Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Thoughts On Autism {re-purposed}

Originally posted April 2014

Today is April 2nd, World Autism Awareness Day, and it is Autism Awareness Month.

The month begins on the heels of news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that Autism is on the rise. 1 in 68 children in the areas followed by the CDC are identified as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder, up from 1 in 88 just a few years ago. In New Jersey, the numbers are far higher then the national average at 1 in 45. 

You can view a summary of the latest CDC report here, but there are two points of the report that stood out to me:

  1. Less than half (44%) of children identified with ASD were evaluated for developmental concerns by the time they were 3 years old.
  2. Most children identified with ASD were not diagnosed until after age 4, even though children can be diagnosed as early as age 2.

PJ was diagnosed with Autism shortly after his second birthday. Pete and I had already utilized an evaluation with our state Early Intervention program, which allowed for PJ to have nearly six months of therapy under his belt by the time we received the official "Yup. It's Autism." I think about how lucky we were to be surrounded by supportive staff at our pediatrician office, who didn't say things like, "Well, he's a boy." or "It's not that he can't talk, he just won't." 

I don't think that the people who say things like that say them out of malice or ignorance. Not at all, and I am sure there are some amazing physicians out there who just aren't alarmist, and might not recommend action when a milestone has just been missed. PJ was hitting all of his milestones late- rolling, walking, teething- so when he still only had a few words at 15 months, we were concerned but not alarmed. It was pure instinct that led us to follow-up again when nothing had changed by 17 months, and I am very, very thankful that our physicians trusted that instinct and gave us the correct information, allowing us to follow through with our concerns. 

Autism is on the rise, and while it's certainly something to be concerned about, it shouldn't consume you. If someone was dumb enough to ask me for advice, I would say "Enjoy every minute with your baby. That baby is yours and wonderful and perfect. Don't obsess, but always trust your instincts, and try to work with people who will understand and respect those instincts, be that your spouse or pediatrician or pre-school teacher. You are, always, the people who knows your child best and the strongest and most qualified advocate for that child." 


We are thankful for every second of therapy PJ has had. Seeing PJ grow and learn and stretch and love has been all the reassure that we need. It is never too late to start therapy- not by a long shot. But it is never too early, either, and it's up to us as parents to decide which road to take.  

Every child develops at his or her own rate, and it is up to you to decide if that rate is the right one for your child. Watch carefully, listen to your heart, and in the meantime, love, love, love those babies. Emphasis on the latter. 



Through the door, what do I see? 
 Something is happening, is it for me? 
Is it for me? 
Toad The Wet Sprocket- Is It For Me

Friday, April 1, 2016

Autism Awareness Life

I was out for a walk with PJ last night, thinking about a million things while he rode on his scooter ahead of me. His blonde hair was sticking out of the top of his helmet as he scooted along. We are coming up into my favorite time of year, when there is enough light and warmth for a walk after dinner.



One thought was that is was March 31st, and that the next day would be the start of Autism Awareness Month. I watched PJ riding along and thought about how, at this time last year, he didn't have the motor skills to ride a scooter. Foot planted, using other leg to push, steering; it was all too hard for him to do. PJ's scooter skills still need some work, but he happily moved himself along as fast as his legs would go, straightening himself when he stumbled. Not only that, but this year, his new-found scooter skills were accompanied by his telling me "Mommy, I can ride my scooter! Mommy, I can DO it! I can do it by myself!"

That's new, too.

It's a little difficult to lend any attention to Autism Awareness Month because, of course, we are living Autism Awareness Life. The month simply gives a spotlight to voices who are making noise every day of the year. Parents who are advocating for their kids to be have the tools they need to learn, doctors telling scarred moms and dads that their child isn't simply "quirky" or "different" (something that is happening at an alarmingly increasing rate), and adults who have Autism wanting to make a living and live a life like their "typical" adult peers.

