Why?

So my 2 1/2 year old son is currently terrified of the appliances downstairs. This is just a development from being earlier terrified of robots. Machines are fascinating but also scary. Fine. These things happen. 

So I am sick in bed with a nasty cold and the baby is talking to me about the terrors of the dishwasher.

“The dishwasher isn’t going to eat you,” I tell him. “Dishwashers only wash dishes. They don’t do anything elee.”

“They wash dishes?”

“That’s all they do. They only do one thing. Dishwashers wash dishes. Clothes washers wash clothes. Dryers dry clothes. The stove and the microwave cook food. The tea kettle makes hot water for tea. The toaster makes toast.”

I stop and realize how ridiculous this must sound to anyone who isn’t acculturated to Western Civilization 2017. Seriously, we have an entire machine just to heat water up enough for tea? To mix our bread dough? To toast bread??

No wonder he doesn’t believe me that these machines don’t have some larger more sinister purpose.

In the annals of the strange and weird . . .

Have you ever heard the phrase “your mouth is writing checks your body can’t cash?”

Yeah, something like that happens to me when my brain is telling me what exercises and sports we should be doing. My brain, for reasons entirely unknown to me, seems to think that I should be an athlete. I can’t even SPELL athlete without spell check to remind me how it goes.

But here we are, in the post-Christmas just-turned-2017 haze, and my brain is trying to entice me back into athletic endeavors. I hesitate to use the term “New Year resolution” when I refer to this phenomenon, because I have a much more practical and important reason for getting more exercise this year than just the turning over of the secular calendar.

Because, of course, my thyroid lobe removal of November revealed a small area of cancerous cells hidden inside the stupid lumpy thing, and I am now officially a cancer patient. Which is faintly ridiculous, as this cancer is a hypochondriac’s dream: it will most likely allow me to die of a heart attack or a stroke or by getting run over by feral hogs long before it kills me, but in the meantime it will allow me to obsess legitimately over every swollen lymph node, wobble in my vocal cords, or other weird symptom that I can find.

So, this brings me back to the “checks I can’t cash” part: I’d like very much not to “cash in my chips,” so to speak, until the last possible moment, and definitely not until all my kids are grown. So I need to lose some weight, pronto, and, more importantly, I need to get myself in better cardiovascular shape.

Which leads my delusional brain to suggest all sorts of schemes for getting fit. It loves to linger over couch-to-5k running plans, although my knees are rivaling Kellogg’s Rice Krispies for snap, crackle, and pop these days. Then it reminds me that I do own a very nice bicycle, so why don’t we start road racing? Road racing? Leaving aside the fact that the mental images boggle the mind, I don’t own a road racing bike at all. I own mountain bikes or hybrids with big knobbly tires. Where are these ideas coming from?

Of course, this is the same mind that has dreamed up a million impossible schemes that I have actually been able to pull off. Maybe I shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. I have always dreamed longingly of being able to bike for long distances– my favorite Outward Bound trip to dream of in high school was the one where they biked down the Pacific coast. I didn’t have a bicycle from the ages of 12-18, mind you, nor was I in any sort of shape to bike that far every day, but my brain was already displaying its amazing ability to ignore reality in pursuit of its goals.

So, here I am. With goals. My brain actually came up with a reasonable goal, when it wasn’t saying “Hey, let’s go on a bike trip from Amsterdam down to Provence despite the fact that I don’t have A) the money, or B) the fitness level, or even C) a passport.” My immediate goal is to lose 10% of my weight by the time summer vacation comes around. Which is a pretty reasonable goal, given the length of time between now and then and some fine-tuning of my thyroid hormone levels by my endocrinologist.

The rest, well, exercise is never my thing. It’s especially not my thing considering that I seem to feel all sorts of nerve pain that most people don’t feel, for reasons still not understood. You should see my dental visits, they’re a laugh. Why, yes, doc, I still feel that. But anyway, exertion brings on pain, which is something I try to avoid. BUT . . ..

I really do want to live to be an old grandmother with a horde of grandchildren whom I can spoil completely and teach bad habits like staying up all night playing video games and drinking too much Coca Cola. Okay, maybe just one Coca Cola and the rest as tea or something, but definitely I want to be able to be there for them. Everyone needs an eccentric grandmother who doesn’t give a fig for convention. So, it seems that a steady diet of pain and discomfort and exertion is in the cards for me.

