Susan's Blog

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mood Swingset

I got a new cellphone today and I guess I’m a primadonna but I don’t like the shade of pink! It is a flashy fuschia instead of a true pink. Max says, “Whoa, it is mad thin,” which means it’s good (of course, he has the Krzr, which is even thinner. He is completely in love. With the phone, that is. Although he does not do too badly with the opposite sex, either. The other day he told me he was IMing with Monique, Dina, and Mikki all at once. Yo Max). The only person I IM with these days is Ned, which is lovely but not three admirers at once!

The phone I got clashes with itself when it is all lit up. Kind of a neon periwinkle, next to a flashy, trashy, magenta pink. Hmm. Not my choice of combo, that’s for sure.

Max took apart my old phone and said, “Whoa, this thing is old.” Just like me, in his view, I suppose.

I hate a day like today, although it started really great. I went to Ben’s breakfast share for the third grade, which was about the 50 states. Ben’s state was New Jersey because his cousin Kimmy lives there and he adores her. Each kid did a state and then they stood there in the front of the room and sang a song about the “nifty fifty” states. They stood there, faces earnest, working on remembering all the words, singing proudly and seriously. It was just about the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, right up there with Benji’s baby feet. Then I had coffee with a fellow autism mom whose kid was Nat’s first real friend. She and I have a lot in common, needless to say, and she is kind of a fascinating person, full of plans and hopes for DJ, just the way I am for Nat. Then I had lunch with a new friend, which was absolutely lovely and fun. He and I have a lot in common, too, in terms of politics and certain basic beliefs.

I guess most of my day was great, as a matter of fact, until 4, my witching hour. My mood swings come back around then. I get hungry and tired then. I take a nap, wake up, and sometimes, like today, I become kind of a carb-seeking zombie. I bit the M &Ms; out of most of the M &M; cookies. Then, to assuage my guilt, (and shift to a different mindset), I made a bowl of popcorn and pretended I was going to share it with Max and Nat. But I never called Nat in from the livingroom (Hey, can’t he just come in by himself? Just how far does this initiating problem go? I can’t even assume he’ll come in if he wants popcorn?? Is it my responsibility to give him food, too? Oops, oh yeah, I AM HIS MOTHER, D’oh) And I ate and ate in a buttery, salty carb haze while Max played with his new phone next to me, only occasionally dipping his large male hand into the bowl. Double D’oh!

There’s a meeting tonight of all the autism parents in my town. Of course I should go. Of course I don’t want to go. I get sick of being an activist. I get sick of all my problems and the problems that just go on and on. I am annoyed at myself for eating popcorn (yes, yes, and M & Ms though they don’t really count because it is like breaking up the cookies and we all know that broken cookies don’t count).

Mostly, I feel too cold to do anything productive; that’s why I’m here. Yesterday I was Ms. Productive, whereby I wrote two essays and sent them to two excellent papers where they will languish in ignominy. Plus I finished my book proposal, which ended up 76 pages long, and Neddy Sweets went over the layout to make sure it looked scrumptious and professional. So today I am empty.

I should just put on my loveliest bellydance outfit and do an hour of dancing. I’m afraid that I hurt my hips really badly yesterday, however. I was practicing a hip-down, or a hip lock-down, (not like a hip lockdown, which is when all the cool people in a building are prevented from leaving the premises). This is a very cool move, which when done properly, looks like the dancers hips are, one at a time, moving downward, lower and lower. It is different from hip drops or piston hips or vertical eights. So I practiced over and over and — YOW — my hips are so sore. But still, I have been stretching and practicing all day today, even in my tight new size 28 jeans. (My kids are quite accustomed by now to seeing me start some kind of dance move right in the middle of the kitchen.)

I finished the jade colored outfit of my dreams, although I still am waiting for the bead fringe to arrive from Egypt. So much of bellydance originates from Egypt, it’s kind of funny to me. Growing up and into adulthood, I never went to the Other Side of Semitism or sampled the charms of the Arab world. There is a little frisson of the verboten in the whole thing for me, a nice Jewish girl. The other day my teacher had us cross our arms under our veils in “pharonic pose.” I said, “Pharonic? As in ‘Pharoah?'” And she nodded, not realizing what pharoah means to me: enslavement of my peeps! For thousands of years, or hundreds? For as long as it took for us to build those pyramids, way back when. So here I am, emulating the Pharoah, and ordering costumes from Egypt! Oh God! What would Moses say? Don’t know, apparently he was slow of speech. Okay, what would Aaron, his brother say? “Oh, Shoshana, Let [My People] It Go!”

