Monday, July 18, 2016

My LTYM Experience or How I Accidentally Ended Up On A Stage

The final chapter of my participation in the Listen To Your Mother Show ended with our live performances. I turned 39 on May 3rd and on May 7th, I was on a stage at the beautiful South Orange Performing Arts Center with 12 other souls  (as well as our incredible producers, Sandy, Brooke and Deborah) that handily out-shined the beauty of the space. It all still feels as if it may have been a dream. A very gratifying, emotional dream.

It ended the same way it began, with my worrying about clothes. Before our first rehearsal, I was stressing out knowing that the next morning, I would be meeting a room full of strangers. Not only that, I would be taking a cast picture with these strangers and reading a story of the worst moments of my life. It seemed like too much to be vulnerable about my story and about my precarious self-esteem at the same time.

Despite all of that, I got into my car on a Saturday morning, armed with coffee and the soundtrack to "Hamilton." Clad in the pink and grey sweater I had chosen, I entered the loft space of the SOPAC to find a circle of chairs and the only faces I knew- those of our producers, who had sat before me as I auditioned in that very same space.

The rest of the faces trickled in, faces I knew vaguely from Facebook. I had no idea what stories I was about to hear, I just knew they would all be better than mine. I really had no idea what I was doing in this room. One of the women was even having a book published, for God's sake!

There were introductions and hugs and lots of "Hey, it's so nice to finally meet you!" We drifted to our chairs, and then it began. It sounds cliche and dumb, but these weren't just stories. There was so much truth and vulnerability and bravery, and it suddenly all made sense. I would have never made it to this room alone- none of us would have. We all needed each other. I could see the connections from one story to the next, like strands of sliver that tethered us all together. What an outstanding job the producers take on, to create this living being from nearly one hundred random tales.

We met again a month later. Instead of being impervious to the stories we'd heard, we were somehow even more open to absorbing them. We gathered after to eat lunch, giggling and exchanging pictures of our people and enjoying the indulgence of an afternoon cocktail. I realized that these were people I was going to know.

One more month and I found myself, again, stressing about clothes on a Friday night. But this time, it wasn't a pink and grey sweater at the ready, but a dress and heels, accessorized by jewelry chosen by a heavily pregnant sales girl at Nordstrom Rack. First thing that morning, I made one last drive to South Orange. I went in through the wrong door and, in a few steps, found myself onstage.

Many moons ago, in a life previously known as mine, I lived to be onstage. The itchy, awkward girl, plagued by acne and low self-esteem, would lose herself in Sandy or Mary or the screamy life of a Sweet Apple teen. Talent shows, Homecoming, every school choir concert, I would remember that there was something I was good at.

Fast forward about ten years (and at least forty fucking pounds) and there I was on stage again. This time, I wasn't playing anyone else. I was just myself. But despite the reservations I felt about being myself on stage, I found that the feeling of waiting in the wings to go on, the glow of the lights, and the sound of genuine, kind applause hadn't changed. It felt like a combination of a warm bath and an electric shock- two things that do not generally go together.

I sat on stage with my people and listened to their stories. Despite the fact that I was up there in front of hundreds, the stories felt as visceral and real as they always had. I had tears in my waterproof mascara-clad eyelashes when it was my turn. I walked up to the podium and totally blacked out. Seriously. I know I read my story, but it was like I was underwater. I forgot about the audience, didn't worry about looking fat. I could see the story I was telling as if it was happening right there.

My story was about the most terrifying moment of my life so far; I could not find PJ, and feared he had wandered from the house. As I read my piece, I was in my bubble until I got to the part where I found PJ, safe and okay, and the entire audience audibly groaned with relief.

That groan was the single most gratifying experience I have ever had as a writer. I suddenly remembered all of the people in the theater and realized that they were with me on this journey. It meant that I had told my story well enough for them to understand how terrified I was, and the crushing relief I felt when I found PJ safe. That was an amazing and unusual experience for a writer. I have no way of knowing if the things I create have any impact whatsoever because I am not there when people read it.

After the show, after all of the incredible stories had been told, I headed out to the lobby to find Pete before the second show began. We talked a bit and as we did, people came up to me with words of sweetness and encouragement and thanks. It meant that telling my story served the purpose I wanted it to- to let people know that sometimes, blame and finger-wagging and I would never let that happen's are just hot air on a fire.

