Friday, February 25, 2011

I really think I could help Lindsay Lohan see the error of her ways...

I'm with you sister, but honestly...
With all the famous people there are in the world making complete asses out of themselves it’s hard to focus on just one, but Lindsay Lohan is one superstar I can totally relate to. I saw her picture in the paper this week and read about the unfortunate shoplifting charges and all I could think was "Oh LiLo, I so know how you feel." Because I have been there, done that. The main difference between her and me is that when I was caught shoplifting I owned up to it right away and took responsibility for my actions. If there was some way for me to sit down with that poor girl and give her one good piece of advice, I would encourage her to do the same, to accept her foibles and get on with life. Like me.

To be fair, I guess there are a few other minor differences between Lindsay and me. She is younger than I am, by quite a few years. And she has a lot more money than I do. She's definitely thinner than I am and I bet she has better skin, too. Oh and I guess I should also admit that when I had my little shoplifting indiscretion at the tender age of 15, I wasn't actually stealing anything valuable, like a $2500 necklace or anything. It was maybe more like a $1.99 necklace and if it was actually priced at that, it was a total rip-off, which is probably why I thought I should just stuff it in my pocket because it wasn’t worth anything anyway. But hey, unlike Lindsay, I really needed my necklace. I didn't have a job and I really didn't care for babysitting anymore – that was so junior high. But my Madonna-wannabe wardrobe required that I wear excessive, cheap jewelry on my wrists and where the hell else was I supposed to find it? Stealing junk jewelry from K-Mart was clearly my only option and I would stop at nothing when it came to accomplishing my fashion goals.

I lived on a fairly busy street in Denver growing up, so imagine how it must have looked to all those passers-by as they made their way around that police cruiser parked in front of my house, me and the good officer of the law slinking up that long front walk to my door. I know my sister was certainly horrified when she & her friend pulled up behind the police car after their Sunday afternoon outing. I thought she might muster the tiniest sense of pride for my grand bad-girl gesture, but really she was just embarrassed. Imagine that.

The next day I had to go down to police headquarters (with my mom) and talk to some scary guy (not as scary as my mom) and I promised I wouldn't do it again (and actually meant it, Lindsay) and I took it seriously when he said if I got caught again it would go on my permanent record. It freaks you out when people start threatening your “permanent record,” you know. But that was pretty much the end of it. Plus my mother told me I was no longer permitted to be friends with the girl I got caught shoplifting with. And she said she'd give me $5/week for allowance (sweet!). The sister really liked that part.

But the point is, I really felt bad about what I had done. I was remorseful, to say the least. I had no problem admitting that, yes, I stole a couple bucks worth of trashy-looking jewelry from K-Mart and I accepted my punishment (short-lived humiliation plus $5/week allowance). Now Lindsay, would it really be so bad to just do the same? Like I said, I know how you feel and I think I just demonstrated that by telling this tale of woe. And if you don't take responsibility for your actions, what's next? A public break-down? Shaving your head? A film career like Wynona Ryder? OK, you may be well on your way to that already. But I think you can do better than that. Maybe you could try giving yourself a little weekly allowance of some sort. It worked for me. And look at me now.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Anything goes...

As you may have noticed, I renamed the venue because the name January was really just a place-keeper anyway and thankfully, it is not January anymore. Plus I came up with a name I like better. So have at it.

Bob and a little friend he likes
to call "old blue."
I was talking with my brother-in-law last week about my blog, hoping for some positive feedback. I generally try hard to ignore his opinions because so often he is just trying to provoke me. It’s the big brother in him. For instance, when we first bought our house all of the rooms were painted in very flat, drab, dark colors. More depressing shades are hard to find. So the first thing I did (or kindly asked the husband to do) was to repaint every room with bright, happy colors and the bro-in-law (Bob) is fond of telling me that I “emasculated” the house. I wish now I had simply responded, “good, that’s what I meant to do.” Because who needs some figuratively heavy-handed and testosterone-loaded house looming over them every minute? Instead I tried to sell him on the beauty of my color choices – which was fruitless. But unlike decorating, when it comes to writing and the English language, I do respect Bob’s opinion. While not scoring tremendously high on the ambition charts (and I’m confident he won’t take offense at that), Bob did get unnaturally high scores on his SATs and GREs and he was an English major so I tend to think he knows a little something about writing and language. Plus he’s a real New York Times crossword puzzle enthusiast; not necessarily on par with puzzle master Will Shortz or anything, but I’ve rarely seen him unable to finish any puzzle, any day of the week. The point is, I was hoping for his stamp of approval and feeling a little nervous about soliciting his opinion. I was hoping to avoid criticism (I'm sensitive).