So I did. If only everything else were so easy! Oy = D’oh = Sigh

Sunday, February 11, 2007


We watched it together.
I watched it and I watched you.
You smiled at the hand flapping.
You stimmed quietly
Your hand comfortable in your pajama pants
(Typical guy)
You rocked to the song.

Then, listened with no smile
To her words
One tone, flowing together like the water
She played with.
Chilling, like ice.

You knew what she was saying.
Some of it
All of it
You felt something.
We felt it together.
I believe, Nat.
I believe.

SPED, The Whipping Boy

Sometimes I feel
Like I been tied to the whippin post
–Allman Brothers Band

Lately in these here parts, there has been a revival of public education’s favorite whipping boy: special education, also known as SPED, or the blood-sucking parasite that steals the lifeforce from the far more deserving regular education kids, the ones who can actually do something with their lives.

Yes, this is the line of reasoning that came across my email this morning, from one of the email lists I am on which serves those in local government. Basically he asked me to “stand outside of myself for a moment,” and consider the pure economic reality of the situation. He said that SPED does take away from regular education, surely I can see that, because there is less money. And the return we get on our dollar might not be worth it, he suggested or implied or maybe I inferred.

After the red cleared from my eyes, and I went and reattached my popped-off head, I fired back the following reply:

You assume I don’t stand outside myself, but in fact I do. But I will never, ever agree that the way we educate people should be dictated by economics that are dictated by politicians who cut education funding and fund unnecessary wars and oil companies instead. Think about that. Why is there less money available for all education? Not a big enough pie. Why not? Because the federal and state governments’ priorities are all wrong.

This is a civilized society. We have to do better for all of our people, regular ed and special ed and stop thinking so narrowly about what “reality” is and go to the powers that be and demand a bigger pie for ALL education. Until then, I am sorry to hear that some people will resent — or blame — the victim of this system.

I am also starting to hear the drumbeat of “That greedy SPED That greedy SPED.” This is the way the song goes:

That greedy SPED
That greedy SPED
Takes everything from Regular Ed
My kid gets screwed
By your struggling dude
Who doesn’t count
When all’s done and said

That greedy SPED
That greedy SPED
Turns education on its head
Puts more staff in the class
So even those kids pass
So my kid’s A is more like a Zed

That greedy SPED
That greedy SPED
This can no longer be unsaid
Our wars count more
Than your slow kids’ score
So maybe just leave him home in bed?

I’ve Heard Your Voice, Shut Up Already

Ha! I don’t mean what you are thinking. It sure ain’t Natty’s voice I’m talking about. It’s the Voice of Recovery. Those who are hell-bent on forcing the autism out of their children as if they were exorcists. They chase the cure and stop living. Their entire life’s configuration has become about something being wrong, if-we-can-just-fix-this-life-will-be-okay-once-more. But it isn’t. Life is really messy and unpredictable, and we forget that. Life is like my big weird house, you think you’re buying a Victorian dreamhome and you end up running around worrying about what’s going to break next. Or you enjoy its quirky beauty and keep decorating anyway. In the end, Camus was right. The point was not curing; it was about helping. You have to keep making the life you are handed the best it can be, despite the fact that rats may be dying all around you. Despite the hounds of hell being unleashed now and then.

My own personal demons are about my own career as a writer, as someone who started writing an autism book because I wanted to educate the world about a family like ours and basically tell everyone that it’s not what you think. Don’t pity us. We are fine. Our lives can be very hard because of things that happen with Nat, but also because of things that happen with any of us. If it’s not wiring, it’s plumbing. But it seems like the general public doesn’t buy that. They want miracle stories, they want tragedy and pathos. And they want magic bullets.

