Monday, July 11, 2016

Be Effin' Fearless!

I need an outlet.  I need a fun activity, and it’s all right if I’m no good at it.

It’s important for me to be a good mom, wife, teacher, and friend.  I’m prepared to suck at everything else.  And I do.

Here’s my thesis:  Don’t be afraid to try something new and suck at it.  In fact, seek out opportunities to suck.  It’s fun!

The other day, I suggested to a friend that we go do one of those paint and sip art classes.  You know the ones?  You drink a bottle of wine and two hours later, you’ve got a painting in your hands?  My friend said, “But I have no artistic ability.”  To which I said, “Who the hell cares?”

Yeah, I framed it. 
I go to these classes and paint with the joy of a four year-old.  At one class, I sat next to my lovely sister-in-law, who is studying to be an art teacher.  She has…what are the words?  Skill and talent.  Yes, she’s actually really good.  So while she was stepping back and looking at the composition of her piece and carefully blending colors, I was merrily slapping the canvas with a brush and saying things like, “I like your painting!  Do you like my painting?  I like my painting.”  Exactly like a four year-old.

Life is so much more fun if you give yourself permission to do something and NOT be good at it.  So I’m not a good painter.  That’s cool.

I’m not a very good triathlete, either.  This will be my ninth summer of racing, and I always placed in the bottom third of my age group.  I’ve never cracked middle-of-the-pack, and it’s fine.  I do it, anyway.  It’s not even that I like running!  I’m slow and my right knee knows when it’s going to rain, but even as I’m running, I think, “This is the easiest part of my day.”  It is so empowering to do something that many people think is really hard, and know that everything else you do in real life is actually harder.  Think about it.  What’s harder than being a special-needs parent?  Nothing!  Racing gives me a sense of accomplishment. Finish lines are nice.  Finish lines next to beer tents are even nicer.

So if you’re thinking about trying a race, but you’re afraid of coming in last, don’t worry!  It doesn’t matter.  If I happen to cross the finish line before you, I will save you a beer!

And then there’s acting.  I do plays once in a while, and it’s great fun.  My acting chops are at an acceptable level for community theater.  (I’ll let you draw your own conclusions here.)  But even at this level, friends will ask me the questions.  How do you learn all those lines?  Weren’t you nervous?  What if the scene gets messed up or you forget a line?  Isn’t that embarrassing?

Embarrassing?  Maybe, a little.  More embarrassing than dealing with a DEFCON 1 meltdown in Target?*  No.  More embarrassing than having to climb into the plastic tubing at the McDonald’s Playplace to retrieve a defiant child?  Never.  Community theater is easier than parenting.

Everything is easier than parenting.  Parenting is the most important thing we do, so we need to reserve all our strength to do it well.  Let’s cut ourselves some slack on the rest.  We need fun.  So think about something you’ve always wanted to try…and try it!  Get on out there and don’t be afraid to SUCK!

*Contrary to popular belief, DEFCON 5 is the best state of affairs.  DEFCON 5 means peace.  DEFCON 1 is World War III.  Go back and watch War Games.  I’ll wait here.

Friday, March 11, 2016

"I'm like...angry at numbers."

These words, spoken by Butt-Head, the bard of my generation, used to make me laugh.  They conjured my struggles with long division, algebra, and my difficulty having any concept of time.  Numbers were never my friend and I could never make them go away.  They used to annoy me, but now they truly anger me.   

Numbers effin' haunt me.  I did my first triathlon at the age of 34, after having spent my youth being decidedly unathletic.  Before I started training, I had never run more than one mile, and that was ONE time in 10th grade gym class.  So when I crossed the finish line, I felt amazing!  I did it!  I could do anything!  And then I made the mistake of looking at the race results.  I had finished dead last in my age group.  Effin' numbers.  I then tried to comfort myself with another number:  I had actually come in ahead of another woman who was 10 years my junior, but decided she must have run the entire race while carrying a full bag of groceries.

I used to joke that I became an English teacher in order to avoid numbers, but there's no avoiding numbers.  I love my job, but I HATE grading essays.  I hate putting a number value on their work.  I would much rather write comments all over it and hand it back.  "Here you go!  This is what you did well, and this is where you need to improve."  No numbers, just feedback, because numbers are heartbreaking.  I remember sitting with a weepy girl who was so frustrated that she wasn't getting A's.  (Gone are the days of rewarding effort; we're required to grade off a standards-based rubric.  Thanks, Common Core!)  She was working so hard, but she wasn't meeting the benchmarks for an A.  I remember taking out her portfolio and spreading her papers all over the table.  Her early writing was really weak and unfocused and now she was doing solid B work.  I tried to get her to see past the grade and look at the big picture. 
"Look," I said to her.  "Look how far you've come.  You've gotten so much better at this!  Can you see that?  Can you see how hard you've worked and how much you've improved?  You should be so proud!"  I was rewarded with a sniffling, teary attempt at a smile, but I don't know if I really got through.

