Susan's Blog

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Rose By Any Other Name?

What’s in a name?

Names and the naming of children is a very personal and meaningful undertaking. Why did Mom name me “Susan?” I have always felt it is so boring and plain. She first thought to name me “Sarel,” after my great grandmother, (my bubbe), but Mom thought it was too exotic!

Too exotic!!! It is a wonderful name!!!

I get my wish, this late in life, to change my name, at least for belly dance…So I am wondering about naming.

[But first I have to ask, as John Adams did in one of my favorite plays, 1776: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?” I have been getting fewer comments so I wonder if I’m over. I’ll still keep on writing, because it’s what I do, but I like hearing from people! Okay, on with the show.]

It feels like most of my life, I strive for one thing, and end up with another. I strive for sophistication and elegance, but I never quite get there. In decorating, I ape Restoration Hardware living rooms and end up with funky, shabby chic. In hairstyle, I think “straight and glossy,” and end up with curly/wavy after a few hours. In body, I aimed for “as thin as possible,” and still ended up with curves and waves.

In mothering, I have always tried to be smart and fair. I end up with passionate and moody.
In belly dance, I strive for controlled and graceful. I end up with shake, shake, shake my meaty booty. I don’t shine; I sweat.

So I’m wondering, for the first time ever, if my Mom-given name “Susan” or, as most of my oldest friends know me, “Sue” actually fits me better than I thought. All my life, I dreamed of being a long-straight-haired girl named “Deborah,” or “Anastasia,” “Natasha,” “Alexandra,” “Elena;” so in a fit of midlife pique, I started insisting people at least call me “Susan,” to make the “Sue” more respectable, the more elegant form of the name.

But no matter what I do, I’m a Sue. I’m not elegant. I’m accessible. I’m an open book. What you see is what you get. It’s no mystery. I am no Anastasia.

So maybe I’ll just be the more exotic form of Susan: Shoshana. The Hebrew version. Means “a rose.” Not bad, not at all bad as flowers go. Maybe, maybe Mom was right??!! Maybe she knew me better than I thought…

Here we are sharing a happy (but definitely not elegant) moment, on the Cape.
Monday, November 13, 2006

A “Fearless” Voice

I am in the November 12 Huffington Post. You can read the piece here.

Grandpa’s Answer

This was Dad’s (and Mom’s) immediate response to my very teary poem in the previous post. And so, I find myself floating back upwards…

Dear Susan-
Please print this and add it to Nat’s birthday card:

Happy Birthday
Dear Nat
Happy Birthday sweet guy
Family man who
Like each of us
Has a part of the scene
Yours so great
And needs based

Your smile of comfort
Or razz
Shining through the day
At home at school
Sometimes anxious
You depend on
Love and support
From Mom and Dad
Their energy to hold you up
As needed/first basis
And the family’s creative pool to
Do what’s right for you
And so they do
In love

Priorities goals
Every year
Some ever present
Reading writing
Some new
Social skills communicating
Now it’s
Tell us what you think
What you feel
What you want
It’s so hard for us
To guess Natty Boy

We’ll work with you
At seventeen eighteen
Including whenever
And hope to crack
The wall that separates

Enjoy your birthday
And other pleasures too
Special Olympics
Cape Cod beaches
Baking cookies
Videos and reading
Walks and swimming
Playing catch
Chocolate and more….

Happy Birthday, dear grandson, Nat.
Love you,
Grandpa Mel
Grandma Shelly

The Ides of November

I feel like I have to be bravest
on your birthday
I’m not supposed to be sad
that’s selfish
and unevolved
and not seeing the whole picture

But I am.
I stood in the bookstore
amidst strollers, sippy cups, board books
plump new mothers stretched over pink new children
Tears slipped out, wet anguish on my embarrassed face

Still here
The baby books
The ocean books
The swimming books
Disney vids

Still sad
About what I don’t get
What you don’t get

The search for something
The anger, deep in my throat,
that it is not there


Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Sweetest Thing

Blue eyed boy meets a brown-eyed girl
(oh, oh, the sweetest thing)
You can sew it up, but you still see the tear
(oh, oh, the sweetest thing)
Baby’s got blue skies up ahead
And in this I’m a raincloud
Ours is a stormy kind of love
U2, The Sweetest Thing

My blue-eyed boy. My Sweet Guy. I want you to be happy. I want you to thrive. I love you so much.

