lot of people think Brookline is all Jewish but it is not. There are areas that are decidedly so, with Kosher butchers and Kosher restaurants and Israeli bookstores and people who look like my grandmas did. I love to see them huddling along, curved into themselves, wrinkled, bespectacled, in such strange practical shoes, but usually still well made-up and well dressed. Seeing them makes me miss my grandmas like nothing else. I want to go up to them and offer to be a surrogate granddaughter for the day, just to hear the heavy Eastern European accents and to have them butt in about my life: “How could you wear such shoes? Aren’t you cold? So high; won’t you fall?”). This time of year makes me miss my grandmas, too. It makes me long for my family. I did speak to Laura, though; she sounded good.

Having no family of my own around, (but Mom and Dad are coming on Saturday, yay!) I visited the birthplace of another family I love, the Kennedys. The JFK Birthplace is in the Jewish part of town, ironically. Back then, of course, there were very few Jews in upper crust Brookline. It was mostly a Brahmin place and the Kennedys were thought of as nouveau riche when they moved into the Beals Street home.

I paid $3 and took a sweet little tour of the green shingled house, just a typical Victorian home, nothing special. The wonderful bit came at the end, when they showed a short video, narrated by Senator Ted, about the legacy of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, his mother. They talked about Rosemary Kennedy, among other things (of course they talked about President Kennedy, and Bobby, and Joe, too), and how Rosemary, who was born either mildly delayed or learning disabled, inspired so many things in the family, such as the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation, which gives grants to those studying how to improve the lives of the developmentally disabled, Jean Kennedy Smith’s Very Special Arts, and Best Buddies, Anthony Shriver’s brainchild which pairs up typically developing high schoolers with disabled ones, and of course Eunice’s Special Olympics. By the time they got to the footage from the first Special Olympics meet, I was crying. I was thinking how wonderful that family was in so many ways, to work so hard to bring good things to people who have only known hardship. And my Nat, of course. There was even a boy who looked like him in the video, rocking a little autistically. So many other families have great wealth and opportunity and do nothing of the sort. The Kennedys, no matter how you may feel about them politically, have left an incredibly impressive legacy for the disabled. They will forever be my heroes. (They are also pretty easy on the eyes, btw.)

I was so moved and so glad that my next book project is related to all this. I am now waiting to hear the agent’s reaction to my proposal. I can’t imagine she won’t love it; it’s a really good idea with a great hook. Once I have a contract, I will tell you all about it.

Anyway, I drove to the Kosher butcher a block from the JFK Birthplace, and found a parking space, amazingly enough — and with 21 minutes in the meter! I happily purchased 6 lbs of single brisket, a sweet noodle pudding (fat free, for Dad), some potato latkes, and flirted with the handsome young Israeli cashier. I will get my round challahs somewhere else: Cheryl Ann’s, the best Jewish bakery there is outside of New York. And I better get a lot: challah is one of Dad’s only vices, and Max eats it by the handful (we tear, rather than cut our challah; it’s kind of like how I garden: getting my hands into it. The delightful yielding of the soft, yellow challah flesh is a sensuous experience, not to be missed. Especially if your stupid diet forbids you to eat bread, so you can only feel it or smell it!

Picked up The Beast, hung out at the school playground with friends for a little bit; perfect half hour in the sun. Beastie has his comics-drawing class at 4. Nat is home by then; Max, a little later. Then Neddy Sweets, who sounded down when I talked to him. I’ll have to make something with sausage in it tonight, to cheer him up. Not much else to say, just a happy, regular day.

Pinky Swear

She comes on like a rose,
And everybody knows
She’ll put you in dutch
Well you can look but you better not touch!

You older readers will know what I’m talking about. Oh, yes. I got it bad. It wakes you up at night and causes all kinds of redness and swelling. It makes some body parts feel like they’re on fire. Nothing can satisfy it. You vow that you’ll never, ever do it again, but somehow you always go back. You curse the fates for leading you to such a thing, and you are completely held it its sway until time heals you.

Or cortizone.