He reported that he has indeed been keeping up with my writing. His favorite post so far was the profanity-laden one about the f-word. He says it sounded the most natural, like it was just me “riffing” on everyday “stuff”. I have known Bob since I was 14 years old so I guess he would know what my natural speech sounds like. Well, I don’t know that I actually spoke more than 3 words in front of him until sometime in my 20s (I was very shy) but still, the guy’s been listening to me for quite some time. You’d think if all he wanted to hear was me “riffing” he could just call me up on the phone. Let us note, however, that when I do call my sister’s house and he answers, I say, “hi Bob! It’s me.” To which he usually replies “oh, it’s just you,” and real unenthusiastic about it, too. Nevertheless, he liked that little bit of writing so I figure that counts for something.

But of course, not every post can be about swearing. While it feels good to let it all out, I’m no Gordon Ramsey or anything. My feeling is that there should be some point to each post and if the point can be made without all those four-letter words, well then I should aspire to be one of those good authors who once knew better words, right? I don’t know, I guess the point of this thought is that I know I’m going to be really boring to people some days and some folks probably do not care about anything I have to say about autism but that’s okay. It feels intuitive to me to just do this. So this is for you Bob, and you can say whatever you like. Just don’t call me fat.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I am the funniest person in the world

Almost as funny as me
At least, that is what my 8-year old would have me believe. None of the parenting books tell you this, but truly, having your kid think you are funny is one of the better perks of motherhood. Never before have I been able to so consistently, so predictably and so easily make someone bust a gut over the dumbest thing I say.

When I was in my 20s, pre-meeting my husband, I used to think the perfect partner for me would be someone who either A) thought I was funnier than I do, which could be tricky as I do think I am pretty damn hilarious. I mean, I am constantly cracking myself up. Woo-hoo, girl, that was a good one! Or B) perfect partner would be someone who I found funnier than I find myself. And that, in the grand scheme of things, really wouldn’t be too challenging because, actually, I am not that funny. I know, I just said I really crack myself up but that doesn’t mean I am truly witty, it just means I have a rather juvenile sense of humor and I know just the kind of inane crap that will really bowl me over. But if we could invent some kind of objective scale of funniness to measure a person’s humor abilities, I don’t expect I would rate all that high. Every once in a while I can get off a good one, but it’s the exception, not the rule.

However, my daughter appears not to be terribly discerning in the perception of humor department. Maybe it has to do with the fact that she’s eight, is my guess. Her amusement might also be attributed to my aforementioned juvenile sense of humor. Earlier tonight she and I were playing some cards. Our dog (who, incidentally, does not have much of a sense of humor AT ALL; take that time we took him to the indoor dog park and that pack of big dogs chased him around the perimeter of the building trying to sniff his butt. He did not find that funny at all, but I on the other hand, thought it was a riot). Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, the dog gets all antsy when we sit on the floor and play games, circling us, walking on the game and generally being a pain in the ass until I give him a rawhide to chew on. So he’s gnawing away, taking a break periodically to sniff the rawhide and then roll around on top of it in the hope that he can get that delicious stink of chewed-up, slimy rawhide on his back. He also appears to be experiencing some gas – really bad gas, too.  So I say, “Ewww, Carson, you farted. That’s gross! You’re gross!” And this sends Martha into such a fit of giggles, rolling around on the floor, barely able to breathe. The more mature parent might try to bring the fit of giggles under control, guide the child towards a calmer state. But me? I say it again, primarily only because Carson passed some more gas moments later. Same effect on Martha, though. Damn, I am so funny.

