Puzzlin’*

* See here.

I like doing puzzles a lot. It is extremely calming to me. Except for the part where you have to lay out 75 million tiny pieces face up and separate the edges from the middles. I hate that part. But all the rest of it is totally my jam.

I hadn’t done any puzzles for a long time until last week, when I busted one out, grimaced through the laying out of the pieces, and settled in to putting the thing together. I could practically feel my blood pressure decreasing.

Then I went to bed and when I woke up the next morning, I remembered why I hadn’t done any puzzles for a long time.

Screen capture of a facebook status. It's a photo of my cat Starfire sitting directly on top of my partially done puzzle. The words read, "Not cool, Starfire. Not cool."Then, the next morning, this happened:

Another screen cap. This one features my cat Ruby streeeeched out over a still partially undone puzzle. The text reads: "Goddammit, Ruby."She was actively trying to play with the pieces right in front of me. Later, she got puzzle pieces stuck in her fur.

I think you know what is coming next.

Another screen cap, this one with Oreo sitting on the puzzle looking at the camera. The text reads, "Et tu, Oreo?"I don’t know what it is about puzzles that invite cats to sit on them, but I’m grateful that they didn’t use the pieces as a litter box, which has happened to some of the people who commented when I posted these photos on Facebook. Thank you for small favors, little cats.

After I finished it, I passed on my puzzle to my friend and fellow puzzle nerd Heather, who faced similar issues at her house.

A screen cap of my friend Heather's facebook status that is a photo of the same puzzle with two guinea pigs sitting on it. The text reads, "Dagnabbit Poppy and Cow"I did discover a side benefit of Puzzlin’ that had nothing to do with cats or blood pressure.

Photo of Jack putting a piece into a different puzzle.

A puzzle buddy!

Jack was sitting next to me while I was working on this puzzle and at first he was all, “no thanks” and then he saw my little pile of pieces all with orange flowers on them and he started putting them together, which was both delightful and vexing because *I* had spent all the time collecting those pieces and deserved the opportunity to put them together, dammit. But because I am not just an awesome mom, but nearly a saint, I did NOT shove him away and demand he disassemble the orange flower pieces.

It turns out that Puzzlin’ is also conducive to chatting. We talked about competing access needs (Jack’s desire to eat spaghetti versus Quinn’s desire to never see spaghetti—and also actual access needs), whether Jack wanted to help choose his classes for next year or let his teachers do it (let his teachers do it), and if he wants to attend his next IEP meeting (yes, and even better if they serve popcorn).

In fact, It was so much fun that Jack even turned down his brothers when they asked him to come play with them.

Wait. Actually, his brothers asked him to come play and Jack said, “Sorry. This case is more puzzling.”

I know. Puzzles and puns. He’s like the perfect kid.

And he didn’t even lie all over the pieces.

Dinner, Team Stimey Junior Style

Although this looks like a pretty ordinary photo, there is not a single thing that I don’t love about it:

Photo of my three kids at the dinner table. The situation will be described in the post below.

(Click to embiggen.)

It so perfectly describes my family. Now I’ll use a thousand words* to tell you exactly how it describes my family.

First of all, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there on the left sits Starfire in a chair. She sat there nearly completely still for a solid 15 minutes all like, “What in the actual fuck? Where is MY plate of spaghetti?”)

I don’t know that we need to go too deeply into our food choices, but there IS a green salad on the table, so maybe that makes up for the canned crescent rolls there on the lazy Susan.

Speaking of that green salad, you might notice that Sam and Jack each have ONE piece of lettuce on their plates. Neither of them was able to finish it. In his defense, however, Jack did lick his. Barely.

You might notice that Sam is ingesting nourishment when I took this photo. That is because he never stops putting food in his mouth. He ate four helpings of the spaghetti. (And then said he was too full to eat his tiny scrap of lettuce.)

You should now move your attention over to Quinn, who looks completely disgruntled. Let the record show that he, in fact, was completely disgruntled. His reasons were twofold: (1) Quinn does not care for spaghetti. Or apparently salad with “cream,” a.k.a. salad dressing. (2) Jack was eating his spaghetti with his fingers, which makes Quinn gag—and scream, apparently.

