Life on the spectrum.


It’s just a magnetic picture frame, a memento from summer camp. The brightly colored foam sun and flip-flop stickers that encircle the smiling child in the photo are barely noticeable…but only if you know the boy.

His golden locks are not so curly or so golden anymore. You can tell that he’d been outside playing in the oppressive June heat; the strands of hair, stuck to the sides of his face with sweat are a dead giveaway. Souvenir fruit punch stains on his shirt commemorate a lunch well eaten.

I know many a mother that would not display this picture so proudly, but I’m not them. Not anywhere close. The photo, and everything that comes along with it are a milestone worthy of a tickertape parade, it signifies his return.

It’s one of the only pictures I have of him from the last few years…where he’s looking at the camera.

Had I been paying more attention, I might have been able to see what was going on. Looking back, it started at around the age of three. He’s always been advanced…even when it came to developing Asperger’s Syndrome.

I can still hear his tiny voice calling out the name of every car on the road from the backseat of my Honda. “Wook, Mombo! It’s a Cadilwac Escawade!!!” His excitement was contagious. I didn’t realize his obsession was a sign.

At four, when I pushed him forcefully into the preschool shark tank… I was not the least concerned when I was called in to discuss his educational growth. I didn’t send him there to secure a slot in Harvard. I sent him there to eat paste and meet other kids.

He was always surrounded by adults, and as much as I enjoyed communicating with my little professor…I knew how important a peer group was. When he came home and told me that his teacher was stupid, I believed him…because she was.

My kid was smart. They were trying to tell me he wasn’t. There aren’t many children, at the tender age of four that have successfully figured out a way to prank their parents. “STOP THE CAR! We’re gonna get hit! Wook OUT!” As I’d slam on my brakes he’d giggle, very satisfied with himself, knowing that his mother would not punish random acts of hilarity.

Five was marked by his father’s skull surgery and his mother ending a very unhealthy relationship.

Six was filled with cancer (x 3).

I wasn’t sure if the circumstances that life was throwing at him had changed him…or it was something else. I was terrified to know the answers, but I couldn’t just sit back and allow him to disappear. He’d stopped making eye contact. He spoke, but he grunted a lot. He began to lose skills he’d mastered. He’d get lost in his video games. His spark had faded.

There were no happy moments. Getting him to do anything took an Act of Congress, and his mother standing over him screaming until her eyes bulged.

He refused to leave the house. Failed interactions with neighborhood kids usually left him crumpled in a corner like a pile of dirty clothes. All he would talk about was Minecraft.

I tried to get him help his Kindergarten year. I went to the school. I took him to the Pediatrician. I did the meetings. I asked politely. I was ignored. It was suggested he was going through a phase…and he’d get better.

He did not getter better. There was no snapping him out of it.

If it were not for the help of a wonderful Occupational Therapist and First Grade Teacher, we’d still have no idea what was going on. They helped me understand. They helped me see his deficiencies, which are many. They told me what “Sensory Issues” are…and why my son screams bloody murder every time I bathe him, brush his hair, or bring out the toothbrush. They assured me that I didn’t cause this by eating that tuna sub or having that cup of coffee when I was pregnant.

When I was a kid, we called these things “Get in the goddamned shower and/or stand still so I can brush your goddamned hair”.

His psychological reports were confusing. There were a lot of letters… ASD, ADHD, LMNOP…whatever. This only added to my anger and frustration, why couldn’t anyone tell me what this was in plain English?

In retrospect, this anger fuel was a good thing. It sent me into the school with a hired gun called a “children’s advocate” …she didn’t do anything either…until I threatened to fire her and possibly ruin her professionally. I don’t know, when I get mad I don’t remember exactly what comes out of my mouth and what stays in my head. Ok, that’s not true. I totally remember what I said, but that’s another blog for another day. I’d had enough of the run around.

Now that we know, it doesn’t get any easier. The Autism Spectrum is a very confusing glow to bask in. It’s not a disease with very specific symptoms. There is no magic elixir that cures it. When your child is diagnosed as “Spectrumy” you find yourself in the company of highly educated people who basically tell you, “Shit. I don’t know…let’s try this,” and then they charge you $400.00. These doctors don’t accept insurance…I’m guessing because so much of this is trial and error…and they get tired of having to fight with insurance companies to get paid. M.D.’s gotta eat too.

We’ve pulled him out of public school and put him in an environment that is more soothing. He has two teachers and a dedicated aide. He’s made amazing changes. He has friends. He’s speaking in full sentences again. He’s looking at me. He’s reading. Even with all these changes he still can’t focus. When the doctors, therapists, and teachers all gently nudged us towards medication…again…we had no choice but to agree. I know what it’s like not to be able to focus. It’s torture. Life is hard enough without having to fight with your brain.

This morning, as I had to pin my baby down on the couch and force medicine in his mouth, while he screamed, “Why are you doing this to me?” all I could do was hope they know what they’re talking about.

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Hands.


I sat in the living room, the babble of the television filling the space. I wasn’t really listening. I watched her chest, making sure it was rising and falling as it should. Her hands were folded softly on her lap as she slept.

“You’ve got a huge decision to make,” some overly coiffed handy-man said from the screen. Immediately I was filled with anger. That happens a lot. The anger, it’s my least favorite emotion. I suppose it’s necessary.   The people on the T.V., their huge decision: picking out drapes.  My huge decision: I may have to pick out a dress for my mother to be buried in.

I haven’t allowed myself to fully accept that there is a very real possibility that I may lose my mother until this week. It’s debilitating. I really haven’t been myself. The waves of nausea that come and go as they please make it difficult to concentrate.

This isn’t fair.

Tears welled in my eyes, making everything look like a watery kaleidoscope. I cursed myself.  All I wanted to do was look at my beautiful, sleeping mother through clear eyes.  I was trying to mentally photograph her and my body was sabotaging me.

I wanted to look at her hands.