We walked and scooted through the neighborhood, PJ using his developing verbal skills to try and convince me we should go to the playground, and I basked in his voice. I don't always bask because OMG can you stop talking about the characters from Cars for a second? Just because the words have been hard fought doesn't mean that they aren't annoying sometimes! But with the air on our faces and the spring flowers blooming, I couldn't help but think of how much PJ had bloomed himself.

It's all hard work. I had to wait a long time to write PJ's first word ("Cake!" down in his baby work, and each word after that was a victory, earned by endless hours of Early Intervention, school, and other therapies. It was certainly time I would have spent simply playing with my child, but it pays off in dividends on an night in early spring, when he's motor skill-ing and talking and being his best self. The moments that are easy are so much sweeter, so much more valuable, so noticed and that is one thing I will be endlessly thankful for, the gifts of slowing down and taking things as they come. Would that mean as much if we were rushing through a typical life?

At any rate, we have this whole month to share and reflect and do what we can to tell our story, a story that we share with so many other families. And it's not just families directly affected by Autism who are walking this walk. Anyone can "Light It Up Blue," and make donations to amazing organizations like Autism NJ. You can also just ask me about PJ. You can learn a little bit about things like inclusion education and realize that it doesn't just apply to kids like PJ but is beneficial to all children. If PJ is losing his shit at the playground, don't look away. Awareness isn't as hard as it seems. It doesn't really need a spotlight. It just means you hold a little space in your heart for kiddos like PJ who need it.

"Shine a light, shine a light..."
    - Philadelphia Freedom, Elton John

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Me, Version 4.0

So, it's been a month.

I know, I know. Every time I have a lull from my blog, I think about how bad it is for my mental health. Writing has always been the thing that soothes my soul, and an absence from my favorite form of therapy just is not good for me.

It's been kind of a crazy month, full of distractions and changes for my little family and I. The biggest change is that I have gone back to work.

In my past life, I was a workaholic. I often worked 10-15 hour days, seven days a week. I would juggle two jobs with the rest of my life and I thrived on it. I liked being busy, I liked being productive, and I liked making my own money. It made me feel competent and womanly, somehow, to keep all of those balls in the air.

Ha, ha. I used "womanly" and "balls" in the same sentence. But I digress.

I was a workaholic (V. 1.0), then a wife (V. 2.0). Then I was a mama (V. 3.0), and the mamahood took over. It was not an easy decision for me to stay home with PJ, but it was the right one. We didn't have tons of bills, so going down to one working partner was okay. Pete was just embarking on his career as a nurse, but I was ready to slow it down for a bit and just mother. This was a luxury, for sure, and it's not the decision for everyone. But it worked for us.

Not long after PJ's first birthday, Pete and I started thinking about my going back to work. PJ was still nursing, but there was no reason to think that we couldn't make implement the plan of having two working adults in the house. But as we were starting to discuss it, we were also noticing that PJ wasn't meeting all of his developmental milestones. He wasn't talking much, if at all. He wasn't playing or socializing, either.

Of course, we all know what happened next. PJ was diagnosed with Autism shortly after he turned two. We had already put a number of therapies and treatments into play- the official need for all of that came later. But I was already in the trenches. PJ's therapies were five days a week. He had geneticist visits and developmental pediatrician checkups and auditory testing and on and on and on. Someone had to be home to facilitate all of that.

As time went on, not working was no longer a luxury. We really needed the extra income, but could not find a way to make my working fit in with our lives. But with PJ in school full time now, a door slid open a bit. An advocate who started out assigned to PJ through care that the state of NJ provides said to me one day "Hey. We need some people to do this job. Why not you?"

Well, why not me?

A frantic search for an interview outfit and one interview later, the job was mine. It's part-time, but my name will be on the paychecks. My desk is already set up and decorated and I have a small stack of files in my drawer, one for each of the families I will work with. My co-workers already know how weird I am. I am doing something productive and service-driven. It feels a tiny bit like my old self, peeking out from under the  pair of mom jeans and Uggs that had become my Standard Mom Uniform.

