Susan's Blog

Friday, February 29, 2008

Call Me Mammie

Space: the final frontier.
–Captain James T. Kirk

Sorry, Trekkies everywhere. Kirk had it way wrong, in my opinion. The final frontier in my universe is Work. I think about work a lot these days, because I don’t have enough of it, because Max needs a summer job, and because I want Nat to be able to work as an adult.

It has been quite a challenge, getting Max to understand that he will have to work someday soon and that he probably will not love his first jobs. I have been very careful to refer to what I do as “work,” which it is, albeit piecemeal and strange hours. I’ll write intensely from 10p.m. until I fall asleep. Thanks to the the sleep guide I read I am getting better sleep but it’s difficult since I work all through lunch trying to sell whatever I wrote, but then sit around making meals, appointments, phone calls, conversation, and checking email while they’re all here. I don’t know if my boys understand that what I do is work and that if I did not, we would have to pay someone a lot of money to do it all for us. (My pay is a cossie a month and other perks, I suppose.)

Everytime I suggest various job possibilities to Max — tutoring my friends’ kids in computer skills, working at a game store, being a computer camp counselor — he makes that face that looks as though he smells something bad. I even suggested he get the same job in the same place as H, his lovely girlfriend, and he would not consider it, because it is something to do with gardening. (Oh, how terrible that would be, to spend your summer gardening for others…!)

Am I supposed to take that on, too? When I was sixteen, I remember getting my own damned jobs. I drove around to movie theatres and to Friendly’s, asked to speak to unhappy managers and tried to demonstrate my competence and capability at those crap jobs. It was hard, but I did it. Woke up at 6 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and wrenched myself into a God awful polyester blue checked dress to work the morning shift, making the salad fixings at Friendly’s, with a mean girl and her older sister. I stunk of pancakes and bacon.

Will Max do stuff like that? How were my parents that consistently tough with me? They were such total adults. I wish I were.

Sometimes I think maybe I save all of that kind of effort for Nat. I am going to have to become Hurricane Susan, plowing through any place that I think could possibly hire him, and explain him to them, and broker a job. Is that how it’s done? I can’t imagine that anyone out there would do it for him other than me. Once he’s done with school, once the entitlements end, it feels like we will be swimming in shark-infested waters.

Well, I’ll be damned if all of his years of hard work and education get him eaten alive. That just makes me see red. I feel a rage building up inside of me, that things are this way in this country. That people like Nat are viewed as lesser somehow, and undeserving of the extra effort it takes even to get to know them, let alone to help them work.

Then Ned says to me, “Why does he gotta work?”
And I say that he does, he does. It’s what I want. It’s what I always imagined, long after I gave up on other things. I want to see him going to a job, having that in his life.
Ned says, “Why can’t he just do what he does? Be a man of leisure.”
I don’t know, I don’t know. Stop challenging me, Ned! Because! Because if I let this go, it feels like giving up on something. Yet another thing.

Well, not while dere’s still bref in mah body…

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Une Petite de Petite

I signed up for this. I am going to do a 3 minute dance with the Bellydance Superstars on June 1. OH. MY. GOD. Oh, oh, oh. Ned is very, very psyched, because the workshop and performance is with this lovely lady, Petite Jamilla:

Bellydance SuperStars
“Kami Liddle & Petite Jamilla”
Workshop,Performance & You


V F W Hall, Post 1012, Mystic Avenue, Medford, Mass.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Parent, Heal Thyself

I wonder about some autism treatments, and the benefits they might have that no one talks about: the relief they give to the parent, which then translates to a more competent, confident, relaxed, and empathic parenting style.

We have been having our sharp ups and downs with Nat and his aggressive outbursts, for a while now. You could say that aggression is part of his profile, but I would be pissed at you if you did. Please do not label my boy. He can become very frenetic and aggressive if he is knocked off his center by various of life’s vicissitudes, but I would say that it is more accurate to call him a “highly-charged” individual with an affinity/obsession for things that fascinate him and/or bug him (same as his mother). You might think that I am being very P.C. here in how I ask you to speak of Nat, but that’s okay. Sometimes Political Correctness is necessary because it has a beneficial affect on how you think of someone. If you think of Nat as a Violent Autistic Person, you would be doing him — and yourself — such an injustice because that sounds scary. But if you think of Nat as A Guy Who is Very High Spirited and Strong-Tempered, you would have a more accurate perception. It’s just a bit of a mouthful, so how about just thinking of him as “Nat?”

