Susan's Blog

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ode To A Backbend

To me, and perhaps many older dancers who are not as lithe as they used to be, going into a backbend is a move we dream about but are not at all sure we can do. It is perhaps one of the most dramatic, expressive and athletic poses you can execute, and it looks particularly impressive with a sword on ones head. Our teacher showed us the secret of getting into a backbend, and it killed no one.

With feet in second, knees a plie
I wondered what crazy shape
We’d contort to today

Our backs were straight
“Push slowly down,” she said
“It should only hurt in your thighs”
(‘Hurt’ was the word that stuck in my head.)

And sure enough, there came the burn
But that, I could just ignore
“Now turn your feet on their inner edges
And lean backward toward the floor.”

Not a sound was heard around the room
Each arched — and held — till the end
‘Cause when we regained consciousness
We had made a fantastic backbend!

Extreme Dancing


You would think that taking both Turkish-Greco style bellydance and Egyptian style Raks would be confusing and at cross purposes. Where the former is a bit more wild, Egyptian is straight up and down. Where Turkish-Greco is leaning back more, Raks is more upright. (You have to imagine the hieroglyphics, the tomb paintings from ancient Egypt, where all the figures are highly stylized and crisply vertical. The outfits they wear, too, are high-waisted straight skirts with gems on them.) Where Greek and Turkish style are more rounded in movements and larger steps, Egyptian is more tightly controlled, smaller movements, tiny steps, legs completely together. The costumes differ as well. Turkish-Greco is usually a bedlah (bra top and belt) over a flowing skirt; Egyptian is, as I have said, the straighter skirt with the fringe and frew-frew sewn in, and often less fringe on the top.

You would be very astute to notice all those differences, but in the end, you would be wrong to believe that they are so different that you can’t do them both simultaneously. If the teachers are skilled — and mine truly are — what you get out of it is the places where the styles meet up and even complement each other. And when you find such an accord in your dancing, it is a blissful feeling. The underlying similarites are that you have to be able to control and release parts of yourself at will, and to still feel the magic of the music.

Last night my teacher did a lot of talking while we danced, explaining her emotional state and illustrating it with hand and arm movements. She often talks about things that are important to her — the mindset of the dancer, her childhood, dancing with her Greek mother who is an incredible, legendary dancer and quite a personality — but it is never heavy. She can be serious, but she also knows how to break a mood with a smile. She jokes a lot. You can tell that she thinks a great deal, too. But she leaves you feeling as if you are moving to a different plane of consciousness somehow. It is never heavy; she simply drops these nuggets of insight and they create their ripples inside of you the more you are with her.

She showed us a movement last night that was simply the hand sweeping outward from the heart. She said how this is an example of when bellydance is not tightly controlled, the way we all learn it. In this instance, you should be getting in touch with your emotions and bringing that energy out, through your hand. Teachers often talk of “energy,” but with this teacher, I really feel what she means. I think this is because she means it. I copied what she was doing, in a repetitive motion, and just as she said, “You will start to actually feel this energy radiating outwards,” I did feel the smallest bit of resistance in the air between my heart and my hand.

Last night I danced better than I ever have. It was also the hardest I have ever worked. From holding my head up — to shoulders down, chest up, arms out, fingers curved delicately, midsection lifted, pelvis tucked, hip up, knee bent, foot perched on its ball, other knee back and bent, foot flat — to thinking about the beat and the position of my arms and how it was all going to change after a certain number of beats, I was in this zone of absolute control. And then, to have to suddenly move my hand outwards and feel the energy from my heart! I could do all that and feel a warm happiness, even as the beads of sweat rolled down my face.

Probably the combination of intense hold with light relaxation does wondrous things to your mind and body. In the end, it doesn’t matter at all that one form has you leaning more, stepping wider, or wearing a different type of cossie. What matters is the ability to exert a fierce control over your entire body, so much so that you can let go of one part and let in a feeling of peace and contentment. Now I am eager for my Sunday (Egyptian style) class, to see how much of this I can bring there.

Even more than it being about physical prowess, good dancing is like good parenting. It is about thinking with your heart but studying and understanding first with your head and body. In the most literal sense, first you are pregnant, and you are actually getting to know this being from within your body. Later you come to know him as a person in his own right, his own space. As you improve, and become accustomed to the strain, you do more through your heart and spirit. And that’s where you become really good at it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Well-Heeled Dancing

I love this bellydancer, and I don’t even know who she is. She must be Lebanese or Egyptian, judging by the costume (straight skirt, no separate belt, high heel shoes). The whole vid interests me because my teacher is beginning to teach us dancing on our toes so we can transition to high heels sometime. That is totally exciting to me!