But love alone does not always help me understand these boys of mine, it takes study. Research. And I am increasingly troubled by Nat’s growing apathy/inertia. He spends his weekends lying on the couch, or crouched on Max’s bed, or my bed (unless Ned or I insist that he take a walk, rake leaves, or offer for him to bake with me.) He wanders from room to room, his silly talk getting louder and louder when he wants something, but he does not tell me what it is. I ask him in so many different ways without actually asking him, because I want to encourage communication and yet also I want to fade his dependency on me.

How can I get Nat to initiate? How can I get him to come to me when he has a question, without waiting so long, wandering back and forth? Is he unhappy wandering back and forth, without our intervention? Or is it that it just takes him a lot longer to figure out what he wants? Can any of the auties out there who read this give me a clue? Nat is verbal, but very reluctantly/hesitatingly so. Should we be drilling him to get his communication stronger? Will that help him, or just bore him and turn him off and make him retreat? I fear the latter is true. I fear it is already happening, as a result of our home Verbal Behavior program. I think he hates the drilling and doesn’t get why he is doing it, and it makes him stimmier. Is it my job to combat the stims or to let him be? If I let him be, how will he develop the communication skills to get a job and live on his own (with some oversight by a PCA)?

Don’t tell me he can’t live on his own (with some oversight by a PCA). I am not ready to hear that. You may be wrong.

But if you can, help me figure out the communication piece with him. (By the way, no offense meant to anyone who follows these therapies, but I am not interested in any approaches that suggest I alter his nutrition, or that involve flashing lights, vibrations, listening to musical tones, certain forms of massage, injections… I am interested only in one-to-one talking, connecting, or other communicating techniques. )

I love this boy with all my heart and then some. Sometimes I want to will him to let me in, just by hugging him to me. What can I do? What can I do? I hate to see him lying around so much. Mostly, I want to see him smile more.

The Care and Feeding of Friendships

Ned and I went out for a little Thai food last night. We were talking about the nature of friendship, because I have just had a falling out with a pretty good friend. She is a writing friend of mine. This was someone I have considered a close friend for about 3 years. The problem is that I don’t feel like she was comfortable with my novel, even though she said she liked it. I could not engage her in an email conversation over it, and I did not want to talk to her on the phone about it, but I did suggest we meet. Something about email relaxes me (but I know it does not relax others); something about phone makes me feel disconnected and yet cornered. Meeting face-to-face over coffee is just about one of my favorite things to do. It is not as big a committment of time as lunch, so you know it won’t last too long if you don’t enjoy it; and yet you can linger over those last few drops of French roast if you are having a really good time.

Ned and I were trying to pinpoint the differences between friend and colleague; and close friend and just friend. Ned thought that this whole writing-as-the-friendship-binder was not quite enough; he felt that that would make a great collegial relationship, but that a friendship needed more. The thing is, I often want to be friends with my colleagues, after I get to know them, but they usually know before I do that it isn’t the greatest fit. I was on the school board with eight others for almost five years and I grew to love all of them, even though many times one or all drove me crazy with their viewpoints or ways of doing things. But I would have been friends with any of them, I think. But I guess they didn’t feel the same, because it didn’t really happen — at least, not the way I wanted it to. Or maybe I’m kidding myself, because I didn’t make any real effort to be friends either.

But then I also wonder about effort: the kind of friendship I really look for is the kind I don’t even look for. There is no visible effort; it just kind of happens. It evolves. Sometimes I don’t even notice this person at first; but then they get on my radar screen. But usually, once I love a person, I always love a person. I go through a period of realizing their flaws and I back off, disappointed that they turned out to be human. But then I come back, having adjusted to the limitations that were probably always there but I just didn’t see them in my honeymoon period. (I’m sure other people are much better at seeing my flaws right away, because I have so many and they are worn right on my sleeves, right along with my heart!)

One thing people in my life don’t seem to understand or be able to put up with easily is that I get really angry at them sometimes. Even when I think I am controlling it and being diplomatic, it scares the hell out of them. I wish I could reassure them that it’s just my feelings, and here’s what they could maybe do to help, but that doesn’t happen either. I often make the other person angry at me because I was angry at them! I don’t think that’s fair, but it happens. I guess there is either something really harsh and scary about my anger or something about them that feels very threatened by another’s anger.

So my friend could not bear my “disappointment” in her response to my novel. She got angry at me and said some things to me that weren’t very nice. Now we’re at a standoff. I need the break, I think, so I’m letting it be for now, which isn’t my usual way. My therapist says that I really can just let this go, not do anything, not think anything. She says that people do that, that friendships are much more fluid than I was raised to believe. That friendships come and go, and it is no one’s fault usually, it is just the nature of things, and it is okay for that to happen.