Thanks a lot, brain. Maybe you could have actually gotten me to exercise BEFORE it was going to be such a huge pain in the . . . ear?

Some can not . . ..

There’s been a story all over the news today about an “autistic” girl singing Leonard Cohen’s song “Halleluiah.” Of course, any time I see the word “autistic” paired with a quote from the person in question, I cringe. Because autistic people, by and large, don’t say quotable things. At least, not the ones who are firmly on the autism side of this “spectrum” they lumped them all in. The people on the Asperger’s side, well, that’s an individual choice for them, as much as it would be for a neurotypical person. People with Asperger’s disorder do have some very real disabilities and problems, and they’re entitled to the help they need to deal with them, but many people with Asperger’s are indistinguishable from your ordinary geeky person with maybe not the greatest social skills. They can be just as funny, lovable, annoying, adorable, clever, talkative, or silent and strange as the next person.

I must admit that I get extremely annoyed now that people have lumped Asperger’s in with all other Autistic disorders. It allows the media to give people an entirely wrong idea about what people with classical autism and the more severe variants can actually do. Someone like my daughter, for instance, could never in her life actually give a quote to a reporter about how great it was that her YouTube video got a lot of hits. It may be difficult for someone with Asperger’s to do so– they often have a lot of social anxiety and difficulty in talking to people– but it’s not flat out impossible. For my daughter, she’s about as likely to fly to the moon as she is to hold a conversation with anyone.

So when I talk to people about my daughter’s impairments and limitations, they usually just don’t get it. Or, worse, they think I am just underestimating her. I understand why people wanted Asperger’s classified as an “autism spectrum disorder” (in short, for insurance and schooling purposes, also to have their problems taken seriously) but it’s had this effect that we parents of the severely afflicted had originally feared would happen– ordinary people completely not getting the things we have to live with and thereby underestimating the real needs of our severely disabled offspring. No, our kids will never get up on a stage and sing a song. No, our kids will never marry. No, our kids will never be able to hold a job or live on their own or drive a car or be in charge of their own lives. They will always be a danger to themselves, and sometimes to others.

My daughter is 21 years old, and the sibling that she has the most in common with is her 2 year old brother. Socially, they’re about on the same level. He’s actually outpacing her these days. It breaks my heart, every day of my life. Someone has to watch her, 24 hours a day, just to keep her healthy and alive and well. It’s not a matter of “giving her a chance” or “not knowing what she’s capable of.” She’ll run into traffic with absolutely no knowledge that being hit by a car will hurt her. She’ll pull a live electrical wire out of a socket with no awareness at all that she’ll be shocked. She’s drawn to water, but has no fear of drowning. She’s a beautiful innocent child in the body of an adult woman.

I don’t write this out of frustration with people on the autism spectrum, although there are a lot of people who seem to be suddenly “discovering” that they’re “autistic” at the age of 40 or something, after a life lived otherwise completely normally. What they seem to mean by it is that they have terrible social anxiety, or that they have thinking patterns that are slightly different than the norm, or that they have difficulty processing their emotions. Which are all real problems and can be a terrible thing to deal with at times. But it’s not “Autism.” You’re not sitting in a corner, flapping your fingers in front of your eyes, humming a tuneless droning noise for hours, and compulsively scratching holes in your skin until you’re covered in scars, now, are you?

That’s the autism that we’re dealing with here. The sort where we have listened to the same 6 second loop of her favorite song for several hours out of each day for months, until it changed to a different obsessive compulsion. The sort where we know every Disney and Don Bluth film by heart, because we’ve stayed up all hours of the night re-watching and re-watching them while she stays awake running in circles. We have the sort where we’ve run through every possible medication in the book just to allow our daughter to get a night’s sleep (so maybe we can sleep for one night. After 21 years of broken sleep, you get a little weird.) We live with the sort where we’ve had to put plywood over her walls, because she was systematically removing all the drywall, eating some of it, and trying to physically tear the house down.

Ah, I don’t know what difference it makes to talk about this. No one believes how hard it is, because there’s really no way to understand it except to experience it. And I wouldn’t wish such a terrible fate on any person or their family. The grief just becomes a part of who you are, it never goes away.

Some people can live with an autistic spectrum disorder and live a fairly normal life, with friends and hobbies and jobs and school and relationships.

