Saturday, November 28, 2015

My Favorite Little Box

When we have children, it is a great blessing if our parents are around to be a part of their lives. If there is anyone on this planet who will love our kids as much as we do, it is surely most grandparents.

When I was growing up, my Grandma was probably the most loving person I knew. I had a Nana as well, and she was my mother's mother. I have seen families who tend to be closer with the maternal grandmother, but my Nana had 19 grandchildren. The five in my own house didn't fall into her "favorites" category. Which is NOT to say she didn't love us. She surely did. We just weren't as close with her as we were to Grandma.

Grandma had only the five kids in our family and two grandchildren from my dad's only sister. My aunt had moved across the country even before the birth of her second child, so Grandma didn't get to see them much. Therefore, for Grandma, the sun rose and set on my house.

I was the oldest granddaughter. It gave me a bond with her that holds close today, 23 years after she left us. She took my older brother and me to our first show at Radio City Music Hall, took us out to eat at The Lamps Of China in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, all when I was about 4 or 5 years old, and all by subway.

She took us to our first Yankees game when I was 7. We took the B train from her house in Bensonhurst and switched to the D train at DeKalb Avenue. That D train left us right at the doors of The House That Ruth Built.

She carried a plaid, vinyl, insulated bag full of heros she had made that morning. Peppers and eggs, veal and peppers, sausage and peppers...(must've been a sale on peppers)...and she had a separate bag with drinks. A hot bag and a cold bag. She held those bags the whole trip, but never let go of our hands. That memory is so vivid, I go back there in my mind every year when baseball season starts.

There were lots more trips to the stadium after that. I remember going on "bat day" and getting a Roy White baseball bat, only after my brother conned me out of the Bobby Murcer bat that was originally handed to me. Could you imagine the stadium giving out bats today? Thank God, those were simpler, less violent times. We were there once for an "Old Timers Day". I think it may have been 104 degrees that day. Grandma had to break down and buy us drinks when her supply in the insulated bag was gone. My love for The Yankees is fierce, and stems from those trips with Grandma. She made baseball a magical experience, even for a little girl in the early 70s. She often told us the story of being at Lou Gherig's last game. "There wasn't a dry eye in the stadium", she said.

Christmas time with Grandma was probably the greatest bonding experience in all my memories. We're Italian, so the big fish dinner on Christmas Eve was the tradition. Even as a young girl, she made me love scungili salad, fried shrimp, and those amazing blue claw crabs in the sauce. She prepared everything at her house, and cooked it at our house. We were all in the kitchen with her. The antipasto (and if you pronounced the "o", my father would slap you off the back of the head), was the job of the kids. We would tightly roll up the 3 pounds of salami and arrange them on a platter. We would open cans of olives, put the roasted peppers in a bowl, and arrange lettuce leaves and sliced tomatoes on another platter. When I got a little older, I would help her bread and fry the shrimp. She made sure to make enough so my brother and I would have leftovers to eat the next morning, cold out of the fridge. By the time the antipasto was finished, we were hardly hungry for anything else, so she would wait to boil the linguine. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it. Those meals were some of the most incredible of my life, because they were made with pure love.

After our fish dinner, Grandma would hand us each a card with money in it. She couldn't get around to shop too much, and she knew we didn't have much to spend, so it was a big treat to have pocket money. Even when we were older, she always had that envelope and a Russell Stover chocolate Santa. And magic. My Grandma gave us Christmas magic.

When Grandma got older, she sat me down and gave me a collection of costume jewelry she used to wear, back in her party days. Some of it is quite exquisite. There was one piece that must've been a more recent addition. It was a necklace made of stainless steel links, and in the front was a locket full of a solid version of her perfume. Windsong.

🎶I can't seem to forget you. Your Windsong stays on my mind🎵

I have treasured those pieces. Even the ones I have never worn.

Grandma left us in 1992. She was 79 and I was 28. She only got to meet my oldest, but I know she watches over all my kids. Every spring, when a butterfly lands on my girl, I know my Grandma is with her.

One of my kids was going through my box of jewels. I can't remember which one, but maybe I don't want to remember. The necklace with Grandma's perfume was broken. All the links scattered across the floor and there was really no repairing it. So I collected up all the pieces and put them into a little box that my daughter had painted for me. It's a flower shaped box, and it was painted red and green for Christmas. She may have been 3 or 4 when she painted it. But much like my Grandma, I have cherished every gift from my kids, and that box seemed the perfect place to hold that treasure from my Grandma.