Sure enough, every time I look at the Amazon rankings, Let Me Hear Your Voice is always way up there, way ahead of mine. Recovery autism books always do so well. My philosophy is not about recovery, unless you have the flu or some such illness. Autism is not an illness. Autism is not a disease.

In fact, autism can be a gift. This truly amazing item has already traveled around the blogosphere, but it is truly worth another look. Amanda Baggs has put together a fantastic short video on her way of experiencing the world as an autistic person. I watched this, the first part, with her humming and I suppose “stimming” on things, and I found myself feeling at first like, Oh my God this is just like Nat, and I hear this all the time so I don’t really need to watch it. Yes, that is what I thought. I kind of turned away, feeling a little sad and tired of autism.

And then she starts typing, explaining in my language what she experiences as she connects all of her senses with her environment, something I am pretty much unable to do. She also raises the issue that her way of being probably only elicited sad or other negative feelings until you learn that she can use our language, and then suddenly she is a person. Wow. My biases were laid bare. I still have them, I realized, and this video helped me see that. And of course, it makes me wonder about all the amazing things and feelings Nat gets to experience that I do not.

I hear his voice all the time. Now maybe I’ll hear the happiness in it.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

On Obsession

The May bellydance performance has taken over my mind, blooming like my garden in June. It is fueling all sorts of feelings for me, that I haven’t had in a long time. This obsession reminds me of when I bought my electric guitar, around ten years ago. Back then I was obsessed with Eric Clapton, (I mean, my God, look at him in that picture! Still makes my mouth water; plus he plays the guitar pretty well, too.) who filled up our CD collection and blasted from my car (which was a Jeep Grand Cherokee, now my most hated vehicle next to a Hummer, but for personal reasons, because it broke all the time; the Hummer Hate is more political about how f***ing big and army-like they are).

I bought a Fender Stratocaster and amp and everything, as well as music books. I already knew how to play the guitar because I had been playing folk and classical since third grade. So I decided it wasn’t enough to just listen and sing to Clapton; I also wanted to play like him! I bought those Hal Leonard books, that give you the tablature, the diagrams of the fingerings of many of Clapton’s solos. Unbelievable! I felt like I had the key to the universe. I couldn’t play a lot of his music very well, but the Hal Leonard books demystified them and made it possible for me to approach his solos. I mastered one or two of them, especially from the Unplugged album, where most are acoustic, the style to which I am most accustomed.

My boys were thus raised on Clapton, Dylan, Beethoven, Mozart, Beatles, and Allman Brothers, rather than Raffi et al., although every now and then I did play kiddie CDs for them. I rarely played them in the car, however, because I hate kiddie music and I figured my kids could be exposed to real music, all sorts. Although I do have a few very lovely memories of Nat shouting “Robin in the rain, what a saucy fellow, Robin in the rain, mind your socks of yellow…” and “Where is Thumbkin? Her I am,” (he said, “Her” instead of “Here!”) right in the middle of the T! Shouting! I remember being both burstingly proud of him and at the same time, mortified. I think I’d give my right thumbkin to have that moment back, however; it was so cute, so dear, so innocent. Young parents: heed my words!!!!! As odd as your little guy appears now, you will one day miss his wonderful little self!!!!!

At any time during the day I could be found getting out my guitar, plugging it in, and cranking something out. This lasted for years, until finally I guess I moved on. Or I went back to acoustic, because it was my first love and frankly, I am much better at it. I never really got the hang of improvising lead guitar solos. I never jumped from the memorized Clapton solos to my own. I could only imitate really well, and that was not ultimately enough for me. Sometimes I feel like I’m Yertle the Turtle, (minus the whole Nazi-fascist allegory), always wanting to get closer and closer to a particular adored thing until maybe I collapse. It is Yertle’s yearning I am fascinated with. It is a classic tragedy, wherein the seeds of his own self-destruction are present throughout. Which leads me to wonder:

Are obsessions based on self-destructive impulses? Or are they somewhat misguided acts of self-fulfillment?

I think that the Obsessed would say the latter, but those who observe the Obsessed would say the former. There is a small voice I hear every now and then, when I embark on an Obsessive Journey, that, not unlike the Fish in the Cat in the Hat, warns me that danger is near, or that my obsession is going too far in some way. Is this a voice to heed, or is it just my fears speaking up? What’s wrong with pursuing the lust for a hobby as far as I want it to go, as long as I’m still able to do my other jobs? Why does that Fish worry so much? Is he a destructive force, or a caring force?