Then after dinner, the husband and I play another game with her which we call the candy-matching game. It’s the game of concentration with the most luscious-looking, old-fashioned candies decorating the cards, thus, the candy-matching game. After a few rounds, for no particular reason, I begin to affect a Kermit-the-frog-like voice with a British accent, of course, and I do a little play-by-play of each person’s turn. “Martha turns over ribbon candy and shoestring licorice, that’s no match! Mommy finds marzipan and… another marzipan! Hoo-ray, mommy scores another match!” Again, Martha thinks I am hilarious. I even think I hear a bit of a chuckle issue from my husband, who generally thinks I am more buffoon than comic.

So now, basking in the afterglow of my dear child’s ego boost, I thought I’d take the old humor-mobile for one more spin. Hope you enjoyed the ride.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A few words about Autism

autism hat
Today I am wearing my autism hat. And by that I do not mean that I am obsessively lining up my matchbox cars according to the colors of the rainbow and I am not watching my favorite video over and over again and then walking around the house repeating my favorite lines verbatim, perfectly replicating the intonations. I will admit to being fairly meticulous about certain things like loading the dishwasher the (exact) same way every day (and rearranging dishes that are not loaded "correctly") and I when I eat skittles or M&Ms I like to sort them into piles according to color. But I’m not talking about those quirky behaviors. I just mean that today I’m thinking about autism and how it has shaped my life because the editor of my college alumni magazine has asked me to write a short story about what it is like raising a child with autism.

When my daughter, Martha, was 21 mos. old she was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified or PDD-NOS, for short, except that PDD-NOS is not really that short and why on earth would you go around using initials that no one knows the meaning of anyway because eventually you’re going to have to explain what the initials stand for (Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified) and your audience, most likely, will not have a clear understanding of what that means either so you will have to explain it even further. Nothin’ short about that. The problem with PDD-NOS, the initials as well as the words, is that it’s not the least bit descriptive. It just sounds like someone couldn’t think of a better name for the diagnosis so they said, “Hey, let’s string a bunch of words together that sound significant but don’t make much sense all together. It’ll be real useless to parents and it’ll take them several months just to figure out what all these words mean, to say nothing of what the specific diagnosis means to them and their child.” It is part of the Autism Spectrum and it means that your child has several behaviors that are common to a child on the autism spectrum except that your child does not meet the criteria for any of the other diagnoses that are also part of the autism spectrum (such as Asperger’s Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder or Classic Autism). Like I said, it is not helpful. And it will not guide you in the treatment of your child. It will take you five minutes to say and even longer to explain, which is why I just go around saying my daughter “has autism” or she is “on the spectrum.” (NOTE: Anyone out there who feels compelled to explain the meaning behind PDD-NOS, please don’t, I actually do understand it after all these years, I’m just not going into it right here.)

When she was six years old my husband and I took her to the University of Minnesota Autism Clinic to be re-evaluated. The doctors there came back and told us that they did not feel that she was on the spectrum but that she was “at risk” for ADHD. At risk? Was there some way to stave off the ill effects of the Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder that was threatening her (bitterness and sarcasm intended)? A friend of mine rejoiced at this news that Martha was “off” the spectrum and while I did appreciate that this was good news, that obviously Martha’s development had progressed in such a way that over four years’ time her particular autistic-like behaviors were mild enough not to immediately indicate an ASD diagnosis, the idea that kids can move “on” and “off” the spectrum just doesn’t sit well with me. Is this a fluid disorder where we can be more autistic one day, less another? I think what bothered me the most was that for four years I had come to understand my daughter as a child with particular behaviors, strengths and deficits that, for the most part, describe the disorder known as autism. Many of her most difficult behaviors still existed so if they were not part of the autism spectrum, what were they?

Martha did not learn to talk until shortly before her third birthday. Around the time she was diagnosed she began using the ASL sign for “more,” which we had been trying to teach her for almost a year without one hint of success. Once she learned it, “more” served us well. It constituted a major part of her communication in addition to laughter (happy) and crying (sad, mad, frustrated, hungry, tired, sick, none of the above, all of the above, and you may never know which one). We’d ask a yes/no question and the sign for more meant yes. No reaction or fussing meant no. More got her food, drink, picked up, put down, carried around, a song, a video, any number of things. But you can see where more, a happy face or a sad face can leave a lot of room for miscommunication; a lot of her self-expression was left to our interpretation. On more occasions than I ever care to remember, I sat there totally and utterly perplexed as to what she wanted or what she was feeling. How can I fix something if I don’t know what’s wrong?