We moved on to the second show, and I felt a new jolt of electricity go through me as I thought of my sister and my friends who had schlepped almost two hours to come see the performance. The second show had a different vibe, more intimate and serious. But it was a great show and before I knew it, we were backstage again, celebrating with champagne sipped from hijacked Dunkin Donuts cups. The performance space was transformed into a reception area, where I sipped a little more champagne and ate the most delicious meatball ever. I switched my very high heels out for a pair of socks that were more forgiving, if not fashion forward. We partied together until there were just a few stragglers left, and then we moved the party across the street to a great little bar.

In my grown-up life, there are not a lot of opportunities like this and that's okay. Seeing my son perform the first time, and to be witness to how much joy it brought him, eclipsed my biggest performance high times a million. I love my life, even when it's messy and dumb, but I also loved this glimpse back to who I was. Ironically, the bridge that took me there was who I am now. Either way, I could not be more thankful for this incredible opportunity.

I can not encourage you enough to visit the channel for our show and listen to all of my amazing, brave, talented, beautiful cast mates. Our stories, all together, made the show, not any one piece. To borrow a phrase, you will be changed for the better.

"My blurry lines, my messy life
Come into focus and in time, maybe...
I can heal and I can breathe
'Cause I can feel myself believe
That everything changes..."
-Everything Changes- Waitress Original Broadway Soundtrack

Thursday, July 14, 2016

White Girl Talking

The news lately has swirled with stories of division, hate, fear and exclusion. From the stories that made national news in my own little town, to the stories that made national news for their heartbreaking disregard for human life, it all certainly gives way to a lot of talking.

I had a conversation with someone today about a YouTube video he had seen. In the video, an African-America.n gentleman told his story of an encounter with police that remained un-contentious (is that even a word?) and peaceful. He conveyed that the reason for this was because he was respectful and cooperative. Which, of course, is more than likely true. His tale seemed to say "If it happened to me, it can happen to you. Just behave."

Of course, in 99% of the cases, this is true. I know that most people have positive interactions with law enforcement, no matter how they feel about getting a speeding ticket or being caught without car insurance. Things almost always go a little easier when every acts like human beings.

Almost always, except when they don't. I know I'm just a White Girl Talking, but it seems offensive at best to hold up the story of one person and say "See? The cops didn't beat this guy up! You just have to know how to behave." That logic is flawed. Would one woman ever say to another "Well, jeeze! I forget to make dinner all the time and my husband doesn't beat me. You just have to know how to behave!"

Sounds asinine, right? But that's exactly the attitude conveyed when we tell people of color "Well, if you didn't talk back/have a record/resist/etc..."  Any other time, when a section of human life is marginalized, we try to do better by them. Nobody would say to a group of women, marching to being awareness to domestic violence, that "Men's lives matter, too!" Nobody would say to a group marching to prevent child abuse that "Adult lives matter, too!" I have never seen anyone standing on the sidelines at a walk for Autism yelling "Cancer matters, too!"

Yes. All lives matter. That's without a doubt. Every life is important and meaningful and necessary, no matter how much to the contrary that may seem. All of the lives matter equally. That said, it is not for anyone to look at a group that has been marginalized, that feels as though they need to raise their voice to be heard, and patently set them aside by saying "All lives matter" when they mean "...but some more than others."

Last week, the world lost a powerful voice upon the death of writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Eli Wiesel. His memoir, "Night," changed my life, as a Jew, as a writer, and as a human being. The morning that the news of his death broke, I pulled it from my bookshelf and read it cover to cover, sobbing as I took in this story that I already knew. It's a slim novel, but so powerful in its telling of what can happen when hate spills over. The way that hatred can sweep out an entire people and how the hated can change, so quickly, into people who themselves hate as a means of survival.

It seems like every time I turn the news on, there's heartbreak. The stories get worse and the casualties pile up. And in all of that rubble there are beacons of hope but, on the whole, I don't know what the answer is, or how to even begin to go about finding it. All I can do is try to keep my eyes open and my heart open, and to make sure that my son is doing the same. I hope PJ will see color and difference and celebrate it, not separate.

Nothing's what it seems, I mean
It's not all dirty, but it's not all clean 
-"Stand," Jewel

Monday, July 11, 2016

Today, I am...

