This Would Be Easier With Fewer Children

I had a lovely Thanksgiving, but I don’t want anyone to think that I didn’t notice that Thursday was the start line for three…two…one…Christmas…GO!!!!!

I didn’t shop or browse or make plans or anything over the weekend, but I did come to the startling realization that of the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the past eleven months, there isn’t ONE that is a holiday card-worthy shot of all three of my kids.

With this in mind, when Alex suggested we take the kids to the park on Friday, I grabbed my camera and tagged along. Surely I’d be able to snap at least one moderately successful photo of all three of my kids.

(Those of you with three kids are laughing hysterically right about now.)

Considering that last year’s photo included dirty clothing, a child with a black eye, and not everyone looking at the camera, you should believe me when I say that I’m not looking for perfection out of my children. I’m just looking for personality and a photo where no one is making an obscene gesture.

Alex had some grand plans, however. He saw a tree and was all, “How about we line them all up on a branch?”

Okay, Alex. How about we do that?

Step One: Hoist Quinn into a precarious position in the tree. Tell him to hold on and stay calm.

Possibly take a knee to the nose.

Step Two: Ignore completely unphotogenic positioning of youngest child and go about inserting terrified middle child into the tree.

We knew he was terrified because he said, “I’m terrified.”

Step Three: Give the terrified middle child plenty of opportunity to calm down while realizing that lifting 70 pounds of Sam is harder in reality than it sounds in theory.

Get…up….there!

Step Four: Delight in the fact that you have captured the perfect holiday card moment.

Ta da!

Okay, even with my lax standards, I can’t put that on a holiday card. So how’s about we try putting them in a gazebo. That sounds lovely, right?

Yeah. That’s about right.

So posing them isn’t working very well. How about I let them play and I’ll capture the perfect moment just by chance? (And by “chance,” I mean “fat chance.”)

Crazy much, Sam?

Well, two years ago, I got a great photo for my card by making my kids hug. Maybe I could capture that again.

SO close. If only Quinn’s eyes were open.

I’m pretty good at doctoring photos though. Maybe I can work some magic on those closed peepers

Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no.

Maybe I could use an alternate photo subject.

She was really unhappy about the tunnel, by the way.

Step Penultimate: Admit defeat. Get great photo of my children’s warlike victory over compliance. Mutter curse words under my breath.

Take that, scurvy photographer!

The last step, of course, is to sic the children on their father, who had abandoned us at the park while I was in the middle of trying to capture photos of my kids going down the slide. It will not surprise you to hear that the slide photos did not turn out.

Shortly thereafter, they ran him through with their plastic swords.

Well then. Maybe just a letter this year.

Thankful…

…for these guys.

Well, duh.

Jack came home from school the other day with a little book of things he is thankful for. Its contents are better than anything I could write, so I’ll let him do our Thanksgiving day post. Take it away, Jack!

 Team Stimey, by Jack.

 I think Jack might be sucking up to his teacher on this next page. I don’t believe a word of it.

 At school, I’m thankful for…
doing my work.

 This next one though? All true.

 I’m thankful I have…
to play video games on Sunday, Friday and Saturday.

Seriously. The Nintendo corporation should have him on retainer.

This next one is my favorite of the whole bunch. I think you might be able to see why.

 Outside, when I look at nature, I’m thankful for…
finding the perfect flower for mom.

 Jack gets a little meta on the next page.

I almost forgot! I’m also thankful for…
being thankful!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends. Happy Thursday to everyone else.

Photo Session

I’m such a fan of school photos. My kids are gorgeous and charismatic, but that so rarely comes through in school photos, which is ironic, considering those people are quote-unquote professional photographers.

This year I didn’t order any photos, I just ordered a CD with the final image and a copyright release. I was highly amused to see that Sam and Jack’s CDs each contained one image, but Quinn’s contained three. I can’t decide if it’s because they wanted to make me laugh harder than I’ve ever laughed in my life or because they thought his photos were unusable and they figured three unusable photos were better than one.

I disagree. I think they’re über-usable. I always put my kids’ school photos in a three-space frame, and I’m having a hard time deciding which of Quinn’s to use. I’m leaning toward the second one. You’ll see.

I’ve decided to present my children with awards for their photos.

