Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

Well, I had a very successful last day of 2014. I finished cleaning my whole house (except for that one room that we won't speak of; everyone has that one room, right?) so we can at least start the new year not living in filth.

I also managed to wear a white sweater all damn day long without spilling anything on it. It's like I'm a fucking magician or something.

I was printing out my blog yesterday as I do at the end of every year (it took less paper than ever before) and realized that Team Stimey may have had a more epic year than we have had in a long, long time. And the funny thing is that almost none of it was planned prior to 2014.

Probably the biggest thing that happened to us is that we bought a new house, moved, and sold our old house all within three months, when we hadn't been planning to do any of that for at least another year. During that period of time, I touched every single thing we owned twice, once to pack them and once to unpack them, yet I still never found the brown clogs that I KNOW were somewhere in the house we moved out of.

WHERE THE FUCK DID THE BROWN CLOGS GO?

This will probably be the only year that the car we bought isn't the biggest purchase we made. We weren't planning on buying a new car either, except our mechanic told us that our old car was likely to kill us (and soon!), so we got to hemorrhage money on wheels in addition to a house. Per usual, the process was soul-destroying.

The last major thing that happened to Team Stimey this year that we had not planned on, was my joining the staff of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network as office manager. I was completely terrified to take that job. I'd worked in the recent past, but it was out of my home and I only had to see my boss once a year at a holiday party. This job involved riding Metro into DC multiple days a week to wear business clothes, procure summer childcare, interact with actual people, and generally be a professional person.

None of these things come easily to me, but taking that job is one of the best things that I've done in recent memory. I love working for an organization that I feel so proud of and I feel as if my particular skill set is very helpful there. I really like my co-workers and have liked getting to know them. I enjoy my new-found sense of purpose and I am so grateful for the structure and routine that working has brought to my life. Also, very importantly, I am so happy to experience autistic space, something I haven't had before.

So those are the really big, full-year impacting changes for Team Stimey, but there was also a lot of other stuff that happened as well. I've selected one post from each month to give you a little tour of Team Stimey's year.

We started January with Jack's early-2014 bout of rogue eyelashes. I'm happy to report that they didn't come back.

I did a lot of running in 2014. In February I told you all about how I'm the best runner ever. In case you don't bother to click that link, you should know that I'm being sarcastic there.

March brought us more Jack, specifically his special hockey tournament that made me truly remember the joy of travel tournaments with his team.

2014—April, specifically—brought us Chester, a small brown mouse who tried to fill Algernon's paw prints.

May. Oh, lord. May. May was the month that we gave our pool to some friends of ours, along with a free extra gift of wild rat babies. Yet one more reason you might not want to know me in real life.

June was an intense month for Stimeyland. That was the month that my post about Jack and his autistic classmates' photos being left off of a display of all his school's graduating fifth graders went as viral as I ever hope to have a post of mine go. The attention from that post, even though it was mostly positive, was enough to convince me that I am completely happy staying a small blogger. I have no idea how some people deal with the intensity of that much attention all the time. That post actually inspired real change though, with the formation of a committee at that school to work on ideas for better inclusion. Jack is no longer at that school, but I attended the first committee meeting and am hopeful that it continues and is making positive change.

Alex and I actually went on our first kid-free vacation since...ever in June, but I wrote about it in July.

My kids went back to school in August. Sam started 7th grade at the same middle school he went to last year. Jack started 6th grade at a new school—and proceeded to be super successful there. Quinn started 4th grade at a new school, which was pretty tough on him. He's doing better though. Also, I wrote about the bus stop.

I ran my first half marathon in September. Because I'm me, I fell flat on my face twice during the running of said half marathon.

I wrote about a bunch of fun things in October, including my trip to Disney World as well as the Bourbon Chase, but I choose to highlight Sam's decision to start playing the bassoon because (1) I haven't highlighted anything about Sam yet, (2) you guys left some awesome comments on that post, and (3) Alex was definitively told he was wrong, which I always enjoy. It turns out that, although he gets better every week, learning to play the bassoon is hard and I'm not convinced that Sam doesn't wish he'd never started.

We raked a lot of leaves in November.

Quinn drew some excellent illustrations for an assignment in December.

All in all, it's been a really wonderful year. Team Stimey is very lucky, mostly because we have each other as well as a strong support system who always steps up for us. Thank you for being here for this year. I hope you all have a 2015 full of love and joy and laughter. That's what we're hoping for.

As I watch my three kids play with each other as Alex and I sit on the couch together, I think, fate willing, there is a good chance that's exactly what we'll get in 2015.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Small Epiphanies

A long time ago, I figured out that I was autistic based largely on things I learned from Jack and because I was researching things about him. That, and other revelations about myself that stem from Jack (and also my other kiddos sometimes) still arrive from time to time and I always feel like a dumbass for not having figured them out sooner.