I won't lie. It's a little bit scary. And a little bit sad- PJ went on a play date today and I sat at my desk, looking at pictures Pete texted me of the kids hiding under the slides. The job won't interfere a ton, but there will be things I have to step back from, and after full-time mothering for over 6 years, it's a weird switch. But I am certainly not the first mother to go through his, and knowing that I have a whole battalion of sisters next to me who are walking this walk gives me a little extra jump.

So it's a new me this Spring, and I could not be more excited! Version 4.0, time to activate!

Watch me unfold...
    -Unfold, Marie Digby

Monday, February 29, 2016

Maybe I'm An A-Hole, But I'll Pass On The Pity Date

Do not hate me for this one, guys.

It would seem that "Prom-posals" are the new thing. It's when one teen asks another to prom, but makes it an event. Balloon bouquets, flash-mobs, celeb cameos, flower arrangements- some of these put my actual marriage proposal to shame, much less my awkward heywannagotoprom conversation I had with the guy I was dating my senior year.

It just occurred to me that I should dig up one of my prom pictures. {shudder}

Anyway, back to proms. These extravagant invites have become the stuff of YouTube videos everywhere and, even thought I think the way these have become over-the-top is kind of insane, I'm totally along for the ride. Roses in math class? A flock of minstrels from the glee club to serenade a prom hopeful? I will watch the shit out of that. I think the romanticism is sweet.

At some point, I start to think about PJ as a prom-goer. Right now, while he's in kindergarten, it's hard to know if that's in the cards for him. I have certainly pictured him a thousand times- he'll be taller than me and blonde, wearing a tux with a bow tie that matches his date's dress (do people still do that?). He'll offer her a corsage that he picked out and I'll take eleventy-billion pictures. For now, though, PJ is a six year old boy with Autism, and the prom seems farther away that just the ten more years he needs to age.

Lately, the prom-posal videos have expanded, and I see the headlines as they go viral: Track Standout Asks Special-Needs Boy To Prom; Teen Surprises Special-Needs Student With Promposal. They are as sweet as the others, with the asker going all out to make the moment one to remember. There are parts of this that I love. I love that these teens want to make sure that their special-needs classmates are included in this dressy right-of-passage, and I love that they go above and beyond to make sure that the asking is something they will never forget. There have been a few of these videos that have brought me to tears.

Still, as the mother of a child with special needs, I am not sure about how I feel about this. When I picture PJ going to the prom, in his tux and matching bow tie, I think about who his date will be. Maybe it will be a friend. Maybe it will be the girl (or boy, who knows!) with whom he's had his first kiss. Maybe he won't be interested in prom.

When and if he does go, and no matter what his "labels" are at the time, I want PJ to go to prom with someone who values him. I want his prom experience to be with someone who feels that he is worth their time as an equal. I don't know that I want someone to ask him just because nobody else will. I don't want PJ to be somebody's good deed. I don't want a future headline to say "Teen Standout Asks Special Needs Boy To Prom." PJ is already a standout.

I talked to my husband about this, and he thought I was being a bit unreasonable. He felt that I wasn't being fair to the teens doing the asking. I get what he was saying, and I don't think that these kids are being anything but selfless and generous. I love that they are making sure that the prom experience is one that is inclusive to all of their classmates. I love that they are reaching out to a student who may not have the change to be in the receiving end of a flashy prom-posal.

I just don't know that I want my son to be a pity date.

I know I sound like an asshole. And truthfully, I just want PJ to be happy. If the hot girl at school offering him a prom-posal makes him happy some day, than that's amazing. Perhaps PJ and this girl are truly friends, or are truly attracted to each other. And perhaps none of that will even matter to PJ. It's too far away to tell. But I read one of the many pieces about just such a scenario, a cute young cheerleader asking a boy with Autism to the prom. She talked about how she had already been to two proms, about how she wasn't just going to half-ass the experience for him, and how she was going to make him look good. I read that and it just didn't taste right.

Mind you, this is coming from someone who had zero fucks to give about prom when I was in high school. I went with a guy I was casually dating and my mother had to threaten me until I finally agreed to wear heels with my dress. If that type of attitude is hereditary, than this thinking may be for naught. But if it's not, if the prom means something to PJ someday, than I hope it means more to his date than pity.