This young woman does such a good job of letting her own style come through the song, and showing appropriate expressions with face and body. She finds all the comedy in the situation. The guys dancing around her are kind of a funny and sweet touch. Her drum solo afterwards is wonderful. Drum solos are a part of most cabaret performances. In a drum solo, the rhythms change throughout. So you have to let the rhythm drive your movements, and you have to anticipate the rhythm changes. So you have to know transitional moves to take you from one rhythm to the next. Kind of a valuable skill set for life, too.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-BQXhFAZhQ]

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Fifteen Pounds, er, Tons

You’ll probably only appreciate this if you’re on the South Beach diet. Scratch that; you’ll only appreciate it if you’re me:
(Sung to the tune of “Fifteen Tons”):
15 almonds and what do you get?
Another pound lost and ketosis breath.
Jenny Craig, don’t call me,
Your plan is too slow
I’m eating ricotta — mixed with cocoa!

Light Purple Haze

‘Scuse me, while I kiss the sky.
–Jimi Hendrix

I woke up to pink and lavender sky. I threw on my heaviest sweater and Ned’s socks and went down to enjoy this gift. That is how it felt. I actually smiled at the snowbound yard, marveled at the black fingers of the rhododendron leaves. I noticed for the first time, how the leafless branches act as tiny frames for the lovely sky; how clever Mother Nature is. This is the first winter I’ve ever experienced that did not level me. I have not really minded the cold or the frozen earth — and it has been bitter cold. I have been maintaining my balance, which is ever important to a Libra.

I don’t really know how it has all stayed so well-aligned for me. In the fall, I made a conscious decision to always have a book going (to read); to have several playdates a week with my friends; to take at least one dance class; and to always have a writing project in my head. I made room for teaching, and have had my heart stretched to fit in the Baby Bellies. And into that pocket I have added weekly dates with Ned; several playdates a week for Nat and Ben; and a sprinkling of having Max’s friends here, particularly his very dear girlfriend, who stays for dinnner on a regular basis.

Is regularity the determinant of pleasure for me? I didn’t think that could be the case. I have always thought of myself as impulsive and spontaneous. And yet, I have learned recently that my impulses can get me into trouble. My spontaneity, on the other hand, can lead to an exciting new plan. There is a difference. I think spontaneity springs from the head, a new idea based on the current surroundings and conditions, whereas impulse springs more from the belly, where there are cravings that spring up from the swampy innards. I am learning to recognize the difference within myself, to distinguish one from the other, the self-improving vs. the self-defeating.

Balance, to me, not only means having regularity and consistency in the present and local future (e.g., the future of the coming week); it also is about having a long-term goal, too. Book projects allow me to have a long-term goal, but that is not enough. The muse is not always with me (that bitch) so I can’t depend on that. And so lately I have come up with other long-term goals, such as some kind of more traditional work (that was what was behind applying to Anthropologie for a job. But that was probably a bit too impulsive a move, not well thought out. In hindsight, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed turning my hobby of being in a dreamworld among beautiful clothes into a job of prescribed hours, having to sell those clothes to people other than my friends and me. Sour grapes? Or turning sour grapes into wine? You decide.)

Last night I gave a talk at a community college, as a kick-off to a series of trainings the staff there has developed for professionals and students going into autism education. It was a very enjoyable evening, with lots of great conversations about how to bridge the gap between parents and special educators; how to bring parents more to the table in terms of their expertise on their children, and how to develop more trust between the two groups. It was one of those kinds of evenings where so many people were on the same page, you couldn’t help but feel that positive change is afoot. We talked afterwards about my coming back, maybe even to teach there. I drove home feeling like I was floating on air. That kind of teaching may just be my long-term goal. We shall see.

Meanwhile, a little bit of total immersion in the purple and gold haze of the present: It is called Andalusian Vision, and it is a Pharaonics of Egypt design. I had picked the very one out, in pink and silver, months ago, and did not buy it. But this one is now available in my size from my swapmeet site, and in a color combo I do not already own, that matches the intensity of my daybreak sky.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Seven For All Blog-Kind

Mama Kitty tagged me, but I’ve been tagged several times already. There may not be seven things you don’t already know about me, or which I care to talk about publicly, but I’ll try because I like Mama Kitty.
1) I hate video games and I cannot play them. But there is one that may change all that. I want to buy Rock Band for PS3. I tried it in Best Buy and I was “not bad,” according to Max, when I played along with R.E.M.’s Orange Crush. The guitar, not the drums. B plays the drums, so he can do that part!
2) I am scheming to get Nat’s music teacher to come to the house and give him piano lessons. I think he loves her and she has already gotten him to listen to Mozart daily!
3) I just came up with a fantastic 50th anniversary present for my parents.
4) I am constantly making up stupid rhymes and parodies in my head. I only share them with Ned because I can always get him to laugh at them.
5) On Tuesday I was kind of firm with my Baby Bellies and they really got the message. They were quiet and attentive the entire class. I liked it better when they were wild.
6) In the book I wrote 14 years ago, The Scent of Violets, (which I am reworking into a prequel to Dirt), the main character lives in a Victorian fixer-upper with a Palladian window on the staircase landing, four rooms on the first floor, four bedrooms on the second floor, and an interesting attic on the third floor. I read this description yesterday and I realized that I now live in almost that exact house! Back then I lived in that brightly-painted condo with the long hallway that you saw in the first and second baby videos (thank you, those of you who deigned to watch). I dreamed about having a house one day but had no idea how it would happen.
7) I went to an aura reader 15 years ago, to try to understand more about Nat and myself.