My house is a riot of conflicting access needs.

Jack tried really hard to eat his spaghetti with his fork, but, c’mon, it’s spaghetti.

Also, you can rest assured that I didn’t actually give Jack poison to drink for dinner.

All in all, a pretty accurate representation of our family dinners. At least no one burst into tears when they arrived at the table and saw what I was serving. That has happened in the past. Often.

Lest you think Team Stimey dinners are all screaming fights and food refusal, I offer the next two photos, which show the end of dinner when Jack spent a good five minutes scripting a joke that *I* didn’t get, but that Sam and Quinn found HILARIOUS.

Photo of my three kids. Quinn has his head back and is laughing uproariously.

You can’t tell, but Sam was laughing too.

Photo of Quinn and Jack. There eyes are locked and they are both smiling. There is a box of double chocolate Krave cereal on the counter behind them.

Jack and Quinn have a really tight connection. This photo totally captures that. I love it.

Also, please don’t judge me for my terribly sugary and non-nutritious cereal choice visible in the background.

* Actual word count: 387

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.

Photo of my three kids

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.

Photo of my black cat with a slightly alarmed look on her face.

“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.

Photo of Quinn, Jack, and Sam sitting on the couch together. Quinn is reading, Jack is playing with a little robot, and Sam is also playing with a little robot.

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.

Photo of my two black cats crouched by the a sliding glass door. There is a squirrel on the other side of it.

Starfire almost bolted through the window after that squirrel.

We had gift successes, like this beanbag:

Photo of Quinn standing by an open box with a green beanbag inside. He has a huge grin on his face.

It was exactly what he wanted!

The box no longer holds a beanbag. Instead, Quinn lies inside with a huge grin.

Oh. Wait. Maybe he just wanted the box.

Photo of Quinn's closet. He is inside it, sitting on a beanbag and peering out of the door.

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.

Photo of Alex grimacing in front of a computer while holding an Xbox controller. My hand is in the front of the photo, holding a little figurine of a bomb with an "f" attached to it.

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!”

Photo of Alex and I outside laughing. We are both wearing aqua blue shirts.

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.

Photo of five LEGO minifigures, each one personalized to look like a member of my family. There are also three LEGO cats.

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.

Dipshit Friday: The Key Edition

Back in the day, there used to be a feature here on Stimeyland known as Dipshit Friday. I think it might be time to bring it back. In keeping with the theme, as long as this is posted at least 15 seconds before Friday ends, it still counts as Friday. You know, if you’re a dipshit.

Yellow square with the black silhouette of my pontificating gerbil wearing a big red dunce cap. Next to the gerbil in red letters, are the words "Dipshit Friday."I locked myself out of my house earlier this week.

I had all day free while my kids were in school, so I decided to go on a long run in training for my half marathon that is coming up next month. I walked out of my house wearing my Camelbak water backpack, locked the door, and put the key in a pocket of the Camelbak that I wasn’t planning on opening until I returned home.

Then I ran. And did some walking. And then ran some more. And then walked. And ran. And then wandered around a park for ten minutes, looking for a water fountain to refill my Camelbak, then ran some more and then finally stopped running and limped home. It was a rough run for me.

As I walked up my driveway, I took off my Camelbak and started rooting around for my key. I smelled so bad that even I was offended and all I could think about was drinking some cold water and showering.

That was when I discovered that my key was gone. I knew that it had to be in the Camelbak pocket. There was nowhere else it could be. I mean, I’d locked the door with it. I’d put it in the pocket. I’d returned and unzipped the pocket. Where was it?

I looked everywhere in the Camelbak. I doublechecked my work. I looked around on the ground in front of my door in case I’d just dropped it instead of putting it in the pocket. It was nowhere to be found.