Her favorite story to tell me is how she knew she was having a girl.  I was born before a time when expectant mothers had sonograms.  And way before a time when expectant mothers had 3-D sonograms at baby showers.  Stop it, you weirdos. It’s creepy.  It’s like looking at a vacuum bagged frog. Really.

She’d look at me lovingly and say, “Your brothers bounced around in there like they were playing basketball; you played the harp.” She’d flutter her fingers to demonstrate my in utero musical skills.  “Your Grandma Carpenter was really worried about me” she’d always pause to laugh.  “I was so sick of blue, I told her I wasn’t bringing home another boy!”

“Then we brought you home, in a lace dress so stiff you couldn’t move.  And we looked at your hands,”  If my father is in the room when the story is being told, she will always turn to him and say, “Joe, remember how beautiful her hands were? How long her fingers were?”

My mother has beautiful hands too.  They are soft and full of love, I am not ready to let them go.

I’ll buy dinner


“I’m going to buy the groceries tonight, okay?” he held up his change purse and shook it. I smiled, thinking his gesture was gush-worthy. “No, buddy. You save your money. I’ll pay for the things we need,” I asserted…in my soft, motherly, “aren’t you wonderful?” voice. “Nope, I got this,” he said, as he skipped along beside me.

There were people entering the store along with us, they could hear us as we chatted. I hadn’t noticed that they were watching until I made eye contact with an older woman, she was smiling at my boy. I was so very proud that his act of kindness was getting so much attention. The woman patted my son on the head as she walked by us. “He’s a good boy,” she whispered to me. “I’ve got, like… a hundred monies,” he said as he giggled, and showed her his change purse. “You’re very rich, I wish I had a hundred monies!” the woman responded. “I’m buying dinner tonight, I get to pick what we’re having!” it’s not often he engages strangers, but she had a grandma aura about her.

“Oh! What are you having?” she asked, I waited for his response. I was fully expecting him to say something along the lines of chicken nuggets or pizza. He looked around the store grinning, he was basking in all the attention he was receiving. After a few seconds, he opened his little mouth…“I haven’t decided, but what Mommy made for dinner last night was disgusting. It lacked imagination”.

The woman looked at me, unsure of how she should react. Since I was already hysterically laughing…she followed my lead. “We watch a lot of Food Network,” said in between snorts. This exchange set the tone for the rest of our shopping trip.

At his request, I let him drive the cart. We meandered up and down the aisles, him periodically swerving wildly to “check the suspension” and asking to put things in the cart. “Can we have that?” he said, as he pointed to a box of laxatives. “Um, no,” I replied. “But, it’s blue and it’s candy,” he persisted. He had caught the eye of another shopper, a man this time. He smiled at us as he listened to my boy present his argument. “Blue is my favorite color and I like chocolate. I’ll make you a deal, if I get this candy I won’t get in on the car seats.” His negotiation skills need work.

“Buddy, that’s not candy. It’s medicine,” he wasn’t buying my story. “No, medicine looks yucky. What kind of medicine is it mom?” his sarcasm was apparent as he spoke. “It’s a laxative,” I was trying to get out of having to explain this wonder of modern medicine to him in public. “What’s alactive?” I was having no luck. “Well, it’s something you take when you have to poop and you can’t,” I said. “Why does it have a picture of chocolate on it then?” he said in disgust. “It should have a picture of burritos on it!” I try not to laugh when the boy is being logical and serious…but the man within earshot did not have this restraint.

We walked away during the roaring laughter, my son was puzzled. “What’s wrong with that man?” he whispered. “Too much alactive,” I replied…not looking at him for fear my composure would crumble. He accepted my answer as fact. I hope to God he doesn’t go to school and warn his classmates about the frightening side effects of stool softener.

With just a few more things to purchase, I prayed the next few aisles would be empty. My prayers went unanswered. We were too far away from the bakery to grab a free cookie to put in his mouth, I was kicking myself for not stopping when we had the chance. Cookie gag is my go-to boy silencer. We had to get dog food, I agreed to let him select their meals for the week. He was very excited to have this responsibility.

My son, like most people, has difficulty controlling the volume of his voice when he is excited. There were a lot of pet friendly folks around us as he carefully inspected the packaging. He selected the cans with the dogs on them that most resemble his pets. As he showed me one with a fluffy, white pooch, he loudly exclaimed “MOM! Remember that time I CAME INTO YOUR BEDROOM AND FOUND BETTY WHITE SITTING ON YOUR FACE?”

It may have been a tactical error to name our puppy after a celebrity, because the entire store is now under the impression that I am involved in a lesbian relationship (not that there’s anything wrong with that) with a 90-something year old actress. I didn’t even bother explaining. We just hightailed it to the check-out. When he asked for a candybar at the register, I happily obliged, knowing I’d be able to make it to the car without being mortified.

One hundred and twenty-ten


He climbed into the backseat, chocolate stains in the corners of his mouth. He was talking a mile a minute. As I helped him get situated I caught a whiff of his scent. He smelled like fresh air, dirt, and playground. It’s his signature fragrance, the odor that follows him all day except for the few minutes he’s clean after he gets out of the tub.

Conversations with the boy carry on at light speed, with or without the presence of someone to respond. “Mom, we need to go to the store. There’s these things you can buy, they’re little. You go like this, and you make nickelesses.” His hand gestures, as you can imagine, did not clarify what skill you must possess to complete the task. “Necklace, buddy. It’s pronounced NEEECK-LACE.” He completely ignored my correction. “Can you get me the things at the store? Someone was making them at lunch.  They come in different colors.  I want blue, blue is my favorite color now. ” He’s at an age where he’s making all kinds of strange requests, I wish he came with a decoder ring. I changed the subject.

“How was school, buddy?” I asked, as we drove out of the parking lot. “Good,” and then there was silence. Next came the part of the day I like to call “academic interrogation”. He treats everything pertaining to learning guarded, like a State Secret. “What did you learn about today?” I prodded. “Nothing,” he chirped. “Did you know I speak chicken?” I had no idea he was multi-lingual. As he began to cluck loudly to the music on the radio I tried to come up with a creative way to find out what in the hell he’d done for the last six hours.