Sam: Most normal looking.
OR
Sam: “I’ve had the most practice at this”-est.
Jack: Toothiest.
OR
Jack: Most obviously recently coiffed.
Quinn: Most “They told me to smile”-est.
Quinn: Most “Is this better?”-est.
OR
Quinn: Best capture of a personality.
Quinn: Most stoned.
OR
Photo Company: “Let’s give them the one with his eyes
half closed because he looks less crazy“-est.

Procuring a Turkey

Alex cooks Thanksgiving dinner. All of it. It started one year when he made the turkey and then he just took over more and more. Now, all I am responsible for is mixing the fruit cocktail into the Jell-o* and opening the cranberry sauce—you know, the gelatin food group.

In exchange for Alex’s continued cooperation in cooking all of Thanksgiving dinner, I try to not call too much attention to it and also avoid eye contact while thanking him profusely. I also am willing to look the other way when he insists on buying a fancy turkey from a farm market instead of a Butterball from the grocery store.

This isn’t such a bad thing, I suppose. Our first year in Maryland, we went to the grocery store the day before Thanksgiving to find a turkey, but all they had left were frozen turkeys. After assuring us that we were too late(!) and we would not be able to find a non-frozen turkey anywhere(!), the store employee suggested we buy two chickens instead.

We found a fresh turkey at the next grocery store over.

Anyway, when Alex tells me that he ordered a turkey from the farm market, I roll my eyes, get a couple extra twenties out of the ATM and prepare to eat myself sick. This year, however, Alex gave me the task of picking up the turkey myself.

Audible sigh.

I guess that picking up a 15-pound turkey on his motorcycle commute is not Alex’s cup of tea. C’mon, what are saddlebags for?

Word is that our turkey was “processed”** three days ago, so the munchkins and I headed down to the market today to pick up the bird. Turns out that said farm market is a stand on the side of the road.

Hmmm. Dicey.

IMG_9859

We ended up walking through the mud on the other side of the cars.

I will neither confirm nor deny that I dropped our turkey in the mud.

Now he’s in our fridge all ready to be stuffed, basted, and devoured. Thank you, kind hapless turkey, for being our dinner. I look forward to sitting on the couch while Alex cooks you.

I love Thanksgiving.

* I am WELL aware of how trashy this makes me, but twice a year I eat a whole box of raspberry Jell-o with fruit cocktail mixed in. Sue me.

** “Murdered.”

Autism Unexpected: My 7-Year-Old Knows He Has Autism

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My kid knows he has autism. He’s only seven, but he knows.

In fact, I told Jack that he has autism a couple of years ago. I made a conscious decision that it would be easier for him to grow up with the word than to have it suddenly hurled at him when he is older.

I’m not saying that this is the approach for every family, but for us, this is what we decided.

See, Jack knows he’s different. He knows he has a paraeducator at school. He knows he goes to speech and occupational therapy and social skills group, but that not every kid does.

He knows he acts different than the other kids in his class.

I want to get to Jack and teach him that his autism is a mix of pluses and minuses, but that his differences don’t make him less. I want to get to him before he hears that autism is a bad thing. I want him to grow up into a proud autistic man, and in order to do that, I need to tell him about Autism and Jack before he hears about Autism and Devastation.

I’ve always talked about autism with my kids in terms of the way people’s brains work. “All of our brains work differently,” I tell them. “Some things are harder for some of us because of this, and some things are easier. Jack, the way your brain works is called autism.”

All of us have differences, I tell them, but Jack’s difference happens to have a name.

I’ve told my kids that there are all kinds of autism, and we’ve talked about how Jack is really good at remembering things and how my oldest son is good at talking with other kids and how my youngest is good at making people laugh.

All three of my kids, as well as my husband and I, have strengths and weaknesses, and we talk about them. We talk about how no one can be good at everything, but we can use our strengths to be the best people we can be.

I also think the fact that Jack has siblings is a reason why we talk so much about autism. With one older and one younger brother who intuitively recognize that they should help Jack with the things he struggles with, it only seems fair to talk to them about why he’s different.

I also hope that the more I normalize Jack’s autism, the more his brothers will be inclined to respond to “What’s wrong with your brother?” with “Nothing. His brain just works a little differently. He’s cool.”