Whenever I am sad, or feeling alone, I open the little box, and the smell of Grandma reminds me I am never alone. I love my Grandma. And because of her, I love The Yankees and I love Christmas. And I love that little box.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

What Happens When We Ignore The Joneses - (Or, How Being Broke Gave Me Back My Christmas Spirit)

We're only four days from Thanksgiving, and that means the Big Kahuna of holidays is right around the corner. The Christmas music has already started playing on the radio. People have their lights going up. I even have a neighbor whose Christmas tree is already aglow in her living room window. And you know what else all this festivity brings?



Family conflicts.


I no longer have any of those dilemmas. I have no more worries about anyone bitching about too many lights to hang, or why it takes three weeks of boxes all over the house to finish the decorating. All that stress, anxiety and depression moved out over a year ago.

Last Christmas I surprised myself by getting through the holidays with very little worry and almost no stress at all. Being left alone to handle all of the holiday prep while continuing with the day to day raising of my kids might have seemed daunting. Being left to do it all with very little money might have been frightening. But it turned out to be the best Christmas I have had in a long time.

There used to be a need to keep up. You know those pesky old Joneses...the ones whose piles of gifts under the tree are taller than their children, and are wrapped up in beautiful paper and tied with fancy bows. I don't understand why we all go through this nonsensical need to keep up with those Joneses, but inevitably, most of us do. We want to give our kids that picture perfect Christmas. That one we wish we had. And social media seems to issue a challenge to post the most impressive photos in some sick and twisted attempt to outdo the Joneses, or even ourselves from last year.

And there it is.

There's the stress.

We have to spend money we don't have, on presents we don't need. We have to bake the right cookies, use the right wrapping paper, send out that perfect picture card.

But WHY?

What's the prize?

What's the benefit?

What if we just stop?

Last year, I was broke. Really on the balls of my ass broke. I managed to scrape together a few dollars for a couple of gifts for my two youngest kids. I never even got a gift for my oldest. I told my whole family, I just can't do it this year. Take me off the exchange list. Please don't buy me a gift because it will only make me feel bad to not be able to reciprocate. My ex took care of all the teacher and bus driver gifts, and I bought dollar coffee mugs and filled them with wrapped chocolate kisses for all the helpers that were left.

And it was the best Christmas ever.

Christmas didn't burst into flames because there wasn't a mountain of presents. We didn't spend the day in misery because our photos on Facebook didn't measure up to all our friends and family.

"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!" ~ The Grinch, in How The Grinch Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss

And I found my Christmas spirit again. The spirit that had been missing for so many years, that had been sucked away by the misery of a partner, who was likely suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (but would never get help because there was never anything WRONG with HIM), and by my own silly, unnecessary need to keep up with the Joneses.

No more.

I hereby declare war on those superficial Joneses. I don't ever again want to keep up with whatever you feel the need to accomplish for your holiday. If you are in a position to shower your family in treasures, and that is your choice, then so be it. Good for you. (I'm talking to YOU, Gwyneth Paltrow!)

As for me and mine, we're going to celebrate the love we have for each other. We'll bake whatever we can afford, we'll decorate with what we have, we'll listen to really cliché holiday music, we'll wear ugly sweaters, and we'll enjoy every blessed moment of it.

"And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse!" ~ Clark Griswold, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

*If your name really IS Jones, my apologies for using your moniker as an unfortunate example.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Please Don't Accuse Me Of Being Amazing

I write a lot about surviving the challenges of daily life. Some days, my challenges may seem more difficult than the next person's, and other days I breeze through it all.

Very often, I will receive a message or see comments on a Facebook post that praise me as some kind of super parent. I know the whole "Cape in the Dryer" thing would lead you to believe that somewhere in my mind, I think I'm pretty super too. But that's the irony of the whole "In the Dryer" concept.

When the kids need me to do all things and be all things, and my mother calls and wants to know why I haven't called her, and the boss calls and says one of our ladies called in sick and I'll be two hands short, and the dog has diarrhea, and I found out when I stepped in it...on my way out the door when I was already running late for work...THAT'S when the universe seems to think I must have some super power. Some supernatural ability to manage all of it. There is always a possibility that I am having an "ON" day and I WILL get it all taken care of. But it's much more likely that I will fall short.