Yes, I am talking about poison ivy, of course. (Please check out the picture in this link so that you don’t get it, too! Unless you are hateful anonymous who sends me hate mail.) I believe I contracted it during a particularly wild weeding frenzy on Saturday. I was ripping out all manner of tall, ungainly uglies from my beautiful garden — I now have the full autumn fare. (Now that it’s autumn for real, and I have transitioned to the whole fall thing of school, occasional sweaters, jeans, boots, and PTO mishegos, I am into it and happy with it.) My garden is full of stands of pink or ruby sedum, pale pink tiny boltonia, purple and pink asters, roses, black-eyed Susan, yellow coreopsis, and a few different mums. (I realize I don’t actually hate mums; I really just hate what they stand for, the changeover from summer to fall. I have such a hard time letting go of summer, she is like a best friend, moving away. But she always comes back, per the deal between Demeter and Hades).

So I sent my doc an email and begged him for the stuff, Don Cortizone, who really takes care of that BI*** good, you know what I mean?

My right pinky is now lumpy and misshapen and itches like a … well, you know. Dad just had a virulent case of P.I. so I asked him to bring his medicine when he comes here for Rosh Hashanah, which is tomorrow night, (serious blog post about the Jewish New Year to come) but I just know that Dadley Do-Right will not because he will want me to get my own medicine, so that I come to no harm with his.

I never garden with gloves so I will never learn. I need to be able to feel the entirety of the plant to really snag it good. I need to get the soil under my nails and get really dirty when I garden. Gloves just get in the way. So that is why last year I got Lyme disease — and caught it in time, thank God, I actually had the classic bulls-eye mark! And that is why I get poison ivy every now and then. I take full responsibility for my condition.

But right now — I need to go and CHOP OFF MY PINKY. ARGGHHH!!!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Sound of Plumbers Laughing

Last night I was on my way out to a post-election party (Deb lost, but Deval won!) when I heard the sound of rushing water coming from somewhere in the basement. I was not doing a laundry, so right away I knew we had trouble.

The sound was coming from behind an old door that we keep wedged shut. It is a tiny “water closet,” just a toilet in a little room. We have not renovated our basement and so we have no use for such a thing at this time, and it is ugly and old and weird so I just prefer not to look at it.

I wrenched open the door. There was about an inch of “water” on the floor. I use that term loosely because this was actually of a consistency far more viscous and gray (and, sigh, brown) than actual water. There were also some strands of — I kid you not — spaghetti in the mix. I pushed the door closed.

“Ned, could you come down here, please?” (The same day as the bat-moth!)
We stared at it together. I think one of us muttered the name of a particularly important man from ancient Israel. And then, to the point: “SH**!” Slammed the door shut. “I guess I know what I’m doing tomorrow,” I said, or something like that.

It’s tomorrow. And I just finished the clean-up. It turns out that houses built 120 years ago used to have cast-iron drains buried somewhere in the basement, into which all plumbing lines would feed. “That,” the plumber told me, “is something they stopped doing around 75 years ago. That drain is gonna have to go. Maybe not today, but it’s got to go.” To the tune of around $3,000.

For today, this miracle man and his assistant brought in all manner of snakey devices and pumps and worked for nearly two hours to clear out my poor, rootbound, ordure-laden nearly-rotted, outmoded, cast-iron drain. A fearsome odor arose from the basement stairs, which I tried to ignore, and instead turned to more pleasant duties (no pun intended) like paying bills.

While I worked, every now and then I would hear the chilling sound of plumbers laughing. I found myself wondering, “What is so funny?” What could be funny down there, in the primeval muck of our house’s bowels? They were not mean men, not the type who arrive here and then double the price of everything.

I came down to check on them and the leader told me, “If it makes you feel better, I’ve seen much worse.” Surprisingly, it did. I am insecure, even about my house’s messes. A part of me wanted to ask him what was the worst plumbing disaster he’d ever experienced? But I’ve asked that question of exterminators and I decided maybe this time I didn’t need to explore every single deep, dark, dirty secret of the universe.