I’m not tagging anyone else. This madness has got to stop!

Nature Vs. Mutcher

Oh, Little B! A hard day for B. My sweet little boy. He was having an anxiety attack about school this morning. Crying, scowling, hidden under his hair. He finally was able to articulate it: “I’m nervous.”
I said, “About what, Honey?”
And he said, “It’s mix-it-up day in the cafeteria. We have to sit with new kids who aren’t our friends.” He started making fists and clenching his teeth, with tears in his eyes. I didn’t know what to tell him. But I suddenly thought, it is time to really advocate for Ben. Just as I did for Nat, I have to stop following to a T what the school wants and tell them that some of this just doesn’t work for B.

I was not going to force him to do mix-it-up-day or anything else. I do not believe in forcing kids. I believe in development. Rarely does a person get all of their soft fatty nature squeezed out of them by forcing them into a constricting suit. You can’t mutcher it all too much. Soft fatty nature pretty much stays with us, but can be turned into muscle, used to our advantage. But we have to know what of ourselves is SFN and what is fatty habits. And what will we just grow out of, like baby fat. We also have to let development happen sometimes.

We have a great guidance counselor at B’s school, and she hung out with us for a while talking with him and me about strategies. We decided — with Ben’s agreement — that we are going to evaluate his learning style, which is a big part of the issue. He fades out sometimes, and also gets very frustrated about open-ended assignments. We are going to figure out if he needs some accommodations around homework and certain in-school activities. I think he was very relieved to be able to tell the guidance counselor exactly what he felt about certain assignments, subjects, and teachers. She made him feel very safe and he seemed really together by the end of the hour.

When B got in the car he told me his day, especially mix-it-up-day was not terrible. He had L at his table in lunch, which was good. Although he had some third graders, too! Shudder. The indignity.

B’s teacher gave him a timer to set to thirty minutes so he can time himself on his homework. If he has been working hard at it for thirty minutes, he is allowed to stop. I added a rule: he has to do all timer homework around me. To help prevent fade-out.

[Fade Out]

The Scent of a New Book

I am slowly and painfully starting writing a new book, which is a prequel to Dirt: A Story of Gardening, Mothering and a Mid-life Crisis. This book already has a few hundred pages, believe it or not, because I have many, many “books” stored in my hard drive that I use in different writings. These books are from years and years of raising babies and trying not to go insane with boredom. (When I say that, I have to clarify that it is not my sons who were boring, but just the work of early-childhood-mothering. To be perfectly honest, which is one of my specialties, the diapers and the feedings were not the aspect of early childhood that I hated. In fact, I loved the feedings because of the eye contact and the smells. I love baby cereal — if you have never tried Gerber Baby Oatmeal made with warm milk, I highly recommend it. This is one of the most delicious foods I have ever eaten. I love the smell of formula. I loved baby breath — a scent so delicious they named a flower after it. I didn’t mind diaper-changing, once I switched to disposable. My boys almost never had rashes or things like that. I think it’s because I didn’t use all those products that prevent rashes!

No, the part about early childhood I hated was 1) Panicking over whether or not my babies were okay developmentally, i.e., neurotypical; and 2) if they were not, wondering what I should be doing other than reading to them and talking and playing with them constantly; and 3) the making of playdates. I hated having to coordinate with other moms, sometimes hang out with perfect strangers and make small talk for two hours!)

So my “escape” has ever been writing. People ask me, “how do you find the time?” And I am stumped. How could I not find the time? I have to write. It is my favorite fun to have alone. I hate that question because it implies I’m some kind of superhuman or weirdo. Well, okay, I know it is meant as admiration, but — is it weird the way I write and write? So I worry about that.

So when Max was one, that darling little boy in those vids I posted, (and to be honest, I expected far more of a collective cry of delight from you, my readers, because I was giving you, at last, a true picture of how my boys actually were in those days, my gifts from God given to you) I wrote The Scent of Violets. That book’s plot is too weird for me to describe here, (past lives meets OCD meets child abuse meets autism) but the characters are all there. They could easily become the characters in Dirt, but twelve years earlier.

The characters take my breath away. They seem real to me, they are very like my own family, and yet they are not. They live on their own, in their own universe. It is like getting together with very old friends, loaded down with baggage and history which is sometimes stultifying, and other times, like being wrapped in a favorite old blanket.