So every day — Fish be damned — I have been dancing. Sometimes twice a day. I have been trying to stretch before and after, to truly warm up my muscles, but sometimes I just can’t wait. In the middle of the night, I feel my hips aching. When I get out of bed and my feet first touch the floor, all muscles ache. So far nothing feels like a dangerous ache, not like my knee used to feel during the summer. So I figure it is just the pain of newly awakened muscles.

I am determined to gain full control over my moves by the time May rolls around. Last night when I practiced, I was able to stay lifted and do that Choo-Choo shimmy, with a lot less auxiliary jiggling. I had already done a workout that morning, but around 8 pm. I heard that music in my head and I told Ned I had to dance. I practiced until 9:30.

I can’t stop for now. I am in the throes of a lovely obsession and I just hope it lasts a long, long time because it makes me feel beautiful and powerful, and just a touch worried about myself, which is better than other states of mind I’ve had.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Let Me Eat Cake?

Don’t know just what I wanted
But I know, I wanted more.
–Carly Simon
I am very happy with my life. I made a list today of things that are over (like having babies, being a close buddy to Max, that sort of thing) but with which I am making peace; and things that are still with me and good (like being slim, bellydancing, having Ned, good health). I had a good mammogram today, and I don’t use the word “good,” lightly: the nurse was someone who has read my writings and she was so kind! She chatted with me through the whole grueling thing and kept my mind off my anxiety. The whole thing lasted like twenty minutes. What a gift.

I also spoke with a producer from a national show, one I’ve been on before, and she is interested in doing a new segment on me, autism, kids getting older, etc. It was great talking with her because she’s so down-to-earth and I can trust her to do a really good program. No exploitation, just honesty and also, some good resources. If I get the spot, it will be great for the book, and the advance my next one as well.

The next book is coming along great, I have about 70 pages. It has a wonderful prologue like Making Peace had, and I have really honed chapter 5, which is called, “Remember Me? The Two of You,” about fun and marriage while raising a special needs kid. All the chapters have titles that are expressions, like “Why Me?” and “Is That All There Is?” It’s the same tone and format as my other book, a narrative, anecdotes, and wisdom (my own kind, be that as it may). Of course I am going to weave bellydance into it, because it is a book about fun and happiness, but there is much more. I am also going to talk about my own process of becoming a happier person, before and during Nat and autism.

There is a lot to be happy about and to focus on. My life feels like a hearty banquet, a table set with Belgian linen, with all of my favorite people as guests. Some great Arabic hip hop in the background, playing, interchanged with Bob Dylan (before 1980). I’m wearing a Vera Wang lavendar pink tulle gown (which fits because I don’t eat any carbs and I’ve stayed this size for four years).

Anyway, I keep looking over at the other table, dreaming of cake and bread.

Why do I still feel like I want more?

World’s Fattest Robin

Robin in the cherry tree,
Sing a little song for me.
–Laura and Susan’s nursery song from “The Baby Tapes,” c. 1964

I wish I were a better photographer, because this guy is huge! I was sitting (here) at my dining room table writing and I looked out my window at the neighbor’s lawn. I thought at first that their was a rust-colored ball sitting there, which would not be that odd because she has four kids. But a rust-colored ball? Then I thought it was maybe a pair of balled-up socks. I looked closer and saw that it was a harbinger of spring. Big time!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

I Love.

I love.
So what does that mean?
That love is mostly about comfort and fit
And that doesn’t match what folks say about it
I like being his best friend
Knowing I’m first in his heart
It’s sometimes feels like a sleepover party
We laugh in the dark

I love.
But — I struggle with what I don’t get
Just this one person — and never regret!
So love can’t give you everything?
It can’t always be heart-in-the-throat thrill
while also being hold-you-when-you-are-ill
— And also explaining the next Visa bill

(Yet every once and a while it is all that, too.)