And some can not.

 

 

 

Gently, gently 

My sister and I, mid 1980s.

So, like a bird on a wire, etc (RIP Leonard), I have tried, in my way, to be free of the painful legacy of abuse that’s been passed down, generation to generation, in my family. It hasn’t been easy and I haven’t been entirely successful, but I have managed to raise a few kids that aren’t afraid of me. 

Oh, sure, they might be afraid that the Xbox may actually get sold on Craigslist if they continue to let the dirty laundry moulder in their bedrooms, but not actually afraid that I am going to intentionally try to hurt them if they talk back or step out of line. When frustrated, I may make an idle threat to beat them with a belt, but they take it about as seriously as my threats to send them to the circus. Mom is obviously in need of caffeine and a couple Advil, you might want to avoid her.

For some families, that sort of fear-based discipline is their ideal and they are right now muttering darkly about disrespect and sparing the rod. For some families, they’re just horrified that anyone could ever hurt a child. For the rest of us, who knew good and well that failing to clean up your room or sassing your momma would mean a belt across your bottom at the least, it is a painful decision of another sort. Do you reject the way your own parents disciplined you? Do you inflict the same punishments on your own children, even knowing how much they hurt and how much damage they did to your relationship with your parents?

My children are not afraid of me, but that’s not the entire point of trying to raise them gently. They don’t flinch when I raise my hand, but they’re also not afraid to talk to me. And that, ultimately, has been the true reward for all the times when I wanted to just do the simple thing and smack them for any of the bazillion things they’ve done to annoy me. 

Because, let’s be honest, a lot of that “discipline” is just the parent venting their frustration. A child doesn’t deserve punishment for minor accidents like spilling milk, or for getting answers wrong to questions, or for being in the way when they’re not wanted around. To smack the child is to take the easy way out, to not actually deal with your own issues. And it breeds distrust and distance between parent and child. 

Not that my kids are some kind of paragons of virtue who made it easy on me, but the longer that I have tried to control my temper, the more it’s made me aware of all the other stuff going on in my children’s lives. When they’re not afraid of you, they can be honest. They can include you in their lives to a much lgreater extent. You never know all the secrets and all the stories, but you know a heck of a lot more than what my peers and I shared with our parents. 

There’s a downside, of course. When you do make up punishments, you have to be extra diligent about following through with them, otherwise you’ll seem ineffectual. But you also have to punish them less, anyway. If you can just be gentle with them and allow them the autonomy and respect that any human deserves, you’ll be surprised how very human, and humane, they are.  

It’s difficult to explain this when making up an IEP plan for your handicapped child, though. They always ask “what punishments do you use?” And I am always hard pressed to answer. If she makes a mess, she has to clean it up? If she is physically rough towards someone, she has to go to her room until she calms down. Really bad behavior might mean having her computer privileges taken away for an hour or two. I never know what they expect me to do– how do you punish someone who doesn’t understand your society, anyway? 

If you think about it, though, isn’t that the issue with all little humans? They just don’t understand our social rules yet. For some, like our autistic brethren, they may never quite “get” them. I never could see the point of whipping someone when what they need is compassion and instruction. It’s just anger being expressed, more than anything else. And there are usually better ways to get your point across. 

It’s difficult and I am not perfect. But I hope my grandchildren never have to fear a raised hand from their parents, and that they learn love and peace at home so they can spread it throughout the world.  
  

Progress, for a change 

So, I have been reading a lot this week. I took a couple of months off during the spring, which forced me to abandon my annual Goodreads reading challenge and my stated goal of reading 120 books thus year. That was painful, as part of my “I am managing quite well, thank you” identity is based on being able to read quickly and thoughtfully. 

But I had realized that reading a hundred and twenty ordinary novels a year was not actually making me happier or healthier or a better person. Mostly, the books were forgettable and I have little recollection of a large percentage of them. It was basically a substitute for watching television and not any more memorable than most episodes of a typical tv show. 

So, I stopped reading junky novels and I am happier. My to-read pile is monumental, however, so I am working hard to whittle it down.

I read Virginia Woolf’s first novel, Mrs Dalloway. It was actually very moving, mostly because I know that she eventually lost her battle against bipolar disorder and drowned herself in the river near her home. The interwoven stories of the various people in the book are interesting, and her style is just so sharp and bright that it makes the other postmodern hero, Joyce, seem like a conceited ass. I liked Mrs Dalloway very much.