Take me for what I am!

Who I was meant to be!

And if you give a damn,
Take me baby, Or leave me!
-Take Me Or Leave Me, Rent- Original Broadway Soundtrack

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Announcements! Announcements!

The past few weeks have been kind of complicated. It's been a busy time for my little family, and things have been emotional, exciting, busy and amazing. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but I am really, really happy to share some of the ups!

I am absolutely thrilled to share that I will be joining the North Jersey cast of the Listen To Your Mother Show. Listen To Your Mother is a live, spoken word show, showcasing readings of essays written about the amazing experience of motherhood from the perspective of parents, children, siblings and friends. This show has been a writing goal of mine for a while. The first year I heard about it, I chickened out of auditioning. The second, I didn't make the cast. So when I got a phone call from one of the directors, I was expecting another kind rejection. Instead, I found myself jumping up and down in my friend Amy's kitchen while I made squeeing noises! I could not feel more lucky, more blessed, or more in awe that I will get to share in this amazing experience. I have had so many past cast members tell me what a game changer this was and I can barely wait to begin! 

Listen To Your Mother will be live at the South Orange Performing Arts Center on Saturday, May 5th 2016. You can purchase tickets to the show from the SOPAC Box Office HERE

The second fun bit of news is that I will be joining the Shop Rite Pot Luck Blog as a regular contributor! I am a bit intimidated by this, being that I am not exactly a "foodie." Up until a few years ago, I was barely capable of cooking edible food. In fact, I am eating dry Life cereal from the box as I type this. But this project will allow me to spread my wings as a writer and as a cook, so I am very excited to get started! My first post should be available before the end of the month and I will share all of my Shop Rite adventures! In the meantime, I would encourage you to stop by and check out the Pot Luck Blog, which features tons of recipes and tips from a very talented pool of writers and foodies! 

I was lucky enough to be featured last week as one of the funniest parents of the week on Today Parent! I have been obsessed with the Today Show for my entire life and so this was, essentially, just like sitting between Hoda and Kathie Lee. Except not at all, but whatever! I was really excited to see my little post on their round up! There are some damn funny folks out there, and I love to read the roundup every Friday and laugh my head off! This comes in second only to the time my tweet was on Honey Boo-Boo because, obviously. 

And lastly, this will be the first year that I will declare my earnings from writing on our tax forms. It is for a laughably small amount, but it's enough that it's illegal not to declare it. This means that I can officially say "I am a writer and here is the teeny amount of money I made to prove it! Suck on that, Uncle Sam!" And then Uncle Sam will say "Whatever, bitch. Thanks for this pitiful contribution you made to the country." And I'll be all "BUT I'M A WRITER!"

Yup. That is pretty much how it would go. 

I'm sure I will want to write about some of the more difficult and/or maddening things that have been going on, but today it's all pure happy news and no matter what, it's the happy stuff that matters the most. It's okay to feel blessed, capable and happy every now and then, and I am just trying to drink it all in! 

"What's the buzz, tell me what's happening!"
     -Jesus Christ, Superstar- Original Broadway Soundtrack


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Hopeful Reincarnation

Please stop by Caitlyn Chrystler Dodge and check out my post on keeping your car kid-safe! Everything from car seat installation, proper seat belt use, and putting down your phone can make your vehicle as safe as possible for your little passengers! 
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{stream of consciousness}

It's Sunday. It's the official first day of a new week, although Monday is generally where the action is. Sunday feels like the day before you give birth; you nest and prepare and think about the future and rest. Monday? Well, that's the day you're shoved into the cold, bright world to sink or swim.

Monday has always been something of a day of hopeful reincarnation for me. It's the day I try to reinvent myself. I suppose I could start a new habit on a random Wednesday, but Monday seems so fresh and new start-y somehow. New parenting technique? We'll get started on Monday. Finally going to start meal planning? First dinner served on Monday. Going to start a healthy diet? Cookies on Saturday, lettuce commence on Monday.

Snort. "Lettuce" commence. See what I did there?

