Sunday, August 1, 2010


I have had nine NAET treatments so far, and I do feel a difference. Probably the most significant change is with corn. In the last few months, the smallest amounts have caused major sinus flare-ups. After tiny amounts of corn syrup in sausage, or a serving of french fries dusted with cornstarch, I could count on three days of sinus pain, swelling, and stomach cramps.

Since Will cleared me for corn, I have tried little bits here and there (a few bites of the sausage with corn syrup, ten pieces of popcorn, a single row of corn on the cob). I have suffered no adverse effects. No, I can't bring myself to eat an entire cob, or a bowl of popcorn like I used to. My mind is still wary; it seems so unlikely that this treatment is working. But my confidence grows with each experiment.

With each treatment, my body -- which a mere month ago was rejecting almost everything I ate -- accepts a wider variety of food with greater ease. My digestion is better. I have stopped taking one of the three nasal medications I've been taking for months (the caustic antihistamine). I can hear out of both ears, almost all of the time. My energy is better and far more consistent. Sometimes I forget to have my afternoon coffee. That may not sound like much to you. But to me? Miracle.

The results I'm seeing are enough to make me want to try this with the kids. In the meantime, I continue to read about other ways to boost our nutrition. It all still feels daunting. There's so much to learn: How to make almond milk. How to bake gluten-free muffins. Where to buy all of these unfamiliar ingredients. It takes time to change habits, for my mind to adjust to a completely new way of eating and being in the world.

I have years of conditioning to overcome. At times I feel like a salmon swimming upstream, alone. That's when I love the Internet most, because I can do a quick search, read a few of the blogs I love, and remember that I am not alone. Many women have taken this journey before me, radically changing their families' habits and diets for the sake of greater health. We can do it, too.

I was just about to hit "publish" on this post when Sweetpea wandered in. She glanced at the Spunky Coconut cookbook on the desk next to my laptop (gluten free, casein free, sugar free) and instantly complained, "But I want sugar!"

Then she flipped it open and scanned a few pages with interest. "Vanilla pudding? Can we have that sometime?"

"Yes," I answered. "I'm going to learn how to make all of the things in that book."

She brightened a little. "I could help you ..."

She reminds me, once again: This journey is not at all about deprivation, going without. It's about the new sweets we find along the way.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

25 Things I Know Now as a Parent

I got this idea from Jen Lemen's Supersisters site (via Mama Om).

Others were invited to join in, so I am -- albeit several days late! Maybe you'll be inspired to contribute your own words of hard-won wisdom.

Here's my list of all the things I now know, thanks to my kids ...


(I considered posting a list where all 25 were blank ... but you get the idea.)

2. Sleep and sex are wasted on those who regularly have time for both.

3. I can't make a baby eat, sleep, or poop. (I got this one from my sister -- but it's still true, and my "babies" are now 5 and 8.)

4. I can break any toddler's bad habit in three really bad days. (Also from my sister.) It takes a little longer, and the days get a little worse, as they get older.

5. My sister is waaaaaaay smarter than I thought when we were teenagers.

6. Sometimes I have to lower my standards to get through the day. (I learned this one all on my own.)

7. If I lower my standards to get through the day, I will pay for it dearly when I'm ready to raise them again.

8. My kids will get over most disappointments in approximately half the time it took me to agonize over the decision to disappoint them. The remaining few will be with us, I suspect, until they're 40.

9. Time spent taking care of me is NOT time stolen from my family. It is promptly returned to them in the form of me not sounding like such a bitch.

10. Asking a child why they just did something never, ever produces a satisfying response.

11. I'm not really looking for a number when I ask, "How many times do I have to tell you ...?"

12. Knowing #10 & #11 will in no way stop me from asking one of those questions when my child has just beaned his/her sibling with a rock (or a baseball bat, the dog, etc.).

13. If you leave a hidden camera in ANYONE's house long enough, you will get enough footage for a Supernanny episode. (Despite this -- or perhaps because of it --Supernanny still rocks.)

14. There are some truly awful parents out there. But most of the parents I so smugly judged before I had kids were just average, competent people having a bad day.

15. Kids are always doing the best they can.

16. Parents are, too.

17. Teachers are only human.

18. Many teachers are really awesome humans.

19. Just because I'm chilly doesn't mean it's worth trying to force my kids to wear their jackets. Sometimes, they're just not cold.

20. If I never let my kids feel cold, they'll never know how to decide when they need a jacket.

21. Numbers 19 and 20 can be rewritten to cover sleep, food, and just about every other decision that doesn't have immediate, fatal consequences.

22. The best memories get made when I put down the camera.

23. Every age is the best age.

24. Every age has challenges that make me, at times, desperately wish it were over.

25. It turns out a lot of cliches are also true. My kids' childhoods really are going by (for the most part) too quickly. I can never have enough reminders to ... Watch. Be amazed. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Here in the Dark

"The light is better in our conscious minds, but we must look for healing in the dark unconscious." - Bernie Siegel, Love, Medicine, and Miracles

Driving home from yesterday's NAET treatment, I was having my usual wrestling match with faith.

I want to believe this will work. I need to believe it will work. But I struggle, because I don't understand how it works. NAET operates in a realm I cannot see, touch, or grasp with logic: the subconscious mind.

On the other hand, it just occurred to me that I have no idea how the medications prescribed for me by MDs work, either. I can't see or touch things like histamine, dopamine, or hormones. I take it all on faith and swallow the pills. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don't.

Yesterday I watched a Jon Stewart interview with Marilynne Robinson regarding her book, Absence of Mind. Her thesis is complex, but it has to do with the (false, in her mind) dichotomy of science vs. religion. At the end of the interview, deliberately misinterpreting her thesis for comic effect, Jon Stewart asked, "Quickly, before we go ... Who's right?" She considered for a mere half-second before replying. "Well, I am."

It was admirably quick, clever and funny. It also struck me as right on the money with regard to healing. Whether a treatment plan is based on Western science, Eastern philosophy, or blind faith, the bottom line is: What is the effect on my body? Does it work for me?

I'll tell you what I know so far about NAET, what I can observe with my conscious mind. During the testing phase, I hold glass vials containing various substances in one hand, while Will presses down on my other arm.

Resist, he says.

Sometimes, the arm stays strong. Sometimes, the muscle seems to weaken dramatically, suddenly, and my arm drops to my side. When that happens, Will makes a note of my allergy to that substance, to be treated later. We move on to the next item, both of us briskly rubbing our hands together to clear the negative energy before continuing.

He also uses muscle testing to gather other information from my subconscious. Has a treated allergen cleared completely? Am I strong enough to tolerate another treatment today? Which allergy should be treated next?

I then hold the allergen I'm being treated for that day, while Will works on acupressure points along my spine to clear blocked energy. He moves his hands across my face, interacting with the brain in a way I do not pretend to understand. Then he places acupuncture needles for a balancing treatment, and I rest. (This is my favorite part. Resting, I "get.")

Some days, I confess, it all feels like a big test. How far "out" are you willing to go to get well? How much are you willing to trust and accept?

But I know that is the conscious mind talking. Mired as it is in logic, and its fear of the unfamiliar, of things it cannot control or understand.

Resist, it says.

Sometimes my faith holds strong. Other times it weakens, and my resolve drops. What can I do? I make a note of it, and move on.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Cross of the Moment

My first conversation with Will, my NAET practitioner, went something like this. (You'll have to imagine his soft German accent, because my attempts to replicate it this morning made him sound like Col. Klink from Hogan's Heroes.)

Will: First we test you for allergies to certain basic nutrients. Everyone is allergic to some of these--meaning their bodies do not accept the nutrients, they fight them, and the immune system suffers. I do the testing, and then people decide whether or not they want these allergies to be cleared.

Me: Why would they not?

W: Yes, exactly. He seemed to be truly considering my question. Why wouldn't they?

Yet clearly, some people choose not to get the treatment. In fact, most people choose not to try NAET at all, though information about the protocol is readily available to anyone who can Google. If it really works as well as people say (and I have read some amazing testimonials), why are allergies still such a common complaint?

More to the point ... why was it so difficult for me to say yes? Why did it take me so many weeks just to make that first phone call? Why did I put off my first appointment? Why, driving to Will's office for my first treatment, did I experience such extreme anxiety that I had to remind myself to breathe?

I asked myself that as I was driving. The answer came in the form of another question: Who would I be without my allergies?

I have been allergic to life for as long as I can remember. As a very young child, I was sidelined from the more vigorous preschool activities for fear of an asthma attack. I was warned to keep my distance from triggers, including the animals I so desperately wanted to love: horses and our own household pets. In high school I carried notes for PE teachers, excusing my poor performance on long runs before I even started. My allergies defined me.

We humans don't give up our images of ourselves, even the negative ones, without a fight. In the words of W.H. Auden:

We would rather be ruined than changed;
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

In my car that day, I experienced the fight-or-flight symptoms (cold sweat, difficulty breathing) that I now recognize as the outer edges of a panic attack. A big part of me was screaming Stop! Turn the car around! Because, let's be honest. That part prefers its current life of self-imposed restrictions to the limitless, the unknown. It would gladly turn its back on the possibility of greater vitality and joy, just so it could hang on to that note in its pocket--the one excusing me from fully participating in life.

But I kept moving forward. The greater part of me is ready to be changed. I'm ripping up that note and stepping up to the starting line. When I feel like running, I'll run. When I need to rest, I'll slow down. I'll find my own limits. Or I won't. No excuse necessary.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Four Faiths

I have had just about enough of "no."

There's a reason "no" is among all babies' first words. "No" is useful. Critical, even. To become fully human, we need to be able to say, "No, I don't like that," "No, I don't want that," and "No, you may not treat me that way."