The actuality of my superpowers might look something like this:

After sleeping until the last possible minute, (because the boy only stopped jumping and singing Christmas songs around 4 AM), I might have missed the girl's bus but we have 15 minutes to get to school, and if there's no line at the drive thru, I can get her a bagel and that takes care of breakfast. Then I'll drop her and head back home to shower the boy and get him outside in time for his bus. I'll contemplate a shower for myself, and realize there is no way I can pull it off, so I'll put on the work clothes and extra deodorant, slip into my shoes and go back into the kitchen for my purse. When I step in the puddle of what leaked out of my dog, I will rinse my shoe with bleach in the sink, (as I THANK JESUS I was wearing my shoes!!!), and I'll leave for work without having a minute to clean up puppy's puddle. I will then come home from work and have to chisel dried on dog shit off the floor and disinfect the whole damned kitchen. I'll be so damned disgusted by the time it's cleaned, I'm not about to start cooking, so I'll run to the store for two $4.99 rotisserie chickens and pray I have paper plates. The only thing super about the whole day is that I survived it.

By example of the above scenario, not only would it be more likely my cape is in the dryer, but there is a good chance it is a wrinkled mess, lying at the bottom of Mount Laundrasuvius on the dining room table.

There may have been a time in my life when I allowed myself to feel stressed over trying to accomplish everything that was dropped in front of me. That time is a distant memory. Being married to an anal retentive control freak (who grew up in a house where you couldn't walk on the vacuum lines in the carpet) was always a factor in the stress. Having kids, and throwing autism into the mix made me see the most important priorities more clearly. The hubby had no such epiphany, and the differences in what we could personally tolerate were certainly a driving force in the inevitable split. But now that he's gone, I can comfortably wear my cape, or I can curse a lot because the boy wanted to hold the cape and he fell asleep and peed on it. Either way, no stress.

The only difference between me and the parent who is pulling out hair by the fistful on the way to the psychiatrist to refill the Xanax prescription is my CHOICE to be satisfied with whatever I accomplished today. I have no preset vision of what I'm SUPPOSED TO get done in the course of a day. I have no unrealistic expectations of what has to be finished before I finally pass out from the sheer exhaustion of the daily grind. So the fact that I am dancing at the end of a particularly harrowing afternoon is thanks to my choice to set the bar a little lower. I might start out a day having full confidence I can complete every task on a long and tedious to-do list, but I no longer beat myself up for leaving half the list undone. The dirt, the dishes and Laundry Mountain will be there tomorrow.

If you ever read about all the craziness that rolled through my day, and wondered how I could possibly get it all done and still have the time and energy for dancing, the answer is, I didn't. I didn't get it all done. I got the most IMPORTANT things done. I fed the kids. I got them to school. I got to work. I took care of the dog. I made sure the house was inhabitable. I made sure we were safe. Anything over and above that list is gravy. I'm NOT amazing. I'm NOT a supermom. I've just learned to forgive myself for NOT being an amazing supermom. And I've learned to dance about it.

There is no superpower.

There is no magic.

There is no cape.

Well, there IS a cape. There really is. But it's in the dryer.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Autism Has Made Me More Thankful

As I have in Novembers past, this year, I have chosen to record Thirty Thankful Days. I've been keeping track on my Facebook page, and now that I'm up to day number 4, I was thinking of how thankful I have become since embarking on this autism journey with my child.

Back in the early days, I was never the kind of mom who cried much, or felt despair or defeat. I was always the mom who wanted to know, "What do we do next?" Run to this therapy. Set up the boy's room for the therapists to come over. Twenty two vials of blood for testing? No problem! Cod liver oil? Alrighty then! Vitamins, minerals, Specific Chiropractic, GF/CF and Specific Carbohydrate diets, OT, Speech, videos, flash cards, listening therapy...whatever it could possibly take to help my boy advance. To help him progress. To help him function independently. We pretty much tried it all. And there comes a point when we have to figure out how much harder we can push, and how much better it would be FOR HIM if we just stop pushing. Not completely, but pull back just enough to help the boy breathe without the anxiety of always having to be ON his game.