Let's take breaks from school and routines for example. I have long known that Jack is far more regulated during the school year, when his days are structured and full. Within the past year, I've come to realize this about Quinn as well. He may complain endlessly about being forced to go to school, but he is far happier and put together when his days have routine than when he is untethered during summers or other extended school breaks.

I finally added a couple of things together in my head and realized that what I often refer to as ennui could be brought on at least partly by my own dysregulation from lack of structure and routine. I swear to god, I almost heard the BING! above my head as the lightbulb clicked on and I started flashing back to times when I have felt depressed and at loose ends for no real reason. I don't really need to go into a lot of detail, but suffice it to say that I could trace this pattern back for years.

I had my revelation yesterday and although I know that it is not a problem so easily fixed, I decided to take a step in the right direction today by doing something other than sit on the couch, eat caramel corn, and feel depressed—and not just because I ran out of caramel corn.

Thus began Operation This House Will Be Spotless for the New Year, ensuring that the remainder of 2014 is regulated, tidy, and involves everyone being resentful and angry that I'm making them clean all the things.

I vacuumed under my couch, people.

I found french fries.

I felt a lot better today having a goal and getting something done. I understand that it's not always as easy as "give a depressed person a task and they'll feel better," but today it helped. I think that recognizing that there is a pattern will help me at least recognize why I feel the way I do during these times and prepare myself for them.

Life is a process, folks. I'm getting there.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Holiday in Photos (and Also Some Words)

Team Stimey had a lovely Christmas. It was one of the most relaxed days we've had in a long time. Much of my family didn't even get out of their pajamas all day, which usually is upsetting to me, but today seemed just about right.

What seemed right to us, however, seemed exceedingly strange to some members of Team Stimey.

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“What…in…the FUCK…is happening here?”

I'm going to cut the suspense right here and let you know that Santa came and all of my children were very happy.

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It’s funny because Santa brought these weird tiny robots in boxes with Japanese writing on them. Frankly, just looking at them, I wasn’t sure what was in the boxes. They were Jack’s favorite present of the whole day. See above.

Santa also gave the kids a bucket of snowballs, which was a huge mistake, especially considering the laser-sharp aim Sam has developed.

The cats got a crinkly tunnel as a present later in the day, but until then, they had to make do with the watching the local wildlife.

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Starfire almost bolted through the window after that squirrel.

We had gift successes, like this beanbag:

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It was exactly what he wanted!

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Oh. Wait. Maybe he just wanted the box.

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Okay. Maybe he does like the beanbag. (He’s making a cozy nook in his closet. He also got a lamp for it today.)

We also had gift failures, like the video game that we couldn't get to install correctly.

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I let Alex borrow the “f-bomb” I got. He needed it.

At some point, I forced Alex to leave the house and go for a quick run, which was sorely needed. The only snag was that we had gone running while a pie was in the oven and we ran slower than we usually do (maybe because caramel corn and coffee cake aren't conducive to speed work). We were probably 3/4 of a mile from home when I looked at my watch and mentioned that we were usually a lot farther along by the time 27 minutes had passed.

Then Alex got a startled look on his face and he was all, "THE PIE! WE HAVE TO SAVE THE PIE!" and he took off running, I swear, faster than I am capable of moving, yelling, "THE PIE! THE PIE!"

The fact that I was trying really hard not to pee myself laughing made it difficult for me to chase after him. The fact that his arms were flailing and he was hurtling along at lightspeed did not help me either.

When we run together, we usually walk up the last steep half mile to our house. Today, Alex kept encouraging me to run it, shouting, "LEAVE ME! SAVE THE PIE!"

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The fact that we were dressed identically only made us more ridiculous.

(We saved the pie.)

Imagine some Minecraft playing, some ham eating, and some Lord of the Rings watching and you pretty much have the rest of our day. It was fantastic. I hope your day was as chill as ours. Know that we spent time thinking of our friends and family and wishing you all a Merry Christmas as well.

Sending love and wishes for a lovely end of 2014 to all of you from Team Stimey.

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Are you ever pissed when someone gives you a gift that is so perfect you wish YOU’D been the one to think of it? Yeah.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Team Stimey Wishes You a Merry CatMouse!

That's what it tends to be called around here. I think you might understand why. We all hope you are enjoying the season and have a lovely day.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Poetry Interlude, Illustrated

Quinn doesn't like to speak in front of people, especially in class at school. So when I found out that every other month he would have to memorize and perform a poem in front of his reading class, I had one of those die-a-little-inside moments.

I knew that Quinn often freezes then meltdowns if asked to do so much as read in front of the class, so I knew the fastest way to send him into a panic was to make him perform—with props and emotion—something he'd memorized.

I contacted his teacher, asking for an accommodation. I suggested that he be able to do it just for her and not in front of the class. She came back with a suggestion that he do it at home and I videotape it.