The other novel I finished, A House for Mr Biswas, by V S Naipaul, was a good deal more difficult to love. It’s so episodic, and the main character such an unlikable jerk, that I had to read it in chunks. I think it’s an important work in terms of exploring the notion of mortality and family and the purpose of life, but it is not a book for the typical reader. Most people will quit long before the 650 pages are finished. I know, I quit it several times myself before finally pushing through to the end! I will probably go on to read more by Naipaul, however, as this book is supposed to be the only one with this weird structure. In the end, and interesting book, but maybe not a great one.

Next up is finishing Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence. I am about 2/3 of the way through it and it’s been a powerful experience so far. I think I would have finished it earlier if not for reading the Woolf novel, because Lawrence’s very elaborate, elegant, and slow images just were too much to handle after Woolf’s crisp style. 

Anyway, back to the fray. I think I will go in for something lighter after this, maybe Saul Bellow. I think reading Henry James right after Lawrence would be too much.

Books

So, I have been updating my reading lists and found out that I am 27 titles short of finishing the Modern Library Top 100 novels list. 

I am going to try to make it through the list. I may not finish a few of them– Stegner’s Angle of Repose comes to mind– but I have learned a lot from working my way through the list. I may learn more if I finish it.

One thing that I have found, however, is that their particular list misses out on a ton of amazing literature. So, I have begun working through a list some Norwegians made by polling world class authors worldwide. It’s a much richer list, packed with books I have never even heard of before as well as plenty of Dostoyevsky and whatnot. I feel happy to have a new source for books to add to my unending to-read list. But, first, to finish those 27!

What I did wrong last year 

So, it’s that time of year, where the siren song of new curriculum is wooing the homeschooling mom with visions of educational bliss. And, sadly, also the time where you look at what you did in the previous year and grimace at your failures. My failures for the year are pretty simple, and I hope to avoid them next year. 

  1. I didn’t buy nearly enough school supplies in advance. It’s no fun to run out of markers and glue and have to pay the terrible non-sale price for replacements. This fall, I am going to buy crayons and markers by the case.
  2. I didn’t push through on bad days and get the basics done. We took a lot of days off for sickness and doctor visits and such, for me and their siblings both, which put us way behind on grammar and math. We’re still catching up. Next year, we will be doing the three basic subjects every day unless the kids are sick themselves. 
  3. I pushed my 6 year old too quickly and we ended up butting heads over everything. Stress on both of us. This year, I think he is ready for reading and math, but I will not push the extras if he can’t handle them. I want him to enjoy learning. 
  4. We didn’t do enough fun science! More science, all the time.
  5. We didn’t spend enough time outside. More time outdoors!

I think this year will be better. I am excited. And Amazon is just waiting for my money, hah.

The Summer of Movies

So, waaay back in September of last year, I mentioned that I wanted to finish watching the AFI’s Top 100 movies.

OK, since then, I have watched exactly 1 movie off the list, Taxi Driver.

In order to rectify this huge oversight, I am declaring this to be the Summer of Movies. We already watched “Jaws” this week– one of our summer traditions is to scare the bejeezus out of the kids so they won’t stray too far at the beach. It’s not an official traditional thing but, boy, it makes that first dip in the ocean more spine-tingling.

Anyway, I am going to use my poor lonely Twitter account to post updates on our magical summer of Movies and greasy popcorn, which is the only type worth eating. It’s lifesacuresong if you’re interested in following along.

See you there.

This Mom business

So, I have a new pet peeve. And it’s something I have done myself (see blog title.) Yes, this focus on motherhood, how we define our entire selves through that one aspect of our lives. I am tired of the mommy ghetto. I am tired of being simultaneously typecast and dismissed by virtue of my fertility.

And, boy, is that ironic for someone who has seven kids.

Because, of course, motherhood informs every aspect of my life, my thinking, and my philosophy. Once you have that first infant in your trembling arms, you have a choice– do I step up to the plate and start playing the parenting game in earnest, or do I just shrug it off and go on as if nothing has changed? I have seen the same person make a different decision for different offspring or at a later date for one child, so it’s not a one time offer. But it’s a qualitatively different experience than staying childless. I am sorry, but obtaining a puppy does not work the same on the human psyche. I have obtained puppies and children and they’re vastly different. Trust me on this.