“Did you go to the library?” I managed to eek out in between clucks. “Bock…bock bock bock,” he responded through giggles. “That means, yes…I read a book,” I was really grateful for the translation, as my chicken is rusty. “Was the book about chickens?” It seemed like a logical question to ask. “No, why would you think that?” his response let me know that I was irritating him. “The book was about a boat, a big boat…it had pictures of sea quibbles in it.”

I work in the marine industry. I have lived around the ocean my whole life. Sea quibbles are new to me. “Remember when you were a little girl…and that big boat sunked?” I did not remember this event. “Remember all the people jumped out into the water? And, it was cold?” Nope, still not ringing a bell. “What’s a sea quibble?” I asked. “Those things that stick to the boat, they look like boogers. They were all over the wreckage.” he answered. (Yes, he said wreckage.)

Suddenly it clicked and I didn’t like where this conversation was heading. “Do you mean barnacles?” I asked, as I glanced up in the rearview mirror. “Yeah, those things!” he said, as he tried to touch his tongue to his nose. Cautiously I continued with my questions, afraid of what I was about to hear. “Did the big boat hit an iceberg?” I almost whispered, hoping he wouldn’t hear me. “Yep!”

“Honey, that happened…like… a hundred years ago.” I informed him. “Duh! I know that!” he was too far away for me to reach behind my seat and swat at him. “How old do you think Mommy is?” He thought for a minute, “you’re like a hundred and twenty-ten…but, you look good for your age.”

If this isn’t of payback of Titanic proportions, I don’t know what is.  I took comfort in the fact that he didn’t come up with an actual number, and the one he did use contained the word “twenty”.  I can remember thinking my parents were really old when I was a kid, but by my son’s account I’m old enough to be dead. I guess we all do this to our parents at some point. Make them feel decrepit.  I once asked my mother what she remembered about WW2, she bopped me on the head with a wooden spoon and set me straight. From now on, I’m never going anywhere without a wooden spoon.

Six


*This isn’t funny

“I’ll take you,” he said, as I stood in their living room. I didn’t want to impose, but it was clear that my father wasn’t going to accept no for an answer. He and my mother can be very persuasive when they want to be. I was relieved, my foot was double it’s normal size and throbbing. I couldn’t really walk, but I didn’t want them to know that. The pain was making it difficult to concentrate on anything other than the fact that my foot really fucking hurt.

He was worried. I could tell by his expression. I hate it when he worries about me, but I was glad to give him something else to worry about. As we drove to Urgent Care, I remembered all the time I spent with my father as a child. I found myself wishing I could go back to those days, when my universe consisted of a half-acre lot on a hill in North Miami. Set far back off the busy street, the house was protected by the giant U-shaped, asphalt driveway. It was a great place to roller skate, or fall…and scrape your knees to shit.

I was six-years-old when that busy street and a grey Datsun almost took the life of my favorite dog. I vividly remember my older brother Todd, cradling him and running towards the house, shirtless, and wearing shorts that today…only Richard Simmons would approve of. It was 1980 something.

“Sweetums got hit by a car,” he yelled to my mother as he ran through the door. They were both terrified, I could hear it in Todd’s voice and see it in the dog’s chattering underbite. Time stood still that day. Sweetums and I never ventured very close to the street after that.

My dad quietly sat with me in the examination room. As the doctor examined my foot, he watched intently. “You didn’t see what bit you?” The doctor looked at me quizzically. “It looks like you were bitten by some fire ants, I would think you would have noticed that.” Yes, I had to agree with her. One would think I would have noticed a swarm of angry insects turning my foot into a blistering, oozing, lump of flesh…but I didn’t. I hadn’t noticed very much in the last few days. I wasn’t going to explain. It wouldn’t help identify my symptoms. “I’m going to give you an antibiotic and I want you to keep your foot elevated and on ice”.

My dad and I drove home in relative silence. I was still ruminating on my old house and the memories that were made in between the dark brown carpet and white tile roof. I thought of the time I spent with my brothers. Like flipping through an album of old polaroid pictures, the memories ran through my brain…stopping at the ones that made me smile. The three of us were all very mischievous in our own right. Todd, being the oldest…was our ringleader.

“Say… I want a banana,” he giggled,  I was screaming and in the throes of a late-night tantrum. I was still in my crib, sharing a room with my brothers. Wailing, with tears, sweat, and snot rolling down my face, he’d come to my bedside to comfort me. It was an exercise in futility. He couldn’t figure out what I wanted…I’m not sure I knew either. I was demanding to see my parents. By the time my mom and dad arrived to the bedroom, I was screaming “I WANT A BANANA,” at the top of my little lungs. I don’t know what happened after that, my memory fails me. I can only imagine that my fruit induced meltdown must have puzzled them, as my brothers laughed under their sheets.

I thought of the day my parents went out to run errands and Todd convinced me it was a good idea to help him ambush our brother Mike with bottle rockets as he lay napping in their bedroom. I wasn’t allowed to light the bottle rockets…because that would have been dangerous. I was allowed to laugh and provide moral support.

Then I remembered the day we all sat on my parent’s bed, my brothers on either side of me, recording our own book on tape. I wasn’t old enough to read, so they took turns reading “Leo the Lop” aloud while I made the “beep” sound to signal that the page should be turned. I was an excellent beeper. These memories brought me the levity I so desperately needed. Uncovering them surprised me, my adult brain rarely reflects on my childhood in such great detail.

Later that night as I followed the doctors orders, I laid in my bed and tried to sleep. I was joined by my boy, who has just turned six. With a lisp that can only be created by a loose front tooth he whispered, “Momma? I had a bad dream.” This is our new bedtime ritual. “That’s impossible buddy, I just put you to bed for the 18th time tonight. You have to be asleep to dream.” I recited, as I do almost every night.

He ignored me, and went on to tell me that a sasquatch had crashed his birthday party, demolished his cake, and ran into the woods with his presents. I looked at him, impressed with his creativity. “But that didn’t happen, right? You had a wonderful party, right?” “Yep,” he chirped.