Boom. That is how you teach kids who learn differently.

I was thrilled. Quinn was relieved, but still worried. He didn't think he could memorize a whole poem. We worked on two lines a night and by the end of the month, he (and the rest of the family) had his whole poem memorized. We taped it and he got the highest score possible. He was so damn proud.

That was October. This month he had to do another one. All of the poems to choose from were either longer or more complicated than the one he'd picked for October. I was worried. Quinn ended up picking "The Lion" by Roald Dahl.

I felt good about his choice because it's a funny little poem that I thought would make Quinn laugh. Unfortunately I didn't think about the fact that there is basically a complicated list within the poem that made it tough for him to keep things in the right order.

To help him, I suggested that he draw some pictures of the subject of that list so he could keep the order straight while he was trying to memorize. Then he could use the pictures as props when performing the poem for the camera.

Quinn doesn't want me to post the video on the internet, but he told me I could post his pictures. So. Without further ado, I present to you "The Lion" by Roald Dahl as illustrated by Quinn.

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This screen capture is the closest I can ethically come to posting Quinn’s video. Isn’t he cute?

The lion just adores to eat
A lot of red and tender meat
And if you ask the lion what
Is much the tenderest of the lot,
He will not say a roast of lamb

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See how the lamb is on fire? He’s roasting. (Oh yeah. It’s about to get intense up in here.)

Or curried beef



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I didn’t really know how to advise Quinn to draw curried beef so he just drew a really cute cow.

or devilled ham

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Don’t mess with Devil Pig.

Or crispy pork

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I think—THINK—that the pig is alarmed to be on fire.

or corned beef hash

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This is another one of those hard-to-draw ones. I think Quinn came up with an excellent idea of how to illustrate it.

Or sausages

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And that’s how sausages are made out of pigs.

or mutton mash.

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This one took me a minute to get, but I think it’s one of my favorites. (See that lamb getting mashed?)

Then could it be a big plump hen?

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I don’t think I need to explain this one.

He answers no. What is it, then?
Oh, lion dear, could I not make
You happy with a lovely steak?

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I like the simplicity of this one.

Could I entice you from your lair
With rabbit pie or roasted hare?

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I think Quinn got tired of drawing here at the end. I even had to remind him to put long ears on his bunnies.

The lion smiled and shook his head.
He came up very close and said,
‘The meat I am about to chew
Is neither steak nor chops. IT’S YOU.'

I feel as if Mr. Dahl would be proud. I hope his teacher likes it as much as I do.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How to Choose a Christmas Card Photo

I addressed most of my Christmas cards last night. As a result, my hand is cramped into an unfortunate claw position. Rest assured though that if your last name starts with one of the first letters of the alphabet, your address will be legible and delivered correctly.

I cannot make the same promise for you Zs. In fact, anyone Winegardner or later stands a good chance of having their card misdelivered due to an address written with a highly suspect claw-shaped pen grip.

In case you're wondering, this was Alex's contribution to the holiday card endeavor:

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I always make Alex lick the envelopes. This year he was all, “Can’t you help?!” as if he were being put upon to do the lion’s share of work. I think my expression gave him all the answer he needed.

Clearly if I sent out cards, I managed to take a photo worthy of being put on the card. (Operating under the assumption that I always put a photo on the card, which I do.) That photo was not easy to obtain. I looked through an entire year of photos of my three kids and couldn't find one that met my high standards (read: three children, no one crying).

Dammit. Time to take a photo.

The resulting photo shoot took two evenings, one meltdown, the decision to eliminate flash photography for sensory reasons, and me shouting, "CAT BUTT!" to make my kids laugh.

Still, it was a struggle.

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And this was when they were in a good mood.

Even though my kids aren't always cooperative for group photos, I did have some other options to consider.

There was the gerbil substitution:

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Hand one of them a flute, put an Xbox controller in another hand, and you’d never be able to tell that they’re not my human children.

There was the absolutely hilarious cat photo option:

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I especially love that you can see a second cat in the background clearly wondering what the hell the new floor lamp is all about. (That’s a snowman by the way.)

There was the first-night pre-meltdown photo session option:

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I only managed to take two photos that night before the whole system broke down, for which I take full responsibility.

There was the hand-drawn option:

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This is actually kinda my favorite.

There was the festive but not super flattering Santa photo:

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I love that Santa and Quinn have the exact same grimace-smile.

There was the "my family can't make funny faces if only the backs of their heads are in the photo" option:

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This was inside the Washington Monument. Quinn was huddled as far away from the window as he could get.

And then there is probably the best option, the one that I dare any of you to find fault with:

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Not a funny face anywhere to be seen.

None of these actually ended up on the card, which some of you will be getting in the mail and some of you will be seeing posted here on Christmas.