I have all of these grand plans for Mondays. Sometimes they stick but, most of the time, they fall flat on their face. Last Monday was supposed to be my return to sticking to Weight Watchers. Sunday night, I figured out what I should eat for breakfast and planned to go to yoga class. Monday morning, I got PJ off to school, did some writing, and headed off to get my Zen on at yoga. Yoga was difficult because I am a clod, but I made it through and headed home where I promptly ate ALL OF THE THING because I forgot to eat breakfast and was starving. It's one of my worst habits, but instead of just dusting off and trying again that very day, I didn't really think about it until Sunday night.

The past few weeks have been crazy and complicated, in both good ways and bad, and I find myself here, on this Sunday, ready for a rebirth. I'm emboldened by my coffee and sitting here writing about it and it seems like the perfect time to write a list and get this shit done. But how to I get this stuff to stick? Some of the planning is great! Write goals, keep track of things, and make sure that my plans are attainable. What am I doing wrong? Expecting things to change overnight, giving up when I slip up, and thinking that Mondays are the only days to start traveling a new path.

This has been a time of revolutions for me. It must be because I'm approaching 40, or because I have finally reached high enough levels of coffee in my system to get my brain working as optimally as possible. Who knows? But, this is something that needs fixing, and I actually think it has as much to do with my follow through as it does when I start. So, perhaps, I'll pick one thing to work on at a time instead of thinking I can be reborn when Monday rolls around. And I'll make my changes start happening the second I think of them instead of waiting until Monday. And if I fall down, I can start again the very next moment. I'll just remember that there is room for rebirth in every day.

Imagine your life,
 and all of the changes...
It's all happening! 
-It's All Happening, Bring It On Original Broadway Soundtrack

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Brief, Easy Moments

I'm guest posting at Reedman Toll Chevrolet this week! Check out the latest in my Road Tripping series and consider taking a drive to Shawnee Mountain in the Poconos!  
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Raising little people is hard.

Don't get me wrong, it is the best job I have ever had, but holy moly. It is hard. Making sure he eats and sleeps, the right things and enough. Keeping his body safe. Trying to help him grow into a kind person. Teaching him to tie his shoes and look both ways and keep his hands to himself and Jesus, dude! Please be gentle with the cat! Being the decision-maker is difficult enough when picking a book or a restaurant. When you are making decisions about another human, another human who is your flesh and your blood and your heart? Hooooo, boy.

Still, every now and then, the stars align and the decisions are easy. On a day that therapy was cancelled, we found ourselves out front. A moment on the swing, on a warm day, lead to a family walk around the neighborhood. A no-brainer- when the weather is still nice and the sun stays up a little later, saying yes to a walk is easy. We strolled around our neighborhood and walked along the busy avenue, making an impromptu pit stop at Wawa to get a coffee for me and a peanut-butter cup for PJ. He's a man of few words, on the whole, but it's something that PJ still talks about months later; the time we went for a walk to Wawa after we played on the swing.


There are a million lessons to take away from this. Take time to stop and smell the roses. Family time is the most important time. Everyone loves Wawa.

Seriously. For those of you who do not know from Wawa, my heart breaks for you.

The main point, I think, is this: So much of PJ's time is taken up with therapy, school, doctor/clinic visits, and structured activities. Autism makes them mandatory. They have to be done, and for the most part, he enjoys all of those things. We see a tremendous amount of growth as a result of all of the hard work he does. But, it's just that- hard work, and if I really reflect on the time we spend, there are not nearly enough impromptu walks to Wawa to create some kind of balance. The time scale is tipped solidly in favor of anything but non-scheduled time. When we get a magic moment that allows us to put the necessary aside, it's easy to suddenly jump up and head to the park or sit down at the table to color. But is there a way to purposefully make space for nothing when there is always something?

It's something that is worth trying to figure out. PJ is always at his best when he has room to just be. He's less likely to become overwhelmed trying to transition from one thing to another when there are fewer time constraints or pressures. As dumb as it sounds, it's time to plan for no plans.