But I don’t feel comfortable at all with letting people go. I often reach back into the past and try to reconnect with old friends who have fallen away from me. I miss them for the unique thing they once were in my life. I figure that if time has passed then whatever broke us apart may not be as important an obstacle as it once was. So I have quite a few very old connections, and that makes me feel very good, very safe. Maybe it helps that there is a boundary of distance, however (most of them live far away). It is far more difficult maintaining a regular relationship, getting the boundaries right if you see them a lot.

I do understand, though, through therapy, that it is also okay to let people go and that it doesn’t mean I’ve failed in some way. So right now I am just trying to see where this thing with my writing friend takes me to, without more effort or straining on my part. It is slightly uncomfortable because I start to feel worried that I’ve hurt her; but then I remind myself that this thing began with my own feelings and needs not being met…

I wish there were a friendship rule book: How to spot lifelong friends; how to spot people who just want something from you; how to spot warped people; how to disengage without consequence; how to keep the balance of power equal; how to trust the right people. But I probably would never read such book! (I hate How-to’s, even though MPWA is partly a How-to. It’s also a “what not to do” book!)

I have no clever way to end this. Just like my situation with relationships that don’t work…

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Hair Peace and Dad’s Response

According to a recent issue of Vogue, it’s time for me to cut my hair. Apparently, your mid-forties is the witching hour – when ladies with hair past their collarbones turn into witches, or harpies, or something far worse: ridiculous and laughable. The same rule applies for short skirts. Even if your legs are “good,” it is not recommended. Except in some extreme cases, of course – I suppose they mean if you are Cyd Charise or Betty Grable – and then, only with thick tights so that no one thinks you are serious.

I’m not sure I have the energy to fight for my right to wear a miniskirt at 44; but I damned well resent anyone telling me I will have to cut my hair soon. I don’t do it as I really like the way it looks. It seems like women are always being told the clock is ticking in one way or another: the biological clock, the find-a-husband clock. And now, the long hair clock. Even if we were to declare a kind of Daylight Savings Time on middle aged women with long hair, I’m not sure it would buy me enough time.

I am attached to my hair as it is: long. I have had this sort of hair my entire life. My hair is naturally curly/frizzy, mid-back length, mostly brown, depending on the stage of my highlight grow-out. I have not always loved my hair the way I do now, however. When I was a kid, I wanted long straight hair, parted in the middle, with blue-black shines in it like Veronica Lodge. I knew nothing about Product, relaxant, pomade, wax, or any other goo that could make this happen. A blowout was something bad that happened to tires. So as a child I would go to sleep with my hair wet, pulled into a ponytail and then pinned flat against my head, so that in the morning I had mostly straight hair, albeit with one horizontal crease going all the way across. But at least it looked stretched out and long, and straight(ish).

Consider using hair extensions if you are worried about your thinning hair. You can see more from The Lauren Ashtyn Collection.

In my thirties, I, along with every other fashionista at my kids’ playground discovered the blowout, a clever and relatively simple process that would give us the hair of our dreams – or at least, like Jennifer Aniston. Now even we ethnic types could give that little insouciant flip of the head and our hair would actually move. I became addicted to blowouts, chemically induced shine, and flat, middle parts. Never mind that Ned would squint at me and ask, “Who are you?” openly longing for the messy-haired girl he fell in love with at Penn. “Me, only better,” I could have answered, but I was too annoyed. That was my story, however, and I was sticking with it.

Now, in my forties, the style has changed and so have I. Long, loose waves are in, and that is much easier for me to fake than stick-straight hair. Along with the loosening up of hair I have found a more relaxed me. I lost twenty pounds, fairly easily, but healthily. I wrote a book. I found the courage to take a belly dance class. I feel like I’m closer than ever to figuring out what it takes to make me happy, and I know it does not come in a $40 bottle of shine serum. The irony is, that once I hit my forties, I had more confidence and peace-of-mind than any other time in my life; but at the same time, I found myself bombarded with society’s messages that I was no longer good enough. I am exhorted to Botox my fine lines, excise the not-so-fine ones, reduce this, plump up that. And cut my hair. If I don’t, I risk being inappropriate, or even ridiculous. Shudder.

So here I go, braving ridiculous. But as a lifelong member of fashionable society, I think maybe I’m owed a little slack. I paid my dues with years of square-toe, then pointy-toe, then round-toe shoes. Skinny leggings, wide-legged pants. Back to skinny leggings. Cowl neck, then mock turtleneck. I think I have earned the right to continue to wear my hair long way past 45 and be considered beautiful.