Motherhood is not always a transformative experience, but it should be. It can make you a better person, more concerned about the injustices of the world, more sympathetic to others. Or, you know, it can turn you into a teary nervous wreck obsessed with the bowel movements of a newborn. Sometimes both.

Sometimes, *ok, most times*, one’s childless friends and relatives don’t see the transformation in a positive light. All they see is that their once-freewheeling friend is suddenly boring and unduly interested in crock pot recipes. They don’t want to hear a play-by-play of your toddler’s toilet training, or anything else, really– what happened to adult conversation? They notice the huge increase in your environmental footprint due to all those plastic items that are now cluttering up your home, not to mention diapers and wipes and little squeeze pouches of applesauce. The finer points of how a parent’s perspective on politics, the environment, and the future all change are lost in the constant flood of cute baby pics on Instagram.

So, it’s easy to dismiss us. Moms are boring. Moms are lame. Our brains are eaten up with petty concerns. What style, panache, or intelligence we may have once had, well . . . we are moms. Everyone has one, goodness, and how uncool was she!

And we play into it, on mommy blogs and Facebook and Twitter. The Mommy Wars are so brutal these days that you can’t express an opinion on parenting  without being harassed and subject to the vicious judgements of other people *with or without children. So most moms either try to channel a sort of neutral Mary Poppinsesque cheerfulness or a droll sarcastic tone with an emphasis on the daily wine consumption that allows them to cope.

All of which misses the point I was aiming for– while being a mother has changed my perspective over the years, I am still a conscious, intelligent, and passionate person in my own right. It is undoubtedly easier for me to say that, as I never had a life as an adult without children. I never experienced the loss of some previous childfree life, lived for however many years or decades. I have had to just go on about the business of living while dragging along my little band of miscreants.

Anyway, I think it limits one when we make these blogs and whatnot with a focus on the motherhood aspect of our lives. Men, ehhhh. There’s not enough of a Daddy Blogger cohort to really make the same argument. In my experience, men have blogs and careers and lives and they can mention that they have kids, even write about their kids and parenting experiences, without being dismissed as “just another dad.” Sure, you’re not going to write many articles about it for GQ or Maxim or Esquire, but the guy bloggers I see can and do argue about pretty much any topic without pause. If a Mommy does that, well, her audience will just be baffled. Where’s the freezer recipes for yet another way to use chicken breasts? Where’s the lament about the laundry? Where’s the *kids*?

So, I guess I am a failure at Mommy Blogging, but I have been failing at that for 18 years so, whatever. I’m probably going to switch back to using my oldest blog name, Scattershot Thought, since that describes what I do better.

It’s just so stupid. I am a mother. I live for my children. But they’re not all of my life, especially not my inner life and thoughts. I don’t want to pretend that I am not a mother but I don’t want someone’s impression of me to be “ah, just another mom talking about diaper brands and minivans.” So, what’s the right thing to do? Either way, it’s not perfect. I am tired of describing myself first as a mother, but it remains the best thing in my life. But is that the first thing I am? Am I not, first and foremost, a human, a creature living in relation to the creator? (Another pitfall– mentioning religion.) So. Yes. Life’s just filled with strange compromises.

I shouldn’t think out loud. That seems to be the only real takeaway from this. Hah.

 

 

 

 

Title: what, I have to title this random update?

So, I have been neglecting the blog. Not exactly unusual for a blog. I had good intentions. The switch from using a computer to using a smartphone, however, has been terrible for almost every activity that I used to enjoy. I just can’t do much on a phone.

My current ambitious plan is to get a new computer, with which (one hopes) I could do all those things that I planned to do originally. I don’t even want anything fancy, just something that will run a few open browser tabs and a word processing program. Oh, and Spotify. I am dying from a lack of music in the house. Headphones do not cut it. I am one of those people who has to have the bass speaker make the glass in the windows rattle.

So, yes. I am alive. And, oddly enough, hopeful. I am still learning about life. I am 42 and I probably should feel like I have it all figured out, but every day seems to have a lesson in it for me. They have been hard lessons this year. I was hoping that this year would be easy, but, yeah, that didn’t happen. Oh well.

So, any votes for what I should blog about?