I love.
Still, after so long, I dress up for him
He lets me indulge nearly every whim
I swoon in sweet joy, watching our sons with him
So — what I’m finding, about love that is true
Is the thrill of just being able to be the most you

U Will Not Ru This Cake

Last Friday Ned and I noticed that Max was being kind of terse (more than usual) and even a touch snotty when he talked to us. I couldn’t figure it out. I kept asking him what was wrong, which never works. It actually never works with most people. Most people do not want to just dive into the emotional swamp of “what’s wrong” and pull out the filthy thing that has snaked its way around their hearts. Even I cannot answer that question. If I even know the answer, why in the world would I want to talk about it, feel those ugly words on my tongue? If I don’t know the answer, then I have to feel around in the evil darkness for some response. So what do we all say? “Nothing!” In a snotty, or teary, voice. And take a nap, send a nasty email, or something.

As we were getting into bed, however, Ned mentioned that Max’s online game, Uru Live, was being shut down; at least, this fan-run version of Uru is being shut down because CyanWorlds is now putting up an official version of Uru. Uru Live has generated a huge following of loyal players. It is a nonviolent game where, as far as I can tell, you create yourself as a character within the world, and you solve puzzles in the Uru worlds, and you can even make your own part of the world for others to wander through. Max has been involved with this for several years, and has made friends this way. Online friends, and sure, I’ve worried, but Ned and I have always monitored this situation to be sure all of the contacts he makes are Kosher (and I don’t mean Jewish, I mean safe and sound) and we feel that this is a unique and wonderful part of his life. It is a community of people who are very moral because they take all the Myst and Uru legends and ways to heart.

“My God!” I said. “That’s why he was acting that way!”
“Yeah,” said Ned. “I talked to him about it. He is pretty bummed.”
“We should do something to commemorate Uru Live!”

The next day I mentioned this idea to Max. I suggested we make a cake to mark the occasion. He agreed readily (cake + Uru = good time for Max). So we did our usual: Nat, Max, and I baked the cake and all the boys decorated while I snapped photos and tried not to lick frosting (but if you look closely at one of these pictures, you will see my fingers scooping up the chocolate)!

Monday, February 5, 2007

(Not At All) Jaded

Tabblo: Putting Together My Costume

I am going to be bellydancing  in a performance for the first time in May, with my class, at a recital.  We will be using zills (finger cymbals), veils, all in a group routine.  If I feel ready, I can also do a solo performance.  All day today my head was full of fantasies about this show, and what I would do and wear.  I came up with this jade green ensemble built around my Egyptian hip scarf.  The color is rich and gorgeous.  It makes me feel like a star!

See my Tabblo>

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Come What May

Oh, I can’t wait for May!!! Not that this has been a bad winter at all, aside from my usual mood swings. But this May there are now two things I am looking forward to: 1) My first performance; and 2) A 4-week class with Bellydance Superstar Amar Gamal.

The class I took today, which is difficult for me to get to (through Boston to 93 south down to Quincy), is taught by Sabrina. Sabrina is a spunky, sassy young thing with abs like bedsprings. Yes, she can move a coin up and down her belly with her muscles. All I got was one flip, lower ab to navel, then it hit my piercing and came to a wobbly stop.

She told me that the performance is May 20 down in Quincy and open to the public. I am going to get family and friends to come. We will dance as a class, and she said we can do our own routine if we choose. I hope I have the courage to do a solo but I may not this time. I am working on a costume for it, anyway, all in jade green-blue with silver accents.

Sabrina is funny and great at giving you choreographies. She layers the movies: first the traveling step, then add the hip circle, then the hands, then an accent hip; that kind of thing. She always does zills and veil work, in every class. The veil work — I have missed it so much! I haven’t done veil since my very first teacher, back in June. There is no way that veil can look bad. Each one of us has a different color and Sabrina taught us an entire routine around the veil, with just floaty music, no drums (a taksim). We did a hip circle, then vertical chest circle, and then a slight backbend as well as twirling to either side. Sigh. Like candy-colored clouds floating by.

Sabrina gives me confidence because she moves ahead with each class, building on the last, and talks a lot about “when you perform.” She never makes anyone feel stupid, which is the most important thing of all. I mean, why do it, if someone is going to make you feel ugly or chump-like?