Yet some of us, along the way to adulthood, lost our "no." We learned that our "no" might hurt someone's feelings or disappoint them. We came to believe that other people's feelings and expectations were more important than our own. Our "no"s grew fainter, and weaker, until they almost disappeared.

That sucks. Because until you can truly, unapologetically say "no," your "yes" just might be meaningless.

My last 8 or 9 months have been very much about developing my "no" muscle. I said "no" to work, to the corporate career path that had been defined for me. At the same time, I said "no" to many of the traditional activities of a stay-at-home mom. I said "no" to what I perceived as other people's expectations for my life (and what were really, more importantly, my own preconceived notions of my life at this age).

And then, because I still wasn't quite getting it, I got sick. Along the path to greater health I found a whole host of additional "no"s: No sugar. No dairy. No gluten. No alcohol. No corn or other grasses. (The list goes on.)

The gifts from this have been immeasurable. For the first time in my life, I have experienced a direct, minute-by-minute connection between my food choices and my health. For the first time, I have felt truly in control of what I eat AND how I feel. For the first time, I have put how I feel first -- before habit, before convenience, before social niceties.

And yet ... it's been a whole lot of "no."

Now I have found something that offers, instead, to heal me through "yes." It's a protocol called NAET, and it is said to cure food and environmental allergies. Yes, I said cure. Given that traditional medicine's approach to allergies consists almost exclusively of identification and avoidance (allergy shots notwithstanding, and they can take years), this is a pretty big claim.

NAET views allergies as blocked energy. Once the energy in relation to a particular substance is freed, the body no longer perceives that substance as a threat, and the allergy is cured. In other words, it removes the "no" and replaces it with "yes."

Wouldn't that be great? If, having regained the power of "no," I could start to let my guard down a little? Start practicing my "yes"? Not a helpless, codependent "yes." Not a "yes, because everyone else is doing it" or "yes, because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings" or (maybe worst of all) the unconscious, habitual "yes" -- but a conscious, welcoming, joyful "YES" to food, to the universe, to life?

I'll say more about some of the reasons it was difficult for me to choose NAET, despite (or perhaps because of) this outrageous promise, in another post. But for now, I will just quote Bernie Siegel, who writes in Love, Medicine, and Miracles: "Four faiths are crucial to recovery from serious illness: faith in oneself, one's doctor, one's treatment, and one's spiritual faith."

I'm starting there. I say "yes" to myself: "Yes" I deserve extraordinary health and whatever it takes to get there. I say "yes" to the promise of this unconventional treatment, and "yes" to the lovely, gentle doctor I've found to perform it. I say "yes" to having a little faith in the Universe and all She has done to bring me to this point.

To borrow from James Joyce's Molly, because no one has ever said it better:

yes I said yes I will yes

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Slowing Down (Part II)

"The bigger the task, the more we have to slow down."

I came across this quote yesterday in one of the many guides to gluten-free living I have checked out in the last few weeks. I think it was used in relation to cooking, but it struck me as an apt description of my healing process.

It is taking a long time to feel better, and I am not a patient woman. With each new bout of sinusitis (and they are coming more frequently now, albeit with less severity and shorter duration), I rage at the universe. What do you want from me?! I demand. When will this be over, so I can get back to my life as it was? See, I don't always know exactly where I'm going, but I'm always in a hurry to get there. For months I've viewed this period as an inconvenient detour on my way to wherever I was headed next.

But another possibility has been nagging at me these last few weeks. What if this illness is not just a detour? What if the universe is saying, in no uncertain terms: Greene? It is time to change the way you live.

* * * * *

Celiac disease is an autoimmune response to a single trigger: gluten. However, if the immune response is strong enough, it can cause the body to become confused and attack other, more beneficial foods as well. The result can be a vicious cycle with food: the body wants more, rejects more, absorbs less.

I have often felt that I needed to eat more than most people--and certainly most people my size. I've lived with a constant, gnawing hunger that I (in my ignorance) tried to fill with more and more carbs. Wheat carbs, for the most part. Not that there's anything wrong with wheat; many people seem to tolerate my former diet relatively well. For me, though, it wasn't just too much of a good thing. It was too much of the wrong things. Satisfying in the short term but failing, ultimately, to truly nourish me. And in the process, blocking my ability to be nourished by other, more compatible foods.

Viewed in this light, the past several years of symptoms weren't just a random collection of pesky complaints to be medicated away, one by one. They were my body trying to tell me what was happening. Since I didn't listen, my body had to speak louder and louder, until I could no longer ignore it. Hypothyroidism? it nudged. Yep--runs in the family. No problem, there's medicine for that. But ... depression! Tougher to find the right medicine, peskier side effects, but I can live with it. OK then, how does SINUS SURGERY UNDER GENERAL ANESTHESIA WITH NO PROMISE OF A CURE sound?! OK, body. You win. I'm listening.

It is the curse and blessing of natural medicine that it is (at least in my case) not as fast as Western medicine. I am treating my symptoms, but gently. And while I am experiencing them, I am also learning from them.

For instance: Corn. Turns out, we don't like it. It has taken three major bouts of sinus swelling and pain in the last month for me to hear my body say so. But there is hope, because as I learn to listen, the reactions are getting quieter, more subtle. Yesterday my body used an almost-civilized tone of voice to inform me that it's no great fan of grapes. Grapes. I said. Got it. And (after a conveniently timed acupuncture session), the swelling and pain stopped in its tracks.

My body is also telling me what we do like. Spinach. Marinated zucchini. Quinoa. A perfectly ripe avocado. When I eat these foods, you can almost hear my body sigh with relief.

* * * * *

It's all one hell of a metaphor, really. Most of my adult life I have lived with another kind of hunger, an aching need for the taste of someone else's approval. I have tried to fill that need with many things: good grades, publications, the right partner, even my children. All have been wonderful aspects of my life, no question. Yet the hole just seemed to grow deeper. I pursued promotions and pay increases. I bought the house I had always wanted in the kind of neighborhood we had long envied. Still, I felt unsatisfied.

I can see now that my life has been one big case of too much of the wrong things--the things I thought I should want--getting in the way of truly absorbing, enjoying, and being sustained by the things that are right for me. Worse, it was getting to the point where I couldn't tell the difference anymore.

It's time to start paying attention to that inside voice, the one that is telling me: More of this. Less of that. If only I can remember how to listen.

Change takes time, and practice. I am still unearthing hidden sources of gluten in my diet; still gravitating to the wrong foods (for me) out of habit. I am still too easily caught up in wanting to be successful by someone else's standards. But I am also investing in myself as I never have before: comprehensive healthcare, organic produce, high-quality supplements. I am surrounding myself with people who support me in becoming who I am truly meant to be. I am beginning to see there is another way to live.

More and more, I am allowing myself to be guided by these questions: How would I feel if I refused to take one more bite that does not feed my unique body, and feed it well? What might be possible if I refused to live one more day--one more hour, even--in a way that does not nourish my soul?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

White Crane

Sprout is getting ready to take his very first karate belt test. (There is much to love about his karate class, but I will save that for another post.) So the other day, while we were waiting for Sweetpea to get out of school, he was practicing his White Crane pose on one of those long, flat wood pilings that seem to be a staple of public school landscapes everywhere.

White Crane is the pose I'll bet we all remember from The Karate Kid: both arms up and bent like wings, one leg bent at the knee, balancing the body on the remaining foot. As I watched Sprout struggle to stay even a few seconds in this challenging pose, waggling his arms and airborne foot for balance, I made a simple suggestion: "Just focus on your tummy, kiddo."

The effect was dramatic and immediate. For about 5 seconds, my son was a perfectly still, stable White Crane.

I've been thinking about the question of balance a lot lately. I took this sabbatical, I thought, to correct a significant imbalance between my work and creative lives. It seemed pretty simple at the time.

Except my solution, going from one extreme to another, didn't work either. The days I spend deeply (obsessively) immersed in writing projects can bring on that same choking, drowning feeling that my job often did. I type frantically until the moment I absolutely have to leave to pick up the kids, then race out the door, distracted and mentally unprepared to be present for my family. Then, out of guilt, I will sometimes avoid writing for days, focusing entirely on home and family. Also no good. No--I'm learning that achieving balance is (sigh) far more complicated than I had thought.

Most recently, I'm learning how my lifestyle of the last 8 to 10 years has thrown every possible system of my physical body out of balance. The other day, a friend suggested I look at the Blood Type Diet as another way of understanding how best to restore my body to health. And because the Universe has, as I have mentioned, completely given up on subtle, here's what I found regarding my blood type: "B is for Balance."

As a Type B, you carry the genetic potential for great malleability and the ability to thrive in changeable conditions ... At the same time, it can be extremely challenging to balance two poles, and Type B's tend to be highly sensitive to the effects of slipping out of balance.

Sounds familiar. I don't exercise at all, or I push myself to (beyond) the limit. I swear off sugar completely for two weeks, then eat an entire candy bar in one sitting. I ignore my health entirely for years, then spend weeks exploring every natural remedy on the market. You get the picture.

So this morning, I was thinking of that image of my son in White Crane, still and stable. Wondering, what is my core? What is the muscle that, when I am reminded to use it, stops all of the flailing and restores me to balance?

The answer I hit on? Self-care. Sounds deceptively simple, perhaps. Maybe the rest of you figured this out years ago. But when I look at my own life, it's frightening to realize how easy it is to get distracted by old habits and motives. How rarely still the motive for my behavior is to take care of myself in a gentle, loving way. Even though I know from experience that the question, What's the most loving thing I can do for myself in this moment?, has never steered me wrong.