Mostly, I want Jack to feel good about himself. How much he decides to self-identify as autistic is ultimately up to him. I’m just trying to lay some groundwork in hopes that he doesn’t feel that his autism will make him a failure. I’ve been waiting for his self-awareness to kick more before we get a little deeper into the nuances of it all.

It looks like that’s starting to happen. The other day Jack and I were in the car and he was pretending to be Garfield, as he is wont to do. He asked me if I knew Jack. I told him I did. Then Jack (as Garfield) said, “He has a lot of autism—he uses his brain to be smart.”

There is still a lot of explaining, understanding and maturing that needs to happen, but I’m happy to see that some of my message is getting through.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on November 21, 2010.

Adventures From My Week—Pumpkins, Fist Fights & Zombiraptors!

I have spent my week frantically working to catch up on…everything? Nothing? Somehow I am vaguely quivering with the notion that I have forgotten…something? Everything?

It has been quite a week, let me tell you. I spent most of it sneezing, due to the cold I had. Yesterday I woke up NOT feeling like the dog had slept on my face, so I assumed I was getting better. But today I woke up coughing.

I brought my pillow downstairs from my bedroom today and told Alex that when he gets home from work I will almost certainly be asleep on it.

Before that happens, I present to you…My Week! (Now with 30% more ellipses.)

Here’s something: Alex won. I finally gave up yesterday and tossed the pumpkins. Except for one, which I relocated to the back porch so we can still watch the squirrels snack on it, but the neighbors can’t watch Wild America, Team Stimey Edition.

Let’s see, what else happened this week? Oh! Quinn got into his first fist fight. My kids have these great friends who live just around the corner and every morning when we are waiting for the bus, they run around and play with each other. Well, on Wednesday, Quinn and his kindergarten buddy decided to fist fight for fun.

The words, “You guys, I don’t want want you to hit,” had just come out of my mouth when the other kid landed a lucky punch on Quinn’s nose and Quinn started crying. Then his nose started bleeding.

Then his nose started bleeding more.

Then he started to retch.

Then he started to throw up a delightful mix of blood and vomit all over his little buddy’s driveway while the other parents looked on—including the horrified dad of Quinn’s friend.

Honestly, I think sometimes it’s easier to be the parent of the kid who got hurt, especially in a no-blame situation where both kids were being idiots.

Naturally, as soon as Quinn stabilized, I walked him home, cleaned him up, and let him calm down for a while before I ultimately sent him to school. I also calmed down the other kid’s mom who called, frantically worried that her son had broken Quinn’s nose.

The fun part of this story, however, is that now that ANY KIND OF ROUGH PLAY AT THE BUS STOP BEFORE SCHOOL IS ABSOLUTELY FORBIDDEN, Quinn has started, for lack of a better word, performing at the bus stop.

Yesterday and today he spent our time at the bus stop prancing around and making funny noises. He hid behind a post and waved at the kids with one arm, then the other, then both. He’s started taking pratfalls, rolling around on the grass with his limbs all a-flailing, all to the delighted laughter of four or five other little kids waiting for the bus. It is hysterical.

Hmmmm, oh, Sam reached unforeseen levels of anxiety over a situation at school that is kind of unfair. I’ve mostly worked it out with the teacher, but basically I just had to tell Sam, “Dude, I agree with you. And it sucks. Tell me when it happens and I’ll try to deal with it.”

See, there’s a situation that all the kids in a class were getting a consequence for something that only some of the kids were doing, which is a whole can of worms because then the non-misbehaving kids are annoyed at the misbehaving kids when really they should be RAGING AGAINST THE MACHINE, but the machine never gets blamed does it? Not until college, at least.

Awesomely, Alex was all, “They can’t do that if he did nothing. It’s a basic tenet of due process.” Yeah. Tell it to the Fourth Circuit. I don’t think Sam is suing for violation of his rights.

Jack’s been on a pretty even keel. I did write about him and how he knows he has autism over at Hopeful Parents. (Well, he doesn’t have autism at Hopeful Parents. He has autism everywhere. I write about it at Hopeful Parents. Can you believe that I used to be a copy editor?)

I post over there on the 15th of every month and that is one of those things that I always feel like I am forgetting. I spend probably half of every month worried that I am going to forget to write there. Like, the 5th approaches and I’m all, “Oh, crap. Gotta think of a good idea.” And then the 10th approaches and I’m all, “Oh, crap. Don’t forget you have to write something for Hopeful Parents.” And then suddenly it’s the 15th at 10 p.m. and someone reminds me on twitter that I haven’t written anything and I’m all, “OH, CRAP. Brain dump.”