And now that that is done, I begin my quest to take a suitable photo of all three of my children for next year's card. I'm not kidding. It's a twelve-month process. Wish me luck.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Oh, hiya!

Are you still there?

Things are good here, but super busy. We've had family in town since before Thanksgiving and I had this early-December realization that I had to prepare for Christmas and then my kids had seventy-five million events over the past three weeks and things were very overwhelming and suddenly here it is, mid-December and I've neglected you, my wonderful friends from the computer.

So, hello! How are you? I hope you're enjoying the beginning of winter.

One thing that I've been up to is running. I had a couple of really fun races last month. The first was the Across the Bay 10K, where I got to run across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Then I ran another 10K on Thanksgiving, which was fun, but challenging considering those two races, and maybe one or two other runs, were the only times I ran more than four miles at a stretch in the whole month.

Which leads me to my next topic.

I've been doing a running streak. For both of the past two years, November and December have been tough for me in keeping up with my running, so I decided to do a Thanksgiving to New Year's streak, where I run at least one mile every day.

You want to know something? I don't want to run at least one mile every day. This streak is the worst idea in the whole entire world. I have had a bunch of days already when I've had to get on my treadmill at 8:30 at night because I haven't had a chance to run all day. One day, it was almost ten in the pm by the time I was able to get on the treadmill. It sucked.

That said, I've run every single stupid day and I'll probably do another streak again next year. Because there is nothing to keep me moving like the threat of some imaginary failure.

The fun part of the run streak is that Alex is starting to run, so we've been doing it together. It's a little tougher for him to find time to do it, so we're not able to run together very often, but it's been super fun when we do.

Alex is kicking butt at it too. He's already able to run more than a mile and a quarter without walking and totals a couple of miles each time we go out. I'm super proud of him.

Now, while I am willing to commit to a run streak, I am not confident in my ability to commit to a blogging streak. (Maybe I could get Alex to help me out on that too?) But! I am going to try to write more often. Because I miss this space. And I miss you.

So happy December! I'm looking forward to seeing more of you this month!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Quinn has a new guru. It is Grumpy Cat. If you're familiar with Quinn's work, this totally makes sense.

I tell you this because when Quinn thought he had to make a sign to carry at his school's Turkey Trot activity, he wanted to incorporate Grumpy Cat. Because what says happy thanksgiving, like a cat in a terrible mood? More on this later.

The Turkey Trot was supposed to be a mile-long walk through the neighborhood around the school with parents invited to join in, followed by hot chocolate. Unfortunately the weather today was a heavy mix of rain and snow and hail, so instead of cruising through the neighborhood, the kiddos tried to run as many of the 24.1 laps around the gym that makes up a mile.

Perhaps because of the venue change, I was the only parent from Quinn's class who showed up to watch the kiddos run, walk, skip, dance, and otherwise ambulate around the gym.

I only went because Quinn was expecting me and I wasn't about to change the script on him because of the rain. I'm so glad I did. I got to watch him smile and laugh and talk and play with his new good friend in the classroom. I got to see him talk to a kid I've never even heard of before. I got to talk to a lot of teachers and paraeducators who work with Quinn that I hadn't met. I got to see him show his sign to all the staff, who told him how great it was.

I got to see him be happy and comfortable at school. Even knowing that he still struggles there, that means so much to me.

So even though Grumpy Cat might not approve of a happy thanksgiving, I sure do.

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May all of you, American celebrators or not, have a wonderful day full of love and joy and smiles. And hopefully cats, grumpy or otherwise.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Who Thought Trees Were Such a Good Idea Anyway?

Team Stimey spent a chunk of the weekend raking leaves. And by "Team Stimey," I mean Alex, Sam, and I. The other two showed themselves to be far too unmotivated to participate so they escaped this particular fate.

My family operates on a "prove yourself to be incompetent and you no longer have to do the chore" system. It is inefficient.

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Team Stimey: Leaf Raking Edition

You may notice that Sam's jazz band hat is also a leaf raking hat.

I bring up the leaf raking for a couple of reasons. First of all, there were some fun things that happened during said leaf raking and I thought I would share them with you. Also, we won our street's leaf raking and I wanted to brag about it.

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Our neighbors didn’t know that they were involved in a Leaf Off, but we did and that is what matters.

I don't know why we moved into a house with so many stupid trees in the yard, but we did, and now we are paying the price. So. Many. Leaves.

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DROP YOUR STUPID LEAVES ALREADY, TREE!

I'm looking forward to all of the tracking in of leaves once that tree up there finally drops its leaves right next to our back door in, you know, December. Or January. ENOUGH ALREADY, TREE. WHY ARE YOU HOLDING ON SO HARD?

I tried to avoid leaf raking and hang inside with Quinn and Jack, but Alex used his patented mix of guilt, exasperation, and annoyance to get me outside with a rake in my hands. He then spent a lot of time telling me about how his way to rake and transport leaves was correct and mine was not and, "Let's just do it right the first time and then we don't have to re-rake up all the leaves." It was très annoying—especially when he was right.