Self-care will graciously offer me a square or two of that delicious dark chocolate I'm craving, but it certainly won't allow me to eat the entire bar. It will nearly always get me off the couch and into my sneakers; it will never push me to run farther or faster than my body is willing to take me that day. It'll solve the endless riddles of social engagement ("Should I take on that responsibility? Keep that commitment? Go out with friends or stay home and rest?") with one simple question: "What do I need most, right now, today?"

Or, in simpler terms, this reminder: "Just focus on your tummy, kiddo."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dude. My sinuses are up HERE.

As many of you know, I went to the Bastyr Clinic about a month ago to see about getting off the nasty sinus infection rollercoaster I'd been on since early December. On the first visit, I got some helpful tips of the variety I'd expected: a few foods to avoid because of their known effect on the sinuses, an herbal supplement, a referral for acupuncture. Great. Good. I'm on it.

Except these things didn't solve the problem. So on the second visit, they started asking other questions. About stomach aches, and digestion, and ... Um, excuse me? I know I wanted someone who would treat the whole person and all, but I kind of make it a point not to notice certain aspects of my digestive system, let alone discuss them with strangers. Yet discuss them we did.

Two uncomfortable visits and one blood panel later, I got hit with a diagnosis I never saw coming: celiac disease.

Suddenly the doctor's advice went from "try to avoid" things like dairy and wheat, to "You can never have gluten again. For the rest of your life. Because IT CAN KILL YOU." (The doctor may or may not actually have spoken in all capital letters.)

That's right, gluten can kill you. (OK, maybe not you. But me.) I'll spare you the details, but apparently for the 1 in 133 (give or take) Americans who have celiac disease, the smallest amount of gluten triggers an autoimmune response that slowly but surely trashes your small intestine. Left untreated, this can lead to all kinds of ugly consequences, including other autoimmune diseases, cancer, and the inability to absorb nutrients. Any of them. Period.

Since it can take as long as 11 years to get an accurate diagnosis for this--and for many, these are years that can only be described as holy hell--I should feel lucky, right? My symptoms aren't that bad. And any damage done up to this point is likely reversible.

As long as I don't eat any more gluten. Ever. Which is fine, except that gluten is in a lot of things I usually eat. Like, ohIdon'tknow, EVERYTHING. I can't even make out with someone who's recently had a doughnut (or--ahem--a beer) unless he's brushed his teeth. And that better be gluten-free toothpaste you're using, mister. (I swear I am not exaggerating.)

So right about now, my rational self is celebrating. I'm going to feel better! she says. Possibly better than I've felt in a decade! I'm already eating healthier, feeling more energetic, having fewer mysterious headaches and stomach aches. Things I thought I'd lost forever--like a sense of humor, a longer fuse, and patience--are slowly returning. The panic attacks have stopped. Plus? It's a totally manageable disease, and now that I know what to do, I'm far less likely to end up with complications like osteoporosis and seizures! All good news!

My other self--the one who likes instant gratification, comfort foods, and grabbing takeout when she's too tired to cook--would like to punch the ridiculously chipper glass-half-full self in the eye. That one is grieving her former, less complicated life. At least some aspects of it. She keeps saying things like: But what about biscuits?! Burger King Whoppers! And--oh, god--Naaaaaaaaaaaaan!

I'm sure the rational self will win out eventually, but for now it's about 50-50. So if you see me around town (I can usually be found in the specialty foods section of grocery stores, squinting at labels), feel free to offer me some sympathy and a listening ear. Just don't offer me a doughnut.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The "M" Word

I was updating the Bastyr naturopathy team on my latest symptoms when the intern nearly let it slip.

In response to one of my many Is this normal? questions, she replied, "I'm sure it's nothing. "That's not uncommon in women who are pre-mmm ... In women your age."

Wow. Really? "It's OK, you can say it."

She smiled nervously, as if afraid her gaffe might prompt a bout of hormonal rage or uncontrollable weeping. "We're not really supposed to use that word. It could refer to anyone under the age of 50, after all. If you think about it, we're all pre-menopausal."

"Sure we are," I replied. Just some of us more than others.

There's no getting around it, the "M" words are starting to apply to me. Middle aged. Midlife crisis. And yes, I am probably closer than I'd like to admit to the big one: Menopause.

If I were someone else, I might be researching plastic surgeons or looking into that cute little sports car I've always wanted. Instead, I am just getting sick.

Or maybe not "just." The naturopath who is supervising my case, Patrick Donovan, has an interesting perspective on illness.

"Chronic illness," he says, "is often the evidence of your Essential Self, your own true essence of being, struggling to emerge from the transformative fires of chaos and affirm itself against the inertia and complacency of inauthentic and uncreative living. It is the consequence of the suppressive and restrictive effects of fear and persistent denial on your life."

Ordinarily this kind of language would go right by me. But, "inauthentic and uncreative living"? "Fear and persistent denial"? These are some of the core issues I'm working on right now.

He goes on: "Fear, complacency and denial are powerful obstructions on the path of transformation and self-discovery that must be shattered. Illness is often the very process needed to do so."

In other words, maybe there's a reason I'm confronting this illness, in this way, at this moment. I can choose not to look at it that way, of course. I can continue to deny the effects of my everyday choices on my health. I can continue to subject my mind, body, and spirit to high levels of stress. I can keep taking care of everyone else while neglecting myself. I can keep masking the symptoms.

Or, I can be awake to the full experience of this illness and what it has to teach me. My body is trying to tell me something about how I've lived my life up to this point. And I believe, if I pay attention, it will also point me to the path of recovery.

So if this is my midlife crisis, I say bring it on. I am ready to be done with fear and denial. I have big plans for the second half of my (in the oft-quoted words of Mary Oliver) "one wild and precious life."

Body, I am your student. Lead the way.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Walking a mile in old shoes

Sweetpea eyed me suspiciously across the breakfast table.

"Why are you wearing that?"

The that she referred to was a fairly unremarkable outfit of dress-casual black capris, a blouse, and a light sweater. A year or two out of vogue, perhaps, but she wasn't questioning my sense of style. What she meant was Where are the sweatpants and baseball cap that you usually wear when you take me to school?

"A friend from Mommy's old work is in town--my boss, Miss Patricia--and I'm meeting her for lunch," I replied.

Her eyes widened. "NO!"

I must admit, six months after ditching my high-stress but concretely rewarding consulting job to focus more energy on home and family, I found her reaction a wee bit validating. Observations about the benefits of putting my career on hold are not my kids' strong suit. I am more frequently compensated with comments like, "But I want Daddy to come on the field trip with me--not you again!"

So, a look of horror at the thought of me going back to work? That's about as good as it gets around here.

Nonetheless, I have been missing my work life lately. Sure, it has something to do with the dwindling savings account and the closet full of clothes that "will just have to do" for now. But there's more to it than that.

Last Friday, I happened to be in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle around lunchtime. I was checking out the gluten-free bakery there, on my way home from yet another exhaustingly thorough appointment at the Bastyr Clinic. Homeopathy this time. Countless questions about every aspect of my life from a team of earnest student clinicians.

It was a beautiful day, and everywhere you looked, 9-to-5-ers were taking advantage of their lunch breaks to soak in some rare Seattle sunshine. I found myself eyeing them with more wistfulness than usual: the 20-something co-workers with their bag of sandwiches on a park bench, clearly in the throes of a serious office flirtation. The corporate types who had loosened their ties and kicked off pinchy shoes while picnicking on nearby steps. Even the group clustered around a table just outside their company's cafeteria, working through lunch, seemed to brim with an enviable energy.

I'll bet they haven't just spent the last two hours talking exclusively about themselves, I thought. No, I'll bet they're working on Real Issues. Solving Problems and making a Difference out in the World. That world I used to be so much a part of, before I made this strategic retreat.

So yesterday morning, when I put on my presentable, grown-up clothes (jewelry, even!) and sat down to breakfast, I enjoyed the sense of purpose I felt--not greater than usual, perhaps, but different. I had a Schedule for the day, an Appointment that didn't involve discussing the failings of my digestive system. I relished it all--from nosing my car into morning traffic, to pulling my ticket crisply from the machine at the downtown parking garage, to keeping pace with brisk city-dwellers crossing at a light.

I enjoyed making my way through a crowd of badge-wearing, booklet-consulting conference attendees to find my friend. Being seated in the expensive hotel restaurant and catered to with care. Catching up on the projects I'd left behind, as well as the latest office gossip. These pleasures I had grown to take for granted all seemed shiny and new again.

But when lunch was over, I was equally content to leave it all behind. The conference topics held no strong pull on my attention. My cell phone didn't ring once during the meal; I was alerted to no urgent problems requiring my attention. I raced home at full freeway speed, hours before the traffic would begin to jam up again with commuters heading home. I met my daughter at school, heard about the deliciously mundane ups and downs of her day, and started garlic broth for the vitamin-packed risotto I planned for dinner.

As I kicked off my work sandals, I winced a little. Though I hadn't noticed the pinch as I was rushing through my day, the shoes had rubbed the outside of each of my baby toes raw. I only felt the pain when I stopped moving.

I made a quick mental note to wear stockings with those next time, to better protect my tender feet. Or better yet, find a pair with a more comfortable fit. Next time. Whenever that may be.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

And again ... and again ...

This morning, I asked for a do-over.

This morning, I was not patient with my children. I snapped when I should have sympathized. I hollered when I could have helped. I leapt when I should have looked.

Then I came home and spent an hour or so beating myself up about it, worrying that the state of my health is permanently damaging my children's.

I told the Universe that I would like those few hours back, please. If it wasn't too much to ask.

Instead she smiled wisely (I imagine) and sent me to a wonderful blog called Mama Om, where I caught a glimpse of the mother I would like to be. The one I know I can be. The one I am, sometimes, on my very best days.