After they left, $279 later, I peered into the little water closet, that disgusting villain. A little less water on the floor from last night, (God, where did it all go?) but definitely something I had to deal with now. I went back upstairs and put on double latex gloves. Then I got out the clorox spray. I went downstairs with my little bottle and just started spraying the crap out of all the wet parts, literally. The sharp aroma of bleach mingled with the stewy gas and I wondered if the bleach would win. Then I collected towels I no longer liked and threw them down on the water. I sopped it up and threw the towels in a bag. This worked pretty well. The whole time I worked I realized I was holding my breath. I bleached and wiped up the floor as best as I could and threw the whole mess in an old basket. Then I peeled off every article of clothing I was wearing and jumped into the shower. The only things that kept me from crying bitter, self-pitying tears were 1) I knew I would blog this satisfyingly; and 2) I would get a great dinner out because of it. Maybe L’Espalier… It’s so pricey, we always see movie stars and famous people there. And probably many plumbers.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Lions and Mothers and Cares, Oh My

There once was a boy named Pierre
Who only would say, “I don’t care!”
Read his story, my friend, for you’ll find in the end
That a suitable moral lies there.
–Maurice Sendak/Carole King, Pierre, 1963

One of my fondest memories is when Nat was into Pierre, the Maurice Sendak Nutshell Collection, and the Weston Woods video with Carole King singing the songs. The music transports me to my childhood (I was born in 1962) and now, to Nat’s as well. When Nat was four, he had a fascination with naughty, apathetic Pierre. It was always a way to get him to talk: just start singing the beginning and let him fill in the blanks, with him grinning in delight. I remember an especially funny, sweet mistake he used to make, at this part:

Arriving home at six o’clock
His parents had a dreadful shock.
They found the lion sick in bed
And cried, “Pierre is surely dead!”
They shook the lion by the hair,
They hit him with the folding chair
His mother asked, “Where is Pierre?”
And the lion answered, “I don’t care!”
His father said, “Pierre’s in bed.” [This last was Nat’s error; can you guess what it was supposed to be?]

I just found it so poignant that Nat did not get it. If he truly thought Pierre was in bed, then he did not realize that Pierre had actually been eaten by the lion! It made me think about how little words might mean to Nat, that he could interchange them like that so lightly. Or am I reading into it?

So today, he got off the bus, and Pierre was in my head for some reason. So out of the blue, as I was dishing out Nat’s ice cream, I sang, “There once was a boy named Pierre, who only would say……..”
As I sang these old familiar words, Nat broke into such a happy grin. “I don’t care,” he sang, right on cue.
Then I sang, “What would you like to eat?”
And he sang, just like old days, “Some lovely cream of wheat.”
And I sang, (just to stretch him a little), “Some lovely ice cream treat.”

He took the bowl and just started eating.
Oh, Natty. I care.

Just My Type-O

Does anyone else enjoy typos as much as I do?

Today I was having lunch with a friend and we were talking politics (it is the Gubernatorial Primary in Massachusetts today – Go Deval and Deb! I know I made a joke a while back about how I wasn’t too enthused for Deval but I take it back. He really listened regarding autism spectrum issues, for one thing. And Deb is totally pro-public education.). Okay, enough politics.

When we were done with our delightful lunch, of Greek salad with grilled chicken, we stopped by my car to talk some more. We saw a sign outside on the windows of the restaurant:

1) One Egg – coffee- juice-bacon- toast $3.50 [or something like that]
2) Egg – coffee-juice-bacon-toast $4.50
3) Egg – coffee-juice-bacon-toast $4.95

I said, “Whoa, I want the most expensive egg breakfast!” We were laughing so hard we were crying and needless to say our aging bladders were heavily taxed.

I also remember a sign in downtown Philadelphia, that my sister and I still laugh about: Ronald’s Fabrics
Fabrics from “All Around The” World.

Also, I get mail to The Honorable Susan because some mailing programs think I’m a senator!