During the course of the journey, I have made a few friends who share the path. I have been to support groups, seen people cry and fall apart, and I've seen people lock themselves away because they just can't deal with the stares, the judgment, and the difficulty of leaving the house.

You know what else I've seen?

My boy's happy face every morning, and that same sweet smile before I go to bed every night.

That beautiful boy has taught me what's really important and what's not. The petty bullshit that might once have driven me crazy, no longer holds a shred of importance to me. I have learned that ironing those shirts can wait, (forever, in some cases...I HATE ironing!). I have learned that the bickering over meaningless irritations that takes place among families is simply a waste of time. It doesn't matter who sits next to whom at a party, whether we go out for pizza or burgers, and for the love of all ridiculous things, it sure as shit doesn't matter who called whom last!!

A few years back, my boy was not a fan of restaurants. He couldn't tell me why, but I imagine it had something to do with the conflicting types of noise and the constant movement and visual stimulation. It was just too much. When my family was making plans for a dinner out to celebrate a birthday, I would opt out. It made me sad that they weren't hearing me when I tried to explain hohard it was for my child. They thought I was worried about disturbing other restaurant patrons. They thought I was worried about being embarrassed.

It was like they had never even met me.

While I sure don't set out to be a public nuisance by allowing my son to have a Defcon 5 meltdown while another family is trying to eat a meal in peace, my greatest concern was always about not wanting to push my boy past his comfort zone. I was worried about the sensory assault he would endure in a busy venue. I was worried about putting my need to be part of the party ahead of my son's need for avoiding sensory chaos.

Since then, my very hardworking child has powered through the restaurant trials, and has learned to sit (mostly) quietly while we celebrate with family, I have learned that headphones (which he will now tolerate on his head) are my best tool for keeping the boy calm, and my family has learned, I never did give a flying rat's ass about being embarrassed. I am NEVER ashamed of my son. And all this progress, for the boy, for myself and for my family make me thankful, thankful, thankful.

All that gratitude achieved thanks to autism.

Without autism, I might never have known the incredible joy of watching my son drink from a straw for the first time at the age of 4. Joy that brought me to sobbing tears in the middle of an amusement park. Without autism, I would surely have taken such a simplistic task for granted.

Without autism, I might still be taking the personal criticism of others to heart. I might be constantly questioning and doubting myself, wondering if I was ever "getting anything right". But with all we have attempted, achieved, failed and given up, I know with all my heart, I do everything I can for this kid (and for all my kids) out of pure love, and I will fail, I will forgive myself, and I will try again tomorrow. By accepting this for myself, I set the example for my kids. For that, I am thankful.

Now, let's not make the assumption that because autism has given me a long list of reasons to be thankful, I am thankful my child is autistic. I am not. I don't have any need to "cure" him of his neurology, but I do wish I could make this life easier for him. I wish I could help him understand enough to make it possible for him to someday function independently. He's 15 and he doesn't know how to tie his shoes or shower by himself. I'm not thankful for that. But with all his struggles, and with every effort he makes to understand something better, or try a new food, or keep himself calm when his brain is telling him to jump up and down and scream at the top of his lungs, I still get to see that smiling face, every morning and every night before I go to bed. He is a happy, loving, snuggly young man who loves his mom. Thankful. My LORD, I am so very thankful.

There may be some folks who take offense to my feelings about my son's autism. There are those who feel we should all embrace each neurology, exactly as it is. If that is how THOSE FOLKS feel, I completely respect their feelings, but I will NOT apologize for mine. I walk this autism path with MY child. Our path is about HIS autism. We are entitled to feel how we do. My boy has no way to express to me what he might be thinking about his neurology, so he can't tell me how he feels. But I can tell you that some days are really hard. I can tell you the future terrifies me. I can tell you it tears my heart out when I see my son struggling with a simple task like taking off his shoes. But I don't allow myself to be overcome with worry and anxiety and grief. I choose to focus on the joys, which are far greater than the challenges. And I'm thankful.

So today, on this fourth day of thankful consideration, I may not be thankful FOR autism, but I am deeply thankful TO autism, for giving me a clearer perspective on what matters, and for showing me what a great blessing my huggy, kissy, loving boy really is. I am so very thankful.