So I was saying that autism treatments may actually be better treatments for the parents than the kids. I was given a token board to help strengthen Nat’s ability to follow directions. I looked at this bright yellow Velcrow-y thing on my lovely matte-finish black granite kitchen counter and thought, How am I going to fit this into my life? It does not even match my kitchen…

Nevertheless, I asked Nat to play a game with me, and came up with four other directions for him to follow, such as, 1) Get the game; 2) Play with me; 3) Take apart the game; 4) Put the game away; and 5) Answer the phone. I was told to do high-probability and low-probability directions with him. But Nat loves directions and rules, and so of course he did everything. He answered the phone by rattling off an entire conversation into the receiver: “Hi, how are you, fine, I played at school, I played basketball.” Or something like that. (Good thing it was Ned on the other end.)

I thought, How is this really going to help when things get rough? The theory being that we get Nat more accustomed to following our directions, so that even when he de-stabilizes, we can point him to an activity and help him channel some of that excessive energy, and then work with him on whatever it is that is making him mad.

And then something toppled out of the fridge onto his foot, and Nat hates when things fall out of things, and so he started biting his arm. I looked at New Yeller sitting on my counter and I felt calmer. I wordlessly put the stuff back into the fridge and repeated the directions to set the table. He ran into the livingroom, biting his arm. But I felt calm. Max said, “Uh, he’s biting his arm,” and I nodded, knowing I could not call attention to it or it would all get worse. I quietly explained that to Max. In a steady voice I reminded Nat about setting the table, and he came in and did it. A total de-escalation, and the whole thing lasted less than a minute.

Was it because I felt the calm that a new strategy gave me? And do other parents feel such relief when they find something that may help, that that is just as good medicine as anything you are actually trying out with your kid?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My Heart’s Delight

If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again,
I’ll never go any further than my own [school] yard…
–Dorothy Gale, and me

Here is what I handed out in my Baby Bellies class today:

Please come see your child perform!!

Middle Eastern BellyDance
Class Recital

in The Auditorium
Tuesday, March 4, 2:30 p.m.
Performance begins at 2:45 sharp
Pick-up after that (3:00 p.m.)

And we practiced on the real stage! We are even going to open the curtain! (I need Ned to come do that. It’s a good way to get him to see the performance. Ssh, don’t tell him I don’t really need him, I just want him there!) I also have invited the principal, the office staff, and the Extended Day teacher and kids. My Baby Bellies are going to shine!

Ah, was that a great way to spend an hour! Those girls are working so hard to master our choreography. They even offer suggestions to how to make it more orderly (the 3-point turns are still a bit of a problem, bumping into one another, etc.). Now we are standing in line formation, shortest to tallest — you wouldn’t think this would be cause for debate-and-pout, but nevertheless… well, they don’t call them Baby Bellies for nothing.

I stand off in the wings and show them each move. There was even a new girl today, a friend’s kid, and she did great. I brought in gauntlets and other cossie bits for each of them to further adorn themselves; they were excited, until the stuff started falling off. D’oh! Everything I own is adult size, not Baby Belly size. Even the girl-size stuff I bought is a little big on some of them!

In a few weeks I will be doing my workshop in Walpole, for moms of special needs kids. I met with my friend Melinda who is doing the yoga part of the workshop. I took her class today: my second yoga class ever. I LOVED it. I think it was because of her; she explained everything and was just so soothing and philosophical. “Let go of this,” “check in with that.” I was very relaxed afterwards, so of course I got a coffee with her and got all charged up again — but in a good way.

And another studio asked me to entertain at their small party. I think this will be a way that I can begin to teach at that studio. I want to teach during the school day, like Melinda does. I felt so good in her class, that I realized I want to do this far more often (except bellydance, not yoga). I love being with other women and feeling the camaraderie and support.

The Baby Bellies have a little of that, too. They each show the other what they’re doing wrong, but they are never too mean. I like the way they try to help me, too, in figuring out our dance routine. I was never as confident as that when I was 8. It’s very exciting and inspiring to be among all these future strong women.

Ben watched the rehearsal. In the car ride home I asked him what he thought of our show. “Well, do I have to give an answer to that?” he asked.

A rave review!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Trick is Not Minding

I’m sending Nat to an Imax movie with his Northeastern buddy. I hope it goes okay. I don’t know if Nat has ever experienced Imax. This anxiety reminds me of the time we all went to the Atlantis on a January getaway, and the first time we all went down the giant tube slide. I don’t know why, but Ned and I did not go with Nat, on his tube. I went ahead of Nat, and then I think Max was behind him. When I shot out of the tube, I suddenly realized that Nat might be completely terrified and uncertain in that long tunnel, and he might panic. I had no idea, all of a sudden, what he would do. Would he scramble out of the tube, and drown? Would he somehow get stuck somewhere? How would we know, how would we find him? Why, oh why, did we send him alone down the tunnel slide?

And then, of course, Nat came shooting out, huge smile on his face, ready to go again. Just as Nat stores up a repertoire of experiences to draw upon and to understand the world around him, I build up a store of Nat-experiences to figure out whether he can handle whichever new even comes up. I learn over and over again that he is just a kid, a person with the ability to make certain leaps and conclusions, and also one who can see to his own calming and needs.