Finally at age three the words started to come and let me tell you, they have not stopped. Martha talks endlessly. The sound of silence seems almost intolerable to her, like she doesn’t understand it and she desperately wants some noise to focus on, to bring meaning to her world. She became a much happier child as she learned to communicate, as she connected with people, got her needs met, expressed herself, learned about new ideas. She had some power over the world.

As I finished writing this today, I had two autism-related items come to my attention, both of which I think are brilliant. One is a blog entry by the incredibly talented John Elder Robison whose book Look Me in the Eye tells of his growing up with Asperger’s Syndrome and how he navigated the world without knowing until he was in his 40s that he was affected by autism. The other is a video my sister emailed to me about Carly Fleischmann, a 14-year old girl who appeared to be profoundly autistic and cognitively impaired but when she began typing on a computer keyboard at age 11 she was able to communicate with the world about what it feels like to live inside her body, why she behaves as she does and how she wants to be like everyone else. If you have a moment, you should take a look at them. The fact that I was already writing about autism when these two items were delivered to my computer screen leads me to believe that I am supposed to be talking about this subject right now. I like when fate speaks to me, it makes my life so much easier.

That’s all I have for now, but there is always much more to come on this topic.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I used to have real thing for John Elway

If you thought the halftime entertainment was a little lacking and you are in the mood for more excitement than the Black Eyed Peas, I doubt I can help you. If, however, you would like to hear an inane story of one woman’s quest to become a football fan then get comfy and read on.

When I was preparing to leave for college in 1986 I was faced with a major decision that was obviously going to require much soul-searching and exploration of issues that had never before crossed my mind. I was going to college in Los Angeles, CA and I had this nice boyfriend who I was leaving behind in Denver, CO and I thought it was pretty important that I decide whether or not I was a Bronco fan (like him) or if I should dedicate my fickle heart to the L.A. Raiders instead. It’s shockingly superficial, is it not? Well, the truth is, there was very little about me as an 18-year old that was not shockingly superficial. I have been working on being much more serious and profound since then so I’m going to let myself off the hook for that one. Long story short, I went with the Broncos. For anyone who knows football and has one of those freakishly precise memories about which teams played in the Super Bowl each year and what the score was at the end of each quarter and what the middle name was of the guy who kicked that winning field goal in the 4th quarter, let me add that I was in college from 1986-1990 and three out of those four years the Broncos ended up in the Super Bowl. Hmmm, seems like I made a pretty smart choice when I went with Bronco fan over Raiders fan, huh? Not if you like being a fan of a team that actually wins the Super Bowl as opposed to miserably humiliating themselves time and again, so really, now I wish I had just followed my instincts and ignored the game completely and then I wouldn’t, to this day, still owe copious amounts of beer to one of my fellow alums with whom I made endless bets on those ill-fated games.

Enjoying the Broncos
and probably a few Coors
 If it weren’t for my brief stint as a football fan, however, I never would have had the opportunity to capture this flattering moment in time when I donned my Bronco paraphernalia and sucked down many-a silver bullet all in the name of supporting my hometown team in the big game. You can see the grit and determination in the set of my jaw and the confidence with which I hold up my finger, silently proclaiming that Broncos will be number one. Yes, life was good at that moment.

You might be surprised to learn that I do not actually remember what happened during that game, except that my team lost and I may have had to skip my 9:00 class the following morning. It’s okay, I got over the game and skipping one class didn’t really hurt my solid 2.8 grade point average. The same year this charming photo was taken, my mom moved to Minneapolis anyway, so I felt like opportunity was really pounding away on my door, offering me a chance to ditch the Broncos for the Vikings. Now there’s a football team a gal can really get behind.