At least, that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

Dad’s Response:
Dear Susan-
So much noise about hair
Always it never ends
Hair too long
Hair too short
The musical Hair
Suspended from school for hair
Now it’s time to cut hair
You’re too old for long hair

Who sez all this
Experts from Vogue
Probably bald
Who crave power
And hate women
People of should
Who wish they could

Don’t cut your hair
Straight or curly
It’s you
Even with pony tails
Your hair tells your story
Whatever it is
You may color
It rainbow
But don’t cut…


Taxes Back

Sung to the tune of Justin Timberlake’s song Sexy Back

I’m bringing taxes back
Them other pols don’t know how to act
They think they’re careful — what’s behind their back?
We got to Override and bring it back

Take it to the bank
Greedy babe…
You keep these tax cuts and you think you save…
You’ll end up digging education’s grave
It’s lack of money makes our services cave

Take it to the public
Come here pol
(Go ahead and find a spine)
Come to the table
(Go ahead and find a spine)
(Go ahead and find a spine)
…Cost monies
(Go ahead and find a spine)
Schools ain’t got nuf for workin’ with
(Go ahead and find a spine)
Look at those pink slips
(Go ahead and find a spine)
You get me riled
(Go ahead and find a spine)
Think of the Child
Bring the taxes on
Bring the taxes on
Bring the taxes on
Bring the taxes on


You ready?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Happy Daze

I just got back from a conference I went to with a very good friend of mine, to network and sell books, and I feel like I did really well. This was a large gathering of School Committee members and superintendents from across the state, and many are interested in addressing autism in their schools successfully. My publisher made me a flyer based on the info I posted a week ago, and I set up a table where there was tons of traffic. I sold books while my friend attended workshops and panels. We would occasionally meet up and eat and gossip. It was really fun and profitable for both of us. We also decided to share a hotel room to save money, and I was looking forward to that, too: just like a sleepover party from my middle school days!

Of course it was the unexpected that made the trip so great. After a full day of meeting people, seeing old colleagues and friends, connecting, talking school issues, and telling them about my book, there was a dinner and then a party in the bar, with a DJ. A bunch of us went from dinner straight to the bar. We didn’t think we would stay very long; I was exhausted from the day, plus the night before I had been awakened twice by Little B who had had a bad dream! (I have to say that I secretly enjoy his bad dreams, though, because a) they are always fascinating; usually they are about a giant something or other — horseshoe crab, spider — nature or pedestrian things out of control — a lamp starts talking to him, that kind of thing. And 2) he lets me hold him in my arms, snuggled in bed, for as long as I want. He leaves it up to me, how long he needs to dispell the nightmare. It is the sweetest thing in the world. I cannot think of a joy greater than holding that little boy, with his back to me, his glossy smooth brown hair pressed up against my nose, his navy blue flannel-covered small body that smells like warm toast filling my arms. Plus the fact that he is such a tough guy, a Mr. Macho, yet he climbs into my bed with his blue teddy bear (Bluebeary) and just waits for me to take care of the bad dream. This is how I know there is a God, by the way. The fact that our children make us feel so happy. So now you know! No more doubts.

Anyway, I was exhausted after the networking and the dinner, but the bar was pleasant and the DJ was playing some really danceable songs. Suddenly some women were doing the “Electric Slide,” which I’d never seen, and I knew I’d be dancing soon. I requested, “Hips Don’t Lie,” and the guy obliged immediately. Then I asked for the Pussycat Dolls (great name!) and other weird and wonderful Hip-Hop.

And I did belly dance moves, (hip snake, hip eight, taffy pull snake arms, modified shimmies, hip circles, shoulder shimmies) rather than just flailing my arms and hopping like I used to when I danced in high school and college. I was trying to move as precisely as possible, while still being fluid and soft. People noticed and were clapping and hooting! (In a good way) A woman I had befriended let me dance with her beautiful purple silk scarf, like a veil. I could not believe how good this all felt, to be dancing to my favorite workout songs with one of my very best friends and some new ones, doing (discreet) belly dancing in public for the first time — and being well received!

All this — the belly dancing, the travel, and the networking — is so new for me, and so enjoyable. I never realized adult life could be so fulfilling on so many levels. I thought I was already blessed, with three darling boys and a writing career and a magnificent husband who is also my best friend, but sometimes Life stretches out her sinuous arms towards you and offers you even more. But it’s new, different, and therefore scary. So the trick is in having the guts to take her up on it when it is right for you.