Like all of my favorite teachers, Stacy readily admits she's not perfect. And thank god for that. If she were perfect, it would just discourage me further, rather than inspire me to try harder. But in her imperfection--which is just like my own imperfection, like all of our imperfections--she has moments of brilliance. And she is kind enough to write about them.

By some miracle, I was able to open my heart this morning and allow myself to be inspired by those moments. I walked away from my computer, meditated, wrote in my journal, and resolved to try again.

I don't get a do-over. But I can start over. And I will, as many times as it takes.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Doughnut by Doughnut

It was high noon, and the enemy and I watched each other warily from either end of a dusty, deserted road. My fingers twitched above my holstered weapon, ready to draw at his slightest movement ...

OK, actually it was 9:30 AM at Albertson's on 128th. The kids had just left the dentist and were selecting their rewards from the bakery case, while I swooned over the sticky-sweet smell of glazed, old-fashioned, and maple-drenched doughnuts. Listen: There's more than one way to face down your demons.

The kids each held a bagged treat, yet I couldn't bring myself to close the case, mesmerized by a puffy glazed cinnamon roll near the back.

"Are you having one too, Mommy?" Sweetpea finally asked.

"I shouldn't, but I really want to."

"Why shouldn't you? Because it has gluten? And sugar? And milk?"

Thank god for that kid. Yes, for all of those reasons. Because my naturopath has advised me to steer clear of milk and gluten (or, as Sprout aptly calls it, "guilten"). And though he lifted the ban on sugar this week in compensation for the gluten (you can't imagine how hard it is to find ANY prepared food that doesn't have one of those three ingredients), I know that every sweet, over-processed granule further taxes my already overtaxed immune system.

I closed the door.

There's no tidy lesson here. Just a daily struggle to make better choices. To forego the familiar paths to immediate gratification in favor of the less-traveled route that (I hope) will lead to greater health and well-being.

What I'm discovering is that the healthy route is not grim and tasteless. The gluten-free bread I had when I got home, toasted with melted goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, surely gave me as much pleasure as that doughnut would have, without the negative impact on my health. But my brain has to be convinced of that one day -- one doughnut -- at a time.

Meanwhile, as I sent my kids off to school with glazed lips and eyes, I had the unhappy realization that unless we all make some drastic changes, they will inherit my same demons. It's not the occasional sweet treat that concerns me. It's that I've already taught them, at 5 and 8, to associate processed sweets with comfort, the reward for a job well done.

As always, they give me even greater resolve to kick my demons to the curb.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Riddle Me This

What do Barbie Girls, Mapquest, and my health insurance carrier have in common?

Answer: They all appear in my current list of frequently-visited websites. Midstream does not.

Lately it feels as if someone else wrote the entries here. A co-worker, maybe, who left the job abruptly, leaving me unprepared to carry on in her place. Every time I think about jumping in where she left off, I don't know where to begin. The more time passes, the harder it gets.

I wish this feeling were less familiar. The truth is, I've often had the feeling that two different women inhabit my life, like the Odd Couple, or a tragically bad job-share. One with energy and verve, who organizes the house, undertakes complex projects, volunteers for tasks, parents with a clear and level head. And the other one, foggy and overwhelmed, who uses every bit of energy she can muster just to crawl through the day's minimum requirements.

No, it's not always that black and white. But not knowing which version of me is going to report for duty tomorrow morning is something I learned to live with a long time ago. Hubby at least knew what he was signing on for before we took our vows. How the kids make sense of it, I can't imagine.

The past few weeks, I've been taking a long, hard look at the wildly varying degrees of wellness that I experience from week to week ... sometimes day to day ... and I don't like what I see. The monthly sinus infections were just the last straw. (Nothing like a stabbing pain in your left eye to make you pay attention, I always say. I guess the Universe finally realized "subtle" isn't my thing.)

I'm ready to get to the bottom of this riddle. For the moment, I'm choosing to do that by ditching conventional medicine -- which has done nothing but pile chemical upon chemical with limited success -- in favor of a host of more natural, holistic healers. Though they purport to look at the whole person, still each sees her own version of the woman in front of her, offers her own explanation, suggests her own cure.

It is taking vast amounts of time, energy, and money -- and I will do it all, as long as it helps in the end.

I'm doing this for me, because I deserve to feel better than I do today. I'm doing it for my family. Because we all deserve to know who is going to be downstairs making their breakfast when they wake up tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Worst of Times

2008 was a pretty bad year for our family.

Up to that point, I had thought Hubby and I were pretty strong -- both individually and as a couple. But we were ill-prepared for the Category 5 s***storm the universe sent our way that year. Some of it -- Hubby's injury, Sweetpea's diagnosis -- is public knowledge. Other things are still too personal, too raw to share in a forum like this one.

At the end of 2008 we were still standing but in rough shape: branches and power lines down, debris everywhere ... and that was the stuff we could see. Other damage was less obvious -- the cracks in the foundation, old structural flaws further strained by the storm. Then, in January 2009, Hubby was laid off. So we hunkered down in our battered house, weathering the latest threat and praying for clear skies.

At least, this is the story I see now, looking back. We couldn't always see it while we were in it. We were too busy putting a brave face on things, reassuring the kids, telling everyone else (and each other) we were "just fine." And that was part of the problem. We weren't fine -- and we lacked the skills we needed to process that, to deal with it head on, together. We came close to falling apart.

This isn't the story I was thinking about as we planned for my sabbatical. But we're definitely using much of the time and energy it offers to process and recover from the events of 2008 (and the resulting damage). It's not easy. It involves taking a flashlight into the darkest corners of the attic, the dank basement, and honestly assessing what we find. Then doing the sweaty, back-breaking work of rebuilding: ourselves, our marriage, our family.

Lately I've been working on printing old photos and assembling them into albums. I have literally hundreds of pictures taken during 2008 that never made it any farther than a folder on my computer. As I'm looking through each of these folders, I am reminded that even in the midst of a very bad year, we had some very good times. These pictures shine a light on our family's strengths.

One of my favorite things to do with the kids is to flip through one of our many photo albums, reliving those good times. We've been doing a lot of that lately, as new volumes are added to the shelf.

It's true that the worst parts of our years aren't captured in those albums. The depression and despair we felt at times, the impatience and intolerance we sometimes showed ourselves, each other, and our children are notably absent. I suppose there's a chance that we're still shielding them from the whole picture, giving them only half the story. But I suspect they remember the bad stuff well enough on their own. When they ask about it, I will do my best to tell them the truth.

At the same time I hope these happy memories, carefully preserved in a shelf full of albums, will remind us all there is light even in our darkest moments. Maybe this knowledge will help keep our family going when the inevitable next storm hits. Maybe, thanks to the hard work we're doing now, we'll weather that one a little better.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Waking Up

Last night I was looking through one of the "catch-all" boxes we moved from our last house to this one -- things I knew I wanted to keep at the time but didn't have a place for. Amidst photos from college, spools of thread, and old birthday cards I found a few stray pieces of notebook paper covered in my own handwriting. At the top I'd written only, "Waking Up."

It turned out to be one of the very few pieces of writing I did when my kids were little, this one when Sweetpea was about 18 months old and just taking her first steps (on her own schedule, even then). In these few pages of thoughts, scribbled during a nap or a rare moment alone and then forgotten, lie the seeds of so much I'm still working on today.

Questions like how to play this strange role of mother, cast by our children as their gods, their mirrors, their first experiences of "other" ... and rarely, if ever, on our own terms:

For months, the question "Where's Mommy?" was met with a blank stare, an innocent unblinking gape, as if humoring a crazy person. Later, cheerful pointing: at the clock, the radio, her dad. Mommy was omnipresent. Now she points an accusing finger directly at my chest and proclaims me "Mama," more sure of herself. Mama. Separate. Pleased with the knowledge she can pull my hair and not be hurt. Delights in my predictable yelp as she pinches folds of my neck between tiny fingers.

How to let them grow, and let them go, at their own pace:

Slow as she's been to move I am still one step behind. Even now, I look for her where I've left her, it takes me a minute to comprehend why she's not there.

And of course, how to achieve what some days still seems like an impossible task, to find the common ground between "writer" and "mother":

For the last 18 months it's been harder to breathe, to write. Longer: since the moment I imagined her ... She -- the idea of her, even -- supplanted my will and desire for any other kind of life, and I felt driven toward motherhood like a vocation, a calling. I watch other women and wonder if they somehow feel less or if they have just learned to conceal it, this glow like skin rubbed raw.

She keeps me grounded, but also trapped in the literal, untangling the differences between 'car' and 'bus,' 'cat' and 'dog,' until I almost confuse them myself. Wondering how I ever learned to distinguish yellow from orange, purple from blue. Some days this distracts me to the point I think if someone were to ask me I might get them wrong; afraid someone will overhear me calling the dog a 'ball' or 'clock.' ... How can I be expected to write metaphors in these circumstances?

I opened the piece by saying I felt as though I were emerging from a coma, blinking myself awake. I couldn’t know then how much more sleep was yet to come, how far I still was from daybreak. Nearly seven years later, I’m still waking up.

Friday, March 26, 2010


A few months ago, I asked to have Sweetpea tested for the district's "Highly Capable" program. The more I read about our district's approach to gifted education, the more I could see her thriving in one of their classrooms.

So we did what we could. We filled out the paperwork. We made sure she got enough sleep and ate a good breakfast on test days. We waited for the letter announcing the district's decision. We may or may not have met the mailman (purely by chance) while walking the dog, spelled our last name for him, and offered to 'take a quick peek' through his bag ourselves just to be sure he hadn't missed anything. We may or may not have been asked to stay more than 50 yards away from the mailman in the future.

Yesterday, the scores finally arrived.

My investment in the results was, like most things, complicated. I thought the program would be a good fit for Sweetpea on several levels: the emphasis on allowing kids to direct their own learning, teachers accustomed to dealing with intense and quirky kids, the chance for Sweetpea to interact with more of her peers.