Having good classes to go to is crucial to improvement. I use my DVDs when I’m not in a class, but there is no substitute for a good teacher and the live interaction, also the spontaneity. As well as the camaraderie you get with the other gals. So I am really looking forward to Amar Gamal’s class. Though an international star, she is from Massachusetts originally (after Cuba, that is), and she comes back every now and then to teach. On the Bellydance Superstars DVD she does a routine that is incredible. Her waist is tiny, and her feet skitter across the stage. Taking a class with her will feel a little like being touched by a magical little fairy. And continuing my classes with Sabrina feels like I’m being held up by a fairy godmother. Or godsister.

Belly Laughs-Avec Images

Yesterday was lovely. Like this morning, I woke up around 7, and Nat was already downstairs curled up on the white couch. I zipped up my little navy hoodie over my pink pajamas because I knew how cold the downstairs is these winter mornings. I looked out the pantry window and sure enough, the big rhododendron’s leaves were curled up like little black fingers. I started the coffee (Ned loves it when I get up first and “Chantal” makes the coffee; we joke about our French maid that we don’t really have. Yesterday I was cleaning and cleaning so much that he said, “Should I get you one of those frilly little dresses with the aprons?” and I said, “Sure!” But I wouldn’t wear it to cleaning…)

Outside the yard looks like a pfefferneuse cookie with just a dusting of crispy snow. Inside, all is clean and bright (due to my diligence). I even polished silver. It sounds like a big yawn probably but there is something so wonderfully satisfying about getting your house clean. You return it to its earlier state, to how it looked at its best when you first moved in with all of your big plans.

I bellydanced twice yesterday. Once as my workout, in the morning, while Ned took Nat to basketball, and then again in the evening because I simply had to. For both workouts I used my Bellydance Superstars DVD, Sonia and Issam Bellydance: The Art of the Drum Solo . Sonia is so beautiful to watch, with her long dark hair and tiny, controlled movements. This DVD is at just the right level for me, where Issam describes each traditional drum rhythm (the Faladi, the Maksoum, the Sayidi) and then Sonia gives you choreography and technique to go with each rhythm. The key to the drum solo in bellydance is to pay attention to the drum beats and anticipate where the drummer is going next, and match your very tight, controlled movements to that beat.

So for the Sayidi rhythm, for example, you learn all sorts of variations with a hip drop (drop for eight counts, then hip drop kick for eight, drop kick in a circle around yourself, one arm raised; then do a hip drop, up, drop-drop, up). Then, another choreography to do with the Sayidi rhythm is the piston hips, which is one of my favorites. Piston hips is where you sharply drop one hip, then the other, then the other, as you travel downwards with your knees all the way bent eventually. You bounce up and end with a shoulder shimmy, all with eight counts. Then you do a quarter turn and do a four-point lock to the same drum beat. A four-point lock is taken from the hula move called the Ami: it is a right hip pop, pelvic pop to the back, left hip pop, pelvic lock to the front. Tiny but pronounced movements, all in time to the drum, so it ends up looking like your body is making those sounds, or like the drum is controlling your body!

I get a little frustrated that my body cannot entirely do all of these very sharp movements the way Sonia’s can. (Ned would say, “Your body cannot yet do all of these very sharp movements…”) Sonia is utterly smooth and seems to have little body fat. I doubt she is in her forties or has had three children. Anyway, I am beginning to get an idea of which movements I do best and which are not as attractive. I am great at any hip movements, anything with shoulders or hips. I am not as great with shimmies, where a lot of me shakes and only one area is really supposed to. And shimmies where you stand on tiptoe shaking just your hips up and down, and then pop your chest up every four counts while smiling, holding your arms out, stomach in and torso high…! Very hard to look good. That is the “choo-choo shimmy” and is right now my nightmare movement. I imagine myself dancing for people and suddenly trying the choo-choo shimmy and well. Not a good image. So when I do my first performance, I will do hip drops, hip eights, hip circles, and full body undulations. Also a short drum solo with piston hips and four-point locks.