Thursday, November 9, 2006


Warning: If you are not a Democrat, you might not enjoy this posting. My apologies to my conservative readers, I still love you and I hope you still love me, but I have to crow a little bit about how the pendulum swung left nationally the other day.

Last night I called Mom and Dad to see how they were doing. Mom was jubilant over the election results. She told me that she had spent four hours at the polls and had handed out leaflets for candidates that did not win. Still, she was pleased about the nation. I felt very proud of her for becoming politically involved that way. I, too, stood at the polls but I do that on every election day, local or otherwise (I am no longer on the School Committee but I am a Town Meeting Member and a town macher nonetheless. I am not bragging, I am saying that with a half-frown. I did not intend to become a town big shot; all I wanted was to help the town run things the right way, and that meant I had get really, really involved. My issue, by the way, won. We defeated the CPA ballot question, ((Community Preservation Act, which would raise taxes by 3%, get matching state funds, but only which could be spent towards affordable housing, historic preservation, and open space. I am not opposed to those causes, but they are not priorities and affordable housing is not about the money, it is about neighborhoods not allowing in affordable housing projects!!!!)) )

All of which means we really have our work cut out for us to persuade those who voted against the CPA simply because it is a tax, to vote for a different tax that will mainly help the schools. I hear that I am not allowed to refer to them as the “anti-tax crowd,” and must come up with a more positive and accurate label. I asked them to help me with that. I am going to try to be a bridge between conservative and liberal forces, and use my Libra-given skills to mediate and explain, cajole, sweet-talk, and listen, to make this tax increase happen. People move to this town for the excellent schools, and they ain’t going to be excellent if they have to sustain cut after cut, as they have in the past 5 years.

I will succeed. I am determined. I believe that people are natually good deep down and become afraid or are misguided. Sometimes they need to be heard, validated. I believe I learned this attitude from my father, who is a natural optimist. Mom is, too, but it is Dad who is the bigger mouth of the two of them. Dad always used to say, “See?” with a knowing smile, eyebrows up, all of which means, “Didn’t I tell you it would be alright?”

Last night when I spoke to Mom I asked her if Dad had said, “See?” But she said, “No, he was doubtful the entire evening, figuring that Rove would somehow prevail! I’m the optimist, here!”

I found both these things hard to believe. Mom gets all fired up angry about political stuff, and about people not being their best in general, and I said, “No way! You’re the optimist? What happened to Dad?” She laughed and put him on the phone. He sounded like himself, except all this cautious stuff, too. This political era has taken a lot out of him. (Plus he has had to listen to my mom’s vitriole every day as she reads the New York Times aloud to him!)

So I said, “Dad, come on! It’s all good. See?” I was doing an impersonation of him.
He laughed. That’s a good sign.
I will give him a few days to get back to himself.

Sometimes good things really do happen. See?

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Let’s Dance

The detritus of a dancer.
I get such pleasure out of this picture. These are my belly dance costumes, strewn across my bed. The red one is a Susan original (a Shoshana original? Sheherazade? what should my stage name be?); the white and gold is a gift from my darling sister. (Ned and I were talking about how I could have a business:; he suggested BellyBras, but I thought that sounded like something you wear on your belly!)

I thought the colors were so delicious I would photograph them. I am very proud of the red top; I made it myself. Yesterday I went to the fabric store and bought beading and trim with the color in my head and came home and laid it all out on an old red satin bra. You are supposed to build the top from a bra or bikini top; I found out the whole trick of it in a wonderful book, called, of all things, The Embellished Bra by Dawn Devine.I tried it with a pink bikini top but after I had finished one cup I tried it on and only then remembered why I never wore that bikini: it’s too small! D’oh. So, ripped it out and started over. But I didn’t mind; I was that into it. I sewed while Benj drew. Occasionally he would look up and ask me a question about it. He also wanted to understand the many uses of the word “boob,” being a third-grader. I tried to explain and to keep him from being too silly, so that he would understand that this was an actual dance costume, etc., etc.

I used to sew a ton B.C. (before children) and when Max and Nat were little, way back when I used to do all kinds of decorating. In fact I had a small business for a while, “On a Shoestring,” where I advised people about rearranging what they had to make a better, more aesthetically pleasing room. I started to get a lot of clients and I freaked. Plus I did not know how to charge friends of friends. Obviously I didn’t charge friends, but what about the friendly women who were almost friends? Oh well. Writing suited me better.