Which brings me to my current anger at numbers.  In advance of my son's re-eval meeting, I was sent his test scores.  They wanted benchmarks, and I understand that.  Still, it's hard.  See, I try really hard to focus on the big picture.  I remind myself how happy I was when, at two, my son learned to sign "more" and "more milk," because he was effectively communicating his needs in a way that was much nicer than screaming and throwing his dinner against the wall.  Now he can make such requests as, "Go to the restaurant for pizza and pasta and cheeseburgers and french fries and chocolate milk and ice cream, PLEEEEEEEZE!"  Now that's progress!

So to see, in black-and-white, that my son scored below the first percentile in linguistic concepts and sentence comprehension was a gut punch.  To see, in black-and-white, that he still exhibits "severe receptive, expressive, and pragmatic language deficits"--even after all the hard work from everyone involved--is very, very hard.  And I'll admit it.  I cried.

Black-and-white sucks.  Numbers suck.  I have to talk myself down.  I have to focus on the big picture.  I have to remind myself of my own words:  "Look how far he's come!  He's worked so hard!  You should be proud!"

And I am proud, because we're all working hard, and he is getting better.

Also because he can say, "Fuck it!" like a champ.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Scripting: The Good, the Bad, and the Smelly

     "I mean it!  Bath time is over!  It's time to get out of the tub!"  I was getting annoyed.  He could tell, and he was delighted.  He wriggled his bare butt on the bottom of the now-empty tub, and shouted, his voice echoing against the tiles.
     "If you make one more move, Mister!  If you put one fin on that boat...Nemo!"

And then it was my turn to be delighted.  Yes, he was scripting, but it was quasi-appropriate.  He was telling me that I was being a nag, that I sounded like Nemo's scolding dad, Marlin.  He was communicating and joking with me.  Teasing me, if you will.  I loved it.

Yesterday was a different story.  When I picked him up from aftercare, the director pulled me aside.

     "There was an issue on the bus," she whispered.  "He was being fresh."
     "Oh, no.  What did he do?"
     She lowered her voice even more.  "He said shut up.  It's not a phrase we use here."
     "Nor do we," I assured her, stifling a laugh.  We say just about everything else, but we don't say "shut up."  He was probably scripting off a YouTube video, but it could have been so much worse.
     "I had him apologize to the bus driver," she told me.
     "OK," I said.  "But that will probably just make him do it more.  It's best to just ignore the unwanted behavior."
     "I understand.  It's just that the bus driver was upset."

If the bus driver was upset by "shut up", it's a good thing she wasn't in my car that time the Boy finished his ice cream and asked for more.

    "No more ice cream," I told him.  "You've had enough."
     "Fuuuckin' SHIT!" he shouted in a pitch-perfect imitation of my husband, and spiked his empty ice cream cup on the floor of the car.
     "Don't react.  Don't laugh.  Don't say a word," I muttered through clenched jaw as Big Bro quivered with silent laughter and real tears ran down his face.  I don't know what was funnier--hearing my autistic son curse like a pro or watching my 13 year-old struggle not to laugh.  I'll admit, it was entertaining as hell, but you know what?  We didn't react, and that particular expletive wasn't repeated.

The bus driver probably wouldn't like to hear my son script entire conversations in all of our voices, especially those of a personal nature:

     "Oh my gawd!  What is that smell?"
      "I'm sorry!  I couldn't help it!"
     "What did you eat?"
     "Dad, you FARTED!"

Yep, she probably wouldn't approve.  That script keeps happening because we're awful people and we laugh at it.  Can't help it.  The kid does great impersonations!

But the key is to ignore the unwanted behavior.  If you tell my kid not to do something, he will do it just to mess with you.  It's just his way.

So I wasn't at all surprised to hear that he was yelling "shut up" on the bus again today.  Duh.  Since I don't see the driver, I contacted his case worker and asked her to give the driver some strategies for dealing with this.  I'm glad I've got a go-between to deal with these complaints, because if this keeps on, I may have to give her a number of informative pamphlets on autism.

Or maybe I'll just tell her to shut up.  ;)

(I won't do that, of course.  She's lovely and I'm too polite.)