On the plus side, I got to see this awesome visitor to our yard:

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I watched one of our cats see this guy the last time he was in our yard. Her little cat eyeballs almost popped out of her head.

I also got to do things like distract Sam and generally be a nuisance while Alex steadfastly did things.

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At least he could take comfort in the knowledge that he was doing it right.

At some point—because Alex had to be somewhere, not because we ran out of leaves, we'll never run out of leaves—we made a decision to be done.

Then I shoved Alex in the pile of leaves.

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It was HILARIOUS.

Then Sam and Alex got this...look in their eyes and I started running and screaming because I know it is funny to throw people into a pile of leaves, but it is NOT funny to be thrown in a pile of leaves because DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW MANY SPIDERS ARE PROBABLY IN THERE?! so I tried to sprint through the garage door into the house, but they caught me and they didn't listen when I told them, "No. Really. I'm serious about this. I don't want to be thrown into the pile of leaves. I really, really don't," but this came out sounding more like a high-pitched screech that turned out to be surprisingly ineffectual.

And then they threw me in a pile of leaves.

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I’m pretty sure the spiders laid their eggs in my hair.

Now we're looking into a tree slaughter, under the assumption that if we cut down all of our trees, we won't have to rake any leaves next year.*

* Kidding. But wouldn't that have its charms?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Hats and Cats

I bought Sam a hat this weekend for him to wear at jazz band concerts.

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Then I realized that the thing where people start to look like their cats was happening.

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And I laughed and laughed and laughed.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

In Defense of Jerry Seinfeld

I should start by saying that I have been scripting Seinfeld the TV show for years. If you're talking to me and I bust out with some non sequitur that is only semi-appropriate to the situation, odds are that Jerry Seinfeld said it first.

So I was interested when I first saw news reports about Jerry Seinfeld saying he thinks he might be on the spectrum. And then I felt happy. And then I checked social media and I saw lots of anger at him. And then I felt kinda sad and I couldn't stop thinking about it.

Here's the thing: I don't know Jerry Seinfeld. I don't know his private life. I don't know how he came to the conclusion that he is autistic. And what's probably most important, I don't know his inner life—what goes on inside his own head. None of us do, so I don't think we are qualified to weigh in on whether he is autistic or not.

Here's something else: It is very scary as an adult to come out as autistic. It is very scary as an adult who has "passed" for your whole life to come out as autistic. It is hard to tell people who might not believe you that you are autistic. I am absolutely positive that people have doubted my diagnosis, have said that I'm not autistic or not autistic enough.

I am not willing to do that to another person.

I will follow that up with the comment that I absolutely respect self-diagnosis and assert that there are many, many reasons that adults self-diagnose instead of seeking a professional opinion.

I also think it is hard to learn to own your autism when you come to it as an adult. There is a whole set of stigmas and hardships and abuses and discrimination that people who are diagnosed and out as young people have to deal with that I did not. I don't have that experience. What I have is the very nervewracking experience of growing up different and eventually finding a name for it and finding the courage to take that label for myself.

Still, it is hard to take that label, especially when you have been trying to live as a neurotypical person. So I don't take much offense to Seinfeld's use of "on a drawn-out spectrum." When I first started suspecting I was autistic, my statements were very tempered, "I have autistic traits..." and the like. It is too scary to just come out and say "I am autistic," so it's easier to make these softer statements like, "On a drawn-out spectrum..."

I do know that I identify with some aspects of his personality. I think about his comedy and his observational style of humor and about how so much of it is finding the absurd in the conventions of daily life.

I use humor. It is one of the most important things to me. I find life hilarious. I also use comedy as a shield. I use it as a defense mechanism. I use it to amuse myself when I find the typical world strange. I created an entire persona (hey there, Stimey!) that allows me to get out of the house and interact with the world without falling back into crushing depression or incapacitating anxiety. (Also medication. Meds help too.)

Furthermore, I have been closely observing people all of my life, from the gestures they use and the words they say to figuring out social conventions and how I'm supposed to react to things. I remember watching a scary movie as a young person and checking to see if people screamed words or just sounds so I would know what to do if I was ever attacked (by an alien). I remember watching people when I was in college and deciding that I should make eye contact because that's what other people did, so I started doing it all the time. These are just a couple of examples.

I am not attributing my own feelings and past to Jerry Seinfeld. I'm just saying that when I think about what he said, it makes sense to me. Plus he hangs out with Larry David, and I'm sure those two have to have had conversations about autism, because have you ever listened to Larry David?

I do know that if I had come out as autistic and been attacked the way he has been, it would have broken me. I don't know what is going on in his brain and I'm not going to judge. I hope he will choose to speak more about it and I hope it will help all of us in the autism community. Jerry Seinfeld has a huge public platform. I hope he uses it well.