Oh, and I almost forgot! (thanks, Mom, for reminding me) Anyone from Boston remember the old coffee shop at the Copley stop on the Green Line? “Dave’s Cofffe shop!” And then it read:

Newspapers * Juice* Donuts * Cigarettes * Cofffe,

I swear!!!!!

Tell me your funny typo stories…

Night Moves

I am extremely pumped, which means I will crash sometime in the afternoon.

Woke up at 4 a.m. I lay there thinking, “I have to be up in two hours but I’ll be a wreck if I don’t go back to sleep,” over and over, which did nothing to help my cause. And just as I was shutting my eyes and drifting, I heard a faint rustling noise. It was coming from the window shade on Ned’s side. Rustle, rustle. Whir. Oh God, wings. What the f***? A mouse? Or — gulp — a bat?

I have to tell you, I know there are many pro-bat people out there, people who tell you that bats eat mosquitoes, yadayada, that they’re really good, not scary, blahblahbla. Well they never had one dive-bombing at their heads in their living room. Those things can be tiny, like a benign shriveled leaf when they’re at rest, but when they fly, they’re huge and like something out of a horror movie. We have had three bat episodes in this big old house of ours, and I never want to go through that again. Max screaming, all of us herded into one room to get away from it. Then, the ominous silence when it finally tires and the furtive search for the thing. We had to trap them and kill them and get them tested for rabies — oh yes, that is what you should do, do not let them get away because you may have been exposed — they were negative, thank God. I got the boys rabies vaccines, as a preventive measure (not the kind of shot that contains human gamma globulin, but the kind veterinarians get prior to going into practice.) I actually had to take the three of them four weeks in a row for shots! But the thing is, what if it were to happen again, during some night, while they were asleep. Would Nat be able to tell me what had happened? He has trouble initiating. Would Benji wake up, even?

I got the roof holes all closed up and had the house bat-proofed, but when I heard that rustling noise I felt my stomach plummet. It sounded like we had a bat again.

“Ned,” I whispered, pushing the pillows off his head. “I hear something trapped behind the window shade.”
“Whaaa” He said, poking out of the bedclothes. I turned on the light.
Rustle, whir.
“What is it?” He asked.
“Could be a bat,” I said.
We looked at each other.
“Shit.”
“What do we do?”
We stood there for a while and stared at the window shade. We heard nothing. I leaned in and flicked it. Nothing. Turned the light out. Nothing. I started to raise the shade.
“Be careful, Sue.”
“You do it.”
Finally he got up the courage to lift the shade. I peered at the glass of the sashes. Nothing.
“Well, whatever it was, it’s gone,” I said.
“Wait!” Ned said. “There it is.”
I looked down, and there, resting innocuously below the window sill, was a huge moth. I picked up the magazine lying nearby and mushed it ferociously.
Don’t mess with an anti-bat person at 4 a.m.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

What If Boo Radley Were Guilty?

I was gardening this morning when a woman stopped her car and said to me, “Did you know there’s a Level Three Sex Offender living on your street?”

Immediately I felt both scared and sad. I was scared because I do not want any harm to come to me or any of my loved ones. I was sad because I do not believe that these Sex Offender Registries are the best way to combat sex abuse and sex crimes. In fact, my suspicions are that being classified as a “Sex Offender” is a flaw-laden process, much like Death Row. I was also thinking about Tom Perrotta’s book, Little Children, about how a Massachusetts town goes crazy and into witch hunt mode over a sex offender; but he is actually guilty, too. A very disturbing book. Anyway, I think that the way the Registry works it will only stir up fear and suspicion, rather than get at helping people who are abused or who abuse. I understand that the intent is to warn people, but let’s face it, there are other crimes that are fearsome that have no such registries. Would we also want to know about local former thiefs, so that we can better protect our stuff left out in the yard? Or how about all the sex offenders who have not been caught? Or how about the neighbor who beats his wife? Or abuses drugs? People hooked on drugs and out of control scare me just as much as potential sex offenders. I am not being facetious. “Outing” people is not necessarily the way to prevent or protect. Intensive therapy is, in my book, the only real way to get people to understand why they do what they do and how to stop. But that’s a complicated answer to a complicated problem and people tend to like simple answers.