Monday, January 21, 2008

South Beached Whale Rescued By Bellydance

The love/hate affair with the body is a very strange and I would guess mostly female phenomenon. I marvel at how my sons simply eat to live (rather than live to eat). They say “no” to offerings of cake and ice cream, simply on the basis of already having had some, or being full! What the heck is that all about? How did children of mine get to be so sane, when they hear me daily moaning about how I shouldn’t have eaten this or that, because now — as Lisa Simpson eloquently put it when she was trying to diet, and she ate a carrot shaving and thereby spoiled her diet day — I can’t even have toothpaste! Maybe they just don’t take me seriously when it comes to food? Hmm. Perhaps I have stumbled upon an effective parenting technique — embarrass your kids so much that they don’t want to be like you at all!

Anyway, I’m starting the South Beach Diet today, as opposed to Atkins, because South Beach allows you to have milk/yogurt, beans, and later on, joy of joys, fruit! I am unhappy with what the scale says — I have named it Injustice Scalia, because it never offers a kind or fair verdict — and other physical developments that usually occur in the wintertime.

I sound like I am in hate with myself, but the truth is far more complex. I am also thrilled with what I can now do, in terms of working out or dancing. I run three miles, or do as combination of Stairmaster and treadmill, and I dance for 30 minutes at a time. But even more than that: I feel that I have moved up a notch in my dance technique.

Yesterday class was fascinating, and extremely enjoyable. It’s odd how I don’t want to learn combinations right now, as I did in the fall. These days I just want to work on technique. Probably because I don’t have much problem coming up with ideas of choreography, ways to move to songs; but I do hate it when my form is awful. Ned has taken movies of me where I look okay, and then I notice my hands are sticking out perpendicular to my arms, rather than curved and soft; or my body is rolling around trying to make a sinuous movement but really just flopping everywhere.

The worst move I execute is the big hip circle. This is a very belly-dancerly move because it is just so alien to the way we dance in the West. It is a bending at the waist, flat-back, butt-out move; done right it looks very rolling and exotic. You stand with your feet about hip-width apart, knees straight but soft, and as your hips move in a lateral circle (parallel to the ground), your upper body moves in the opposite direction. At the same time, you try to gather your arms toward you in a kind of air hug. And, perhaps most important: you have to be completely tucked and lifted. Even when I think I’m doing a large hip circle well, I see in pictures that my posture can ruin it.

Najmat broke it all down yesterday in such a way that I could feel precisely how to move, and so I could focus on sucking in my gut. I caught glimpses in the mirrors, and I could see that the entire class looked like they had gotten it. It looked beautiful, to see seven of us orbiting around our hips in exactly the same way to the fantastic music of Natacha Atlas — how much more perfect could an hour on a Sunday be?

I have been replaying the hip circle, in my mind, all day. I wanted to practice at the gym, but I know it looks strange to the women there. I waited until tonight to try it out in the living room. I just love the rolling feeling in my hip bones and the way it looks, upper body rotating on the opposite axis from lower. If you go really low and wide, you can throw your hair forward and then as you come back up, toss it back.

Like so many things in life, it looks easy, like something natural a child might do while playing; but that is deceptive. Yesterday I was doing perfect hip circles, all sucked in (despite additional poundage), and loving the way it looked and felt.

The bellydance keeps me sane. It gives me a way to feel graceful, even when the scale says otherwise. As far as South Beach — the jury’s still out on that one.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Baby Ben

This last movie is from December 1998, when Ben was about 10 months old, at our lovely little yellow house. Ned’s dad and stepmom are in it. Also our friends Sheila, Sam and Elizabeth make an appearance in this one. Max is 6 and Nat is 8.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jI76JC3vtLU]

Mostly Baby Max

Here is one from 1993 again, with Ned’s sister Sarai in the mix as well.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPoAUjS7qw8]

Nat and Max as Babies

Look what Max did for me! We took choice parts from old baby videos and put together three movies. This first one, called Baby1, is from July 1993, when Max was about 18 mos. and Nat was 3 ish (or thereabouts). It is also when Ned and I had our second wedding; our 9-year-marriage-survival mark. The middle part of the video is of Baby Nat in December 1990, when my parents came to visit. We were trying to get Natty to do “bubble, bubble” with his wrist to his mouth. This was when he was around a year old, and we were living in a house out in Arlington, Mass. I hated it there and we moved back to Brookline shortly before I gave birth to Max. There is a really cute final part, where Max is imitating Ned and the camera at his eye, and Ned does not know what Max is doing with the toy on his eye!
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJXeamnZNPk]

Happy Family: This is Zit

Why is it, that we are driven to do things that we just know are not going to work? Case in point: a pimple is emerging under my cheekbone (why there? what kind of evil oil amasses in the soft, shallow cave below a cheekbone?) and I just keep on poking and pinching it, hoping to nail it, literally, before it erupts into existence. Ned just told me that there is a little smiling nail-mark on my face, below a very angry red spot.