A few minutes went by and he spoke again. This time he whispered, “Momma? I’m worried about your foot…and I’m worried that my Uncle Todd is going to die of cancer.” My heart sank as my eyes welled-up with tears, I fumbled for the right words to say. “Baby, it’s not your job to worry,” I said, my voice cracking with every word. “My foot will be fine. Uncle Todd isn’t going to die, his doctors are going to fix him.”

He snuggled closer to me, putting his little head on my chest, and thought for a few seconds. “Momma?  What’s cancer?” Again, I fumbled. I could feel my tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes and hear them land on the pillowcase, close to my ears. “Cancer is something that can make people very sick. It’s also a very good reason to let people know you love them, even when you think they know”.

“Do you think he wants to borrow Elmo? Elmo always makes me feel better when I’m really sick.” I bit my lip, inhaling deeply. “No, baby. Uncle Todd would want you to keep him, just in case you need him,” I managed to squeak out.

In the days since I learned my older brother has Stage 4 Colon Cancer, time has again stood still. My text messages to him now contain the words “treatment” and “Oncologist” instead of “beer” and “barbeque”. I never in a million years thought this would be my…his…our…reality. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared.

He’s very optimistic. His doctors assure him that this is treatable, but he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t scared, too. As he has done with everything in his life, he’s determined to beat this. Judging by his track record, my money is on Todd. He starts his treatment tomorrow. I wish I could be there to stand by his side in the darkness, comfort him, or at very least…suggest he demand a banana, if all other words fail him.

Although I won’t be with him physically, I will be with him in spirit…as will the rest of my family. I believe once this very scary chapter is over, when Todd is on the road to recovery, we will all “beep” joyfully as we turn the page.

Why is water blue?


The boy and I had an interesting day of bonding. He was my lunch date on Saturday, although he didn’t really want to be. “I don’t like food anymore, can’t we just go to the toy store?” I had promised him a reward, he was determined to collect it. “You can’t toy shop on an empty stomach, dude. This is serious business,” I said, instead of trying to debunk the “I don’t like food” defense. “I guess you’re right,” he sighed, as we pulled off the road and into a restaurant parking lot.

As we got out of the car, he began to crawl on his hands and knees peering at the undercarriage. “Um, what are you doing?” I asked, as I think any reasonable person would. “There’s a can under there, I wanted to see if you crushed it when we pulled in. You didn’t, can you try to smash it when we leave?” “I’ll try my best,” I responded. I helped him up and led him into the restaurant. We sat outside on the patio, it’s starting to get ridiculously hot here, again. I knew it wouldn’t be crowded and we could quietly chat. He touched the table the way old ladies do when you take them someplace to eat they’ve never been before. “This is nice,” he said, smiling and inspecting the children’s menu.

“Hi, my name is Chris. I’ll be your server today,” the waiter was cheerful and eager to bring us things, I like those qualities in a waiter. “Hi, I’m five. I can ride my bike without training wheels,” my son said with the confidence and demeanor of a politician, while throwing his elbow over the back of his chair. “I don’t wet the bed anymore and… I have a Puffle named Willie. I’m just throwing that out there. What’s your Puffle’s name?” The waiter looked at me, I could see he was taken aback by the little dude. I waited for him to respond, when he didn’t, I wasn’t sure what to say.  I figured things couldn’t get anymore awkward than they were at that moment, so I went with, “Hi. I’m 34. I don’t wet the bed anymore either. I helped name the Puffle, and I’d love a rum and coke in the biggest glass you have”.

“What is a Puffle?” Chris asked. “The thing that makes me want a drink,” I responded, hoping he’d walk away without any further questioning. It didn’t work. My boy might have a future as a Jehovah’s Witness, as he insists on spreading the good word. “Willie is Jr. Flappers’ pet. Jr. Flappers is my Penguin. Willie is red and fluffy. He doesn’t have any arms or legs…but he still rides a skateboard pretty good. I play with them”.

For anyone keeping track, my little nugget of awesome is claiming we are harboring an arctic creature in the simmering heat of Florida, and are forcing a long-haired, quadriplegic, life form to entertain us by riding a skateboard. No, I haven’t replaced his nutritious breakfast with frosted LSD and please don’t call PETA.

All of these things take place in the virtual seventh circle of hell known as “Club Penguin”. Disney thought it would be a great idea to create a social networking site, infused with games, and of course…Puffles. “I have a membership card, wanna see it?” Yes, they sell membership cards. Yes, he carries it with him. “Jr. Flappers has an igloo, you should stop by sometime.” Yes, he just invited someone over to his igloo.

“That’s awesome, I have a daughter. We haven’t reached the Puffle stage yet, I guess.” I was thankful that the waiter had experience wrangling small children and I didn’t have to try and explain. You can’t control what they say, resistance is futile. You can either be embarrassed or embrace it. I want him to be able to carry on a conversation. These are the things that are important to him, so this is what we talk about.

Sometimes, admittedly, he throws me a curveball. “Mommy? Why is the water blue?” he asked as he was getting ready for a bath. I tried to pull up all the long forgotten Earth Science information I still had stored in my head. I said something about reflection from the sun and depth of the water, but I was clearly just making it up as I went along.

He stared at me blankly for a minute, “No, I mean in the toilet…why is the water blue? Everyone knows why the sea is blue.” Apparently,  my long-winded explanation about the ocean bored the hell out of him. “Oh, I put stuff in there to help me keep the house clean,” he thought about my answer and then, “Does it help you concentrate?” I laughed and responded, “Uh, sure.” I still haven’t figured out where that one came from, I guess he must do most of his thinking on the potty.

The toilet cleaning tablets went in the tank on Sunday, but had they gone in on Saturday…I’m sure the waiter would have heard about that, too.

Say CHEEEESE!!!!


“What’s that?” he asked as he walked by the dining room table. He was eyeing a shiny leather case with the word “Kodak” embossed on the front. “It’s a camera,” I responded. In pristine condition, this relic belonged to my grandparents. Everything they owned looked like it had never been used.