Something that did happen is that I made Jack a sandwich after school on Tuesday. He will occasionally make his own sandwich and has started cutting it into a triangle. When he asked me for a triangle sandwich, I attempted to waste the least amount of bread possible.

This was not acceptable to Jack.

From Twitter.

Detente was eventually achieved.

In Stimey news, I was reintroduced to one of my childhood traumas this week. Marita and Kate and I were on twitter discussing zombies and zombies at Christmas and then somehow something started up about velociraptors, which rapidly devolved into something about zombiraptors, and I ended up reading a forum page on which someone brought up the short story Leiningen Versus the Ants by Carl Stephenson.

For the non-twitterers out there, this will either convince you that Twitter is the most awesome thing in the world and you have to jump on it immediately or I just drove another nail into the “Why the hell do people waste time on Twitter” coffin.

Anyway, Leiningen Versus the Ants is basically about a man who wages war against a sea of invading, deadly ants. My sister was assigned to read that story in 7th grade English class, I think. Naturally, my 5th grade self read it as well. I don’t know what it was about the story, but it TERRIFIED me.

I would sit in my bed at night and position myself so that I could see the patch of light in the hallway to make sure that the ants weren’t flooding down the stairs.

Clearly I was not a very smart 5th grader because it’s not like that army of ants would show up unannounced. There would obviously be news reports like, “Well, the ants are in Peru now.” Then six months later, “The ants have achieved Mexico.” Then in another four months, “The ants are continuing their march toward their ultimate goal of Jean’s bedroom. No one tell her, okay?”

It is, to date, the scariest story I have ever read. And I read a lot of scary stories. (Why, just last night I read Bunnicula to my kids.) If you read it and you don’t think it’s scary, please keep in mind that I was a young(ish) child with a big imagination, a lack of critical thinking skills, and, evidently, a high level of anxiety.

I leave you now in hopes that you will conduct your Friday with joy and dignity. I am going to go sit at my back window and wait for the squirrels.

Writing About My Kids Online: Safety, Privacy, Legal Issues, Advocacy, History, and Loooooove!

I have read a flurry of posts recently about how much we should write about our children online. This is a fascinating question, and probably one with a different answer for each blogger out there.

I remember way back in journalism school, I took a class on magazine writing from a woman who said it took her about six months before she started using her baby as story fodder.

At the time I was a little bit aghast about her rampant exploitation of her child. But, hey, look! Now the only difference between me and her is that I exploit my children probably far more often than she does and for a lot less money.

There are a lot of reasons why I blog—self-expression and community being two of the biggest. But I also have specific reasons for writing about my kids the way I do. I see this issue through the lens of six smaller lenses (think fly eyes with lots of compound parts—or just six compound parts): safety, privacy, legal issues, advocacy, history, loooove.

Safety:

I’m vigilant about my kids’ safety. I have an alarm on my house. My kids don’t walk places by themselves (yet). I make them wear seat belts. I keep them away from swiftly moving water. I teach them about getting lost (and getting found). I am, repeat, vigilant about my kids’ safety.

I don’t think I would be less vigilant if I didn’t write about them online. I think most threats come from people in the real world. And statistically, most threats would come from people we know, so…

The way I write about my kids is very conscious and deliberate. Although I take precautions by keeping major identifying details out of most of my posts, I am aware that it wouldn’t be that hard to track me down in real life based on what I write. I’m not sure who is motivated enough to do such a thing, but I’m not going to say they’re not out there.

I use my kids’ real names and photos. I use my full name, although I only use my maiden name when I write, partly because that is the name I have always used when I write and partly because it is not the same as their last name.

Here’s the thing about the safety issue: I will always be vigilant about my kids’ safety. I have weighed the dangers of writing about them online and have deemed it an acceptable risk.

Privacy:

There is a lot of talk about how our kids are going to hate us when they’re teenagers because of the things we write about them now, or that what we write will prevent them from getting a job in the future. These arguments do stop me a little bit. I don’t want my kid to be teased because I wrote about potty training him. I also don’t want him to not get a security clearance when he’s job hunting because I wrote about how he wore a plush duck head as a hat for a year and that shows history of mental instability.