I’ll tell you why: we need to feel we are doing everything we possibly can, like the good Dr. Rieux, to fight evil, or to improve outcomes. People are basically good, and need to always be working towards the good.

Yesterday, as soon as I had my full house, complete with Nat’s new buddy, Max’s girlfriend, and five of my girlfriends gathered around me, (I had had a “Clothing Swap” party, where we all brought things we no longer wore, drank a lot of wine, and ended up with “new” things in the depths of ugly winter. I now have two new pairs of designer jeans, deemed too low-rise for my lovely friend L; she took home a ruched tank top which had made me look like a tank; R made out like a bandit with my old Laura Ashley silk dress and several tops, etc., etc.) and I wanted to push it to the next level.

The next level. I want Nat to get to hang out with Max’s friends, when they all come over the next time. If they’re all just sitting in his room playing with the various amusing offerings (vintage Macs, flat screen TV with PS3, Wii, DS, Tablet, and Beanie Babies galore), why can’t one more person be there, sitting on the indigo bedspread, quietly talking to himself, a huge grin splitting his face? And Max and Ben will get to see that their brother is a sweet presence, after all, doesn’t talk much but just reeks of contentment. Please God, let it happen someday. Max and Nat hanging out. Oh my God. I will pick and pick at that challenge until it bursts open into a glorious thing on this family’s scarred but happy face.

And then, there’s Ben…

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Our House

Our house
is a very, very, very fine house
With three kids in the yard
Life used to be so hard.
–CSN, with me

I woke up with little pictures of Nat floating in and out of my head. Before I was even fully conscious, I was remembering how he was last night, getting into that van of kids. It’s the same way he is at Special Olympics meets; he is just grinning the entire time, waving his arms, talking to himself loudly, bursting at the seams with happiness and excitement. It is abundantly clear to me that of all the things in his life, being with friends is best to him.

I wondered many things, lying there in my tangle of sheets. How can I make that happen more? How do I find him more friends?

I love the fact that these are my worries. I used to worry that Nat did not understand what was good about being with people. I feared that he would never enjoy his peers; that he would miss out on that deeply satisfying aspect of life.

And I feared that I would miss out on his having friends, too. Perhaps selfishly, I wanted to experience Nat going off with friends, seeing their delight in him, hearing them laugh at secret things, watching how they respond off of each other and I just sink into the background. Rather than having to facilitate, moderate, and teach, teach, teach “social skills,” to just sit back and let it happen, come what may.

This is the way Max’s life has gone, after all. Over the years, I have had to intervene, explain, set up, organize, oversee, and referee with Max and his friends, but there has always been a larger reality than my oversight, in Max’s case. Max’s social life has always had a life of its own. Sometimes it has gone off in directions that make me worry, but I have tried to stay connected to him, a spider-web-thin strand that sticks to him no matter what, but one which I hope does not get in his way.

To me, the Promised Land has become having kids here. I think that for years I was afraid to have kids here, because it would mean a lot of effort on my part. Effort regarding Nat: making sure he was appropriate, not aggressive, etc., with the friends that were here. Effort regarding Max: making sure his friends were kind to him and he to them; that no one was fighting or hurt; that the mess stayed within reasonable bounds; fetching snacks; getting the kid to leave when it was time. All of these efforts replaced much of the joy and made me stop focusing on having a “typical” house overrun with kids.

I may have mellowed over the recent years, but I have recently become aware of a hunger for that kind of house. It may be because I now see that Nat truly enjoys having people here now, with no effort needed on my part. It has been years — knock wood — since Nat pulled the hair of one of Max’s friends, or was somehow inappropriate.

It may be because once Max hit 7th grade, he was often not here, but somewhere else with friends, and I missed him. I mentioned this to him the other day, “So do you think you’d ever want to have your friends here? I mean, is there something I could do to make that more comfortable for you? I would love to meet them.” He thought about it for a while and shrugged. It seemed that he hadn’t really considered this option. I continued, “I mean, even if you want to have [his girlfriend] here, that’s fine. That would be great!” I let him just think about it, and hoped he would trust us, his family, that it would all be okay.

He did. We have tried it a couple of times. The first time, I was very nervous. I wanted it to go well. I wanted what I think of as normalcy. A strange kind of normalcy that is actually extremely self-aware, but that’s okay. It’s okay to be fully aware of what you want. There is no other way, ironically, that our family can have “typical” family life. We are just too vigilant. But — that is now who we are, what we are used to.

And it is so clear to me now what is important. A kind of happy, sloppy fatigue that comes from making that effort for your kids. You get that from the chaotic, jumbled, social knots of new people in your house. I have really missed that, without knowing it.