That said, I also hope he finds identity and knowledge and acceptance just for himself, however he chooses to identify. Because that is what most of us want. Welcome, Jerry. I'm happy to have you in my community.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Happy Halloween!

I wanted to write a Halloween post if only to show off our pumpkins. I should admit that I had nothing to do with said pumpkins. I was out of town when Alex and the munchkins created them. They are stellar.

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I love them so much.

That is Quinn's pumpkin in the front with the mouth on the top and the eyes on the bottom. I am sort of in love with it. Straight-laced Alex was all, "I really didn't want to do it that way." But he did. And that is the important thing.

The little pumpkin way in the back is Jack's. Usually the kiddos draw on the pumpkins or describe what they want and then one of us carves it. When I saw this sort of hacked at face though, I was all, "Alex! You let Jack carve his own pumpkin! Awesome!" His reply? "I did not."

Then there is the cat. OMG, the cat. It is so good. Although its tail isn't quite as fluffy now that it's rained a few times. Also, I think because it is painted black, the sun is super hot on it and it is starting to melt or morph or something.

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Fortunately it is Halloween, so it doesn't have to last for much longer.

I wanted to post a video I have of Quinn performing a Halloween poem that he had to memorize for school, but when I asked if I could post it, he said, "NO!" so I'm sorry, but you can't see it.

He did such a good job though. He was supposed to perform it in class like all the other kids, but that is a perfect recipe for an in-class meltdown and when I came to his teacher looking for alternatives, she suggested he do it at home and I videotape it. It was a GREAT idea. He did fantastic. I loved everything about it.

I hope you all have safe and happy Halloweens in whatever way you celebrate. (One of my kids goes trick or treating with me and the other two stay home and
eatgive out candy. And Alex goes to a Phish show.)

Happy Halloween!

p.s. And happy birthday to my sister, whose birthday is ON Halloween! You're really old this year, Ann. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Race Report: Bourbon Chasers*

* Bourbon is totally gross, by the way. Also, distilleries smell bad. I think maybe the bourbon part of this race was lost on me.

It is (finally, jeez) time for me to tell you about the Bourbon Chase, the relay I ran earlier this month with 11 other people. If you aren't into reading the whole race report, I can tell you that we finished all 200 of our miles in 32 hours, 36 minutes, and 43 seconds.

This is a link to a short video of us crossing the finish line. LIKE BOSSES. (You have to sit through a quick ad first.)

And here is a photo of Team MLC after we finished:

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This is a really good group of people. I felt really proud to stand with them.

That was the short version. The long version lies ahead.

It's hard to recap a race like this because the team is divided into two vans that don't spend a lot of time together, so I will leave out at least half of the story. Not to mention that all twelve members of the team undoubtedly have their own stories that are nothing like mine. But I have my story, so that's what you're a-gonna hear.

The story starts after I arrived in Kentucky with several of my teammates and we headed to the grocery store to buy food for the vans, including soda and peanut M&Ms. You know, because we're all about fueling properly.

Because I'm an athlete with total body awareness, the first thing I did was hurt myself getting out of the van. Aaaand someone caught it on camera.

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How I don’t have at least one broken bone at all times I will never understand.

The relay started in Louisville, where they had a night-before party. Said party took place under a bridge.

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This was early in the evening. Chester is an early partier. More people showed up later.

I had a whole bit I was going to write about hors d'oeuvres and how it's rare to be served them under a bridge and stuff, but then it turned out that it was too hard to figure out the pluralization and spelling of hors d'oeuvres, but "appetizers" didn't sound as funny, so you'll just have to make do with this photo of Chester eating a cocktail meatball and make your own joke in your head.

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You can also make jokes about meatpops if you’d like.

The race started bright and early the next morning at the Jim Beam distillery.

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Picture me, who has been relatively calm up to this moment, breaking out into a flop sweat.

I was in Van One this year (as opposed to last year's Van Two experience), so my half of the team was on deck as soon as our first runner stepped over the start line at 8:30. I was runner four in our rotation, so I had a bunch of time to stress out before my run. My friend Heather (Disney Heather) was Runner One, so she had substantially less time.

I was really proud of my whole team, but I was especially proud of Heather and my friend Emily, who was also in Van One. Both of them are relatively new runners (like they've been running for less than a year) so taking on something like the Bourbon Chase was really brave of them. The greatest thing about it is that both of them killed all three of their legs. I couldn't be happier for them.

Still, at 8:30 in the morning, all of that was in the future and we were nervous and excited and peering anxiously at the cloudy sky and happily posing for dorky photos.

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Chester hadn’t had enough of a party the night before, so he carried on with Jim Beam.

