I NEVER Get Nominated for Anything, So Indulge Me.

We have a little business to attend to here.

The other day, I was checking my stats and followed a link back to the 2010 BlogLuxe Awards, where I found Stimeyland in the Funniest Blog category.

Blown away, I was. Knock me over with a feather, you could.

See, all kinds of quality writing about small rodents aside, I NEVER get nominated for awards or put on lists, so I was pretty delighted to find my lil’ ol’ blog there.

Of course, I have no illusions of victory, because there are some incredibly funny blogs on that list. Hell, I don’t even know if I would vote for myself out of the people on that list. (Okay. I take it back. I’ve totally already voted for myself. Twice.)

Anyway, if you feel like you’d like to vote, please feel free to check out the list of nominees and make your selections.

My other blog, The Junk Pyramid, is also nominated in the Chief Executive Organizer category.

Some of my friends were nominated too! TeachMama is much-deservedly listed in the Blog You’ve Learned the Most From category. Please vote for her. She’s awesome. PunditMom is nominated in the Most Provocative category. Also please go vote for her. Minky (Moo) was nominated in both the Funniest Blog and Beautiful Eye Candy categories. Please go vote for her in the Eye Candy category. I don’t think I have to say more.

You can vote once every day until July 12 if you are so inclined.

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Also, as long as I’m asking you to do stuff, would you mind heading over to this survey and filling out some quick demographic information? It’s for some ads I might be running with Hopeful Parents. If you fill it out, I’ll enter you into a drawing to win a $20 gift card from Starbucks or Amazon or Target, or really anywhere you want a gift card from as long as it’s easy for me to buy it. To enter the drawing you can enter your email address in the survey, but if you don’t want to attach your email address to that information, just leave me a comment on this post telling me that you filled it out. I’ll probably pick a winner on, oh, let’s say July 15. Thank you!

It Turns Out My Weekend Was Packed and Long—But Not As Long As This Post

Oh, hi! I feel like I haven’t been here for a while. How have you been?

(Message from the Future Stimey that just finished writing this post: This turned out to be very long. Don’t you wish I were less verbose? Anyway, just a warning that you should save this post for later if your kid is about to wake up from a nap or something.)

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I’m terribly sorry that I missed posting my Camp Stimey Saturday Summary and Camp Stimey Coming Attractions because I was too busy, but let me recap here for you so you don’t feel totally abandoned.

Camp Stimey Saturday Summary (on Monday): We went to Jamestown with Joeymom and then did various barely Jamestown-related things.

Camp Stimey Coming Attractions: I have no idea what we’re doing this week. Am slacker.

There you go.

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One of the reasons I haven’t been around is because we had friends come into town to see Phish at Merriweather. Actually, it’s more complicated than that with various meet-ups, and Alex’s trips out of town for other shows, and complicated scheduling issues, and an extremely crowded New Jersey ferry, evidently, but what it boiled down to was that I got to see my friends when they came to my house on Saturday and I got to go to a show on Sunday.

It was awesome. Although I have been to dozens of Phish shows, I haven’t been to one in six years. It was a great show. I was very happy to be there. Our seats, however, were unfortunately situated in an actual fucking sauna. It was really, really hot.

But totally worth it.

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Speaking of hot, we got a swimming pool. We don’t join a pool because I am afraid of, you know, the drowning, but my kids love to be in water, so we have to have a wading pool. Ours “broke” (and by “broke,” I mean “Alex lost the plug for it”) last summer, so we had to get a new one.

I searched online all over and finally decided that if I went to a store and stood in front of the pools I’d be able to make a decision: Hard plastic? Inflatable? The $150 pool that is 12 feet across and four feet deep? There were many criteria: What if the pool doesn’t fit in my car? What if the pool pops? What about, you know, the drowning?

It turns out that looking for a pool in the store is exactly like looking for a pool online except for the fact that there are three children running around you screaming, “I want this one! Can we buy that? Hey, look at the Toy Story 3 display over there!”