Again, I don’t use my kids’ last name. But that doesn’t mean that no one can find me. People I know in real life have already just stumbled across my blog while looking for entirely unrelated things. I can’t assume that Googlers of the Future (be sure to say that in a spooky voice) won’t be able to find my funny little musings on the time that Sam smacked down a three-year-old on the basketball court and decide to not hire him because he’s not a team player.

Again, here, I’ve decided that this is an acceptable risk, mainly because I follow one very important rule when I blog: When I am writing, I imagine that the person I am writing about is reading over my shoulder.

It doesn’t matter if I’m writing about Alex, my kids, or the neighbor down the street who doesn’t even know I blog. If I wouldn’t say what I am writing to their face, I don’t write it. Because here’s the thing: that person may very well stumble across my blog, put two and two together, and come to me about it. I want to be able to stand behind my words instead of go for the cheap, snarky shot that I can’t defend.  That’s not to say that all these people reading over my shoulder will be happy with what I wrote, but I do consider their feelings before I put hand to keyboard.

As my kids have gotten older, I have written less and less about them, because I do think their feelings about being written about as an older child are different than when they are young. I don’t want to write something that will make them upset or that will potentially come back to harm them in future years. And, yes, they do know about my blog, but I’m not sure they totally get it.

I also don’t tend to write other people’s stories. Sometimes big things happen to people close to me and I don’t write about it. I write about me and my family. That’s not because I’m a narcissist (well, not just because I’m a narcissist), but because it’s not my story to tell. That’s also why I blur other people’s faces unless I’ve explicitly asked them if I can put them or their children on the internet. Those aren’t my choices to make.

Legal Issues:

I have kids with special needs. When you have kids with special needs, there is always a chance that you will end up in a court of law or in a legal wrangle over special education services. I don’t want what I write here to hurt my children or stop them from getting what they need to succeed.

On the other hand, I have an accurate, real-time record of a lot of the major things that have happened to my children.

These sorts of legal issues can also be a factor in divorces and adoptions, neither of which I plan on experiencing anytime soon, but you never know.*

I loooooove you, Alex.

Advocacy:

A big part of the reason why I write is to make the world a little better for my kids. I want to share with people what it is like to be part of a special needs family. I want to teach people who might not know otherwise that there are a lot of things about autism that they might not expect.

I want to help other parents who are going through what I have been through. I want to tell them that it’s okay. I also want to hear from parents who can help and support me. This doesn’t just go for autism either, this can apply to marriage, parenting, antidepressants, or being infested with zombie squirrels.

I feel that real, honest writing can help people be more comfortable and accepting of who they are. I hope that normalizing some of the hard parts of life makes people realize that they’re not alone.

History:

I truly think that giving our children these stories about them, especially if they are so obviously full of love, is a gift. What we give them with our words is not just insight into us as their parents, but their younger selves. I don’t have strong memories of my childhood, certainly not as detailed as what I put on my blog. I would love to have that for me. I hope my children feel the same.

I also, as someone whose father died when she was seven, would love to have day-to-day stories of what he was like. God forbid my children ever need anything like that, but no matter what—death, divorce, illness—they will know my husband and I and what our relationship to each other and to them was like. Hell, my mother is still around and I think it would be fascinating if she had kept a record like this.

I think having a picture of me as a whole person will be great for them when my kids grow up. I also think they will relish the stories of them that I share and will like to see how our family meshed when they were children.

I also hope that this blog will give an adult Jack some insight into who he was as a child with autism. Maybe that can help him as an adult with autism.

In fact, I print out everything I write and put it in a three-ring binder so they will be able to read it like a book when they are ready.

I don’t feel like I have a lot of history. I wish I did. I am giving that to my kids through this blog.

Looooove:

My blog is a love letter to my kids.

By writing it, I get to brag about them, poke fun at them, be exasperated by them, show my astonishment at the wonder that is them. All of these pieces put together is my love letter to each of them about how much I adore the whole entirety of their beings.

So when someone suggests that I am harming my children by writing about them online, I consider what they have to say and then I think about all the good that comes from it and the love that oozes from every keystroke.

I know that how I write about my kids online is the right thing to do for my family.