No amount of pacing and wondering if you could just make a break for it and skip out on the race entirely will stop time though, so eventually 8:30 rolled around and Heather headed out for our team.

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Heather (in front in the yellow) earned a four-step head start for answering a trivia question correctly. Way to shave that second off our 32-hour finish time, Heather!

Happily, once the race starts, the nerves go away and the motion of being a support crew and a runner takes over. We didn't have a designated driver this year (we missed you, Mike!), so several of us took turns driving the van.

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From Stimeyland’s Facebook page. And, no, I didn’t wreck it, but I wasn’t exactly invited back behind the wheel after my first turn. I wasn’t very good at driving it. I was better as a navigator. And I’m not even all that great as a navigator.

I started my first leg at about 11 o'clock that morning. This leg was only 5.2 miles long, but it had the distinction of being ranked as the hardest leg of all 36 of the legs. This was mitigated by my having less hard legs later. That leg may have been tough, but I absolutely did not have the hardest trio of legs. Not by a long shot.

(Leg.)

Still, that leg kinda sucked. It was ranked so high in difficulty because of all the hills, including a super steep, half-mile long hill at the very end. I think the next two photos say a lot more about this leg than any of my words could.

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Emily has just passed me the baton and I am off on an adventure! Look how happy I am to be running!

5.2 miles later...

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There were more flattering photos taken of me and Marisa at this transition, but this one best captures how I could probably DROP DEAD AT ANY SECOND.

Also, I just noticed that it looks like Marisa and I are shoe twins. That's exciting!

One of the really fun parts of running these relay races—and I am being completely sarcastic here—is figuring out when, where, and how to change clothes while sharing a van with five other people. I chose to change my clothes in the van at the next transition point when we were waiting for Marisa to run in. Everyone else was out of the van, so naturally I had all kinds of privacy.

Except. This is what they were doing while I was changing.

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I know! I’ll wait until the whole team is decorating the windows of the van surrounding me before I take my clothes off!

Someday I'll get the hang of being with other humans.

I feel like Van One's first legs went really quickly and smoothly. And after watching the weather reports of looming storms that threatened all day, we were super relieved to get through our first runs without rain. Being in Van One instead of Van Two was kind of awesome. We showed up at our vehicle transition area to meet up with Van Two, who had been eating and pacing and touring distilleries for hours by this time.

We were happy to put all of that to an end though by passing them the baton and watching them run off into the afternoon.

Of course, the first thing we did was eat, making sure to post a photo of us sitting and stuffing our faces to pay back Van Two who had done something similar that morning when we were running and they were eating. Also, one of the people at the table ate an entire pizza. It was IMPRESSIVE.

From there, we drove to the place where we were due to meet up with Van Two later that night and we spent several hours futzing about until Runner Twelve showed up, wet from light rain and wearing a headlamp to combat the darkness, passing the metaphorical torch back to Van One.

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Some of said futzing around.

Our next legs would all be run in the dark. Last year during our relay, I was the only runner who didn't run in the dark. My place in the running roster, the pace of the runners who preceded me, and the rotation of the Earth at that time of year in New Hampshire had created a situation where I ran seven miles just after sunrise. It was delightful.

Not so this year.

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I texted Alex the name of the road and he texted back “Knob. Lick. Road. Penis.” Upon completion of my leg when I saw his text, I showed everyone in the van and couldn’t stop laughing. In retrospect, maybe it was less funny and/or appropriate than I thought it was.

It had been raining on and off for much of the afternoon, but once it got dark, it rained like a motherfucker. No other way to put it. It stopped raining for a few minutes when I was handed the baton and set off onto the Knob Lick.

The weather though, it did not hold.

I was excited about the novelty of the night run—as well as a little nervous—but I could have done without the uber-novelty of a night run that felt suspiciously like I was running through a shower.

Soon enough, I was slogging through pouring rain. It was very dark on my leg so my entire range of vision consisted of the small area that was lit up by my headlamp. The headlamp did an excellent job, however, of illuminating the diagonal streaks of rain that were driving across my vision.

It was a tough run. I started running steeply uphill before the end of the first mile and stayed running up through mile two. The weird thing is that when it is that dark, there is no way to tell where the hill ends or when there is a slight reprieve in the slope. It all just feels kind of hard and upsetting and all you can do is watch lights of cars or runners ahead of you to see if they look like they're going uphill or whether they drop out of sight down a slope.

It was brutal. I spent a lot of time wondering if I'd ever been wetter while wearing clothes (highly unlikely); whether I'd run a mile, two miles, halfway yet (no, I hadn't); why this run sucked so much (ugh, tiiiiiiiired). I didn't run spectacularly fast on any of my runs, but I actually ran slower than I expected on this one. It just sucked all the life out of me. I was extremely happy to see the transition point.

It felt good to put on dry clothes and sit happily in the van eating those peanut M&Ms and Diet Coke while the next runner set off.