We ended up with an inflatable pool and I am convinced that it will pop almost immediately, but it was $30, so if I can make it last most of the summer then we’re okay.

They’re playing Stimey Cup Soccer.

Apparently I chose the correct pool, as it was very calming.

Where do you think he learned this? Not from me.
I’m the least calm person in the world.

Then he taught his brothers.

I swear. I should just leave Sam in charge all the time.
I’d never be able to get them to do that.

While my kids were developing their Ch’i, I was getting attacked by a vicious praying mantis.

Yes, I realize it’s a baby, but do you see his attack stance?

I spent a long time taking his photo with varying degrees of (non) success and then gave up and spent some time chatting on the phone with my mom. At which point the thing tried to run up my leg under my pants.

I’m sure my mom’s hearing will be recovering any day now. (Also, I didn’t kill him.)

 He’s cute until he tries to enter you vaginally.

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This weekend also saw the last game of Sam’s baseball season. He was part of this great rookie team that was completely focused on learning about the game and good sportsmanship. They didn’t even keep score at games. It was awesome.

Sam is now officially in love with baseball. Unfortunately, the photo below isn’t as good as if he were wearing his baseball pants. Sadly, because Alex has been out of town so much lately and Alex does our laundry (hey, ladies, don’t be haters), we couldn’t find Sam’s pants.

The really sad thing is that he is also commando here.

Any season where you get a medal is a good one, according to Sam.

He’s really proud. As he should be. He did great.

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Can you believe I’m still not done with our weekend activities? Quinn had a birthday party to go to on Sunday as well. It was at some sports club that had the most bad ass kids’ room I’ve ever seen.

Quinn proved himself to be a rockstar on the climbing wall.

He’s about a foot off the ground in this photo, but he did make it to the top.

He was really good at climbing this thing. And check out his left calf muscle in this photo. He’s hard core. He also really enjoyed hurling himself backwards off of the wall onto the soft padded floor. NO FEAR!

Unfortunately, he was extremely distressed about the rest of the party. You know how there’s always one kid at any birthday party who’s irrationally angry and then sad and then angry again, with a little bit of assholery thrown in? That was Quinn at this party.

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Well, that was my weekend. (Don’t tell anyone, but the pool-buying expedition was actually on Friday.)

Anyway, since I haven’t given you any mouse updates lately, I thought I’d let you know that all five of them are still alive (knock on wood! knock on wood!). Take THAT, doubters!

Here is photo of Gerbil for you. I cleaned Mouse Town today and she spent about fifteen minutes just hanging out in this tube after I was done.

Frankly, it was a pretty poor hiding spot.

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Sometimes don’t you wish I was one of those bloggers who didn’t feel the need to keep you updated on every last stupid thing in her life?

Autism Unexpected: Your Stress Affects Your Child: How to Fight It

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On a scale of one to ten, how high is your stress level? If it is on the high side, how do you think your stress affects your children? It might be more than you think.

A late-2009 study reported that autism moms have stress levels similar to combat soldiers. A 2008 study that showed that 39% of mothers parenting children with challenging behavior are stressed at the clinically significant level, and that this stress negatively impacts a child’s outcome.

I know that my stress affects my kids. If I had to casually rate my stress, I’d probably put it at a four on good days and a nine on bad days. I’m a lot more patient and engaged with my kids on the “four” days. On the “nine” days, I am more likely to snap at them—and my husband. I am more inclined to let them watch television or play video games instead of engaging with them, playing and teaching.

This maternal stress, while present for all mother figures, can be even worse for parents of children with special needs. The constant needs, the never knowing when something is going to go terribly wrong for or with one of our children, and the intense isolation brought on by special needs parenting can combine to create a pressure cooker situation for autism moms that hurts everyone in the family.

Rondalyn Whitney, a research coordinator for the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, is studying this very thing and has some strong opinions on how badly moms of kids with special needs have to take care of themselves. She has embarked on a doctoral study about maternal stress and how journaling can help to combat it.

“My real area of passion is family quality of life,” she says. “I had to get the word out that families were in pain. Families knew it. Researchers didn’t.”