I know part of me also thought that all of Sweetpea's other challenges would be so much easier to take, if only some outside authority would quantify and -- yes -- label her exceptional strengths, in addition to her challenges.

My ego simply wanted my daughter to follow in my footsteps. Being "smart" was always such a big part of who I believed I was. Even now, knowing that my identification with being "smart" was often at the expense of other, equally important traits, the less enlightened part of me still wants that for Sweetpea, too.

If her scores had topped the charts, that part would have felt validated. My kid is brilliant -- see? I am OK. If they had just missed the mark, I have to admit I would have felt disappointed.

As it turns out (I know, the suspense is killing you, right?), some of her scores were as I'd expected, well above average. Others were not. A fire alarm sounded at some point during the testing, and the person who administered the test noted Sweetpea had been "distracted and anxious" throughout the process. Because of the SPD-related challenges, and because the scores correlated neither with one another nor with her classroom performance, the district decided to test her again in a completely different environment.

Regardless, I was surprised to find that in looking at the scores I felt ... nothing. I didn't despair over the lower numbers. I wasn't even tempted to chest-bump the mailman over the high ones. They were just numbers. My experience of my daughter is so much more vast and complicated than any numbers can show.

Next time around, under more suitable testing conditions, the numbers might provide more insight into my daughter's current mastery of second-grade concepts. They might predict with more accuracy her ability to succeed in one of the district's gifted classrooms. Regardless, these numbers don't get the final say about my daughter. They're just one more piece of her incredibly complex picture.

High or low, I won't let them define her. Or me.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Random acts

This morning I got a Facebook message from a friend I hadn't heard from since elementary school. Facebook is weird that way, and often that's all it is: weird. This message was different. This one was a gift.

The man asked if I happened to remember a day, way back in elementary school, when I escorted him to the principal's office after he got kicked out of music class. I said I didn't remember the incident, but I hoped I'd been kind.

I thought that would be the end of our exchange. Another random Facebook moment, quickly forgotten.

Instead, he responded: "You reached back and held my hand. I didn't deserve that ... but I never forgot it."

I felt as if he had reached out a hand to me, a small glimpse of my own, innocent kindness in his palm. I've carried it with me all day.

A gift like that can't be paid back. But it can be paid forward.

The next time I remember someone else's kindness toward me, no matter how long ago it was, I'm going to remind them of it. So they, too, can see themselves for a moment in the light of their best, essential selves.

When Sprout and Sweetpea are in trouble, I'm going to remember that holding them responsible doesn't require letting go of their hands.

And I hope I'll remember to reach out more often to that little girl my friend helped me see again today. The one who, as she walked a boy to the principal's office for his punishment, was probably thinking about how she, too, was sometimes ashamed of something she'd done, some mistake she'd made. And felt afraid of what that mistake might mean about who she was.

I'm going to hold that little girl's hand. I'm going to promise not to let go. I'm going to remind her that she is worthy of kindness. Even when -- especially when -- she doesn't think she deserves it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

When it's warm, I just turn the hose on them.

This morning, as I was dropping Sprout off and racing out the door to get Sweetpea to school on time, his teacher stopped me for a "quick question":

"How do you handle it when siblings fight?"

Not one to give short shrift to such a complex topic, I thoughtfully held an imaginary gun to my head and pulled the trigger.

I regret it now. (And not just because it may have slightly undermined my I-have-no-idea-why-he-keeps-playing-violent-games-at-school-it-must-be-because-he's-fallen-in-with-a-bad-crowd-because-we-certainly-don't-condone-that-behavior-at-home image.) If I'd had more time to think about it, I would have answered more sincerely. Something like:

  • Huh? Sorry -- couldn't hear you. Earplugs.

  • Or: I wouldn't know. I find if you love them enough, they don't need to argue.

  • Or maybe: It's a question of balance, really. You just have to find the right mix of boxed wine and prescription pills.

  • Naturally, I jest. Anyone who's spent more than 10 minutes with me and my children knows I would never drink wine out of a box.

    The truth is, as much as they love and enjoy each other, my kids also fight. They fight a lot. My responses run the gamut, depending on my energy level and how many times that day I've already said, "What would have been a better way to handle that?"

    The "Let them work it out" approach seems logical. Unfortunately, it's also loud, and it generally takes a long time because they're not very good at it. At best, it buys me a few more minutes in the bathtub or on the phone before I have to jump in and deal with it anyway.

    As a younger sibling, I also believe Sprout is at a disadvantage in this scenario. Yes, he needs to learn to stand up for himself, but there are limits when he's dealing with someone who's got a full three years of cognitive development on him.

    On the other hand, Sprout has a gift for doing things that are both just under my radar and guaranteed to push Sweetpea over the edge. There aren't many advantages to having a sibling with SPD, but this is definitely one of them. Humming persistently at a certain frequency can be enough to set her off on a bad day, and the resulting bruise is apparently a small price to pay for an ice pack and some one-on-one time while his sister does a time out.

    For a smart kid, Sweetpea does not always do herself any favors. Just this morning she defended herself by claiming "I did not kick him ..." (which would have made it his word against hers if she'd stopped there, instead of finishing the thought) "... where he says I did." (Sigh. Time out.)

    I could have answered Sprout's teacher with a single word. Because the most effective strategy I've found for stopping the never-ending arguments over such critical issues as who is reading whose cereal box and who is or is not copying whom? School.

    With my first summer as a full-time stay-at-home-mom fast approaching, I'm going to need some new tools in the tired, beat-up toolbox. So I ask you, since you're clearly not late for something important if you're reading this: How do you handle it?

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    If it's a penny for your thoughts, how much for 5 minutes of silence?

    I love my son. I do, you guys. He is funny and charming and asks great questions and makes these amazing observations that let you see things in new ways and make you wonder about things you've never wondered about before and ohmygodtheboywillnotshutup!

    Yet another reason I'm glad the kids look like us. Because otherwise I'd be staring down the barrel of some tough questions about whether he and my daughter really have the same parents.

    When I drive Sweetpea somewhere, she sits in the very back of the van and thinks about things, or reads, or talks to her imaginary friends, or sings along with the radio. Honestly, I'm not sure exactly what she's doing most of the time. But what she does not do is require any interaction whatsoever with me. In fact, any attempt on my part to initiate conversation will likely be ignored.

    I used to find that kind of annoying. I remember thinking, "Gee, I wish I had a child who would tell me what she was thinking." Oh, the universe and its little jokes.

    Because a car ride with Sprout? Let me put it this way: You know how in most churches you can pretty much zone out during the service if you want to? But then you go to a Catholic church and they keep testing to make sure you're really paying attention? It's kind of like that.

    Only it's just you and the priest in a car, and you're working out the ending to the poem you just wrote, or you're trying to have a complete thought from beginning to end, or maybe even just listening to a song you love, and meanwhile the tiny priest in the backseat is saying maythelordbewithyou maythelordbewithyou MAYTHELORDBEWITHYOU MAYTHELORDBEWITHYOU until you realize he's waiting for a response of some kind from you and just when you start to answer "And also with --" he asks you how McDonald's cooks hamburgers so fast.

    And while you're thinking about how to answer that, he's saying, "Guess what, Mommy!"

    "hmmmmmmm ...?"

    "I know how to spell 'space.'"

    "Oh, yeah?" (Still thinking about the hamburger question.)

    "S - P - S"

    "OK, well that's really close, but it's actually ..."

    "You know what, Mommy?"

    "... S - P - A ..."


    "Huh? Oh. What?"

    "I saw those things yesterday? Those things that you control with your body?"

    "The ... you control with your ...?"

    "Those things that you control with your body, Mommy! That we saw on TV? The boys at gymnastics had them? Can I get those, Mommy?"

    (Starting to wonder what he controls other things with:) "Well, maybe on your ..."

    And then he asks you whether a lizard is a turtle's cousin or just his stepbrother. Or wants you to look at how his fingers are two different colors (Just look in your mirror, Mommy!). Or kindly offers to count to 199 for you. Again.

    Then you come home, and your husband asks you a simple question like how your day was or why you're drooling like that or where all the Tequila went and you'd like to answer him, you would, but the last available cell in your brain is working on the family tree of lizards, so instead you just rock back and forth, muttering something about turning the downstairs bathroom into a sensory deprivation chamber.

    Yeah. It's like that.

    Carpool, anyone?

    Why my child will never save the planet ...

    Me: "Hurry up, Sweetpea! I have a million things to do. I swear you walk slower when you know I'm in a rush."

    Sweetpea (visibly slowing down further): "I'm enjoying nature, Mommy."

    Me: "Great. Enjoy nature faster."

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Being the "best"

    As I was driving her to piano this week, Sweetpea suddenly cocked her head to the side and examined me with uncharacteristic scrutiny.

    "Mommy, you're weird," she said. As if the thought had just occurred to her.

    Within the last 10 minutes, she had also asked me to please stop pointing out the person dressed as the Statue of Liberty (before today, one of her favorite obsessions) and please stop singing along with Jason Mraz (yeah ... not gonna happen, kiddo).

    In response, I made an appropriately parental, disapproving face in the rear-view mirror. OK, maybe I stuck my tongue out at her. Whatever. Stop judging -- you're missing the point.

    The point is, my daughter called me "weird." And although I was working hard not to show it, I was secretly a little pleased.

    Sweetpea is 8 years old, and most days she still tells me I'm her best friend. (You know, when she doesn't hate me and want to move in with the neighbors.) As much as I love it, I know our days as best friends are numbered. At least, I hope they are.