Back when I was home with two baby boys and trying not to go insane, I used to sew Turn-of-the-Century clothing (I mean 19th century) from original dress patterns; it was a company called “Past Patterns.” I made 1890’s shirtwaists (blouses) with all these beautiful tucks in them, and lots of lace at the collar and cuffs; I made a few skirts, a duster, and a little purple jacket. Sometimes I got up the guts to wear my 19th century finery, with laceup boots and a hat with a black veil. I know I probably looked like a freak but I was so happy being 19th century. I still love vintage clothing, but they are always cut too small.

So I haven’t sewn something for myself in years and years. But I got the idea suddenly after going to the belly dance awards the other day. I examined all the costumes that were for sale (and were quite expensive) and I realized that I could probably fake a costume.

All it takes is a bra and some beading. A shmata, some tchatzchkes and some chazzerai. What joy I felt browsing through rose-colored beading and green braid and shiny pink lurex! The colors I picked are saturated, jewel toned, luscious and festive. All my favorites. I don’t care if it’s gaudy. It’s kind of supposed to be! It made me think about my grandmas, too. One, so beautiful and elegant, the other, so passionate and pink-centric. They loved everything I did; what would they have said about the belly dancing? (“Oy! So you’re an Arab now?” Or what my Great Aunt Henrietta once said long ago, eying my developing figure: “Boys like dat!” Or maybe, “Ach, nice!” Actually, that’s what my grandpa used to say… now that was a non-judgmental man!)

I wish they were all here so I could really find out.

Now to work on my routine. I’m going to perform for my family at Thanksgiving, and I think I will ask Laura and John (Laura’s long, lanky, laconic physics geek darling husband) to accompany me on guitar!

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Belly Ache

I have been feeling ill all day: achey muscles, headache, nausea and other goodies. But, being my parents’ daughter, I still had a kick-ass workout at my gym. I now do spinning at least once a week which is incredibly hard on all parts of the leg but by now you could bounce a quarter off the back of my thighs. I plunged into that hot tub as my reward but I only felt stewed afterwards.

I tried to sleep, but Ben and Max were wrestling so I woke up. I decided to fight this stupid bug and get all dolled up and go to the 3d Annual Boston Belly Dance Contest, in Cambridge, as a spectator, that is. I saw two of my teachers there and bought a ruby red (lips color, Ned’s favorite) panel chiffon skirt. Once that top arrives in the mail, the one my sister bought me for my birthday, I will have a complete cabaret style outfit.

There is a “newbie” category, of those who have been dancing less than a year, and I could have signed up for that but lately I have been feeling confused about some of the basic movements. It is as if my body forgot how to do somethings, maybe because I have so many teachers. I keep hoping that with enough practice I will fuse it together and have my own style.

Today’s “newbies” were very good. One young woman was especially lithe. Long waist, long hair, silver top and belt, maroon skirt. Her quick moves were very sharp and clean, and then her slow moves were snakelike and perfect. I was happy to see some pretty fat women dancing, too. Once they start shaking that stuff, you are mezmerized and you get into it, even with all that waist.

The music just knocks me out. It is very tinny drum, with that Middle-Eastern sax or whatever it is. Kind of like the best part of Zeppelin’s Kashmir. That music makes me high, it is so enchanting.

I left early because my stomach still bothered me and I couldn’t really sit any longer.

Next year, I am entering the contest.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Once Again, Con Brio

Just feast your eyes on this. A couture ballgown, made of chocolate! Excusez-moi, chocolat. From a fair in Paris. A Chocolate Fair in Paris. Does it get any better than that? Here I sit, having just gotten off the phone with Max, who told me that he won’t be home this evening, because he and the buds are going to a movie, thus shooting my paltry plans with Ned to hell. We were going to have dinner out someplace. I was going to dress up a little (new boots, new jeans, sexy sweater) and he was not, and we were going to have a little romantic evening.

Oh well.

So, instead, we will take Benj and Nat out to dinner, someplace they can manage (probably Chili’s) and I can tolerate. I will have a long hot soak in the tub and let Calgon take me away to the Chocolate Fair in Paris!

Why do I blog about the seemingly irrelevant, goopy, trivial sometimes? Isn’t this supposed to be an autism blog, filled with pith and vinegar? Pathos rather than bathos? Why do I have, as one snotty sniping psuedonymed snark said, pictures of myself on this blog “trying to look young and glamorous?”

How dare I! How dare I try to have a life, a raucous, beautiful, fun-filled life, brass ring and all, even though I am not young and have three boys, the oldest of whom has pretty complicated autism? Who am I, 44-year-old housewife, acting like a Hot Hausfrauer? Isn’t my life supposed to be over? Where’s my freakin’ dignity and pearls?