Slow down, you move to fast.
You got to make the moment last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones
Looking for fun and feelin' groovy...
The 59th Street Bridge Song- Simon and Garfunkel


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

PJ's Belated Birthday Bash!

Because it makes total sense, we finally celebrated PJ's November birthday with a school-friend party on a chilly January morning.

Hooray for postponed parties! 
It actually does make sense. Late-November birthdays come at a chaotic time of year, particularly if you are a child with parents of mixed religion. PJ's birthday was actually on Thanksgiving this year, followed in rapid succession by (in chronological order) a week of half days at school, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Winter Break from school. It's a chaotic time and sometimes, it's a struggle for PJ to keep it together. So rather than try to squeeze a birthday party into all of that, we made the decision to postpone it until after the holidays. We figured the kids wouldn't care about timing so much as they would the chance to run around and eat pizza and cake. 

We were unhappy with PJ's trampoline party last year, so I poured over finding the perfect spot. We finally settled on a parkour party at The Movement Lab in Hainsport, NJ. I knew from watching American Ninja Warrior that the staff had experience with kids, particularly ones with special needs. And I figured that with PJ's penchant for jumping off of my couch, he was a perfect fit for parkour. So, we booked the party and kept our fingers crossed for stress-free fun. 

He looked like this the whole party, pretty much. 
The night before was all about cupcakes, goodie bags, and nervous energy. Throwing parties always turns me into a basket case, from the night before until about 20 minutes after the party starts. I had a full mental breakdown about an hour before my sisters bridal shower because OMGmynerves. We arrived to check in and, a few minutes later, children started to pour in. And I mean, pour in- between classmates and outside-of-school friends and a small contingent of cousins we had about 30 kiddos! Soon, the floor was full of activity with kids climbing, leaping, and flying through the air!

Okay- you will see this little pixie on TV someday! She is an amazing athlete!! 

I guess PJ was woozy from all of the estrogen, LOL! 

Thankfully, my worries that the party might be a flop were for nothing. The staff at The Movement Lab was phenomenal. The engaged the kids beautifully and carefully guided hem though all of the parkour obstacles. The kids smiles, laughed and screeched their way through balance beams, rope swings, foam pits and warped walls (by the way, PJ's approach to the Warped Wall is quite a bit similar to Fred Flintstone's approach to bowling). I didn't take a ton of pictures because I was too busy drinking it all in. 

Parkour Cuteness
I could have watched them forever,  but eventually, it was time for pizza and cake! A friend of PJ's is lucky enough to have a pizza shop in the family, and their food was the second good decision we made about PJ's party! It was delish, and the kids ate pizza and talked (very loudly) among themselves. I even stuffed a slice in my face, which is unusual since I'm usually too nervous to eat when I throw a party! Many, many voices were raised in singing happy birthday to PJ, who clapped in delight and than demanded that I take the candles off so he could eat his cupcake ("Move these please, Mommy!")!

Eventually, the goodie bags were handed out and the party was packed up. We headed home with a very tired birthday party boy, some leftover cupcakes, and an absolutely staggering stack of presents! PJ joyfully ripped into them when we got home, and each present was more sweet and generous than the next. But what really got my heart was the little stack of handmade birthday cards, all crayons and kindergarten handwriting, wishing my boy a happy birthday. I cried as I looked at how much work went into the cards and felt my heart break a bit as I realized how unlikely it is that these spectacular little people will be PJ's classmates next year.



Thankfully, the part where these children are no longer a part of PJ's every day is still a few months away. For this day, we celebrated my sweet guy, my precious son with his postponed party, and enjoyed every second of it!





"I just want you to see
What I’ve always believed
You are…
The miracle in me"
-Miracle- Shinedown

Sunday, January 10, 2016

L'Oreal was right! I am worth it...right?

Spreading my wings as a writer has been a labor of love. It's sometimes scary to face possible rejection (and I get plenty of it!) but the idea of sharing my words and art keeps me going. It's also safe- I am behind the paper and computer screen and even when everyone can see my insides, nobody can see my outsides. Except when the publications you write for ask for a head shot to use with your bio. That'll thwart your plans for sure.