Look, I know that these terrible things occur, and I know that sex offenders are sometimes prone to committing these acts again. But when I asked who it was, my heart just sank. This woman told me that the warning posters down the hill were all about a mildly retarded man in our neighborhood. I know this man well; he is very sweet and docile. He has shown a great interest in my boys, but it always seemed that he wanted to be their friend, because they are at his cognitive level. I never let them play with him, because I always felt that he had to learn what was appropriate. I also used to let him know gently when it was time for our conversation to end (he would stay too long).

His father died last month. He told me this as I was leaving for the supermarket. I didn’t know what to say; his dad was like 93. His mother is still alive; he lives with her. He told me about the Memorial Service coming up, and my heart went out to him.

I guess what I’m saying is that it is not completely beyond possibility for me to imagine that he might have done something inappropriate. I cannot imagine criminal behavior, however. But what do I know about him, really? And yet, I also know the law, and I understand that “criminal behavior” is not always what we imagine. For instance, the whole statutory rape thing. I have learned at School Committee workshops how easy it is for a boy to get a record if his girlfriend is under sixteen, no matter how “consensual” something may be. There is no such thing as consent in minors, according to the law. I have warned Max about this.

But what makes me sad is the fact that this man has been living fairly independently all these years. He drives. He has a job. He has a pet. He has a place in the neighborhood. And now, it turns out that he may have a really terrible problem, and may be a menace to my family. It horrifies me that this could be true and that neighbors could turn against him. It reminds me of what happened to Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird. And of course, I think about Nat, trying to live on his own one day, and the mistakes he might make. How they could cost him his freedom, or even his life. Or someone else’s. God forbid. For any of my children, I suppose this is a possibility. (God forbid) I just worry that Nat, if he is to be independent one day, is more vulnerable because he still has such a difficult time understanding social rules and appropriateness.

To me, these issues are never obvious and straightforward. I am forever plagued by the other side of the question, the “yeah, but, what if…”

Saturday, September 16, 2006

LJS

Today I was in New Hampshire visiting Ned’s dad and stepmom. It was a gorgeous, sweet day, with tuna sandwiches and homemade pickles, and canoeing and tanning and playing in a quiet, clear pond. But part of myself was somewhere else, with my sister.

Laura and I are nineteen months apart (she is older). We have been close most of our lives, but hit a bad patch when my kids were younger; actually, it was about a year ago now that things got really good between us. As most of these things go, we had a tremendous fight but we hung on, calmed down and got to a point that day where we suddenly understood one another.

We are extremely alike and extremely different. We have the exact same sense of humor and the same voice. Our minds run on the same intense tracks. I sometimes think of her as me, turned up a notch. But sometimes I am her, turned up a notch.

We are different in many ways. I like clothes and makeup; she is more crunchy/earthy. She’s a “science and math type,” I’m literature and art. I’m tallish; she’s petite. She lives out in the country; I live in the city. But these are the surface differences. Going deeper: she does not like to examine motivation or underlying feelings. She is uncomfortable in the emotional realm, except for anger and happiness. The other emotions sometimes throw her. This was the crux of our problem for awhile; she could not stand the way I look at the dirty underside of everything and could not take anything at face value. I could not stand the way she seemed to want to gloss over everything. To me that was not really living.

Even during some of our hardest times, however, she was still a part of my life. She was my maid of honor, and I was hers. She was right there, on the opposite leg from Ned, in the delivery room, when I was giving birth to Nat. She came up with his nickname, “Miniman.” and the song, “Miniman, does what he can.” So true. She was the first one I called when I had the first diagnosis; I checked with her, because she was a medical student (such a big responsibility!). I said, “Do you think they’re right about it?” And she had the courage to say, “Yes.”

She and I had some horrible fights in our time, like the bloodsucker pinch ones of girlhood, or when I kicked her so hard she flew off my bed and into my closet. And also the time she was so mad at me she threw Nat’s rocking horse at me.