My pearls belonged to my bubbe, and the last time I wore them was hmm, let’s see… oh yeah, to the White House! As for dignity, well, my dignity belongs to me, and I can dispose of it or flaunt it or flaut it however I see fit. My message, my point, my raison d’etre in the blogosphere, is to say that I am a whole person, that I will not be two-dimensional while others live enviable chocolate-ballgown lives around me. I am not going to be invisible just because society wants women over 35 to disappear. Just because one of my children has a disability doesn’t mean that is all he is and it doesn’t mean my life is over.

Tragedy — or joy — is ours for the taking. Whether in Paris or in Chili’s — choose joy!

Unlocking is in the Eye of the Keyholder

The other day I was talking to someone who wants to work with an autistic boy. I loved her enthusiasm and her curiosity. But then she made a starry-eyed comment about how she thinks maybe she can just “unlock” him…

Then, I heard from a friend who told me that her kid’s residential school, once so in love with the boy, is now complaining about his difficulty sleeping and they are making noises about having him there less often…

What’s wrong with this picture? Professionals dumping their incompetence or ignorance on the families. Professionals not understanding what their responsibilities are, who their charges are.

First, let me say that just about every person I have ever encountered who has gone into autism education is an idealistic, bright, competent, loving person. I am eternally grateful to: Debbie, Nyemade, Abby, Teresa, Renee, Jay, Dr. W, Dr. B, Dr. K, Dr. M, Dr. R, Stephanie, Stephanie, Jen, Megan, Maureen… to name a few!

But it must be said that people who go into a profession like teaching need to be aware of their motives and of the possible disappointments. Like anything else, if one’s expectations are too high, or somehow unrealistic, one is bound to be let down sooner or later.

I wonder what, exactly, my friend’s kid’s school thought they were undertaking when they set up a residential home for autistic kids? Did they expect a monolithic group whom they could subdue, guide, enlighten, or unlock? And then, lo and behold, they discover that, hey! Not all autistic kids are alike! Some even have trouble sleeping! Who knew? D’oh, why didn’t anyone tell me?

Seriously, if unlocking is the purpose, then I have a problem with that. Must I say it? Okay: these guys are just people, with unique challenges and personalities, and a school or teacher needs to be willing to get to know them on their terms. Going at a person with a metaphorical key in your hand sounds almost like a violation to me. If my therapist thought, “I am getting closer to unlocking Susan,” I would dump her. Who the hell is she to think she can unlock me? She can tease apart some of my issues, but I am my own keyholder. Some things can stay locked up, know what I mean? My choice.

It is no different for our autistic kids. There’s no mystery, there is only difference. Or as my grandmother might have said, “Unlocked-a is Facoct-ah!

Friday, November 3, 2006


NancyBea has done it again. She is my artist friend from college and if I were ever to like fall, it is because of a picture like this. I mean, this chick has an eye, n’est-ce pas Quik?

This is the perfect jumping-off point for today’s post. Yesterday was a pretty bad day for me (got some hate mail, Anonymous strikes again, plus some local yokels who are annoyed at my stance on a certain ballot question, plus the WaPo rejected another scintillating column, plus I did not enjoy my brand new belly dance class, plus I don’t know what my next serious book is going to be so I feel over). But — I had a great presentation last night, very warm, lots of laffs, so it gave me a good feeling to sleep on.

I thought about how there are moments of extreme pleasure in the oddest times. I realized how happy I felt this morning on my way to the gym, coasting into the red light. The moment that all sides of an intersection have a red light is kind of a wonder. There is a soft stillness and a silence that is such a peaceful contrast from the typical highway-in-action noise. You are forced to stop, wait, look around, breathe.

There is so much color everywhere right now; fall is very late this year. Some of the leaves have turned a ruby red, which Ned calls “lips color.” It is my favorite color to wear and to see. The sky is often a deep silvery gray, which sets off the yellow and the fuschia on the trees. Fall is not my favorite time of year. Its beauty impresses my brain, but it is a cold, flashy beauty that does not reach my heart. To me, autumn is all about going out in style. Glorious, but dying. I don’t like death and dying. I don’t like things ending. I can’t forget that this is what autumn really is about.