    For years her teachers told me not to worry, that it was "normal" Sweetpea didn't have a best friend her own age. Even as I watched other kids pairing up, we all put faith in the fact that Sweetpea played easily with anyone and everyone. Sunny and irrepressible on a good day, she attracted plenty of friends, if not a "best friend."

    But painful as it is to admit, peer relationships seem to be getting harder, not easier for her. Now in second grade, her invitations to play dates and birthday parties seem unusually few and far between.

    Naturally, I blame myself. When I was working, it wasn't always possible to take the time to get to know other moms. Casual chit-chat outside the classroom or at holiday parties isn't my strong suit. But by now, even I have to admit it's probably not all my fault.

    Truth is, Sweetpea doesn't always seem interested in friendships -- she's just as content to do her own thing, act out her own invented stories. I do arrange play dates, when she shows an interest, but reciprocal invitations don't always follow. Or they don't come more than once. I suspect that school-age peers are less willing than preschoolers to overlook behavior they don't understand, and every year it may get a little harder.

    This year Sweetpea does seem more tuned in to social interactions. It's often a painful awareness, as she sees her friendships falling short. But a little pain might be necessary to motivate changes that will help her form more meaningful friendships.

    Just like it's necessary for her to start thinking I'm a little "weird."

    I'm hopeful this all means she's becoming a little less attached to my hip, and a little more identified with her peers. Believe me when I say I'm not kidding myself. I know this is just the first, tiny step in a long process, one that will often be miserable for one or both of us. But I'm willing to start letting her go.

    So when we got to her piano teacher's house the other day, I said, "Do you still want me to walk you to the door? You know, since I'm so 'weird' and all?"

    Sweetpea rolled her eyes. "Of course! You're not a lot weird, Mommy. You're just a little weird. You're weird like you're my best mom."

    I know "best friend" is a role I can't play for much longer. But "best mom"? That one I can live with.

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010

    Note to Self

    Dear 22-year-old Jill -

    I love you, sweetie, but you can be ... well ... a tad critical. It's time we had a chat.

    First off: You're lovely. Stop frowning when you look in the mirror, go put on a bikini, and enjoy it while you can. Your stomach isn't always going to look like that. Someday you will miss it.

    Please do us both a favor and stop saying you don't know why anyone would buy pre-cut vegetables in plastic bags. You'll see.

    Your tendency to kill plants does not mean you won't be a good mother. But having kids definitely won't make you a better gardener.

    And while we're on the subject ... Yes, you will let your children eat that, they will behave that way in public, and it's not called "using the TV as a babysitter." It's called "taking a shower."

    I'm sorry to say that you won't publish your first book by 25. Or by 35. You're not going to be the best or the worst at anything. But when you realize this, and let go, everything changes.

    You know far less -- but can do far more -- than you think.

    Your husband won't turn out to be quite as perfect as you expected. Then again, you won't be quite as perfect as you expected, either. And you will turn out to be perfect for each other -- just in ways you can't begin to imagine now.

    You owe a lot of people a lot of apologies. Save us time and grief later -- start now.

    All the worrying about Y2K will be wasted energy. In fact, all the worrying *period* will be wasted energy. Stop it. Take a walk instead.

    If I could give you one thing, it would be the belief that you have, in this moment, everything you need. At every step, you are exactly where you need to be.

    Enjoy the journey.

    Much Love,

    PS When the stock becomes available, buy "Google." Just trust me on this one.

    Sunday, March 7, 2010

    "There's something wrong."

    This week I watched the new NBC show, Parenthood. In addition to a great ensemble cast (featuring Lauren Graham, Monica Potter, and the guy from Six Feet Under) and some damn clever writing, the debut episode includes one storyline that particularly caught my attention: a couple in the early stages of realizing their son may have Asperger syndrome.

    In the pivotal scene, the shell-shocked mother is trying to share the educational consultant's findings with her husband. The father, meanwhile, is literally talking over her to avoid hearing it, clinging to his last shred of hope that with one more small change ("He just needs a tutor!"), their son can still fit into a 'normal' school environment. It's one of those moments that goes on just a little too long and gets a little too painful.

    Finally the mother, increasingly desperate to be heard, says: "It's not just the fear of fire, it's not just the biting, it's not just the tantrums ... it's everything. There's something wrong with our son."

    * * *

    It's not often that a TV show gets it so right. I sat there thinking, I've lived that moment. My daughter has sensory processing disorder, not Asperger's, but some of the characteristics can overlap: social 'quirkiness,' difficulties with emotional regulation, and of course, sensory defensiveness. Because these kids are often high-functioning in other areas, both syndromes can go undiagnosed until the early school years.

    And I remember that moment vividly. That moment when you realize it's not just the tantrums and the maddeningly age-inappropriate biting. It's not just the obsession with tornadoes or fire drills. She's not "just hungry," or "just tired," or "just quirky," or even "just trying to control us." It's something else. Something more.

    Don't get me wrong: this has nothing to do with the fact that, in the TV scene, mom was doing the talking and dad was doing the talking-over. Truth is, I did both. I spent weeks, arguably months, with two parts of my mind at odds: the part still hoping I could find the critical mistake I'd made, the right parenting book, the magic trick I was somehow missing that could make Sweetpea's behavior more 'normal.' And the part with the dawning realization that no matter what I did on my own, it wasn't going to be enough.

    It's human nature not to want to see it, even when the evidence is piling up so high it can probably be seen from space. Once that veil is lifted, you can no longer harbor that image you've had, maybe since before her conception, of the 'perfect' child. You have to admit that your kid is -- and might always be -- different from other kids. Really different. That there's a name for it. A name that is long, and scary, and has the word "disorder" in it, and might mean other things you haven't even considered yet. It might mean that all the parenting manuals in the world aren't going to be enough to smooth the way for your kid or for your family. That you're going to need help -- something you're maybe not so great at asking for.

    At the same time, it's a hopeful moment. Because in that realization, lies the start of healing.

    You probably won't see it for weeks, or even months yet. But looking back, you'll realize that this was the moment when you started to stop blaming yourself and your child for things neither of you can control.

    It's the moment you began to lay down your shield -- that one you'd been using to defend yourself from those aspects of your child you didn't want to see, and your fears about what they might mean for your child and about you. To protect yourself from those looks from other parents, the well-meaning questions, and the persistent and numbing sense of failure.

    And, in setting aside the shield of self-defense, you freed up the hand you needed to start fighting for your child.

    * * *

    In the last scene of the episode, we see the boy's cousin singing in a church choir, with the whole extended family in attendance. We see the gruff, you-just-need-to-toughen-that-boy-up grandfather notice that the boy and his father are missing. He finds them outside, dad standing at a distance, watching his son splash in puddles.

    "What's going on?" grandpa asks, with a touch of impatience. "Get back in there, Max."

    "He can't go in, Dad," the boy's father replies, still watching his son.

    And this is the part where I finally broke down. Because what the father says next, he says without apology, without defensiveness, without a trace of blame: "There are candles in the hallway, and he can't walk past them."

    "Nonsense!" says grandpa.

    And then the dad, again: "It's not that simple."

    It's a sad moment, in many ways. It signals the father's resignation: "There's something wrong with my son."

    But to me, it's also a beautiful moment. It's the moment the father crosses over. He drops his defenses, and he begins the difficult, heart-wrenching work of standing with, advocating for his child.

    The episode ends here. As viewers, we are left with no illusions that everything is neatly wrapped up. We know it's not the end. There will be many more moments of grief, and loss, and doubt, and ... yes ... self-flagellation to come.

    But, heart-wrenching as it is, we also know: Now the healing can begin.

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    Motherhood: A Tragedy in Three Acts

    I have three stories to tell you, and I can't decide which to post first. I guess I'll go with Door #2. (Wait for it ... that turn of phrase will take on additional significance in a minute, but not in a good way.)

    Act 1: Morning

    Scene: Sprout's preschool

    While helping Sprout get changed for swimming day, Our Hero discovers evidence of some less-than-optimal personal hygiene in his underwear. Because she is unbelievably lame and has once again neglected to leave a full set of clean, labeled clothing in his cubby, (even though she is not currently working for money and this type of thing is, arguably, her only real responsibility), she humbly borrows a pair from school. She then wraps the offending undergarment in several opaque plastic grocery bags, stuffs them in her purse, and promptly forgets this ever happened.

    Act 2: Afternoon

    Scene: Kitchen

    Hero (to self): WTF? What is this clump of empty grocery bags doing in my purse?

    Hero stuffs the grocery bags in a cupboard under the kitchen island, also known as the Island of Lost Tupperware, and quickly slams the door to avoid avalanche of mismatched tubs and lids. And promptly forgets this ever happened.

    Act 3: Evening

    Scene: Laundry room

    Emptying Sprout's backpack and starting laundry prompts Our Hero to recover memory of Act 1.

    All-too-familiar sinking feeling accompanies recovered memory of Act 2.

    The End.

    And the worst part, you guys? I cannot find them. So the other posts will have to wait, because right now I have to go burn down my kitchen.

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    Making peace with the mess

    I am addicted to the moment in writing when the magic happens -- when a collection of words and images I'm playing with begins to form itself into a poem, and I can suddenly glimpse order within the chaos. In that moment, though I still have many drafts to go, I feel grounded again. I am "home."

    I stick to short, lyrical works in part because I know bigger subjects would mean more words, more chaos, and a longer wait before order and meaning emerge. I haven't wanted to stay in that uncertain (and often uncomfortable) place any longer than I have to.

    But ... I find myself lately pestered by a subject that is far too big for a single poem. (Trust me, I've tried.) There is just too much here. New angles appear at every turn. No clear meaning or neat structure is revealing itself -- just occasional moments that whisper, Something real is here. Moments promising enough to keep me plowing blindly ahead, deeper into the uncertainty.

    For perhaps the first time in my writing life, I am 10,000 words into something and I don't have a clue yet what it wants to be.