But we got to a point where we respected each other’s differences and started to glory in them. This past year, I reached some high points of happiness in my life that I had not seen in decades. She was there with me the whole time, enjoying my ride. Also this year, I plunged into some pretty ugly pits of despair (which my blog readers have witnessed), and she was there to pick me up.

We spent a week of vacation together this year at our favorite place, Cape Cod, where we went as girls and teenagers. We despaired together over the fact that only one of all the children seems to like the Cape the way we do: Nat. We cooked meals together and watched the entire Lord of the Rings together. Our youngest children, Ben and Kim, are the same age and are soulmates. Her oldest, Paul, is 10 and he worships Max and always reaches out to Nat. So in addition to the gift of her friendship is the gift of our children loving each other. Cousins! What could be better?
Well, sisters.

I’m not going to say why she is on my mind but I am going to ask all of you who are kind and care about me to say a prayer for her.

Beauty of the Beast

This morning I was the first up. While going through email and Bloglines, I heard Ben’s light and quick footsteps skipping down the stairs. “Hey Mom,” he said, “You know how I know you’re down here?”
“How, Baby?” It is a miracle to me that he lets me call him that. I also call him “Beast,” with his full approval.
“I can see your reflection in the picture there,” he said, referring to the large photograph in the front hall, which captures light from the Palladian window on the central staircase and also my image, even though I’m tucked away in a windowseat in the livingroom. Only Ben would notice such a thing.

I didn’t know he looked for me in the mornings like that. I felt immensely flattered. Do you ever feel flattered by a loved one’s attention? Certainly we take it for granted most of the time, but every now and then I can tune in and feel it and bask in it. Ben is such a prickly creature, seeminly unsentimental and unto himself, a true Aries, a little mountain goat making his way stubbornly up and down craggy cliffs, thinking his own thoughts. When he has a playdate, as he did yesterday, with Eliot, the new kid, I always worry that it will go awry because Benj is so strong about what he wants to do. I fear arguments, interventions. I fear having to play with the other kid at a time of day when I’m really tired (3 p.m., prime nap time if Max is home to babysit which he never is anymore because he is now in high school, sigh) I fear Benj being lonely because no one will want to play with him.

But my fears are usually for naught. I don’t learn from this experience, however; when do I ever learn from an experience, for God’s sake? I still worry, every time. But Eliot and Ben tumbled into the car and right away I knew it would be okay because Eliot had a strong and quirky personality with enough sweetness to take care of the rest. He started going on and on about getting enough money to buy a horse (poor guy lives in an apartment, but never mind!). I listened gratefully to the prattle as I drove home slowly (Eliot’s grandmother was following us in her car so that she’d know where we live for pick-up time). The two boys burst into the house, and ran upstairs to Ben’s room immediately to play Legos. They only surfaced later for a snack (popcorn, chosen by Eliot, and juice mixtures, courtesy of Ben). Perfect playdate.

Yet at the end of the two hours, sure enough, I heard Ben say, “Well, I’m going to draw now,” and he went off to make a pad story. Ben is amazingly prolific. We have stacks and stacks of pad stories in every room downstairs (diningroom, livingroom — despite my best efforts — and playroom), Suess-like tall piles of pads curving over precariously, leaning against other books of his. He has to draw. He is driven to draw. And the stuff he does blows my mind sometimes. He drew a picture of a cannibal being shot, from the book Robinson Crusoe, which he is slowly reading. The picture reminded me of the Guernica. The cannibal’s body was thrown back, his head and foot twisted to the side in pain, the muscles in his body taut. Only the mouth of the gun was showing, not the shooter. I want to scan it and show it to you but it turns out his teacher has it!

Ben is a delightful child but also a pain in the ass. He is demanding, exhausting, funny, adorable, and every once in a while, he will show me his soft side (only me) by letting me kiss him and by seeking me out when he has a bad dream. And by looking for me in the reflective glass early in the morning, for no reason or to share a new idea with me.

Miracles are all around; I think the miracle is most tangible when we actually tune in enough to feel their wonder.