And yet I always have a great October and November. They are months where I am often happy and clear-headed. The routine of school forces structure and consistency into my otherwise loose Libra-like existence. My days are shaped by drop-off and pick-up, chores, work-outs, writing sessions, and presentations. The slow spaces in between do not make me ache the way they do in the spring. In the spring I have an enormous feeling of want, and yearning, a need to burst forth into something not quiet perceptible. And yet spring is my favorite season because it is all about potential and beginning. Clean slate, the hot swarming activity of birth, a messy popping out of growth. Yet it sometimes makes me too excited.

So that is the joy of fall. It is a cold and brittle fun, a chilly red nose and chafed hands on the rake, a feeling of imminent loss that makes you rush to enjoy every warm spot you come across. Like my suspended moment at the red light, autumn is a blazing beauty being pursued by hungry, relentless, deathly winter.

But as I said, I’m having a good day.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

The Best Laid Schemes O Mice An Women


Wee, sleekit, cowrin', tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!

–Robert Burns, “To a Mouse”

I was sitting at the dining room table thinking what to write when off in the pantry I heard a rustling noise. I froze. Then I unfroze and stood up and walked over to the kitchen. Rustle, rustle, again. I leaned in, heart beating in my throat.

It was coming from the picnic basket on my counter. The one that has little furled up bags of cookies, chips, and some candy. The one that has the little bag of chocolate-covered peanuts with a small hole chewed through the bottom, that I found a few days before. When I discovered that chewed-up bag of candy, I looked at it and thought, “Hmmm, looks like the work of a mouse. I’ll just throw it away, problem solved.”

Ah, the powers of denial. De Nile is just a river in Egypt, it turns out! And I’m the Queen of Egypt, too!

Problem not solved. Rustle, rustle. My mood of fear flipped right over into anger. Why do we have animal problems in this house? Am I such a bad housekeeper? Is our house falling apart? I took out my frustration on the poor — thing. I yelled, “I hear you! I know you’re in there! How dare you?” Or something pathetic like that.

The rustling stopped (of course). Now I had a chewed up basket of snax and a scared critter on my hands. Well, on my counter, anyway. I called Terminex for a home termite inspection, because we have a pest account as well as a termite account with them.

It was the main number. “That’s okay,” the guy said, “We can help you, anyway!”
So helpful was he. I told him my problem and he listened, clucking sympathetically.
“Do you think it’s just a mouse?” I asked, waiting to be petted and soothed.
“Oh, there’s no way of knowing,” he said, and I swallowed hard. “We can send someone out right away,” he cooed. I gave him my address gratefully and hung up.

Then I thought, “That was too easy.” I looked at the basket, which sat inocuously on the counter, as quiet as a — mouse. I dug around my phone numbers and called the local office. A woman answered. I told her about what the other Terminex guy said, about sending someone out here.

She laughed. “Oh, he can’t do that!” she scoffed.
“Well, can you send someone out right away? It’s kind of urgent.”
“Umm, not today. How about tomorrow, between 12 and 2?”
“Okay. Do you think it’s something other than a mouse?” I couldn’t help but ask in my little girl voice.
“No. It’s mouse season.”
“What can I do about this?”
“Just throw the basket away.”
“Put it in the trash.”

Next I called Ned. I told him about the thing. A lot of silence on his end. The unasked question loomed: Will you come home and take care of this?
And his unasked question hovered nearby: Do you really need me to do that?
I was so mad at him that I hung up.

Okay, Princess, I thought. Get to work. I did not have any gloves. I slipped ziploc baggies on my hands and took out a big garbage bag. I gingerly pushed the basket into the bag, praying nothing would spring out at me and give me rabies. I tied up the bag and ran outside and tossed it in the trashcan. Scrub, scrub, scrubbed my hands. Even though they had touched nothing. You never know.

Today the Terminex guy showed up right on time but a day late. Never mind. I let him in, so happy to see him, and directed him to the empty counter. He looked underneath and in all the bait traps. “No, no action,” he said. He puttered around a little in the basement, looking even in the Silence of the Lambs room (this is what Ned and I call the old basement pantry, a tiny horrible room with gorgeous old brown floor-to-ceiling woodwork matted with cobwebs, one bare lightbulb, rotten wook underfoot, and corners that have never seen the light of day in all 120 years of this house’s life. “Nothing,” he said, coming back upstairs.

“So, what was it?” I asked. “Do you think it was a rat?” My biggest fear: rat or bat.
He looked at me with something I can only describe as pity. “No, you’d know if it was a rat.”
“How?” I couldn’t resist asking. Call it the journalist in me, or call it the scared little girl begging to hear more of the scary story.
“Because they’re big,” he said.
“So what do you think it was?” I asked again.
He shrugged. “Don’t know. You should have looked.”

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