The thing is, I have grown up as my kids have grown up. I, like them, am ready for that now. So now we are trying things, having people over, sending Nat off with others. It’s making our life expand, and it’s making me aware of new possibilities, some which don’t even have a shape yet. But the promise of my boys’ (and my) growth lies waiting, like an unopened present.

Max decided to give it a try. “Really?” I asked. “She’s coming over here?

She walked in, totally adorable. Sweet, young, beautiful, happy. There was a moment, when they were upstairs, I checked on them, and I saw they were just playing wildly and very silly with the Wii. Door — open. Strange to hear a girl’s laugh in our house, but really nice, too.

Nat was downstairs smiling. He seemed happy about it all, too. Ben was his usual very busy, hyper-focused self. I was very tired all of a sudden. So I just lay down on my bed for a few minutes, feeling very, very full and deeply content. Although very little was actually happening, it seemed to me like something really momentous was going on in our house.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Family of Three

Strange and wonderful to only have Beastie home with us. Max is at a party, and Nat is with his gang at a fancy Italian restaurant. He was so excited to be going, he has been talking about it since yesterday. He loves that group, and going places Friday nights with them. It’s all kids: high school and college age (those are the chaperones). It is a brilliant venture, and the organization has been in operation for years so they really know what they are doing. Nat has been participating in things like this since he was around 9 or 10, but this is a teen group. It is the first time he doesn’t get dropped off at a center, but rather, there are vans to take the kids to all sorts of events like Monster golf, laser tag, video game arcades, restaurants, movies. There’s a girl whom he seems to really like, and who sat next to him as they got in the van. Right away he turned to us and said, “Mommy and Daddy will leave.” What could be better than that?

So we did go. We went with Bii to try a Korean/Japanese BBQ place that opened recently downtown. I had fed Beast beforehand, knowing he would not even try a bite of it. (He had delicious fluffy scrambled eggs.) Ned and I had sushi and other good eaties. After that, a coffee and cookie. Ned showed Benj how to make a star out of wooden coffee stirrers (something each child of ours has enjoyed).

When we got home, Ned read to Ben while I danced. I had a lot of practicing to do because of my two very demanding classes. In both we are learning the absolute most correct form for doing hip drops and hip lifts. Of course the key is staying extremely lifted, insanely stretched out in the torso; the other key is to keep the back knee bent the entire time so that your “high-heel” foot does not move. That way only the one hip moves and you get that eerie isolated- body-parts look that bellydancers get. I put on my best (purple velvet) cossie and practiced. It looked pretty good. I am now pleasantly tired, ensconced in my fat yellow armchair, feeling lulled by Ned’s low voice upstairs. Soon we’ll watch a little Seinfeld or stand-up until our teenagers come home.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I Just Don’t Get It

Yesterday was the hearing at the State House for the use of aversives in the State of Massachusetts. I could not attend, because of appointments, but The Globe has a front page story about it, with a photo of my very own State Rep. Jeff Sanchez hugging his nephew, who is a Judge Rotenberg Center student, claiming that the JRC saved the boy’s life. The boy’s father reportedly pleaded that if the school is closed, his son goes home and he cannot do that.

I find myself completely stymied by that testimony. I am looking into residential placement for Nat at a behavioral school, but one where they use positive reinforcement, not electric shock therapy. Is that because I have found the right place, the right people, and my State Rep’s family have not? Or is it that the Sanchez’ situation is just so different from mine, that I have no idea? But don’t I? What about my friends, who had had the police to their house several times because they could not handle an aggressive autistic child? Do I know how difficult life can get with the behaviors that can arise with the challenges from severe autism? Or do I not know? I am asking honestly. I hear stories about the most minor infractions that end with a shock, and that these are justified because if you give in an inch the kid will not understand and will take a mile? The article gives as an example a girl who repeatedly pulls her own hair, and how she receives a shock to her hand even if her hand is just “close” to her head. Sometimes a so-called “antecedent” is actually something else. Isn’t anyone concerned about the error that people can make when observing other people’s behaviors? What if the girl had a dry, itchy scalp from the winter weather? Is the staff savvy enough to tell a pull from a scratch?

How can that be the way to do things? By using shock therapy you instill terror in the person; is this what we are reduced to, as a society? Difficulty = simple solution of violence? Ends justify means?

I am also angered by the assumption The Globe makes implicitly about how this shock therapy is somehow preferable to the use of psychotropic medication. Actually, the psychotropic drug Risperdal has had some very good research backing up its uses as a buffer against aggressive behavior, and its major side effect is weight gain, rather than burns or psychological trauma. Why is there so much skepticism about medication use, but not nearly as much skepticism on the part of my Legislature and The Globe about something as patently horrific as electric shock for even the most minor of infractions?

In terms of the incident where two students were shocked and shocked repeatedly, dozens of times, as the result of a prank, the founder of the school Dr. Matthew Israel says in the Globe article that this was his, “9/11.” How terrible for him. What, then, was it like for those burned boys?