(Ben in the vacation house.)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Time Is Not on My Side

I know (in my mind) that I am fortunate not to “have to work.” We are living on Ned’s salary, with me doing all of the housework, most of the children-work, and all of the household expenditures. I am the only one who buys anything, I do all the buying of clothes, food, and all the other stuff you need/want in a home. So I manage all the money, meaning, I keep a running total in the checkbook, but Ned balances the thing every month. Ned also manages investments (although our biggest investment is our house and I take care of that, and the lawn).

So what? You may be thinking. I feel the need to explain what I do with my time because I was raised to be a career woman, and I’m only partly that, and only recently. I grew up thinking that I would be an actress, or a singer (I did and still do very good impersonations of singers, like Barbara Streisand and Shakira). I thought maybe I’d be a poet. Or a fashion designer. Or start a school for disabled children (really! this is what my friend Debbie and I planned when we were 11). But I did not ever dream about a husband, a wedding, or babies. Even though I was an insatiable Barbie player, most of the time I was just putting outfits on her and when I got older I was having her have sex with my other dolls; but never, ever a dream wedding. It wasn’t until I met Ned, when I was 18, and started dating him, at 19, that I had the thought of marriage. All I wanted, until Ned, was to fall in love and all of its lovely accoutrements. I totally played the field.

So I fell in love with him pretty quickly, and decided I wanted to marry him one day when I was watching The Waltons and MaryEllen was talking about how she loved her husband. I thought, “That’s how I could feel about Ned.” And then I thought, “Why don’t I marry Ned?” In the end, I married him without a plan; just the feeling that I wanted to live with this man forever and we may as well make that formal, so I asked him one night, “Wouldn’t you say we’re engaged?” And he said, “Uhhhh….” Then we had a fight, during which I kept trying to prove to him that because we had no intention of ever breaking up and planned to live together, that we were, in fact, engaged. I said I didn’t need a ring. So after a few more hours of arguing, he agreed. Then I said, “So, can I call my mother?” Once you call your mother, a vague arrangement to be together always becomes an Engagement, with the question of “When?”

Ned then formally proposed, first with a ring drawn on paper, then with the cute little solitaire diamond we picked out together at Perlstein’s in downtown Philadelphia. We got married at the end of our senior year of college, right after graduation from Penn. I was set to go there to grad school to get a degree in history, and Ned got a job in the GRASP lab, where they were working on robotic arms and that kind of thing. We got a little apartment (after the initial roach motel) in a Victorian house and lived there for a couple of years until I said, “I’m done with Philadelphia, let’s move.” Ned said, “Where?” And we decided together on Boston, figuring I could get a job in history there (an historical society or a teaching job) and Ned could get a high tech job. Only one of us succeeded. Well, I did get a job in an historical society but it totally blew huge chunks all over its precious little collections. I went on to an advertising job at Jordan Marsh, which also blew chunks, and then a job writing for a high tech company, which also….

Then I got pregnant with Nat (and really blew chunks during morning sickness) and decided to just quit and roost and write. So I wrote a couple of novels at that point and got an agent, but the stuff never went anywhere. They were historical fictions, set in 19th century Russia, with tons of plot twists, not much character development.

So what? You might be thinking. Well, I guess I want to understand how it is that I don’t feel quite like I’m doing it all right. I have a bit of a writing career, at last, although not writing the kind of books I thought I’d write when I first started out. But then again, what turned out the way I thought it would when I first started out? Not adulthood; not motherhood; not my writing career.

As I said, I feel a certain degree of inexplicable shame over the fact that I have this free time. I have thought about getting a job, teaching at a university, or as an autism aide in a public school. I poked around here and there but nothing turned up. I even entered a contest to become a model for More Magazine. I actually sometimes get depressed about it. I think, “What did I do wrong, that I have time on my hands?” I know that once this new book proposal sells I will have a lot to do, but still — my hours are my own. People ask me how I have time to write and I feel embarrassed, like I shouldn’t have time to write because my life must be so tough. My plate must be so full!