Today, I am...

...happy. We had a weekend full of friends and family and celebration and playground time and Mr. Softee truck treats. I tucked my son into bed tonight, worn-out and full of the stories of all he did this weekend (a weekend that was extended by a day off today!). Even better, he fell asleep the second his head hit the pillow. Winning. 

...weird. I have been away from writing for a while now as I learn to navigate going back to work. It's been about four months, and while I love my new job and am thankful for this new opportunity, I am still learning to juggle All Of The Things. God bless the mamas who go back to work full time and have more than one child. Or any woman who works full time and has a full life outside of her work as well, for that matter. I am pretty certain that level of life management is just not in my skill set. Still, I have missed writing, missed this outlet, missed being creative. I am rusty (hence this lame post), but hoping to become shiny again soon. 

...thankful for the amazing opportunity that was Listen To Your Mother. I still can't believe that they allowed me to share the stage with the incredible story-tellers that were my cast mates. It was a very profound, educational, life-changing experience- a change for the better. I'm wanting to share so much more, but this was something to mention tonight. 

...transitional. We have some big plans and dreams for this summer and Pete and I are just hoping that they come to fruition. I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate when plans are up in the air, but I am trying to remember that patience is a virtue, good things come to those who wait, and all of that other bullshit. And no, we are not pregnant. {shudder}

...bewildered because, seriously. What in the name of hell is this Pokemon crap? I saw grown men skulking around the playground yesterday, phones out and heads down, not to mention the handful of other adults that I have seen milling about. I suppose they could be child molesters, but it seems more likely that Pokemon is the culprit. WTF? 

...more excited than I should be that tomorrow is Prime Day! 

...tired. It's time for bed, and I'll sleep a littler better for having checked in here. 

Good night. 

And it's hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off...
-Shake It Off, Florence & The Machine 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The New Face of #Xfinity

{sponsored post}

So, real talk, peeps.

Comcast has not been known for spreading happiness. If I talked to my friends about Comcast, I often heard tales of poor customer service- the kind of poor service that has reached internet meme status.

Often it can seem like those kinds of complaints reach deaf ears. But, guess what? Comcast heard you, and Comcast has made changes that will blow your mind in the best possible way!

When I first got the call to join the #XfinityMoms for a presentation at the Comcast Xfinity Store in Willow Grove, PA...well, I almost RSVPed "no." My experience with Comcast stores was kind of bleak. Long lines, bullet-proof glass, and cranky staff. Thankfully, I was highly impressed with the first change I saw Comcast had made- I arrived at a sleek, gorgeous, welcoming store where a cute guy named Maurice held the door open to welcome me!

I glanced around the store and saw all of the amazing options #XfinityHome has to offer. It was, frankly, pretty cool! Video monitoring, thermostat controls, home security systems and ways to access all of that from your home or from the road! During our demo, our #Xfinity rep Ander used his own device to show us how he could turn the lights and televisions on and off in his home! It was, I have to say, pretty cool!

All of the cool bells and whistles that #Xfinity customers can provide to keep your home connected and safe are pretty amazing, but let's face it- I just want to talk about how I can enhance my tv watching experience! Does #Xfinity have a way to make vegging out on my couch, watching "A League of Their Own" for the millionth time, even better?

Oh, yes. Yes they do.

Let's just start with the fact that I don't even have to be on my couch! I can access my favorite shows and movies thought the Xfinity TV app! Just a free download to my phone means that I can watch a "Say Yes to the Dress" marathon  while standing outside watching an actual marathon (And while I'm mentioning apps, there are a suite of #Xfinity apps to help you access your e-mail, change the channel on the TV, locate an #Xfinity hot spot, and manage your home security systems!)!

But the crux of TV watching, being on your couch, has been brought to new heights with all of the things #Xfinity X1 has to offer. Let's start with that magic wand of TV watching, the remote. The new Xfinity Voice Remote gives you the power to search for TV shows, change the channel, set your DVR, and find out what's on Xfinity On Demand!

Have kiddos? You can use the Kid Zone to make sure that anything your child dials up to watch is safe and appropriate, yet still able to be independently accessed! So, yes, it means your kid might watch Caillou, but he won't accidentally stumble on the RHONY reunion show!