I practice all the time. I perform every time I drive. I put on my CD from last season’s teacher and I can’t help but sway in my seat or do belly rolls in time to the Misirlou. I zill with my fingers (right left right, right left right) a little while driving — of course I still hold the wheel (okay, I’ll stop). I also put on the music and dance when I cook and sometimes dance while showering. While getting ready for bed, I practice some moves in front of our mirror and Ned comes in and says, “A bellydancer! Cool.”

It is cool. I feel like a princess when I can do it well. I marvel at how much I’ve learned since May, and how much better everything looks. Also at how much less shy I am at performing for someone (Nat, Ned, my mother) and at showing my tummy off at the gym or in class. I used to always, always keep it covered. Now I feel like, why should I? If someone doesn’t like it, it’s their problem, not mine. I am a bellydancer, therefore, here’s the belly. Cool.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Toilet and Trouble

Bubble, bubble
Our toilets are trouble.
–William Sh**speare

As you may be aware, I live in a big house. In this house, there are four bathrooms (five, if you count the strange scary toilet in the basement but you would never, on your life, use that one). I am not bragging. Don’t envy me my toilets. In fact, don’t think this is some kind of nirvana house. Oh, it looks good on paper. And I have made sure it is very, very pretty. Every room is carefully decorated (by me, not a decorator. That is my other would-be profession, had I not become a writer of sorts, etc. As it is, I decorate my friends’ houses, for fun.), all the colors are well-thought-out with the furniture and art. But if you look close, you will see all of its flaws. Just like me.

If you focus on the flaws, as I tend to do, (alas), you will probably find that the biggest problems of all center around our plumbing. Every single one of the bathrooms has issues. First, there is the new bathroom. New! We put it in when we moved in, around six or seven years ago. We gutted the one that was there because the tub leaked to the front entryway ceiling below. It was a tiny clawfoot tub; kind of cute, but with a ramshackle shower and, as I’ve said, a leak! So, we did a whole new bathroom, state-of-the-art, all white and new nickel, new beadboard. Took me several iterations with the stupid contractor to explain that I wanted real beadboard tongue-and-groove wainscoting, not some wallpaper-thin stuff with lines etched into it. It also took me a few go-rounds with him to make him understand that, yes, I wanted tile, not some kind of fiberglass unit that I would never have to scrub! Yes, I wanted real grout that really collects mildew. By the time he was through with me, $20,000 later, I felt as if I had the (slightly crooked) matte nickel shower curtain rod wedged right up my —

But I digress. The whole raison d’ĂȘtre for this new bathroom was the leak. Not only a leak that you take but a leak that we got. So what happens, the moment we use the new shower? A leak!!

Even after that well-recommended contractor came back with his wall-eyed plumber (probably a clue to the terrible work he did) and fixed the shower drain, we had leaks, this time, from the toilet. It turns out, after a long winded discussion, we learned that, you should not plunge toilets; you can break the “seal,” or some such circus animal. God knows. But seal-breakage = leakage = money shrinkage.

Why do I mention plunging? Because we were plunging a lot. That brand new toilet clogs every other day. I don’t know if it’s my growing boys and what they eat, or if it is someone’s fascination with toilet paper. I can’t exactly catch them in their wrongdoing, if you know what I mean. So, every other day, you flush, and you don’t get the beautiful symphonic whoosh, you get a constipated toilet and the whole stew rising just to the edge of the toilet.

So, the master bathroom toilet sucks — or rather, it doesn’t suck enough. Which causes me to use the one near Max’s and Nat’s rooms. Not so much. No matter how often I clean in there, it is always dirty. What is it with males, that they just don’t even think about trying to aim better? And guess what else? The toilet in there is also relatively new, though we did not renovate that room (there is a huge clawfoot tub and a rubber hose attachment for the shower, but never mind, I use it only for lovely baths). That toilet clogs when the other one clogs!