It’s only full sometimes. It’s tough, but not always, or I would not be sitting here sort of smiling as I type.

But still — I know I’m a writer and all, but that’s so part time. I am so dependent on other people’s schedules, on waiting for agents, editors, etc. I always need to be coming up with new ideas and finding hooks for them for my articles.

So what? You may be thinking. Well, I am trying to understand why I am ashamed of what I do with my days and the first step is talking about it/writing about it. Going public, and figuring it out with others. I guess. So be kind, and be wise, and help me feel okay about my existence.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

When Life Gives You Friends With Lemons…

Today’s Brookline Tab Column
Senator: Big deal, let’s sell some lemonade

By Susan Senator
Thursday, September 14, 2006

The more things change, the more they stay the same. This occurred to me recently after hanging out on a street corner in the hazy end-of-summer sunshine with my friends, Lori and Jenny, and their two sons. I met them about four years ago when our youngest boys started kindergarten together at Lincoln School. Lori and Jenny were hard to miss: two women, an obvious couple, often walking to school with their two little boys; picking them up at the end of the day, all four, together. The thing that struck me about them – and I was sometimes a little jealous – was how tight a family unit they were. They always seemed to be on family bike rides, or on walks around the block, or going to the baseball game. My family, on the other hand, is a lot more like five separate entities: Nat, my oldest, is autistic, but actually the rest of us are also very much into our own private interests. I often despair about our lack of family unity. So I was really happy when Benji, my youngest, became friends with their son, Andy, because they seemed to know how to have fun – all together.

I was right. Whenever we had an afternoon with nothing much planned, I could nearly always count on Lori and Jenny to have an idea. Sometimes, we would all go to a big field and shoot off model rockets that their older son builds. Sometimes we would go to the park around the corner and the boys would shoot cap guns and ride scooters.

On this particular Saturday, the activity was putting up a lemonade stand. I took Benji and Nat, and we walked down the hill to Walnut Street to meet them. Everyone looked up and greeted us warmly. Lori produced a Rice Krispy square right away for Nat, whom she has taken under wing. She is the one who successfully introduced him to his first cap gun experience, with the appropriate warning about the loud noise he was about to hear. Once, when the other kids were playing softball and Nat’s autism prevented him from focusing properly on the game, Lori found him a toy airplane to throw around. I knew that she would try to engage him somehow this time with the lemonade sales.

The problem was, no one was buying. People would do U-turns right in front of our stand but still not stop to buy lemonade. Others were out getting exercise, but had no money for a drink. Benji tried to entice passersby with his hand puppet, but to no avail. Nat started to seem antsy – I’m not sure if he understood the concept of the lemonade stand, particularly such a dormant one – so Lori took him inside and asked him to come pick out some candy. Five minutes later, there was Nat with a small bag of candy and a huge grin on his face.

None of the kids cared that they did not make many real sales (of course, my husband came and bought some, but it didn’t really count). It was just like the lemonade or bead jewelry stands I had operated when I was a kid, where you work hard on the product, on coloring in the vivid Magic-Markered sign, and on figuring the cost of the merchandise, (then, a nickel, now, a quarter) but still went bankrupt by the end of the day. And, most of your sales came from your mother or father. Back then, however, there were no autistic kids in the neighborhood, nor were there any gay families; at least, none that I was aware of. What a relief it is to me that things have changed, because all of our kids experience difference so positively; naturally and easily. Andy has two moms. Benji has an autistic brother. Big deal, let’s sell some lemonade.

I wasn’t thinking about this, though, when I walked down the hill to join my friends. The thing on my mind was how I knew without a doubt that for the next few hours, my boys were going to have something interesting to do, with kind, fun people who knew how to have a good time – and that I could be part of it, too. So little effort, and yet, exactly what I would wish for on a hot afternoon in the middle of summer. A failed lemonade stand, perspiring parents and excited kids; a happy combination, no matter what decade you’re from. Because as the saying (sort of) goes: when God gives you good friends with lemons, sell lemonade.

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