She is particularly concerned about caregivers who take on the “mother role,” regardless of gender (examples of non-mothers taking on this role include gay men, grandparents, and some fathers). “Supporting the mother is a protective factor for the whole family,” she reports. “Not supporting the mother is a risk factor.”

A 51-year-old mother of a child with non-verbal learning disorder (NLD) herself, Whitney says that after taking a written stress test, she discovered that she was at the critical range and had to take concrete steps to remedy the situation.

Most parents of children with autism are aware of this stress and isolation, but we don’t know how to combat it, or we put our children’s mental health ahead of our own. It is easy to identify the problem, but so much harder to find a solution.

Whitney stresses the need for what she calls “casserole friends,” friends who will be there for us even when it is difficult for them, friends who will just show up with a casserole to make your day better. A casserole friend will invite you over and tell you that her house is “meltdown friendly.” A casserole friend will go out of her way to ease your stress without asking for anything in return.

Twenty years ago people averaged four good friends. Social isolation studies today tell us that 50% of us don’t even have one. “This is happening across all groups,” Whitney says, “but it overly impacts those of us who are parents of kids with special needs because we’re already isolated.”

“Community is very important,” she says. “Social isolation is a phenomenon that is breaking us down. Being involved in something [for yourself as a mother and a person] is important. I’d like moms to build a community. We’ve done it for the autism community, for the NLD community, but we haven’t done it for ourselves,” she observes. We handle our children and their needs but we don’t take care of ourselves.

There is a common saying: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Whitney holds this to be true, calling mothers the “pivot point” of the family. Fathers tend to be out of the house more and often have a community outside the home. Mothers are less likely to have this support. Furthermore, mothers are likely to incorporate their children in their day to day activities whereas fathers are more likely to play in different, more focused ways. It is this immersion in their children’s lives that increases maternal stress.

Furthermore, the myth of the perfect mother haunts many moms. “We all as mothers have this ideal. Anything that doesn’t meet up to this, we tend to hide it. If we feed our kids Frosted Flakes every day for dinner, we don’t tell anyone,” Whitney says, adding, “As I’ve talked to mothers, I’ve found there is no perfect mother. We’re all feeding them Fruit Loops.”

“Don’t compare your internal world to others’ external faces,” she suggests.

Whitney suggests taking short mindful moments throughout the day to combat stress. Take two minutes to engage in self-pity. Take two minutes to laugh at nothing. Take two minutes to get some wiggles out. Take two minutes to get some silence. Whitney herself puts small chocolates in a Ziploc bag with the label “Rx” on the outside to give herself a chuckle and to take some time for herself.

Get some exercise, get moving, insist on support from your child’s interventionists, and take some time to write are all ways Whitney suggests to reduce your stress levels.

She is currently engaged in a research study to show that writing helps reduce maternal stress. “Disclosure about emotional information, positive or negative, decreases stress and increases things like immunocompetency,” she says. “It’s important to have a place to say all the bad things you’re thinking.”

So many mothers put themselves at the very end of their list of things to take care of. Everyone and every thing comes first. This selflessness isn’t good for the family. “We’re not complaining. We’re willing to do it. But it’s a lot,” Whitney says. Moms who aren’t stressed are better moms, she continues. We intuitively know this, “but haven’t given ourselves permission to know it know it—to demand it.”

Whitney is seeking participants for her study on Journal Writing for Mothers. This all-online study is open to any mothers of children with autism spectrum disorders who live at home. The study requires you to take an online stress test before and at the conclusion of your participation in the study. The study itself asks you to complete eight online journal writing exercises over a course of eight weeks.

You can find information on her study (link opens PDF file) and find instructions on how to sign up to participate by entering the search term “Journal Writing for Mothers” at the IAN Project website. To contact Whitney and her research assistants directly, email JournalWritingForMothers@gmail.com.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on June 28, 2010.

Mini Jamestown

As I mentioned yesterday, I picked up a little something in the Jamestown gift shop to continue our learning at home. I know. I’m a giant nerd. I bought a 3-D wooden puzzle of the Jamestown Fort because I thought it would be fun and not at all splinter-causing or soul crushing.