So today, it is Imax. I figure he won’t get nauseated, the way I did when I went with Ben’s class. But I think that rather than being too fresh and new, this happened because I am now getting old! I used to laugh at my mother when she could not take even the simplest amusement park ride. I thought she was kidding! But it was absolutely real. We just can’t take the Gs or whatever it is.

I am wondering, too, if this sensitivity will forever be in the way of my spinning. I keep practicing spins, because to me, that is one of the signature bellydance moves, when you want to go fast. You want to appear to be lost within the spin, head down, hair fanning outwards. But you also need to “spot,” to fix your eyes on one place in the room and keep returning them to it as you make your turn. This only helps mildly with the dizziness. I have also heard that some girls shut their eyes when they spin, which I have done successfully, but only for one or two spins (before you crash into something). One or two spins is not enough for the effect, anyway.

The little kids (Baby Bellies) simply spin and get dizzy, (unless I pin a sock to the fall and they spot with that) but the dizziness makes them laugh. Why is it so unpleasant a feeling to me, but so pleasurable to a child? What happened to me? And where, in this particular spectrum, is Nat?

Perhaps you have to view the dizziness in G Gordon Liddy terms, when he thrust his hand into a flame: The trick is not minding.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Big Mermaid

Here it is! Photos by Ned, of course.

Tabblo: Mermaid Costume

I started making this costume last year, and today I finished it! … See my Tabblo>

Fringe Benefits

I used to hate February vacation, but I am loving this one!! I have really enjoyed having Max and Ben around, and Nat has been in such a good mood when he gets home from school. All I do is take them on errands, and we fall back into our same old, familiar mode of chatting in the car, joking over how I drive, things we want to do and get. We reconnect our roots with little tendrils of superficial chat.

Today, with all the snow, I feel justified in staying inside with a project. And since I sent my agent the proposal last night, my creative rivulets are flowing into things textile: a costume, from scratch! Sort of.

Last year I started making my very own sea-green cossie, inspired by a favorite Nourhan Sharif hipscarf in the same color. It was not a bad fit, but it wasn’t quite right, in the end. But I watched a vid Ned had taken, of me dancing in it, and I thought it was cute. So I got it out this morning. And I was struck with a great idea: harvest bits from other cossies (extra fringe, extra beaded crap, etc.) and embellish the bra top. And as luck would have it, I came across some silvery-lavendar bits from some wristlets and cut them off (the wristlets are still useful). I used a piece of periwinkle-lavender trim I had bought on my New York trip with Laura last spring for the middle. I cut off some purple beaded fringe from a cheap cossie that I no longer wear, and also its shoulder straps, and added all to the top! ‘Tis gorgeous!

A Lot of Flap

Interesting how, just as I shipped off my final proposal to my agent, Precious has shown signs of fatal weakening. Not only has she sustained injuries over the years such as: most of her letters are worn off from all my typing, so it’s a good thing I learned how to touch-type in high school; there are permanent palm-prints where your hands rest; the screen is a spotted mess; there is a streak of red nail polish in the upper-right corner. So now, the “z” and the “apple” keys are hardly moving.

I flipped off the key tops to have a look (against Ned’s counsel, I should add, probably reminding him of the time we went to U-Haul for a small truck and all they had was a really big one and while Ned pondered and worried about what we could do about it, I hopped into the driver’s seat and drove right up to him.)

There, within the complicated metallic innards of Precious, twinkling like a tiny gem, was a glass bead from the cossie repairs. I pressed my finger onto it and drew it out. “Oh, look!” I smiled to Ned, who was not at all amused. “There must be more of them under the ‘z!'” Sure enough, another little twinkly bit rolled further inside Precious.

I pried off the “z,” figuring to do a bit more surgery. No go. The cap was stuck and it still is, half of it flipped up into the air like a partially removed scab, revealing the vulnerable flesh underneath. And there it stays, flapping in the breeze, making it really, really hard to get a “z.” I may have to be like Monty Python and use some other letter to mean “z.” Like the guy who can’t say the letter “c” but finally discovers he can use a “k” or an “s, ” depending. But what sounds like “z?” I can’t even spell it out, because I need to use the letter “z.” D’oh.

I picked Precious up and shook her a bit, while Ned’s eyes widened in horror. I think he whispered, “Careful.” But I am not. My stuff has to be able to stand up to my style of use (I wouldn’t call it Ab-use). My family, my friends, my shoes, my cars, my plants, my gardens, my computer, all have to be tough because I am hard on everything. I was now remembering a segment of a childhood tape recording Dad had made of Laura and me playing with cars, where I heard my baby self say, “It boke, Daddy.” And he said, “Susan! You took off all the wheels!” But I merely insisted that it “boke.” Mistakes were made.