    It's a little like cleaning out a closet. I began with great enthusiasm, focused only on dragging everything into the light, a faint image in my mind of a spare and tidy future. But now I am surrounded with the years of clutter I've hauled from the closet's bowels, and it's time to start organizing the mess. Suddenly I have an almost irresistible urge to flop down on the floor and stay there, weeping and twitching, until someone makes it all go away. Or to stuff it all back in and slam the door.

    It's not just about writing, I know. Marriage, kids, career, friendships ... anything worth loving eventually brings me to a point where my mess spills out of the closet and all over the floor. Then I have a choice. I can do the things I've done in the past: Stuff it quickly away, make it look tidy. Cut and run, let someone else clean it up.

    Or I can attempt something infinitely more difficult. Stay in the chaos. Breathe. Let patterns and meaning emerge in their own time. Wait for the magic to happen.

    The stories of my life -- the one I'm attempting to write now, and the one I'm attempting to live -- are messy and complicated. Rushing to easy conclusions will not do them justice. No neat structures, no tidy morals here.

    Just, every once in a while, a moment that whispers, Pay attention. Something real is happening. Moments interesting enough to keep me taking one more step, then another, into the unknown.

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    You've come a long way, Sweetpea

    Sweetpea had two teeth pulled today!

    Lest you fail to cheer with sufficient enthusiasm, may I remind you that, less than two years ago, my wisp of a daughter singlehandedly held off a dentist and several of his assistants on three separate occasions, injuring at least one, for trying to take an x-ray. Because it beeped.

    This morning she let a dentist (a different dentist, mind you -- our parting with the last one was, frankly, mutual and had nothing to do with that restraining order he filed) put a mask on her, numb her up, and yank two unsuspecting canines right out of her face!

    I could hardly sleep last night, what with all the PTSD (post-tantrum stress disorder) flashbacks. They had prescribed us a little something to take the edge off the nerves this morning -- but frankly, it tasted funny and didn't make me feel much better at all. Maybe I needed a bigger dose. All the way to the appointment, I drove with one eye trained on my rear-view mirror, watching for signs of the storm that was surely coming.

    And yet ... when her name was called, Sweetpea merely ducked her head a little, cast a doubtful glance my way, and slouched over to the dental assistant like any normal 8-year-old.

    Fifteen minutes later the dentist called for me, and I thought: Ah. Here it comes. I was prepared for the sound of Sweetpea's screaming. I was prepared to apologize for any bodily harm she had inflicted. But I was not prepared for this:

    Disapprovingly: "She gave us a little trouble, mom."

    "She ... gave you? You mean they're out?"

    "Oh yes, they're out, everything's fine. But at first she said she wasn't going to do it."

    And again, more slowly, because I was obviously not fully appreciating the gravity of her words: "She said she wasn't going to. She was a bit obstinate about it."

    Much to my credit, I refrained from laughing in her face.

    When I brought Sweetpea in a week ago to have the teeth assessed, she told the dentist she was not going to have any teeth pulled that day. The dentist replied, "I agree. Let's not do this today."

    (What she meant: "Let's do it another day." What Sweetpea heard: "I win!")

    So this morning, when Sweetpea once again did not feel like having any teeth pulled, she simply repeated what worked last time, fully expecting the same result. In my house, we don't call that "obstinate." We call it "logical."

    When the dentist replied firmly that no, actually she was going to pull the teeth today, Sweetpea complied without much further ado.

    In my house, when a child -- our child -- capitulates after only one rebuttal, we don't call it "giving us a little trouble." We call that "progress."

    Sunday, February 21, 2010

    Wherein we discover why doctors no longer return my calls

    Hey -- you know what's not funny? A sinus infection. You know what's even less funny? Three in a row.

    I can say this with certainty, because I spent the better part of last week psycho-Googling "sinus infection." If there were something funny out there, trust me, I would've found it.

    Instead, I found the same three or four medical sites with pretty much the same information, which I kept reading over and over, hoping that somehow, the last 47 times I read them, I missed the sentence that began, "And the guaranteed, fast, natural cure for sinus infections is ..."

    Apparently I thought this was a better use of my time and steadily-dwindling energy than (1) visiting someone with an actual medical degree who might confirm I did indeed have a sinus infection, and (2) once I did visit said medical professional, taking the antibiotic she prescribed.

    That's right -- I waited two more days AFTER getting the prescription before taking it. Because it is possible I am the world's most stubborn sick person.

    In my defense ... the doctor did admit under cross-examination that there is no definitive test for a sinus infection (at least none that she, a generalist, could perform). When asked how she knew this was a bacterial infection as opposed to a hapless series of allergic reactions and viruses, she actually uttered the words, "It's hard to say." I rest my case.

    Then she asked me a bunch more questions about my symptoms, which I may or may not have answered truthfully, because ... really? Do you need me to do your entire job for you, lady? As if bringing in all of these printouts from various home-remedy and medical-horror-story websites were not enough?

    And now I've been taking these pills for three whole days, and I am still not cured. I think she rigged them.

    Friday, February 19, 2010

    My cup runneth over

    Week before last, I was on a roll. I was writing so much, I could barely stand to come up for air at the end of the school day. I carried my notebook with me everywhere, desperate to capture every one of the thoughts that followed me around like a cloud of gnats.

    It doesn't seem possible that was just over a week ago.

    Then ... midwinter break happened. Three days of Sweetpea out of school, a long weekend, and a sick day for Sprout tacked on the tail end. In the meantime, I also dealt with two teeth that needed pulling (Sweetpea's), four shots that needed shooting (Sprout's), two testicles that needed removing (the dog's -- relax, Hubby's are fine, thanks for asking), and one nasty sinus infection (all mine).

    Now here I am, finally with a bit of energy and a few hours of free time, wondering where, oh where all those creative juices have gone. This balance is still so fragile.

    While I wasn't writing last week, I was doing a lot of research about allergies, looking for tips that might help me clear up the sinuses for good. I learned that our bodies can tolerate a certain level of environmental allergens without overreacting. For the last few years I'd apparently been staying within that limit and feeling fine. Then (because life around here was getting a little dull), we got a puppy. In my case, dog dander was the drop that made my personal allergy bucket overflow.

    Since we're not keen on getting rid of the dog (and breaking my children's tender young hearts) (OK, my heart), I need to look for ways to limit my exposure to dander and other allergens until I reach that healthy threshold again -- by closing doors, covering mattresses, filtering air, etc.

    The creative balance seems to work roughly the same way. Everyone who writes has to deal with at least some other responsibilities, I know. But at some point, the bucket just gets too full. Beyond that invisible line, if you do happen upon a spare hour, you're probably not going to spend it writing sonnets. In fact, you're far more likely to spend it on auto-pilot, nervously wiping counters and waiting for the next child to cry. Or maybe that's just me.

    The tipping-point is different for everyone. I know this, because I have friends who managed to continue writing even when their kids were babies. Several years after sterilizing my last bottle, I still can't fathom how they did it. I remember most days having just enough free time to eat or shower, but not both. Where would I have fit in writing the Great American Novel, exactly?

    An inch or two of room has finally opened up. But even now, I need to be diligent in managing all of the other demands on my mind and time, if I am to maintain this creative space. Last week, the bucket just plain overflowed.

    It looks like tomorrow I might get back on track. To do that, I'm going to have to scale back demands on my energy to a healthier level. By closing some doors. Maintaining boundaries. Filtering requests.

    So, please don't be offended if it takes me a few days to respond to an email or return your call. With any luck, it just means I found an inch or two of breathing room, and I'm hanging on to it for all I'm worth.

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    Nobody told me there'd be days like this

    Yesterday was a good day. Sweetpea (the child formerly known as A___) was home from school for midwinter break, and we got to spend a good chunk of the day together, just the two of us.

    I found myself wondering what, if anything, to write about our day. We didn't do anything particularly special -- just some errands, a little reading, a few games. I had no wry observations. There were no major meltdowns. Nothing happened that I needed to laugh-so-I-won't-cry about. Sure, we had our moments of tension, but they were far outnumbered by good moments. Nice, quiet, pleasant moments.

    Eight short years ago, I might've thought "nice, quiet, pleasant" sounded a lot like "mind-numbingly dull." These days, in this family, quiet moments seem anything but boring. They are like an unexpected patch of sunshine in the middle of a Northwest winter. If you find one, you don't take it for granted or hope it passes quickly. You bask in it. You wonder how it came about, and if maybe, just maybe, you might find one again someday.

    Yesterday, for once, I wasn't overwhelmed. I wasn't trying to do too much or allowing myself to be pulled in seventeen different directions. The dog was at the vet. Dinner was simple. Writing could wait. I said "no" when I needed to, but I said "yes" when I could. I enjoyed the kids for who and where they are, and I stayed present.

    The chaos will be back soon enough -- I can see the clouds creeping in already. But yesterday? Yesterday was a good day.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    When I become famous, please swallow this post

    You've probably noticed that I don't include my children's real names on this blog. (Or perhaps you thought my kids just had really strange, unpronounceable names?) It's not that I don't trust you. It's those other Internet people I worry about.

    You know. The ones who lurk around on obscure blogs seeking random children's first names so that they can ... OK, I don't know what they might do exactly (since they still wouldn't know our last names or where we live), but I'm sure it's awful and will end up on Dateline any day now. In the meantime, what kind of mother would I be if I didn't protect my precious babies from completely implausible cyber risks while turning a blind eye to the fact that they let the dog lick them on the mouth?

    So. Just in case I become the next Heather Armstrong, I came up with using A___ and N___ (which may or may not represent my kids' first initials). Clever, right? Except it has been brought to my attention that this is not the most graceful solution. And in truth, I didn't expect to be writing about the kids quite as much as I have been. Typing all of those underscores does get tiresome.