I am so sad about this. Why my state Legislature cannot find their ass from their elbow, and ban the use of aversives is beyond me. Some things should not be tolerated. Dr. Israel is wrong and shock therapy should be banned.

Clearing the Air

We had our entire duct system thoroughly cleaned a day ago, by a really great company. They were fantastic. Apparently our ducts have not been cleaned in years, certainly not in the 7 1/2 years we’ve lived in that monstrosity we call home. They came out with old Legos, toys, socks, all kinds of crazy things, back from the days that Nat enjoyed throwing everything he could down our Byzantine floor heating units. Even after this activity no longer enthralled, he continued to pursue it because of how much it bugged Ben.

So this is why, night after night, for years, but more acutely this year, I have been having trouble breathing at night. Our air has been filthy. You put the heat on, and dust puffs out onto the floor, immediately. And with someone as wimpily allergic as I am, this is a terrible situation. It’s just that I have been in denial over my dust allergies. Who wants dust allergies? It means either you have to clean more, take antihistimines, or suffer. Needless to say, I don’t want to do any of that.

Truly, there is nothing as terrific as clearing the air, literally and metaphorically. I have now had two wonderful nights of cough-free, itchy-throat-less sleep. (Also, I dreamt that I was a Middle Eastern Studies grad student and I woke up thinking, “Hmmmm.” I could, at very least, take Arabic at Harvard Extension or something like that. )

I am a real believer in the air power-cleaning, otherwise known as the confrontation. I am sitting in Boston Volvo right now because I told them honestly how I felt about being greeted with the “ABS system in need of service check” message every time I drive The Amazon. It seems that every time I go over a little patch of ice, she feels it is necessary to tell me, “Oh, my, I may have skidded, and I had to use my anti-lock brakes, I’m not at all sure that is what you wanted from me.” Why would such a large, powerful, beautiful creature be so self-conscious, and lack so much confidence? Why indeed.

So two weeks later, after Boston Volvo told me “not to worry,” the light came on again. Instead of driving around with a Lego on my dashboard to block unfavorable messages (like I used to do when I drove Fat Boy, my Jeep Grand Cherokee, a car that I absolutely hated; if you get one, you have only yourself to blame), I called Boston Volvo and pretty much made them see The Amazon today. And now I’m sitting at a salesman’s desk blogging. And I feel great. Also because I’m still under warranty. And all my Legos went down the drain — er, the vent.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Get A Job

You go to work
You be a jerk
You do your job
You do it right:
T.V. tonight!
–Frank Zappa

Now that I’ve mailed off Dirt: A Story of Gardening, Mothering, and a Mid-life Crisis, I feel myself walking close to huge pockets of time; that huge void is threatening to open up. There is no rest; I hate rest. I’ll rest when I’m dead. I want to work. I was raised to work, work, work for everything. From the time I could stay by myself, I was a babysitter. I worked in a movie theatre selling (and eating) popcorn and candy. I waitressed at restaurants and country clubs. I had work/study in college.

And now, my work is an odd mixture of housework, boycare, volunteer stuff, teaching, and writing. Not enough of any one thing. Not enough big blocks of time to expand any of them.

So I tried to get a part-time job at my favorite clothing and home furnishings store, Anthropologie. The interview was great, I was assured they were “so hiring,” and then I filled out the online “opinion survey” set up by the corporate headquarters. Beware corporate headquarters. Somewhere in there I displeased someone. Or maybe I am too old to represent their demographic? Me, with my closet full of Anthro clothes, my house decor of the same. I have a scary knowledge of their products and how their stores are laid out. I get my friends to shop and buy there. Yet, somehow, I was not right for the job. Eeek. That stung.

I heard a similar story about CVS Pharmacy from a dear old friend. Her “high-functioning” autistic son walks to their CVS all the time; it was his first independent outing. He stocks shelves there at a school program. He knows and loves CVS and their products better than anyone I know, knows it like he knows his own bedroom, or better yet, like he knows the train routes. You know what I’m talking about. And yet this wonderful young man cannot get hired there because everyone must fill out the corporate questionnaire, which has statements like, “I work well with people” to which you answer yes or no.

This dear boy does not know how to lie. He knows he does not work well with people. He works well in the stockroom. As long as everything is operating according to expectations (toaster in cafeteria working, and as long as you don’t say one particular kind of statement to him, he will do beautifully. But he cannot answer “correctly” because he cannot be imprecise.

Which made me wonder: what does “reasonable accommodation” mean? Is it only about building ramps, low toilets and reserving parking spaces, or is it also about training your staff and your corporate survey-makers in the particular ins and outs of neurological differences? This is an able young man who has overcome tremendous behavioral and sensory difficulties (bolting, tantrums, undressing in public) to be the responsible, sweet young adult he is. But he can’t get hired by CVS.