I was hoping Precious would last a little longer, so that I could celebrate my next book contract (knock wood, I should be so lucky) with a new laptop. Well, I am still managing to use her, even with the flapping z. What’s a little flapping between friends?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Keyboarding — Just the Write Type?

Jen sent me this article and I was intrigued and moved by the story. Over the years I have heard about autistic people learning to communicate via keyboarding, and I have heard the accompanying criticisms about it, the facilitated kind of typing. People have made FC seem like Ouija board of autism therapies, where you don’t know if it is the student’s actual thoughts or is it the teacher guiding his hand. I have discounted FC for this reason.

That kind of doubt is understandable, of course, but what about the cases where the child learns how to type on his own, like DJ in the Ralph Savarese book, Reasonable People? Clearly this is an approach that warrants another look, not because it “de-auticizes” people (NancyBea’s term), but because it gives people a medium for expression. As I sit here typing on Precious and my own thoughts and feelings are exploding through my fingers, I am wondering how I could have dismissed this. And I am wondering how to start working on it with Nat. Nat hates typing. But, Nat already types very well; he sends me emails regularly from school. At first reading, it is hard for me to believe that these are his thoughts, however, because they are so orderly and the grammar is excellent:

Dear mom
Today I went to music
I sang a maroon 5song.
I had fun.

But now I’m thinking that perhaps he can compose his thoughts better in the writing mode than in the speaking mode. Of course!! Didn’t I learn this in Communication 101, back in college? Certain modes of communicating are more natural and fluid than others for different people. Some function well in the sociogestural mode; some, in the mathematical-lexical; etc. Why is it so hard for me — of all people — to believe that writing is an easier mode of communication than speaking for Nat? Because he never types willingly.

But maybe that is because he needs to do it more intensively, more than 20 mins every other day at school, to make the leap that this is a desirable thing. So many things have been like this for Nat. He doesn’t realize, for years, that something we are trying to teach him is ultimately for his benefit, i.e., will improve his life and his happiness. Like learning to play basketball. It took two years before it made him really, really happy to play. Being able to communicate, period, will certainly improve Nat’s quality of life.

So this means — I should find a person who can teach him this in our home, who doesn’t mind getting hurt sometimes. Because he will resist this. Ah, there’s the rub. Er, pinch.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I know this is boring to everyone, but here I go anyway. It beats making dinner.

I sewed ALL of my costumes! I fixed every single one that was tearing, and I even tailored a few to fit better. I now have eleven wearable cossies! Plus I Dryel-ed or washed them so that they are really clean. I hung them all on nice hangers and suspended them from my bed tester. They look so beautiful hanging there! I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. These are the kind of things I always wanted, my entire life. I thought only ballerinas or princesses had such things. My own prom dresses were not even as nice — Gunne Saxe, remember those? The only thing the magnificence of the cossies compares to is my wedding dress, and how it felt to wear that. It had been my mom’s, so of course it was classy and elegant, like her. But — perhaps it could have been a little more tarty, like me! Some bows and whatnot.

I never dreamed that such a world actually existed as Bellydanceville and that I could legitimately wear such things! I never imagined I would actually think I was good enough to dance like those other women. But sometimes — I do.

I feel I must be such a weirdo to you all, but this is one of my favorite things in the entire world: glittery colorful costumes and the unga-potchke music that goes with it! It feels like a guilty pleasure, for some reason, which makes it all the sweeter.

Weekday Warrior

I had so much energy yesterday, even by dinner time, so I put it to good use. I made a nice dinner, which was extra good because Max’s girlfriend was staying for it. At one point just before dinner, Nat happily wandered into Max’s room, and Nat looked at them, smiled, and said, “Come in here.” Max and H just kind of stared, and finally Max said something softly, like, “Not now.” I knew he couldn’t, but there it was again, that sweet pain of mixed feelings, over what is, and what is not.

So I said, “Hey, great sentence, Nat!” And then I invited him to come make cornbread with me. He left with a big smile on his face. Then he made an excellent cornbread while cooked a huge piece of salmon for dinner, like 2.68 pounds. (Talk of fish for dinner always makes me smile, thinking of my grandfather Paul, who used to order fish in a restaurant like this: “Give me a nice piece of fish. Boin it, bleck.”) I did not burn ours black, but had Papa been here, I sure would have for him. After dinner, H left and we all went about our nighttime business of showers, etc.

Last night was strange. Costume after costume was falling apart (so much use! I don’t think these were designed to be practiced in, night after night, but that is the way I roll). Today I will have to do a lot of sewing, I think, although the proposal is calling. I could not settle on a look, because the one I wanted to wear had a shoulder strap that was about to go.