    Here's the thing. I suck at naming people. It was hard enough coming up with their real names. Two each! And I had help! Now I have to come up with a third, fake name? I'm sorry -- I'm exhausted.

    I considered holding a "Name my children" contest. But I couldn't think of a decent prize, so then I'd have to hold a "Come up with a good prize for naming my children" contest. (You can see where this was headed.)

    So, although I was hoping to buck the trend of giving blog-children cute nicknames, for now I am resorting to using the pet names that we gave the kids when they were in utero. My daughter will be "Sweetpea," and my son will be "Sprout."

    Cute, right? And if the Internet doesn't like their new names, my husband can take half the blame. Now ... what to call him ...

    But for a minute there, I was flying.

    This morning, like most mornings, found N___ complaining because his sister had hijacked one of his toys. "Grandma gave me that Barbie doll to use, and A___ won't give it back!" he whined.

    My first reaction, of course, was to help. And by "help," I mean roll my eyes in irritation and bellow at them to "Just work it out for chrissake -- Mommy hasn't finished her coffee yet!" But just then, what he said sank in. I'm sorry ... did you just say ... doll?

    Hallelujah. FINALLY, my long-held principles about raising boys and girls were bearing fruit.

    I grew up in the '70s, with liberal parents. "Free to Be ... You and Me" was pretty much the gospel of my childhood. I took it on faith that parents are people, it's all right to cry, and -- preach it, Alan Alda -- William gets a doll.

    But I have had fewer opportunities than I had hoped to put my enlightened views into practice with my own children. Before A___ was born, I firmly rejected gender stereotypes. I painted her room yellow; her comforter was blue. "Girls do not have to wear pink!" I naively declared.

    Except ... then I told the world she was a girl. And for the next three years, until her brother was born, every item that entered my house was pink. Because every item for girls ... in every store? Pink. When N___ was born, I had an equally difficult time finding anything for him to wear that did not seem to limit his future career choices to race car driver, construction worker, or professional athelete.

    Fine, I thought. I can bend on the clothing thing. But this doesn't have to affect their behavior. Surely their dad and I will treat them the same, so there won't be any difference in how they play.

    With each of my kids, I had a couple of pretty good years. Baby toys are baby toys, for the most part. Exersaucers are gender-neutral. For a while, even when N___ was old enough to express a preference, his older sister's influence held sway. He played hairdresser. He wore his sister's dress-up clothes. And I ... um ... gloated.

    Then, boy met world. He went to school, where his friends watched movies we didn't let him watch, played with toys we didn't let him play with, or had older brothers who did those things. In TV commercials, he watched boys playing with the toys that boys are "supposed" to want to play with. Of course I tried to counteract these messages. But bit by bit, gun by gun, superhero by superhero, I felt I was losing him to a world I did not understand and where I could not follow.

    Until this morning. Because my son was heartbroken over a DOLL, people! And I'm pretty sure I broke a land-speed record getting over there to step in and make sure he got that thing back. "You go ahead and take that Barbie to your room to play, son," I said, my voice cracking with pride.

    That "whoop-whoop" sound you heard? That was me, raising the self-righteous roof. Here it was, finally, living proof that I had single-handedly (OK, maybe with a little help from my husband) fought off the influence of our misogynistic, homophobic culture. Superhero? I'll show you a superhero! I was on Cloud 9.

    And then ... that thump you heard? Also me. Firmly reconnecting with Earth a few minutes later, when N___ came back into the room holding a half-undressed Barbie and exclaiming, "Look, Mommy! Boobies!"

    Time to dust off that "Free to Be ..." DVD we picked up a few years back. It's movie night, kids.

    Monday, February 8, 2010

    You may now congratulate her on a job well done.

    As usual, A__ is two steps ahead of me. She greeted me shortly after waking up yesterday morning with this:

    Mommy! Mommy! Guess what?!

    What's up, kiddo?

    I've earned my reward!

    You've earned your ... ?

    Come see!

    Still half-asleep, I follow her back to her room, where my attention is directed to a piece of paper she has taped up behind her door. At the top, in crayon, it reads, "Responsibility Chart." Chores are listed down the left margin, with boxes for the days of the week to the right of each. I have never seen this chart before.

    Most of the boxes are empty, but "Put my clothes away" is checked off for each day last week. At the bottom of the chart, it clearly states that when one job is complete, she is to receive a reward.

    See? Case closed.

    Yes, I see. What are you giving yourself for a reward?

    No, you are, silly! We're going to Target to buy me a toy!

    And so I apologize in advance to all of her future employers. I can see it now ...

    Hey, boss! Come see! I've earned my bonus!

    Well, you've only worked here a week, and bonuses aren't given until you've been ...

    But look! I've done everything on the chart I made. All week! Isn't this great?!

    Actually, we do performance evaluations in ...

    Look at the chart!

    I'm afraid there's been ...


    ----. Right. I'll go get my checkbook.

    Saturday, February 6, 2010

    Wherein my daughter meets a CHEERLEADER!

    I do not like parenting advice, and generally I do not give it. But for those of you with children not yet of school age, I offer one tip that could spare you a lot of pain and suffering: Keep your kids home on days when there are school assemblies.

    I know what you're thinking: But assemblies are fun and educational! Sadly, you are wrong. As far as I can tell, "school assembly" is now synonymous with "diabolical attempt to convince children raising money for the school district is fun."

    Listen, people. I have nothing against public school systems. I have nothing against schools raising money. I vote YES on levies. I swear. Some of my best friends are levies.

    However, I do object to my kid coming home looking like a brainwashed Stepford child and extolling the virtues of selling cookie dough door-to-door because someone (but most definitely not my child) somewhere (probably not even in our district) is going to win an iPod. And although she didn't know what an iPod was when she left for school this morning, there was an ASSEMBLY, with music and dancing puppets and (I suspect) crack gumballs being passed around, and now she's pretty sure her life is incomplete without one. And selling PTA cookie dough is the only way to remedy the situation.

    Or, equally horrifying and more relevant to the title of this post, she comes home begging to go to Saturday morning cheer camp. Because you don't know this, Mommy, but there are CHEERLEADERS! at cheer camp. In their UNIFORMS! And if you go to cheer camp, you get to eat LUNCH with one.

    Did you hear that, Mommy? Did you get that the first 50 times I said it? Because I will happily tell you again. YOU. GET. TO. EAT. LUNCH. WITH. A. CHEERLEADER.

    (Cheerleaders being, as it turns out, just like princesses except they are louder and -- although I cannot confirm this -- their pockets might be filled with crack gumballs.)

    So when A___ came home last week with a creepy Stepford-ish smile and a permission slip for cheer camp, I turned to my trusty library of parenting manuals, looking for the one with a chapter titled, "What to Do When Your Daughter Is Convinced Something Will Be Fun Even Though it Will Almost Certainly End in Cataclysm the Likes of Which the High School Cheer Squad Has Never Seen." Only -- this is so weird -- I can't find any chapters that cover this. I must have the wrong books.

    To be fair, cheer camp is probably an innocent enough way for most kids to spend a Saturday morning. But my kid has SPD, of the auditory defensiveness variety. Loud music and shouting? They don't really work for her. Other things that don't work for her and often end in humiliating public meltdowns: dance classes, crowds, and new situations.

    Sounds perfect, right? So I did what any good mother would do: I tried to manipulate her into deciding not to go, to spare both of us the embarrassment of another failed attempt at normality, while pretending not to care one way or the other.

    OK, in truth it was a little more complicated than that. I described what it was going to be like and explored with her how she might handle it. I emailed the cheer coach to explain our situation, and we made sure there would be a quiet place for A___ to go if she needed a break. I let her know it was OK with us whether she decided to go or not. And it (mostly) was.

    The one thing I did not do, was offer to stay and walk through it with her. My thinking was, if she wanted to do this, she needed to be able to handle it on her own. She can't always rely on me to be there holding her hand. (Plus, although I would not have admitted it at the time ... the tears and drama that ensue every time we're in one of these situations can be damned embarrassing.)

    By Friday night she had decided not to go. I felt for her, I really did. She wanted to be a part of this, even though she knew it would be an unbelievable strain on her. Where does an 8-year-old find the strength to say no to what everyone else is doing, for the sake of her own well-being? When most people still can't do that at 13? Or 19? Or ... (ahem) ... 38? I went to bed thinking that, hard as it was, the right decision had been made. I was proud of her.

    Naturally, I awoke a little after 8:00 this morning to my husband telling me that A___ had changed her mind and was going.

    And here's the humbling part. Because I wasn't up and ready, my husband ended up taking her. My husband who (unlike me) did not feel the need to give our daughter an ultimatum (do it 100% like the other kids, or not at all). He agreed to stay with her for the entire three hours, and he let her do cheer camp her own way.

    No, she wasn't out on the floor with the other girls most of the time. She quickly realized (as suspected) that it wasn't for her. Instead, she stayed in the bleachers, with her dad, where I guess the noise level was more tolerable (or at least she wasn't going to get bumped around by the other kids -- which, added to an already-stressed nervous system, spells certain disaster).

    But she did get to observe all of the fun from a safe distance, learn the routines, and yes, eat lunch in the vicinity of a CHEERLEADER! On Monday, she will be among the girls who get to wear their camp T-shirts and giggle and shake their booties on the playground. In other words, it seems to have worked out just fine.

    Tonight I watched my little girl perform the routines she learned today: shouting and shaking and hip-waggling for all she was worth. There was a big smile on her face and -- am I imagining it? -- just a hint more self-confidence in the tilt of her head and hips than I remember seeing there yesterday.

    Assembly or no assembly, crack gumballs or no crack gumballs ... I think this one goes in the "win" column.