I will call it Mini Jamestown.

This afternoon, Sam, Jack, Quinn, and I sat down with the six flat pieces of wood and the three tiny ships that I also bought them to quickly put Jamestown together.

Okay. So how hard can this puzzle be?

Oy. That’s a lot of pieces. And…not a lot of instructions.

Okay though. No problem. We’re four relatively smart people, even if some of us are more interested in twirling in circles and randomly punching pieces out of the board than systematically putting a puzzle together.

I’m talking about you, sir.

I did have one steadfast helper who patiently let me figure out a plan to put the thing together and use a pencil to jam all the little pieces out.

Thanks, Sam! Hey, wait. Where are you going?

Have you ever gotten a craft to do with your kids only to have them abandon you so you’re left at the dining room table pulling splinters out of your fingers and muttering curse words quietly to yourself?

Yeah. Me too.

But, hey! Look! I made a house!

Try not to notice that the roof is upside down.

Guys! Come back! It’s starting to take shape! Come back and look! Guys! Guys? Guys…

Fine. Be that way.

It’s all coming together. All that’s left are the walls.

The walls were easy enough, if a bit flimsy looking. Kids! Come here! I need your boats! But for the love of Christ, don’t touch the fortress walls, they are not very sturdy!

Ta da!

So the fortress walls aren’t very battle worthy. It’s not like Mini Jamestown has any enemies.

NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Scabbers, not the walls!!

Back to the box with you!

Whew. That was a close one. Thank goodness we vanquished the tiny predator.

Dammit, Squeaky! You too?

That’s it. Those mice are going to be punished…with lots of head scritching and rumply cuddles.

So maybe Mini Jamestown wasn’t the great group activity I hoped it would be, but at least I know how to make my own fun. Plus, my kids did learn something. Of course that something is that it is great fun to make furry Godzillas out of the mice, but still.

Tomorrow we’ll be concluding Jamestown Week by doing a lot of not thinking about Jamestown.

Autism Unexpected: How Do People With Autism Experience Pain?

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I find it interesting how my autistic son Jack reacts to injuries. He gets them often enough, because he’s pretty clumsy and because he has two rough and tumble brothers. But while those neurotypical brothers are oh-so-dramatic about their minor pains, Jack is incredibly matter of fact about the whole thing.

My oldest son is kind of a drama king. The smallest injury—sometimes even an imaginary injury brought on by a brotherly assault he doesn’t care for—merits a full-on screaming fit and the demanding of multiple apologies.

The youngest takes incredible, acrobatic tumbles and usually pops up with a cheery, “I’m okay!” Brotherly injustices will send him down the drama king path as well, though. He has already learned that getting hurt can sometimes lead to extra cuddles or a special privilege to make him feel better, so he will often try to manipulate me into turning his pain into a treat.

Jack, on the other hand, has a very straightforward reaction to getting hurt. Just as he is the least whiny of my three children, he is also the least dramatic about perceived pain. When he does react, I know that he is really hurt, and I need to take some action. For him, big hugs usually do the trick.

In fact, even more than pain, the sight of blood causes Jack the most distress. He will often be fine after an injury until he looks down and sees red. Then he starts to scream: “BLOOOOOOD!” Usually the instant a bandage is put over the blood or I clean him up, he is completely fine again.

I know that people with autism often feel pain differently that typical folks. I know some people would say that autistic people don’t feel pain, but I don’t believe that to be true. I do believe that some of them probably experience it differently, maybe as sensation instead of pain. Or maybe communication problems lead to stoicism in the face of pain. Or maybe, just as in the general population, some autistic individuals just have a high tolerance to pain.

As someone with tendencies similar to Jack, I know that I would much rather experience sharp pain than listen to some of the noises that trigger my sensory processing difficulties. I can deal with pain. I cannot deal with hearing someone’s low, loud bass emanating from their car stereo. The latter is far worse for me. I wonder if there is a similar thing going on with my son.