“That’s not a camera, it’s too big to be a camera,” he laughed. Born in 2007, he is of a generation that will never be able to look at a common household item and fondly remember its Buick-sized predecessor.

“Can I have it?” This is a question he asks when presented with just about everything he’s not familiar with. Sometimes I give in. “I wanna break it,” he chirped. Thankfully, he hasn’t developed the ability to mask his true intentions. “No, that’s mommy’s,” I said, grabbing the case and moving it to higher ground. The safest place in the house right now is atop the refrigerator, next to the cheese grater and the other things I don’t want him to touch. “Are you gonna break it? I wanna help!”

The boy stood in front of the refrigerator; his arms extended, pointing at the camera. He was trying to will the the camera to leap into his arms. His face twisted in frustration when it didn’t work. He tried again, this time standing on his tiptoes.

“No, I’m not going to break it,” I said calmly as I put dinner in the oven. There are times when the memory of my grandparents has made me want to break things, but this was too cool to smash into itty bitty pieces. I was amused by my son’s experiment with telekinesis. Quietly, I wondered if the Russian scientist who coined the term ever encouraged his test subjects to “put some toe in it,” for extra oomph.

“How does it work?” Relentless curiosity, it’s a good quality to have. He’s also quite the food critic, so I made him wait til I set the oven timer before I provided an explanation. No one likes burnt nuggets. I handed him the camera and let him examine it, watching carefully. He flipped it over several times, pushing the buttons and turning the knobs.

“Where’s the screen to see the pictures? This thing is broken.. You should throw it out. Can I have it?” this sentence came out of his mouth so rapidly it sounded like one long word. “It doesn’t have a screen. It was made before they had screens, they used film. It’s not broken. No, you have your own camera,” I replied, just as quickly. “Fiiiilllmmm?” he repeated, as if I was teaching him a new word in a foreign language. I started to explain what it was, his eyes went blank. I’d lost him. I was thankful, because I know about as much about cameras as I do….mid-century Chilean porcupine sedation techniques.

“I don’t have a camera!” he declared The child has a mental inventory of every object he has ever owned…which makes it hard to pare down the growing collection. Even if something is broken he still demands it be kept, heaven forbid you throw out the severed arm of a missing lego figure. He knows exactly what he has, until he sees something he wants. Because of this talent, I also have to keep a watchful eye on the toy chest to keep duplication to a minimum. “You most certainly do, the red one,” I reminded him.

He knew which one I was talking about, but he paused for dramatic effect. “The red one? Oh, that red one! Where is it?” I wasn’t going to divulge that information. I’d made it temporarily disappear a few months ago. His laughter showed me he was still incredibly amused by the actions that caused the camera to go into seclusion.

It was January, the weather was crappy and we were stuck indoors. There are few things worse than being holed up with a rambunctious child. Admittedly, I was hiding. I could hear him laughing from the other side of the door, but it wasn’t the evil genius laugh. I assumed that he and the dog were still playing the loud game of tag that sent me seeking refuge. It’s not really tag, it’s more chase the dog until she hides under the table…wait until she forgets why she’s hiding…then chase her again. Semantics. As long as a wagging tail is present, I don’t interfere.

I let my guard down and the laughter got further away, resuming my immersion in the article I was reading about Kim and Kanye. I had just gotten to the part where Mr. West introduced Kim as his “babymomma”. I stopped to gather my feelings, which I grouped thusly: A) I was not aware that Dolce or Gabbana designed maternity wear. B) I pictured the woman of his dreams to feature a diamond encrusted release valve, vast amounts of air behind vacant eyes, and a permanently puckered facial expression. C) Kim Kardashian is probably the closest thing to a blow-up doll society has to offer at this point.

I was just about to move on to “D” when the door swung wide open, wildly bouncing on its hinges. “Say CHEESE!!” screeched my boy, clad with his Disney trademarked digital camera. He blinded me with the flash as he rapidly snapped photos. When he stopped and I was able to commandeer the device, I went through the memory of the camera. At the end of the 700-and-something close-up pictures of the inside of his nose and the dog’s butt, there were at least 35 shots of me…sitting on the toilet…wearing my pants around my ankles, and a less than thrilled expression.

If I went through them fast enough, it was almost like one of those flip-books I made as a kid with the galloping horse. I could see myself go from surprised to irritated, mouthing the words “What are you doing? Get the hell out of here with that thing!”

Some of the photos even had me on the commode, seated right in between a smiling Lightning McQueen and Mater. Apparently, you can press a button and add a digital version of your favorite character to the images. Disney really pulled out all the stops when they dreamed this toy up. It’ll be fun, they said. Let your child capture memories on their own, they said.

Either he was prepared to suffer for his art, or he now realizes that he is always granted immunity when his acts of mischief are hilarious. The boy didn’t even try to fake remorse, he just giggled, grabbed the camera out of my hands, and ran into the living room.

As I relayed this story to my parents, they laughed. Then my mother said, as she always does “You’d better look out, you’ve got your hands full. I don’t remember you guys ever acting this way.”  We totally did, my brothers and I just tormented each other, instead of our parents.

Little boy blue.


“2:15 today,” that’s all the email said. Damn, I wasn’t expecting her to respond so quickly. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful, but I was hoping it would be a little later in the week. I dug in my purse for my cell phone to enter in the time and date on the calendar. There was no chance I was going to forget…but, I’m trying to be more deliberate in the organization of my personal life.

Blindly foraging for technology at the bottom of my bag, I felt something squishy. I’m used to finding all kinds of items in there that are not mine; they’re usually from Taiwan, by way of Hot Wheels. This feels more like something that Darwin might have studied, it wasn’t moving…so that’s a plus.

I’m relieved as I discover that a pink, rubber gecko has been added to the fleet of vehicles in my purse. My son probably thought it was a suitable trinket because it was pink. Since I am female, he has decided that pink must be my favorite color…or maybe it was placed there for insurance purposes.