The only thing I could figure out was that I’d accidentally put it in the wrong pocket and it had fallen out during my run when I was grabbing an energy chew or when I got that phone call and was afraid it was Quinn’s school and I panicked trying to get my phone out of the pocket. Or, I thought, maybe it was at mile eight when I got all tangled up in the Camelbak straps and my headphones cord and had to stop to figure out how not to strangle myself to death.

I’m extremely good at doing more than one thing at a time.

Anyway, I knew Jack would be home in a little over an hour and he has a key to the house just in case his bus ever drops him off when I’m not home. I sat down on the steps and called Alex to tell him what had happened somewhere over the course of the last 12ish miles.

“Are you going to retrace your steps to find it?” he asked.

He was extremely helpful. Jackass.

I went to the backyard to sit in our hammock. Our trusty hammock has been with us through thick and thin for two years. I knew it would provide me comfort until Jack arrived.

I sat on the hammock—and promptly fell to the ground as it disintegrated under me after having been outside in good and bad weather for two years.

Goddammit.

I sat there for a while…on the ground…partly held up by the broken hammock…because, you know…TIRED. I eventually moved to a chair on my back porch where I could watch my cat watch me.

Photo taken through glass of my cat staring at me.

WHY DON’T YOU STOP STARING AND HELP ME, CAT?

Eventually she got bored and fell asleep and I was all, SCREW YOU CAT.

After that, I headed back around to the front of the house and sat by the driveway to wait for Jack. When he arrived, he was absolutely delighted to be a hero and let me in.

Photo of Jack using his key to unlock the door.

Jack is NOT the dipshit in this story.

We went inside. I showered. Jack basked in being awesome. When it was time to get Quinn from the bus stop, I headed outside and ran into Sam in the driveway as he arrived home. We stopped and chatted for a minute and during the conversation, I looked at the ground.

Where I saw…

Photo of a silver key on my asphalt driveway.

Of course.

I must have sat right next to that key for like twenty minutes as I was waiting for Jack’s bus to arrive.

And that’s how you do Dipshit Friday.

Literally Every 5th Grader

I don’t know exactly when the bulletin board went up, but it was probably in January or February. I didn’t have a chance to go in to Jack’s school very often, so I wasn’t aware of it at all until a friend of mine—the mom of one of Jack’s classmates—posted about it on Facebook in March.

See, this was a bulletin board about the “Superstars” of Jack’s school—the class of 2014.

Photo of a bulletin board covered in yellow paper with a border of paper flowers. Letters spelling out "Our Superstars" and "Class of 2014" are stapled to the board along with photos of the school's fifth graders. I've blurred out the photos for privacy reasons.

I took this photo last Friday, months after it was originally put up.

Jack is part of the class of 2014, so I imagine he was excited to be called a superstar. Except…well, except for the fact that this bulletin board—which was posted within 30 feet of his classroom, insuring that he saw it every single day—included photos of all the fifth graders except for the three fifth graders in Jack’s Asperger’s classroom.

Evidently if you are in an autism classroom, you aren’t a superstar at Sligo Creek Elementary School.

My friend, who is the hero of this story, wrote on Facebook about how she saw this bulletin board often, as she visited the class regularly.

“Each visit is the same: I approach the poster with a mixture of dread and anger at what I know I will see, yet again. And then I turn around, go to the office, and politely inform the secretary that the poster that my daughter and her classmates walk past every day *still* does not include them, and maybe this whole thing started out as just an oversight but it’s been weeks now and could someone *please* add our children’s pictures to the poster so they don’t have to be reminded every single day, as they walk to their special education classroom, that their school’s administration has overlooked them and their achievements?”

She did this for weeks. She would see that the poster didn’t include our kids and she would tell the secretary and she would be ignored. When she finally told the secretary that she was going to fix the poster herself by adding a photo of our kids, she was told that she couldn’t do that because it would be defacing school property.

As you might imagine, that didn’t go over well with my friend. She made it clear in no uncertain terms that if the kids from the autism program weren’t added to the poster by the administration, she would do it herself, and if someone had a problem with that, well, that problem would become public fast.

It was early March when my friend’s daughter reported that the principal had come to the classroom to take photos of the three fifth grade students in Jack’s class.