We need employers to understand that “accommodation” can mean many different things in today’s world of well-educated autistics and the college-degree-holding cognitively disabled. If little kids can be trained to work next to their atypically developing peers to the point where they barely bat an eye at a guy who flaps in class, why can’t the business leaders of today get a clue? I don’t need that job at Anthropologie, but my young friend really does need to be able to work at places he is trained to work in. For now, that might mean he has to be trained to lie on a job questionnaire. Stupidly ironic, isn’t it?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Happy Martin Luther King Day

Total whiteout outside. Last night we heard we were going to get 8″ – 12″ of snow and by evening, our superintendent had already canceled school. This was a very good thing, I felt, because I had made a terrible glitch on Nat’s calendar: I had thought that today was MLK day, because actually tomorrow is MLK’s real birthday (Happy Birthday, Martin! I wish he were still alive. I remember when he was shot. I was in kindergarten and the principal announced it on the loudspeaker. I remember thinking, “But I thought we don’t have a king!” And indeed, we no longer did.).

So I had written, “No School, Martin Luther King Day.” And yesterday, Nat kept insisting that there would be no school tomorrow because of that. I went over to his calendar to show him that MLK Day is next week, but there, in my chicken scrawl, it said, “No School, Martin Luther King Day” on today! D’oh, D’oh, D’oh! Addled Mommy strikes again! No amount of apologizing would change Nat’s mind or attitude. He was hopping mad about it. I even rewrote it on his calendar, in the correct space, and he picked up the pen, and crossed it out, saying, “NOOOO.”

Nevertheless, Nat had a terrific time at the MLK tournament (yes, MLK, another reason I was confused!). He is a great team member, provided you don’t require your team members to either catch the ball or throw the ball. But if you want a team member who is always where the action is and smiling his face off, Nat is your man.

He will run and run and run,
His face shining like the sun
up and down the court,
Among those boys he is short!
Arms in the air,
Completely without a care
He is Basketball Man
Though nary a ball gets in those hands.

His candle goes out when he is called out. He hates sitting back down.

And so, I woke up at 4:17 a.m. thinking of snow and Nat. I looked outside and the street was black with rain. “Stupid!” I muttered, about Superintendent Chicken Little (whom I actually hired, and whom I like, in reality).

But then, while sleeping a little more,
I thought I heard a distant roar
that was — for once — not my Ned’s snore.
And I knew that the plows were coming, for sure.

When I looked out the window, a gorgeous heavy snow was falling. Nat came down fully dressed as if it were a holiday. To us, it is.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Day in the Life

Yesterday was fantastic. I could tell that it warmish outside because the grass actually looks greener (literally on on the other side of the fence: my neighbors all have better lawns than we do). I packed my gym bag but I thought, maybe, maybe… and sure enough my car thermometer read 42 degrees. If I put up my hoodie hood and pulled the sleeves over my hands…? The Reservoir looked beautiful in that winter ghostly way, with a white surface, empty of birds. I parked in my usual spot and took a three mile run. The air did not hurt going in, and by the third mile I could undo my hood. There was almost no one there, an added bonus (no distractions). I felt powerful and healthy.

I spent a lot of the day right here, diningroom table, finishing my Dirt manuscript. Well, I guess it is done, at least this round of editing. Every time I open it to a random place and read it, I like what I see and I don’t feel the need to change anything, so that tells me I am done. 80,000 words, 279 pages. And no, (dear Matt), it is nothing like Danielle Steele, it is more Sue Miller meets Mark Haddon meets Curtis Sittenfeld meets Nick Hornby. Meet Susan Senator. This book, I promise you, is worth reading. I have read and reread it countless times and I’m still not bored of it, and I’m a tough crowd to please, believe me.

Nat had a swim with his buddy, which went fairly well (the Brookline pool is always too cold) and then they walked to Starbucks. Max was at his friend’s house learning D & D. Ben spent hours writing a script and designing characters to a game he is making. All three boys = happy.

So I was free to do more stuff. I bought coffee downtown and a new bok, the new Sue Miller as a matter of fact. I got home and all was well, so I worked on my lesson plan for the Care for the Caregiver workshop. I did this into the evening, making three pages of bellydance instruction and accompanying songs.

We went out to dinner, all five of us, at Zaftig’s, which works best en famille, because of the huge menu, breakfast all day long, and excellent wait staff. Only one meltdown, this time it was Ben, over where he would get to sit.

Max helped me burn the music for my class CD and I printed out a lovely jewel case cover listing the songs. I have over an hour’s worth of appropriate music for the class. I also organized all my hipscarves and veils (I have about 14 each) and realized my new silver zills are truly lost. 🙁 Ned said he’d get me a new set.

By the time everyone was in bed and Ned and I had time to ourselves, all I could do was lie down against his chest while he watched Dave Letterman on the Tivo. I tried to stay awake but I was so comfortable that I fell asleep, and slept until it was time to go to bed!

Nat’s basketball tournament is today!

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