I left it in there, you never know when you’re going to need a lizard. Parked next to what feels like a miniature pick-up truck is my phone. I normally use the calendar function to amuse myself. My alerts read something like this: February 10th @ 7:00 a.m.- Put on pants. The appointment that I entered for 2:15 said, “Meet boy’s teacher, apologize for inappropriate language. Research ball-gag”.

I wasn’t sure just how inappropriate we were talking. In my head I pondered, on a scale of “gosh darn” to “go fuck yourself”…what exactly was the infraction? I didn’t put my thoughts in writing. I’m pretty sure there’s a filter on the school’s email that flags this type of language as very naughty and probably put me on a list to be investigated by Child Services.

My son wasn’t exactly forthcoming the night before when he’d told me about getting in trouble. He said it involved another “cwassmate,” actually, his exact words were “baby-head, toy-stealing, cwassmate”. While he’ll freely report his short comrades for acts worthy of receiving a “red” smiley face, he was tight-lipped.

He will happily present the little strip of paper with a green smiley face on it. Green means good. He’s crafty enough to destroy the evidence if a yellow or red is sent home. Until today, I was unaware that there is a primary color far more damning than red. The boy had gone blue. I don’t even know where that fits in on the color wheel.

It was almost as if he’d rehearsed his confession, “I had to be spoken to about inappropriate language. Don’t tell Dad,” he politely requested from the back seat. “I can’t keep this from your father. Daddy has to know,” trying not to laugh, I said this firmly. In the parenting arena I’m the one that is reactionary. It’s me that raises my voice. This interaction let me know I’m not nearly as intimidating as I think I am.

“I want to sing you a song,” he said. As random as that might sound to you, it’s kind of the norm when it comes to communicating with the under-tall.

His song was Valentinian in nature; something about puppies and hearts…and there was some barking. After the third verse, his voice cracking when he hit the high notes and a freestyle “ruff, ruff, ruff,” the back seat concert was over.

He must’ve learned it in school, because it wasn’t his signature style. Not the ode to farts or monster trucks he would have come up with when left to his own devices. “That was very good!” I said. “Ok, so that means you’re not going to tell Dad…right?”

His teacher was pleasant, we met with her in my son’s classroom. The term “whirling dervish” was used to describe him, more than once. Accurate? Yes. When we talked about his inability to focus, I was not at all surprised by this information. I just don’t exactly know what to do about it. I suffer from the same affliction. People have been trying to fix me for years. I’m not broken, neither is my boy.

This does not mean that I have abandoned my son’s educational endeavors. I am not acting defiantly, insisting that my son is a genius and faulting the teacher. I’ve seen what this does to a child. When you allow a person to sidestep their responsibilities in a situation, you create a lazy, self-absorbed, douchebag…gifted in placing blame on others…but lacking any other talents.

My son may grow up to be a giant asshole. If he does, I want to make damn sure he has the skills to back-up a big mouth or an inflated ego. I refuse to spend my golden years helping him dig out from under the self-created shitstorm that would be likely be his life if I ignore the problem and blame someone else. We all agreed that we are going to push to have him tested for learning related issues.

Once that was out of the way, the topic of inappropriate language was addressed. Keep in mind that I was seated at his desk…in his chair. In order to attain any level of comfort I had to contort my body into a position much like the “brace for impact” illustration on an airplane safety card. Almost expecting an oxygen mask to deploy from the ceiling, I bolstered myself for what I was about to hear and prayed that it wasn’t the four-lettered, grand-mother-of-all-curse-words.

The teacher tried to broach the situation delicately…but there wasn’t any real way to do this. Finally she blurted out, “He said bullshit”. She didn’t look at me as she said it, in fact, she turned her head completely around…like an owl. I laughed, even though I know I wasn’t supposed to. I’ve never acted appropriately before, why start now?

From the information I was able to gather, he was involved in a small dispute with a classmate. My boy felt that the best way to handle the argument was by getting a few inches away from the other child’s face and yell “BULLSHIT!” whenever the tot tried to speak. Since the boy’s father was seated right next to me, I couldn’t blame this language on him. This is one of my choice words to express frustration. He was also mimicking my preferred method of delivering the message. It was difficult to put on the air of disgust, when I was clearly thinking that it was pretty fucking awesome.

My son relays the story differently. He does not dispute the fact that there was an argument, but claims that he and the other child were playing with building blocks when it occurred. “I said “push it”. I wanted to play Godzilla and he wanted to finish the building”. I did not buy my boy’s alternative version, but I was impressed with his ability to find a non-offensive phrase that sounded so close to “bullshit”.

We had several discussions about there being a time and place for this kind of behavior. “You’re not supposed to say those things at school, dude”. “Or at work or church,” he added as he looked down at his feet.

I fought the urge to correct him with “No, you should totally call bullshit in church,” but I didn’t want to force my views on religion on him. “Mommy, can we go to church? Quincy goes to church…with his grandma”. I couldn’t believe he’d just asked to go to church. I could just see my little angel telling his Sunday school teacher she sucks. “Ask your father,” I replied.

I asked to see the “blue” smiley face. I was hoping to add it to his collection of undesirable notes. Somehow it disappeared. Perhaps a little religion wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Betty White eats Andy Warhol


Unlocking the deadbolt, I open the front door. I’m always uneasy about what I’m going to find. Betty White predictably greets us. She’s a happy soul with a destructive nature, it’s exactly what you’d expect of a creature her age.

The entry hallway of our condo obscures the living area. As I round the corner I hope she hasn’t entertained herself by shredding important documents, crayon desecration, or artfully arranging my dirty underwear in front of the sofa.

My son darts ahead of me, at his age everything is a race. “I win! In yo’ face, Betty! This is MY HOUSE!!!” he giggles, pretending to stuff an imaginary basketball through a nonexistent hoop. He learned this celebratory taunt from me, I borrowed it from Charles Barkley.