Then I couldn’t settle on a song. I thought I was in a Natacha Atlas mood, especially after listening to “Ne Me Quitte Pas” over and over again in my car, playing it for the boys, and then for Ned because it is just so beautifully sung. But I was not able to dance to her stuff yesterday. I just kept pressing “forward,” and then suddenly this old number came on. I don’t know what it’s called. I think of it as “Warrior.” It always makes me think of warriors riding horses down a big sand dune, all dark but clothed in white, except for one, who is blue-eyed, blond, and bearded…

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Not Much Going On Hair

Not much going on. Nat had two outbursts today at school, but there was no obvious reason. $#@#! I hate that!! I was so nervous when he came home, but he seemed as sweet as ever, maybe a little anxious over the tupperware left in his lunchbox. He settled in with Aladdin, my all-time favorite, (love the psuedo-Arabian music and Princess Jasmine’s look, plus of course, Robin Williams!). So while that’s going on, I’m having a latte and re-reading my proposal, before sending it off to my agent, who just got back from San Francisco.

Food shopped, laundried, cleaned, all that stuff. Then, got a haircut, the first in over a year! I got bangs! This is a very dancerly look; so many of the bellydancers I know have bangs and frankly, I was totally sick of my other look. I asked Max to take a picture because I’m going to dance tonight and it will be all messed up after that.
(Hah! You can’t even tell I have a haircut, now that I look at these. d’oh! Just wait ’till I’m all done up, Raks Sharqi style.)

C’est tout pour maintenant.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Appropriate – In the Eye of the Beholder?

I believe that things like grief are recursive, but lately I wonder if that’s true for everyone, or is it more so for me because I tend to obsess and stay stuck in certain mindsets? Or maybe it is that for everyone, memories play a part in keeping us fixed in our lives, even the parts we thought were over.

Nat’s condition rests on me today, like an old afghan, mostly benign, maybe just a little itchy or moth-eaten. In the morning, after I suggested he watch or listen to something, rather than simply plant himself in the middle of the couch, I heard the familiar strains of The Hundred Acre Wood song. Well, that’s what he likes, my mind said in response to the complicated, muddy feelings seeping from my heart. The age-old questions: He’s still watching Winnie-The -Pooh? Is this okay? Is there something else I should be doing? Make him watch a real show instead of an old vid? “Nat, later on we’ll bake something, okay?” I called out, more for me than for him, thinking that to get Nat do do something with me is to propell him forward, to let him do his own thing is to allow stagnation.

I went off and did my thing. When I got back we all ate lunch and Nat reminded me of the baking. We got out Mom’s Big Book of Baking, as always, and chose a recipe; this time, molasses cookies. It all went just fine.

After that, I took a little nap and did the crossword. Nat was walking around again, I guessed he was looking for something to do. Or — is it that I wanted to see him “productive?” After all these years, he still does not know to get something out and play it. Is it that he doesn’t really want to play, or is it that he would prefer to remain in this, his easiest state, just walking fast and talking to himself. Today, though, I couldn’t take seeing him do just that, it made me feel pinched behind the eyes, so I became Teacher Mom for a while, suggesting we do puzzles, play games, anything that was “appropriate.” He willingly did it all, but the whole dime we were playing it was rote and rushed. The questions pulled at me; the afghan was feeling too small and my feet were getting cold. Is he enjoying it, or just tolerating it? Does he enjoy the pacing more? If so, why can’t that be the thing that he does?

“You want to listen to something now?” I asked. The little stereo wires lay tangled and disconnected, an upended bowl of dusty black spaghetti. The stereo had obviously not been working for a very long time. I felt absurdly like crying. “Max!” I called. “Can you help with the stereo?” Max came in right away and did his thing, looked at it, made clean sense of it in seconds, and the green face of the CD player lit up. But Nat was already standing, hovering, looking anxious as he gets over technology that doesn’t function properly the very first time. I remembered the iPod Dad had given him for his birthday, loaded with Simon and Garfunkel and the Beatles and Elton John — Dad’s favorites and also Nat’s. I hooked him up with the iPod and left him, sitting on his bed, hunched as if the earbuds weighed him down. I sighed. Or is he maybe relieved, relaxing, glad that I’m letting him be?

“I’m going back to my movie,” Max informed us. He’s watching a movie? Again? But I didn’t say anything. “Okay, honey,” I said. I was touched that he is still so helpful, so considerate, even as a teenager. Max, I also realized, is allowed to just veg, but Nat is not. Is that fair? Is that right?

I felt like I had done pretty much all I could, so I went downstairs to my crossword puzzle. What a fricken waste of time that is! Not to mention that I never complete them! Shouldn’t I…?

I guess I’m not really allowed to just do my own thing, either.