I barely remember the transition where we traded off to the next van. The thing that stands out from that transition was the extremely long walk back to our van during which I stepped in a deep puddle, getting my cushy sport slides wet. I had a sad.

I had a happy though upon hearing that we were headed to some unknown high school to sleep in a gymnasium. We pulled into the parking lot, I grabbed my sleeping bag, and I stumbled off into the gym. As I set my alarm and shoved it deep into my sleeping bag to muffle it, it occurred to me that if overslept, my teammates would never find me inside a sleeping bag in that huge, dark, silent room.

"Wake up at 4 am, wake up at 4 am, wake up at 4 am," I told my brain repeatedly before I closed my eyes.

I woke up at 4 am, thank God, and I felt GREAT.

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Today if you asked me if I’d be willing to sleep for only two hours on a wood floor, I would laugh you out of the room. That night, it was the most luxurious thing I could ever have imagined.

That was short-lived, however, as we rushed off to meet Van Two at the Wild Turkey distillery. If you're ever in Kentucky and looking for said Wild Turkey distillery, just follow the stink. Because that distillery is at the center of it. Dude. the distilling process smells horrible.

I had made peanut butter and jam sandwiches for our van and was busy digesting that and trying to drink Gatorade as I walked to the visitor center bathrooms with Heather, who was next up to run, and Marc. It was cold, it was smelly, my stomach was unsettled, it was still dark, and all of a sudden I had a life-changing experience.

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Seriously. Life. Fucking. Changing.

Ten minutes by that fire and I was warm to my bones, I smelled only nice burning wood, and Wild Turkey was suddenly my favorite bourbon ever. We sent Heather on her way and headed onward.

The last twelve transition points are really fun because runners are really happy to be done. It's super delightful.

Except when it's not. There were a lot of really tough stretches for the people in my van on that last leg. Distances were long, there were lots of hills, and there were evidently some demon horses on the course. (Heather came around a corner in the dark only to have her headlamp illuminate the eyes of a big horse whose head was draped over a fence right next to the road. It was, apparently, both surprising and terrifying.)

I watched each of my teammates set off and finish and it was so exciting. It is amazing to see people who have worked so hard and struggled through injuries or pushed way past their comfort levels to complete something so difficult and wonderful. I was (and am) so proud of each of them—both those in my van and Van Two.

My third leg was motherfucking delightful. It was less than four miles long and even though there were a couple of uphill stretches, none of them were extreme and also, the leg ended with, like, two miles of gentle downhill. I felt like I was flying.

Except, that is, when the runner from the team that started eleven hours after we did blew past me like I was standing still. That's when I felt like I was trudging along like a hedgehog on sleeping pills.

Before that happened though, I was chugging along up and down some small rolling hills, Michael Franti singing "I'm alive..." on the speaker I had on my waist and I felt so purely good and I remembered exactly why I run. For those moments. For that feeling. For that good.

I didn't run particularly stellar times this year. Last year during the relay, one of my victories was running so much faster than I'd hoped to. This year it was about loving my team and recognizing how much stronger my body was than last year. It was about knowing that an extra three minutes on a leg or a slow slog up a particularly hard hill isn't that big of a deal in a world where I am willing to spend 32 and a half hours in a van with people who cover 200 miles on foot.

Being a runner, for me, isn't about being the fastest or the first. It is about finding that feeling. I don't always find it, but when I do, it is magic.

There are always hills and valleys though. The non-magical time of trying to comb a day and a half worth of knots out of my hair followed immediately after my magic run. It was ugly. It turns out that the braid was not the miraculous "keep hair neat" tool that I thought it would be. Still I emerged victorious. Eventually.

From there, all I had to do was cheer on our runners until we passed the baton to Van Two for the final time. And from there, all we had to do was go to lunch. Chester joined us in his own way.

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Last year, as a member of Van Two, we ran all the way to the end. This year, we drove to the finish line and napped in the van until it was time to shuffle over to meet the rest of our team. It was awesome.

Even more awesome was watching our last runner race down the road to where we all joined her in running and/or limp-running the last few meters. It was really cool to be able to cross the actual finish line with everybody.

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Did I mention that this year’s Bourbon Chase had a disco theme? Because if you don’t know that, this medal doesn’t make sense.

The finish line party featured bourbon and beer and lots of food and juuuuuust a little bit of rain and it was perfection.

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We ate a lot of food and I couldn’t even finish my whole beer, like a loser.

And then I started to feel like I'd fall asleep if I sat down, so I was part of the group that championed a return to a hotel, but not before I texted this victorious photo to Alex.

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Tired, but proud and happy.

And that is 8.3% of Team MLC's story of the Bourbon Chase 2014.

I'm so grateful to have been able to be on a team with these awesome people. Thanks for being so wonderful—all of you!

Before-and-after