Ms. White, completely unaware that there was a competition sits down on the floor. Her memory isn’t the best. She reacts with surprise, even though the same scenario plays out consistently. It’s not the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, I’m not ignoring the warning signs of deteriorating cognitive abilities. I’m also not holding a 90 year old Emmy winner captive in my home. Betty is our Shih Tzu puppy.

“Ewww! Underwear!” I was waiting for my sons reaction. It’s a daily thing.  He’s disgusted by her hobbies. He doesn’t have Alzheimer’s either, he’s five. Words like underwear are hilarious to him. “Farty, fart, fart fart! You eat underwear!” he sings to the small ball of fluff as she wiggles with excitement. “What kind of dog is Betty, again?” he asks me…knowing full well what the answer is, but doing a pretty convincing job of feigning ignorance.  “A Bull Mastiff,” I say, winking at him.  “No she’s not, she’s a SHIT SUE!” He’s jumping up and down as he says this, I can’t tell if Grandma’s cookies are to blame for the burst of energy or he’s still ecstatic that he gets to yell the word “SHIT” without fear of punishment.

I grab my unmentionables and take them into my room. We got Betty from a friend in September when she was the size of a coffee cup, she isn’t much bigger than that now. My friend told me that the breed was used to guard the castles of ancient Asian royalty. Throwing my undies in the pile of dirty clothes in the corner, I laugh thinking about this. I try to piece together a scenario where a stealthy man dressed in black leaps over a wall.  Carrying an arsenal of primitive weapons, he wanders through a bonsai garden without detection.  Finally he reaches a house, as he scurries around a rice paper wall he slips on a puddle of freshly squeezed dog pee and a shredded piece of paper with important elementary school telephone contacts printed on it.  Suddenly he hears a burp, his ankles are being licked aggressively.  He retreats in fear, deterred by a small-bladdered mop with feet, and an underwear fetish. “Ninjas must not be the fearless warriors we assume they were.  Pussies,” I mutter under my breath.

“Mommmmm-mmmmyyyyyyy! Betty is in my room! She’s got Sharky! She won’t let him go!” I hear the boy shout.  Yeah, he’s telling on the dog. “You should learn to pick up your toys, buddy! Keep asking for a little sister”. I yell in response, amused by his exasperated tone.

“Betty is NOT my sister!” he declares. “Oh, but she acts like one. She’s doing exactly what a little sister would do. I should know, I am one.” Sharky is a plastic Great White.  He was a purchase from the art museum gift shop and broke approximately 30 minutes after swiping my debit card. The boy only shows interest in him when he’s scheduled to be thrown away or he’s covered in dog spit.

“But, he was my present from the buseum. Remember? We got him when we went to see the shark exhibit and Larry Walmart?” he yelled from the carpet in his room. He was trying to elicit a fond memory so I would come to the rescue of Sharky. “Warhol, buddy. Andy Warhol,” I correct.  “Whatever,” he said.

I did remember our trip to the “buseum”.  I told him we were going to do something fun, it backfired. “This isn’t fun, mom. Fun is getting dirty. This is boring”.  I must have heard him say, “culture sucks” at least a hundred times that day.

Even his pint-sized protest could not persuade me to leave. I love art, someday I am determined to force him to love it too. The “Larry Walmart” exhibit was a collection of Warhol’s car paintings. Once we trudged through the shark exhibit, with the security guards laughing at my efforts to get the boy to appreciate the sculptures and paintings, I was certain my boy would change his tune.

“A BMW!!!!!” he chirped as we made our way up the stairs. “We should paint your car like that!!!” Admittedly, I considered it…but only for a minute. “No, I don’t think so,” I said guiding him to inspect the brightly painted German engineering. “Mr. Warhol said that in the future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes,”  I thought imparting this pearl of wisdom would catch his interest. “He was wrong, mom. I’ve never heard of him,” ignoring me, he let go of my hand and tried to get a better look at the car. I held onto his shoulder, not because the museum was busy, but because I know my son.

“Don’t touch,” I ordered.  “Mommy can’t afford to buy a damaged Warhol” He seemed to be okay with just staring at the colorful pieces on the wall.  “This guy should paint sharks!” the boy declared.  We spent quite a bit of time on the second floor, I was pleased that I’d tricked him into culture.  We made our way towards the exit. like everything in Florida…Walt Disney’s marketing strategies leaked in.  Gift shops materialize out of nowhere.

I was hoping to get out of there without dropping an ass-load of coin on a cheap plastic memento   As I scanned the bins I noticed that there were no cars, I thought I was off the hook.  My boy wasn’t interested in the art prints.  “Success!” I thought.  We wandered towards an elderly man in a navy blue sport coat.  He smiled as he saw us coming, “It’s always nice to see a young person here”.  The boy was suddenly shy, he whispered “I really liked the trucks,” as he pressed himself against my hip.  “That’s great! Let me get you a coloring book!” the man said.  He motioned for us to follow him.  What seemed like an innocent act of generosity was actually a trap.  The route to the coloring book lead us to another gift shop.  This is where the toys were.

The boy thanked the man for the book.  As soon as he was out of sight, I was handed free gift and my son was on the hunt for something…less free.  He wandered through the merchandise, I stood near a shelf making sure he couldn’t escape and molest the artwork.  As he shopped, I perused the pages of the coloring book.  If you’re wondering what feeling an Andy Warhol themed children’s pamphlet gives you…the answer is creeped-out.  The pages contained a cartoon Andy saying things like “Hey kids, this is art”.  From what I know of Warhol, I don’t think he would ever have said that.  My little art critic came bounding back with what, at that point, was the unnamed shark.

“You didn’t even like the sharks,” I said, as I saw the price.  “No, but I want to paint it like the BMW.  It’ll be cool.”  It would be cool, I couldn’t argue with that.  I paid for the shark without any more questions. I put the coloring book in the bag with the PVC creature from the deep.  When we arrived home after our day of culture, Sharky had been named and Warhol had been forgotten.  We took Betty out for a walk, she seemed to be hanging on the boys’ every word as he told her of his adventures at the museum. Clearly, she was enthralled.  She came back in the house and promptly began eating his coloring book. I didn’t realize this until my son presented me with the pieces…stating “I guess his 15 minutes are up”.