Maybe soon I’ll get to a point where I realize that there is no real way of judging what is an “appropriate” use of leisure time; it’s really all a matter of how comfortably we wear our lives.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Zill Life with Book, Coffee, Puzzle, and Precious

Behold, the elements of a good Sunday: NYTimes crossword, unmarred by wrong answers; a brand new bound-to-be-good Anita Shreve; plenty of Peet’s decaf with foamy nonfat milk; Precious, filled up with my new book idea; and my zills, for dancing later. In the background, Beastie munches on an apple and peanut butter, so there’s nachas for his good lunch. Max, Ned, and Nat are on a walk, so Ned will be happy because he’s been looking for ways to do more with the boys. He’s already done two blog posts and the taxes, so I know he’s in a good mood.

We went out to dinner last night at our all-time favorite restaurant: Pho Republique, in the South End. I sat at the bar and waited for Ned to park while the gorgeous bartender offered to “keep me company.” He mixed up a Red Splendor for me: pomegranate and cranberry, I think, with sugar on the rim. He asked me if I wanted extra sugar and I may have blushed in happiness. Ned and I shared chicken-and-ginger dumplings and tuna tartare springrolls. I had Pad Thai, which I don’t think I’ve eaten in about 5 Atkins years. The thing I forgot about carbs: they really fill you up fast! So I couldn’t even finish my plate, not at all how I was raised!

This morning, I worked out for an hour, and it was so intense that I think I may have slipped into kind of a buzz, or meditative state. After 40 minutes stairmaster and running, I did all this resistance stuff and stretching. I could only hear my music, and I had the opportunity to practice my bellydance moves in one of the studios, where there were mirrors on all sides. I was not thinking of anything, which is new for me, just moving and feeling and looking. I had so much energy, and I found I did not mind the discomfort of the physical work-out. I felt strong and healthy. Must be the carbs.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Old Mom

Old Mom
Leave me alone
Old Mom
Just go on home.
–E.C. and me

How bad can life be when you have the sun shining through the window and Mozart playing? The living room is alive with color and sound; my veils are lying in a pile of rainbow sherbet on the vanilla couch, left over from last night’s dancing. The Mozart is at Nat’s request.

People who don’t know think that my life is sad or tough because of autism. But as I’ve said many times, we decide for ourselves what makes our lives sad or tough. For me it is not autism; it is my own struggle with depression and her nasty sister, anxiety. It is the desire to feel comfortable in my own skin.

My children provide me with a challenge and distraction from my own pain. Nat gives me a lot to think about, and also, a lot to love. Especially when he is crazy-happy, the way he’s been lately. He gets giddy; you could say it was because his nervous system is oversaturated, out-of-whack, sensitive. But why would you? You could also say that he knows that the light is changing, the snow is receding, the days are getting longer. Or, whatever. He’s just happy, and I bask in his beautiful smile. Just looking at his gorgeous face, his pool-blue eyes, his fluffy blond hair, and I feel such an urge to hug and kiss. His face is bristly now. He, like his brothers, tolerates it but does not often seek it out. The closest he comes to it is when he sniffs my hair.

Beastie is still at school, Max is home early because he was feeling nauseous. I felt such a relief in my sense of purpose this morning, driving over to the high school, calling the dean, picking up ginger ale. “Maxie’s sick,” I said to myself, and as I drove past the playground, I remembered taking him to Murphy Park when he was two, and sick. I remember him throwing up right there on the pavement outside the sandbox, and looking up at me, concerned. Then, of course, he started to feel better, so he smiled and ran off to play. He came back again a half hour later and threw up again. Then I took him home.

I think I have really enjoyed being a mother without being aware that I was. I enjoyed them with my body, on a physical level, taking care of them, washing them, feeding them, carrying them, holding and hugging them, bringing them food and to visit people and places. Looking back, I know that I loved being so needed, so important to such beautiful boys. It’s all so much more subtle now, with me much more in the background, no longer needed in quite such a physical way. Now I do more of the planning needed: I make calls, I make meals, I drive them places, I check in with teachers and therapists, I push for services, I fill out forms, I organize parties, buddies, playdates, social group nights. No more impromptu trips to the park; they’ve all got other things to do.

That’s as it should be. But today I’m glad for the sun and the music and the company of my two teenage sons, even if they’re in opposite ends of the house from me.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

If the Shoe Fits, Eat it

I bought a big chocolate high heel shoe filled with chocolate hearts. It was sitting on a silver platter. I kept thinking and thinking, “Which friend can I give this to? Who would love to have it as much as I would?”

And then I thought, “Me.” I laughed at myself, thinking that was ridiculous and pathetic. You don’t buy yourself Valentine chocolate. But then I thought, Why not? I realized that all day I had been thinking of something in kind of a destructive OCD way, and not even being aware of it. Only aware in a subconscious way, like when you know a cold is forming behind your nose but you don’t yet have to give into it. You no longer feel good, but you are not yet sick.