I had been using a selfie I took in our bathroom. It was snapped after a night out with my friend Mary Beth and her husband. The humidity left my hair in curls and days at the pool with PJ left my skin tanned (I know, I know. The sun is bad, m'kay?). I saw adequate when I looked in the mirror, and knowing that I needed a "head shot" for a piece that had been accepted to an online magazine, I snapped the selfie. 

As writing opportunities have come my way, I have trotted out that selfie for any bios that I needed to turn in. I would often see lovely women, with more polished head shots, floating about my own picture on author bio pages. I would think fleetingly that I should have a better picture- I'll set up a shoot after I lose a few pounds. After I learn to use moisturizer and my skin looks better. When I find someone who is a Photoshop Genius with time to spare. Or, on second thought...the bathroom selfie is fine. 

But, I continued to write and slightly bigger opportunities continued to come and I realized that it was time for a professional picture. It didn't matter what I looked like. Fat body, dry skin be dammed, I needed whatever turd I thought I saw in the mirror polished. Even if the subject is weird looking, there are bathroom selfies and there are professional photographs. So, I enlisted the help of a photographer friend and showed up fifteen minutes late because make-up is confusing, okay? 

We walked around town, Tracey snapping away. The scene was lovely and the light was absolutely gorgeous, and all I could think about was whether or not I needed to position my head a certain way or if Tracey could Photoshop out my chins after. The last time I had professional pictures taken was on my wedding day, a day I was aglow in love and happiness and about thirty pounds lighter. On this day, I wasn't glowing. I enjoyed the company and I enjoyed the day and I enjoyed the sweet little spots in my town Tracey chose for the shoot. The light that morning was absolutely beautiful and I was drinking it in. I had a great time! But I dreaded the receipt of those pictures. I hoped that at least one would be salvageable.

My self-esteem and I have a funny relationship. Actually, it's not funny. It's kind of sad. I know the things I am good at. I am a good writer. I'm not a bad singer. I'm a pretty good mom. I am a better than average friend and I am a phenomenal jump roper. But always, always, the mirror has been my nemesis. It's not even due to an inordinate amount of bullying. Early on, I developed my own idea of beauty and just didn't see it in myself. I went for a long time thinking that it didn't have an effect on me but, like most life lessons I have mastered, it has taken me until nearly 40 to realize the damage I was doing to myself. I am a sloppy dresser. I don't take care of my body. And in the name of all things holy do NOT give me a compliment because I just can not handle it. I can say I don't "care" about clothes and can't "do" makeup and love cake and hate running. But if I want to be as honest as humanly possible, it's time to just say it:

I just don't give enough of a shit about myself.

This epiphany was spurned by two things. One was posing for these pictures, and the other was writing about how I need to depend on myself to find happiness. If I need to look to myself to find joy, than doesn't that mean that I need to think I'm worth joy in the first place? Okay. So I don't think I'm attractive. What if I treated myself as if I was? If I act like I have worth, maybe I'll actually believe it? I don't know. This is all very new and, I imagine, will be quite a process. But I didn't watch every episode of "What Not to Wear" and come away with nothing. There's something to this treating yourself like you are worth a shit stuff. Thus sayeth Stacey and Clinton, forever and ever, amen.

So, anyway. Back to the pictures. I got a message from Tracey that they were done and delivered to my inbox, where I let them sit for a few hours because, of course I did. But then I finally opened them up, and they were...not bad.



I tried to ignore the extra chin and eye bags and see how lovely the light was, how nice the color in my hair looks, and that I managed to look like I was having fun. My teeth are straight (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and I am smiling. I won't share the full body shots because Jesus, people, I'm not a miracle worker! The non-critical version of Rome wasn't built in a day. But I will keep building and be proud of the face I see on the bio pages when I am published.