Death to Schmootchu?


Behind me, the noise of daily life…the coffee table which doubles as a race track, the kitchen sink that I could swear was empty a few minutes ago, and is now full of dishes…and the laundry, don’t forget the laundry.  It all dissolves as I close the sliding glass door.   “I should really scrub that wall,” I said out loud as I sipped my coffee.  Abruptly, I corrected myself, “Who in the hell am I kidding?  I’m not scrubbing shit.  You wall, can stay dirty.”  Yes, I was talking to the wall and no, I’m not the least bit worried about it.  I did what every good mother does when she sees something that needs to be cleaned, I looked somewhere else.

I focused my attention on the nature preserve behind my apartment. It was this view that sold me on the place. The inside might have looked like a 1970’s porn movie set, alright, it definitely looked like a porn set, but it didn’t matter.  There is no hint of civilization from this angle, not one glimpse of parking lot or swimming pool, just trees and big fucking spiders.  The spiders and I have an agreement, as long as they stay on the other side of the screen- I won’t kill them. For a few seconds I was lost in the gentle motion of the branches swaying in the breeze and the chatter of the squirrels.  This feeling was fleeting…chaos is now old enough to open the door. ”Look, those little bastards ate all the Cheerios,” came wafting over my shoulder.  I had company, an invasion of the short, car enthusiast variety.  He and my boyfriend had set out some cereal for the squirrels a few days earlier. He was right, the little bastards did eat the Cheerios. It’s hard to get mad at him when he uses the words in the right context.  He knows he’s not supposed to say things like this, but he also knows that he’s not supposed to run around screaming without his pants on and a bucket on his head…so…there’s that.

I woke up in a particularly shitty mood, it wasn’t getting any better.  My next door neighbors have three children under the age of five, this alone makes me question their sanity. Kids are loud, it’s what they do.  I understand and accept this. The neighbors and their children were involved in their regular early morning stampede, on a good day I can sleep right through this.  Saturday was apparently not a good day.  The pitter patter of little feet coming through the walls of my master bedroom had awoken me…and I was pissed.  All I wanted to do was sleep past 7-fucking-30.  That’s it. I wasn’t looking for a unicorn to bring me a breakfast of fresh fruit, bagels and neatly folded twenty dollar bills.  I just wanted to sleep in.  It was too much to ask.  I tried the ol’ pillow over the ear trick, but there was no muting the little curmudgeons or their disagreement.  I have no idea what the argument was about, it was in Spanish.  Everything said in Spanish around me before 8 a.m. sounds like someone is asking for directions to the library, or whatever incredibly useful phrases I learned in my 10th grade Spanish class.  “Juan es muy guapo,” I mumbled, to keep myself from wishing them dead out loud.  If I can hear them, they can hear me.  They’re actually nice folks, I don’t really want them dead…I just want them quiet.

I had the usual weekend errands to run, I wanted to get them out of the way early so I wasn’t scrambling on Sunday night to get prepared for the week.  I should have been thanking them for rousing me, but “thank” is not the term I was putting in front of the word “you” at that particular moment.  I know planning is the responsible thing to do, but I sometimes resent it. I am aware that there’s really no way around it once you breed.  I held out for a long time, I was the anti-planner.  I guess I assumed that it was the gateway behavior to chin length haircuts, book clubs, minivans, and checking to see if my son’s pants were roomy enough in the crotch…in public.

Instead of openly embracing the morning and scooting over to the grocery store, I went out on the balcony to brood. “My son is down there with his shotgun. He’s driving his black Dodge Ram and shooting bears. See?” the boy said, trying to get me to peer over the side of the building and down towards the ground. I looked, there weren’t any bears, trucks, or guns. Yes, I am a grandmother and sometimes, depending on the mood, a great-grandmother.  I don’t know exactly when this happened. Chronologically speaking, if you ask my son, my grandson and great-grandson were born in 2006.  This is puzzling to me, since I vividly remember the day in 2007 when my son entered the world. “My son Jack is six and his son Schmootchu is six, too,” the boy will tell you if you ask him…and also, if you don’t.  Even though they are imaginary, we talk about them all the time.  He’ll even whip out his fake cell phone and show me pictures of them, while bragging about their accomplishments.  Jack has quite a few trucks, he’ll rattle off a list of the vehicles Jack owns on the way to wherever we’re going.  I’m not sure where he gets the money,  I think he might be into something illegal.  I never ask, though.

Apparently there is no Department of Imaginary Children and Families to keep them from driving motor vehicles or using firearms without a permit. The boy claims that his son Jack was named after his grandfather on his mother’s side.  I happen to know that my father’s name is not and has never been Jack.  Infact, no one on my side of the family is named Jack…or John…or Robert…or Roberto…or…Jacktholomew.  His grandson’s name “was found on babynames.com,” just in case you were wondering. No, I don’t know where he comes up with this stuff either. He’s too young to being ingesting acid, so this must just be the way his little brain works.  The mothers aren’t in the picture,  they have been forbidden from any contact with their figmental offspring because I am told, “girls are stupid, except for you, Mom.”  Can’t argue with that.

The other day, while I was cooking dinner the boy announced that Schmootchu was no longer with us.  I was secretly pretty happy about that, because saying the name Schmootchu in public just makes me feel like an asshole.  I prepared myself for a conversation about imaginary death and feelings.  I was relieved when I didn’t have to go into that, though.  My son went on to say that Jack sold his beloved Schmootchu to buy a new truck.  Mystery solved, Jack makes his money in human trafficking. After the laughing stopped, the boyfriend tried to explain that you’re not supposed to sell your children.  Although the boy said he understood, I’m not sure that he did. I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a note coming home from school asking me to speak to my son and inform him that the correct term for a squirrel is not “little bastard,” and it is in poor form to pedal his classmates for material goods.  I can’t wait. At least Schmootchu is gone, for now.