I brought the light brown shoe home and left it in the pantry. I sat in front of my computer, unable to write for the first time in days. Time was dragging. I was thinking about that thing again. The bad feeling was now at my center, and I could feel myself twitching, wanting to get rid of it. Wanting to take action.

I texted Ned. I told him about my day, and about when the feeling first started. I realized, as I wrote to him, that I had actually succeeded a tiny bit in my OCD tendencies simply by the fact that I had continued to live my life even with that low-level bad feeling. While I typed, I felt the poison pounding through me, the desire to act. I suddenly flashed back to my terrible days of OCD, back when Max was a baby. How I could not even take a walk without going back to check things.

But one day, about a month into taking Prozac, I felt the craving to go back and check, just as I walked past the Stop & Shop. I was fully aware of the craving and the profound discomfort it gave me. But I also knew, with a feeling that was just as strong as the fiery craving, that I needed to experience walking on in order to build up a history of walking on. I needed to know I did it once, and could therefore survive. So that day, I walked on, without going back. I felt horrible at first, sweating and tense, but the further I got, the more I realized, “Well, it’s actually now too late to go back. I will have to live with this, with whatever happens as a result of not going back.” And I could keep going. I eventually felt a release from the need. It was over.

Perhaps the worst thing about OCD is that things are never over. But that may also be, deep down, why you do it. Because then you can live in perpetual, unreal state. A state of, “But if I do this [ritual]… then…” The perpetual state allows you to think magically, to believe that your OCD behavior can right the wrong.

I realized: you have to want something to be over in order to let go of OCD. (Well, that, and you have to have well-greased synapses.) While I was texting with Ned, I was profoundly aware of how badly I wanted to be better, to be done with this particular obsession. And then I remembered the walking-on, fifteen years ago. I thought that if I sit and absorb these bad feelings without acting on them, I will then know what it feels like to resist; to be done. But — it will mean I am done. Can I handle that?

“I’ll be home soon,” typed Ned.

I felt it lift away, like the dissipation of a bad smell. I smiled to myself. I was tired. And a little hungry.

So I ate the damned candy in the shoe, smiling.

Pink Void

This is the other costume I bought last week. After months of nothing right, my Swap Meet website ( suddenly offered two magnificent pink cossies. So, I took my Baby Bellies earnings and bought ’em! These are stills taken from a vid.

Tabblo: Valentine's Day Costume

I was dancing to one of my favorites, Natacha Atlas' version of "I Put a Spell on You." … See my Tabblo>

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Funny Valentine

The sky is raining
But it’s shining in my heart
–Stevie Ray Vaughn, and me, The Sky is Crying

We have a two-hour delay (except Nat) from the frozen rain that is falling on top of the snow we had last night. Ben is so happy, he actually said, “Yay!” Little B!

Last night was a big public meeting in Town Hall, and the school parents turned out in droves. The meeting was about whether or not we should break up the tax increase proposal into two or three sections (naturally, the second and third sections are for school initiatives, and so suddenly everyone in town is an expert about what the schools should be offering, and how they are spending too much money as it is). Having been on the School Committee, I know that the cuts have been severe from the state level (thanks to a spineless Legislature) and at the federal level (even with President Bush’s ironically-named “No Child Left Behind” which has actually brought about the exact opposite of what it proposes). I know that heating and healthcare have skyrocketed in the last six years. And the cost of Collective Bargaining issues. Okay, okay. Still, it was a terrific meeting, with a lot of impassioned, articulate speeches from both sides. I saw so many people I know and love from both sides of this particular fence, from my days on the School Board and from Town Meeting and also school parents, and all I could feel was, “Jeez, I love this crazy town.” And I know it’s going to be alright. Even the most “conservative” speaker (who is a really good man) was saying, “I’m in favor of a reasonable Override…” Well, I am, too. And all of it seems reasonable to me (first part is to pay for the structural deficit; second part is to lengthen the school day to be in compliance with the state’s mandates; and the third part is to bring back the elementary World Language Program; currently we only offer it starting in 7th grade, but we used to offer it starting in Kindergarten. And it was Mandarin Chinese. I’d say that a town that tries to bill itself as one of The Best school systems in The Country ought to continue to stand behind that claim and keep up with the demands of the times.

Well-satisfied with that meeting, I walked home with my next-door neighbor, the tiny cold snowflakes kissing our hair, the sky that delicate pinkish-gray it gets from snow. My lungs were full and cool, and the air on my overheated face just tingled.

Yesterday I also got further into my new book idea, which is really the old book idea, but twisted into a topic and angle that I can handle. (I hope my editor agrees.) I had idea after idea as I did the Stairmaster to Bob Dylan. I guess I overdid it at the gym because a few hours later I ate a ton of chocolate ice cream. I absolutely needed to eated. But that felt really, really good.