"...and when you're beautiful it's a beautiful freakin' day!" 
-Heathers: Original Broadway Soundtrack

Monday, January 4, 2016

Mastering the Group Picture

Did you see my guest post for Reedman Toll Auto World? Even though the holidays are over, it is not too late to spoil your vehicle with some brand-new goodies! Click here to stop by and 
check out my list of the seven things your four-wheeled baby needs! 
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We are three days into the New Year, and I find myself still reflecting on the last one. 2015 was a full year for us- full of adventure and happiness, full of challenges and obstacles and, of course, with smidgens of the usual hardship and sadness that a year in any human life brings. We grew and stretched in all the ways we should.

For PJ, 2015 was  a complicated year. School, in particular, has been both his greatest achievement and most fervent nemesis. While his academic skills have increased in leaps and bounds, his behavior has remained a challenge. Some of it is the program, and some of it are the limited verbal, social and coping skills PJ himself brings to the table. He is a child that can read and spell well above his age level, is a math whiz, and can put together a 100 piece puzzle. He can't tell me about his day, voice his upset or frustration, or hold a conversation with a peer.

But, we're getting closer. In 2015 we finally got correct, productive therapy in place for PJ and it has made a huge difference. The biggest change is that PJ is starting to make connections with his peers. Although his speech issues are the biggest hurdle, his interest in others has expanded enough for him to know all of his peers names, understand their likes, and be able to participate in games and play.

It all started with after-school pick up. The special ed kids are not dismissed with their neuro-typical peers (don't even get me started on that bullshit). Instead, they are dismissed form the other side of the building, along with the pre-school class. This leaves a lot of empty space in PJ's chances to socialize with the kids in his kindergarten class. But, thanks to some late birthdays, PJ has a a few friends from his last year of pre-K still in the class. The lingering nice weather, perhaps, contributed to the start of a game of tag that would break out among the kids as the parents chatted. A lot of days, PJ and I have to hustle to therapy. But on one of the days that we had time to spare, one of the kids asked PJ to join them.

I was a little nervous. Nervous that PJ might get too rough, that he would not get the jist of tag, that he would bolt into the street. Tag, while not rocket science, is a social game. PJ is not a kid that always gets social things. But, under the guidance of his sweet school friends, he was off. He laughed as he swirled about the sidewalk, making eye contact with his friends to initiate a chase. It might look like a typical scene for more parents, but for me, it looked like a field of unicorns.

The rest of the students were dismissed from the other side of the building and trickled by as they walked home. A boy that I recognized from PJ's class stopped and cheerfully said, "Hi, PJ!"

PJ stopped running. "Hi, Sean!" he returned.

"Oh, my God, did you hear that?" I exclaimed to my friend. Nobody else had really noticed, but my heart was in my throat. An appropriate social interaction. It's like the Golden Chalice of Autism, and not a cup I thought I would get to sip from. But, it was happening.

One of the parents pulled out her phone and the kids gathered for a picture. PJ hadn't really mastered the art of Participant in a Group Photo yet, but the kids slung their arms around his neck anyway and they smiled their faces off.

That was the first day that I saw the culmination of something that had been a slow burn for PJ. There had been flashes since the summer- delightedly playing with his cousins, a mud puddle playdate with a school buddy, and the summer staple "Group Jump Into the Pool." These little moments drifted by and soon, it became a montage of what PJ's life could be like, after all. There will be friends. There will be love. And it may not look like what friends and love have looked like for me, but either way, he's smiling. He's happy.

Over the winter break, a few of PJ's friends got together at the local bounce place to have some fun and blow off some steam. The place was a zoo, with kids flying everywhere. The kids were a hot, sweaty mess when we all sat down to have some pizza. Of course, the phones came out and the group pictures were snapped. The kids obligingly scooched in together, ready with cheese faces and smiles. Without prompting, PJ hopped up and linked arms with his friend on the end, ready to be part of the group. This may look nothing like what friendships look like for a typically-developing kindergartner. For me, it was the world. It was a little awkward, but he got it. He has mastered Group Picture.


 "Making friends for the world to see
Let the people know you got what you need
With a friend at hand you will see the light
If your friends are there, then everything's all right."
-Elton John

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