So here it is, 23 years later (damn it) and what has become of my football fanship? I couldn't care less about football. I was a little happy the year the Broncos did finally win a Super Bowl and I really enjoyed seeing Drew Bledsoe in the San Diego airport in 2000, but that had little to do with his football prowess. It’s not very profound, but basically I think the sport is kind of ridiculous and it disturbs me how much the players get paid and I don’t really feel bad that many of them end up with early signs of dementia and traumatic brain injuries. I know, I said I was cultivating more profound thinking, but not so much about football, I guess. I am particularly disgusted by the feeding- frenzy the Super Bowl has become. The thought of all those nachos and Pizza Hut Big Dipper pizzas with the gelatinous mozzarella-stuffed crust kind of makes me want to throw up a little bit. But still, I did make it to my sister's house for a Super Bowl “party,” if you can call it that. I didn't see any of the actual game but I made darn sure I saw some Black Eyed Peas. I'm considering adding some periods to my name, like that guy.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The f-word ***RATED R***

For profanity, of course; there will be no talk of sex. But be forewarned, if you are offended by the words “fuck” or “fucking,” you should probably read no further.

I go through this moral dilemma every time the f-word pops into my head, which is pretty often. I know some people think it is crass and un-lady-like and I hate for people to judge me, but then again, it’s a great word and I find myself wishing I could use it more freely, lose the fucking anxiety associated with it. For example, I find it to be an exquisite descriptor for a variety of situations one feels strongly about. Such as, “I’m so sick of shoveling this fucking snow.” Or “I can’t see out the fucking driveway because this fucking pile of snow is so fucking high.” You needn’t limit usage to just snow-related scenarios; it works in hot weather just as easily as cold. On any given hot July day, for example, I can be heard saying something like, “Why is it so fucking humid? I’m so fucking sweaty, I can’t stand it!” Fucking also comes in handy in the non-weather-oriented realm, as in “Why the fuck is there so much fucking traffic? I fucking hate driving.” Or when you read virtually any article in the newspaper it’s a perfect time to exclaim, “Fuck, people are so fucking stupid.” It just feels really good to say it. And come on, these sentences definitely would not have the same power if you were to substitute something else in place of a choice f-word. You can’t say “I’m so sick of shoveling this darn snow,” or “Golly, people sure don’t make any sense to me,” and have it produce the same sense of catharsis or express the proper degree of anger and hatred for humanity, don’t you think? Then of course, there is my all-time favorite technique, injecting it into the middle of another word for emphasis, as in, “Fan-fucking-tastic! The dog dismembered a squirrel in the backyard, what the fuck am I supposed to do about that?”

There was a time when I made a concerted effort to tone down the gratuitous swearing because I was concerned people might think I was low class or something equally ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely situations in which excessive cursing is not helpful or particularly appropriate. Such as, when I meet with my daughter’s teachers or other parents, for example, I try to leave my cursing vocab at home. “School fucking rocks, I’m so happy with how my daughter is doing” does not seem like proper mommy talk, even to my ears. I’m pretty sure my husband finds my foul language fairly horrifying. He is a good Catholic, or he was, at any rate, until he married me. His church attendance has dropped precipitously since our wedding. But my feeling is that I should be able to use this word without it casting a veil of disrepute on my very being. If I weren’t so high-strung and irritable, I’m sure I wouldn’t need to swear so much. Please, cut me some slack. I can be the very picture of class and sophistication when I want to be.

I didn’t do any extensive research on the use of the word fuck by strong, female characters in great works of literature but maybe it would make a good thesis topic for a Ph.D. student somewhere. I did, however, think of a few examples where the use of the word really spoke to me and made me love the women using it simply because their liberal swearing was so nonchalant, so forceful, so carefree and so excessive. Suburban Kamikaze recently wrote about the necessity of profanity in winter, saying “Why the fuck do I live here? Why the fuck does anyone live here? I fucking hate everyone in fucking February.” I really feel her discontent.  And The Cursing Mommy column from The New Yorker is another instance where I sense that using the words fuck and fucking really accentuates the expression of frustration. Wait a sec… Hold the phone. I’m doing a little reading on the side here as I write and I see that The Cursing Mommy is actually a man. Oh great, what was the fucking point of this anyway? Hell, I’m sure there are countless other genuine cursing mommies out there who aren’t afraid to say “fucking this” and “fucking that” but they are still good moms, good women, and good people. The point is a woman has a right to choose. That’s right, it’s a feminist issue and I think that in lieu of burning my bra, I’m going to choose to swear with abandon. I mean, why the fuck not?