Then it was onto the Baby Bellies, with my very full belly. Now I was so ready for those Beast-ettes. I ripped 7 discs of Misirlou for them and typed the choreography up and printed them out, only to realize that some of them are so little they may not be able to read yet! (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some of my favorite people on this planet don’t or can’t read.) But I figured I would just go over the choreography with them, and just show them it all.

One of them got really anxious that she didn’t know it. Another just pouted the whole time! (But then, when her mom came in she told me how much S loved the class and wanted to buy her hip scarf and veil, which I sold her for $35 ) So I did all my reassuring and demonstrating, giving descriptive names to all our moves or making jokes (“This is the flower-in-the-circle.” Or “Watch the sock on the wall when you turn or you’ll get dizzy!”). Sometimes I pretended I was the sock on the wall so that they would pay attention and laugh. I would lean on the wall in a slouch and hang my head, limp, with my tongue out, channeling the sock that we pin up there for spotting. Needless to say, they like me as the sock better than the sock as the sock.

They squabble and bicker about who is in what group (I divided them into two groups for the grand entrance), and who should go in first! They come into the circle in a clump that is as far from the Platonic ideal of a circle as you can ever get. But they are all working so hard to do their moves, the darlings.

The three-point turns were a disaster. They collide into one another, and they get so dizzy. I have to figure out what to do but I probably will just keep it like it is, because that’s my vision. And that’s the part they love the best. I’ve been teaching them to listen for when the music changes, so that they know when the next part is coming. (“Listen for the rattling. That is telling you to shimmy.” Or “Here comes the flute, now it’s time to pedal turn.”)

At one point I looked down and one of them was looking up at me, her arms wide, a big smile on her face. It took me a long moment to realize that she was asking me for a hug. An early and very delicious Valentine’s Day for me.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Feh! G’nick! Dayenu! Uncle!
Enough with the ugly winter, already.

I’m ready for it to go off now. Did that fat rodent see her shadow, or what? Yesterday, ironically on the way to my Egyptian bellydance class, we had weather fit for a Pharaoh. First, there were flakes the size of feathers coming down; thunder; then, bright sunshine and I even had to turn off my heat.

Went to class, (learned this really neat pivot-turn-turn-turn thing and new bouncy C of a hip walk) and when I came out — blizzard conditions! This being Central Square, Cambridge, there were all kinds of mean-and-nasty bits strewn all over the streets, blowing in the idiot wind. You had to duck to avoid being pelted with rocks and garbage. And tiny, hard snow peas.

CONTEST: If you can correctly identify and explain origins of all six of the famous cultural references from the 60’s – 80’s in the above paragraph, I will make a limerick out of your name in an upcoming blogpost, or some such tribute. No fair googling.

By the time I got to Chestnut Hill to pick up Nat from his movie, bright shining sun lit up the newly whitened trees. The sky had the heavy lavender — fake lighting look of a late August sky.

Except it was still $#%Q$# February!!!!!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I like a Saturday like this. Everyone is suitably engaged: Nat (and Ned) are at a birthday party; Max and Ben are gaming together; Max is occasionally discussing his Anime Convention costume with me; I am getting stuff done while reading Ann Packer’s Songs Without Words. It is a story that is centered around a suicide and then a suicide attempt. It is about women’s friendships and the relationships between mothers and their teenage kids. There is a little husband-wife stuff, but not enough. Otherwise I love it. (she typed, getting up for a paper towel to wipe the 25-calorie hot cocoa she spilled on it.) I love reading about things I’ve wondered about but have no intention of trying: what it’s like to be so sad you kill yourself; what drives a couple to finally say, “okay, that’s it, we’re over.”

Speaking of the former — I mean sadness, not suicide — yesterday was a baffling whopper. It hit me out of the blue, or should I say, out of the gray; a bastard of a mood that was shat out of dingy white hole in the sky. I could not blame it on my cycle, lack of sleep, stress, or anything tangible except stupid weather and stupid me.

I get so down about my career choice sometimes. Being a writer makes you so dependent on others, including yourself You have to be able to organize and spew ideas that appeal, that will ignite minds and sell. You have to keep hammering away at agents and editors and friends for contacts. You have to keep believing you have something worthwhile to say. That you’re not over.

Yesterday I was lucky in that my pain led me to a bright spot: a revision of an old idea. I got out my old proposal and started to change it over to the new idea. Still a book about fulfillment in the midst of adversity, but with a few new twists. Even a new title. So I’m happy about that, and yesterday, was dancing on air.

And so… I danced. Not on air, but on a creaky hardwood floor. I did not even need the mirror this time. I just lost myself in the song — Misirlou, of course — and the flash of pink I was making across the room.

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