Of course, there is pain and then there is pain. Severe pain is going to affect everyone in a pretty terrible way. My son experienced such an injury the other day. He ended up at the ER with my husband. He is fine now, but based on the injury in question, I’m sure the pain was intense. Still, he seemed more concerned about having my husband answer his questions about what was going to happen. Even in this extreme case, Jack’s anxiety over the unknown trumped the physical pain.

I find my son’s reaction to pain, like so many of the manifestations of his autism, to be fascinating. I also find it fascinating that the way he deals with injury is so much easier than the way my other children deal with it. His straightforward way of being is sometimes a true blessing.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on June 24, 2010.

Jamestown

You know what’s far away from my house? Jamestown. Like, multiple hours from my house far away.

Luckily, Team Stimey had a stop en route to pick up Joeymom, Joey, and Andy. Then we drove for, like, ten more hours to get to Jamestown. Happily, Joeymom, et al, so generously had wrapped-up Zhu Zhu pet gifts for my kids, which made them so happy for the duration of the ride. (And the visit to Jamestown, and the ride home, and every second since. Thank you, Joeymom!!)

Incidentally, do you have any idea how loud six Zhu Zhu pets in a minivan can be? (Answer: Loud. And squeaky.)

Our triumphant arrival at Jamestown.

Also, does anyone other than me try to substitute “Jonestown” for “Jamestown”? They are totally not the same thing. Although I don’t think I would have wanted to live in either place.

We started at the far end of Jamestown at Joeymom’s suggestion, which I think was brilliant. It was also the hottest end of Jamestown, it being about 99 degrees. Joey kept claiming that it was somewhere between 192 and 196 degrees, but I think he was off by a little.

If you’re not familiar with Jamestown, there is a museum, some ships to explore, an Indian village, and the Jamestown Fort, with lots of buildings to check out.

Does it look hot to you by any chance?

Everything there was really cool and kind of makes you think about how badass the colonists were. Let’s not even talk about winter, which must have been horrible. Let’s talk about summer when it was eight million degrees and there was no air conditioning, and probably a fire burning in every house. I wouldn’t have made it. I probably would have spent the summer sitting in the water on the beach whining and then a crocodile would’ve gotten me. Or tiny fishes, whatever.

Sure, half of the residents of Jamestown died and all, but those mofos who lived? Bad. Ass.

No matter how sucky it would have been to actually live at Jamestown though, it would have been even suckier to spend four months on a relatively tiny boat getting there.

Honestly, I probably would have jumped overboard during week two and tried to swim for land. And then a shark would have gotten me.

Have I mentioned that I have a little bit of a phobia about things that Lurk in the water?

Sam found his dream weapon on one of the ships.

It turns out that most of the people on the ships just laid their mats on top of the cargo and slept there, but a select few got bunks. Quinn really, really liked the bunks. I think he might have climbed in every one.

At least he remembered to take off his shoes.

I think I might have been in the hold when I took this one.

Hi, Sam!

Quinn kind of took the cake for me today. He cracks me up so much just by being him.

It was hot, okay?

And then the Zhu Zhu got hot.

One of the buildings at the fort was a church. Joeymom asked Sam what kind of building he thought it was and he was all, “A church?” And I was all, “How do you think Sam learned about what churches look like?”

Quinn continued to amuse.

This is what I imagine people (like me) sitting in churches would feel like.

I’ve clearly trained him well in the art of posing though.

No trip to Jamestown is complete without a historical re-enactment of the trip from England to Virginia though.

Preferably with Zhu Zhu pets as ships.

Our intrepid explorer sets off!

And then another. Two comes right after one!

Land ho! And a mourning period for Quinn’s Zhu Zhu, lost at sea.

There you have Camp Stimey’s trip to Jamestown. Oh, except for the 16-hour drive home. (Okay, I exaggerate.) At least I had the awesome Joeymom to chat with for a big chunk of the way. It was a good, if hot, day.

I also picked up a little something in the gift shop for tomorrow’s Colonial, oh let’s just call it Jamestown Week activity.