Except…

Except again.

The photos still didn’t go up. It was mid-March when those three fifth grade students attended a birthday party together. My friend put our kids together and took a photo. On March 18th [date corrected from earlier version], she took that photo and four thumbtacks to the school and she DEFACED THAT BULLETIN BOARD.

Photo of Jack and his two 5th-grade classmatess. I've put bright colored circles over their faces, with smiley faces drawn on them because they're not my kids and I don't want to post their photos here.

Their real faces are even cuter.

*standing ovation*

This was nine weeks after she first mentioned this to the secretary. NINE WEEKS.

At some point the school went ahead and posted individual photos of each of the three fifth graders in the autism classroom, but it wasn’t done until my friend had spoken up multiple times over the course of weeks and then posted her own photo.

Photo of Jack stapled to the yellow bulletin board next to a white paper star.

I think this photo adds a lot to the superstar collage.

As far as I know, my friend and her daughter haven’t gotten an apology from the principal. I know that Jack and I sure haven’t.

I really like Jack’s program. He has done really well there. He has gone from being miserable about school and himself to being happy and full of self esteem. He has a safe place to be when school gets too overwhelming, but he spends much of his day in inclusion classes. His teachers are wonderful. His paras have been good to him. His IEP team is delightful. The other kids in his class are phenomenal. I’m very happy that he is in this program. He is very happy that he is in this program.

But damn.

I wish that my school district was able to serve my kid in his home school in an inclusion classroom. But they couldn’t. They couldn’t or wouldn’t give him the support he needed, so we found another option, one that seemed to work. The thing is, segregation of students has limitations. Even though my kid has been well served in his program, he is obviously seen as less than in the eyes of the administration. These kids do not seem to be the principal’s priority.

If you read here, I’m sure you know why it matters that all kids are included in all parts of school life. It seems so obvious to me, yet it is clearly not obvious to the people who kept moving “post photos from the Asperger’s class” to the bottom of their to-do list.

Every child has an intrinsic worth. Every child has a right to belong. Every child has a right to be treated with respect. Every child has a right to be included, not just by peers and teachers, but by the people who lead the school and set the tone for everyone in the building.

I was furious when I heard about this bulletin board from my friend. I am still furious as I write this. It breaks my heart that people who work with students with disabilities day in and day out still forget that they matter and that they have thoughts and feelings and desires and complex inner lives.

If you doubt that, check out this essay that Jack brought home last week about 5th grade photo day. The 5th grade all wore their special “class of 2014″ shirts on the same day and sat for a photo of the whole grade. Jack remembered all by himself what day he was to wear the shirt and excitedly sat for the photo.

Photo of a small section of Jack's essay titled "2014 School Picture." The full text is below.

Jack wrote about the day. Full text is below.

“2014 School Picture: On June 3rd, I was so excited for the 5th grade picture. I couldn’t wait for it. All the 5th grade, LITERALLY ALL OF THEM, were in the picture. It was so awesome, I could not wait for it. I was in the 3rd row closest to the camera, very close to the flash, so it could get a good angle of me. I couldn’t be forgotten in Sligo Creek Elementary pictures with me in one, especially this one and the graduating class of 2014. [Classmate one] and [classmate two] were close to me, and they were good friends. Lots of people I knew were there, some were close to me and some weren’t. Everyone else seemed to be prepared, as I was thoroughly prepared. That was the best day of my life!”

Read that and tell me that it doesn’t matter if Jack’s photo wasn’t on the superstar board. Read that and tell me that putting my kid’s photo up was “defacing” the bulletin board. Read that and tell me that the principal was doing her best by my kid and those in his class. Read that and tell me that Jack doesn’t understand inclusion.

“I couldn’t be forgotten.”

“All the 5th grade, LITERALLY ALL OF THEM, were in the picture.”

“That was the best day of my life!”

In terms of injustice toward disabled people, this is probably not that big a deal. But to my kid and to the kids in his class, it is a huge deal. Remember that. Even the little things matter.