So, where else can I go? Upstairs, you might think. To the Hinterlands. The third floor, which is on a different heating system, the old heating system, which still uses a converted former coal furnace and radiators. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It is another mystery, like the plumbing. So the third floor is cold, and frankly, so cut off from the rest of the house that it is a little too quiet up there. A little scary. But the toilet works. Provided you push the handle down long enough. But for the longest time, the faucets would moan like a dying monster when you turned them, so…

So, down, down the bolge, to the first floor toilet. If you lift the lid, it reads, in fancy black script, “Number 21,” on the porcelain lip. [It is telling you that this is the 21st circle of Hell. ] A very old toilet, original to the first renovation of The House, which was built in 1886. The first renovation occurred in 1913, before World War I; the little bathroom is a brick addition to the house (literally a brick s***house). The heat in there, just a tiny black radiator, is never on, because it is on the old heating system, which we don’t use because it is so flakey, so it is cold. So cold, that when the little faucet drips, it freezes in the drain. It might as well be a washstand whose ice I have to break every morning in order to wash, like a girl in a nineteenth century orphanage.

But let me tell you, they don’t make them like they used to; toilets, that is. This toilet is the champ. This toilet has a wooden tank high up on the wall and a pull chain and a 90 decibel whoosh that scares children, but it will flush a carburetor. And that is good.

I won’t go too far into the fact that this toilet tank was lined with new copper several times until it finally stopped leaking, and the plumber who did that gave up on us, saying, “Your plumbing is haunted.” I believe him. It is all too weird the way the toilets on the second floor clog in tandem, even though they are completely unrelated stacks. And sometimes, all of a sudden, there will be a burble and a whoosh, and the toilet in our bathroom unclogs itself.

I would not lie to you. We don’t understand it. We just live with it. It’s like something out of Harry Potter. And so, we all have our toilet preferences in this house, that kind of match our personalities/issues. Nat and I want completion, so we suffer through the cold and use the first floor toilet. Ned, because he likes a challenge, will use the new bathroom, so he just gets out the plumbing snake and unclogs it every other day. Ben uses the new bathroom, too, because he does not even notice if his stuff goes down or not, and refuses to use the first floor one because of the noise (he has some sensory issues, I believe). Max uses his bathroom, doesn’t notice the dirt, because he wants his privacy and space.

And now, flush with my toilet stories, I will bid you a-doo.

Friday, February 2, 2007

What is to be done?

Chto Delat? [What is To Be Done?]
–Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, 1908

A lot is going on. Yesterday was miserable, a literal pain in the neck. I ached so much from that fall from skating that I had to use heating pads and get into bed. (Even so, in the morning I worked out because I missed my gym so much after being in DC, etc. Probably a mistake.) Ned helped me make dinner, it was so bad. Dinner is really my turf, but I needed a break.

I was also mad, very mad. The Boston Globe had an editorial about what needs to be done regarding special needs students, talking more about screening out dangerous ones. Read A Clash of Rights in Education and see if smoke comes out of your ears. The editors think they are being even-handed here, but they quote from some idiotic study the American Psychology Association did in 2003 that showed that special needs kids can be more dangerous than typical kids in school settings. How were they defining special needs? Who gains from this study? What do they mean by “dangerous?” These questions pounded in my head, along with my frustration that I have never been able to get the Globe to put my opeds on their page (somehow I’m good enough for the New York Times and the Washington Post, but not the oped of the Boston Globe, my hometown newspaper!) I guess you have to be affiliated with Harvard to get that.

(Oh, but now I will be! Well, not affiliated, but I have been asked to speak at Harvard Medical School’s autism conference in November. I am quite honored by that request. 90,000 medical professionals are asked to attend, throughout the country. My sister Laura (a doctor in NJ) told me she might go to the conference, which will be fantastic if she does.)

I am now working on both my book proposal and an essay for the Post. My agent has finally gotten back to me with the proposal, full of notes and comments. She loves it, but it needs a little honing. Fine, that’s what I expected from her. She’s the best. She’s also Sidney Poitier’s agent, and he’s not doing too badly these days!

My Post essay is going to be about screening: prenatal and in-school for “dangerous” special needs kids. The ACOG, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, has just posted new recommendations whereby they will test and counsel all pregnant women, regardless of age, for Down Syndrome. So I wonder: how will they counsel? How neutral will they be? To what end is this testing and counseling? Will there be more abortions of Down Syndrome fetuses? What happens when they start testing for autistic babies?????? George Will wrote a good piece on this, for Newsweek, but not good enough; there’s not a whole lot of his heart in it, too many statistics. So I’m doing one, too. It looks like I am becoming less and less pro-choice…

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