Are you home alone and jonesing for some Chaning Tatum? It's Chaning O'clock somewhere! A quick query of his name into the remote and BOOM. Instant hotness on your screen.

And my favorite feature of the the Xfinity remote? You can say a line from a movie and the remote will find the movie! What kind of sorcery is this (that quote would actually lead you to a few different movies)? That means that when my sister and I start speaking our love language of movie quotes to each other, we could watch the correlating movie together afterwards!

Mic. Drop. Except don't actually drop the remote because that thing is kind of magical.

I could go on and on about all of the cool things I learned about at the Xfinity Store, but to truly see what there is to offer, you need to mosey on down to your local Xfinity Store location, grab a seat on one of those cute benches, and just take in the show. I went in a skeptic, but I've changed my tune!

And to help you change that song you've been singing, Xfinity is offering you the change to win a NEST Learning Thermostat System! This thing is amazing, and you want one. Trust me.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

-This post was sponsored by #Xfinity. I was compensated for my time, but everything written here is my own, non-coerced opinion. I mean, could I make up that stuff about the movie quotes? No. I could not. All opinions and thoughts are my own. 

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! 

{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!  

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! 

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


Saturday, January 2, 2016

My Happiness Is My Responsibility

Happy New Year, everyone!

Today was a relaxing day. PJ and I stayed in our pajamas all day as we puttered around the house, playing with trains, watching tv, and breaking a New Year's Resolution (ahem...Diet Coke). I finally gave in and turned on the heat now that Mother Nature seems to promise a sustained dip into cold weather, and I'm trying to make peace with the fact that there are only two days of vacation left. I have loved these lazy mornings with my best Guy.

I was looking at Facebook this morning, scrolling through everyone's New Year's Eve pictures and good wishes, when I happened upon a video of Jada Pinkett Smith, her daughter, and her mother. I had skipped over the video a few times before; I once read a description of the Smith children (Jaden and Willow) that categorized them as "charmingly bizarre" so I disregarded the video as something that would not hold my interest. Today, I clicked on it:

At a celebration for moms at PJ's school. I let
him eat my plate of treats. 
I was surprised to feel such a powerful connection to what she was saying. Even before I became a parent- long before, in fact- taking care of myself is something that I have struggled with. I have always cared for others more than I cared for myself. I offer other people the gifts of my time, my thoughts, and my effort, gifts that I have never offered myself. I think it's why I was never into clothes, not much of a sleeper, and not a healthy eater (which was not a problem until I hit my late twenties). And I was okay with that. I liked feeling as if I had something to offer others and, even more that just that, it genuinely enhanced my life to do so. Some of the most amazing moments in my life, the times I have learned and grown the most, came from being able to offer parts of myself. It's where my happiness came from.

When PJ was born, I took all of that energy and focused it solely on him. I've talked about it before- the singular focus on my son, from birth to diagnosis to start of school, very nearly took down my marriage. I had no time for my friends or family. I gained a ton of weight. I was channeling all of my energy into PJ and in return, expected him to be the sole supplier of my happiness.

Some of that has improved. While being PJ's parent still takes an incredible amount of energy (both physical and emotional) I have managed to focus parts of my energy elsewhere. Pete and I have been working hard on making repairs to our marriage (a work-in-progress for sure, but we are trying) and I have been able to not only re-connect with the people who have always been in my life, but also make some new friends (a feat of super-strength considering my crippling social anxiety and general awkwardness). So I am making some strides but the question still remains; who am I? Who is responsible for my happiness.

Okay. This is happiness. No doubt. 
I am, of course. At the ripe of age of 26  38, I know that I can't place all of my happy eggs in other people's baskets, even the people I love the most in the world. Not only do I shortchange myself, but it's an incredible amount of pressure to put on someone else. I don't want PJ to grow up thinking that his success and happiness is the only thing that fuels mine.

When you fly, the spiel at the beginning tells you that, in case of a crash, to put on your own oxygen mask before you help anyone else. This is so you don't pass out trying to help someone that can't get the mask on at all. If you don't take the second to slip the mask on and breathe, you won't be any good to anyone. I have come to realize that I have gone a very long time without my oxygen mask on. Getting that on is part one. Eat better. Wash my face every night. Drink lots of water. Move my damn body. Keep the machine running at its optimal level.

The second part is finding my happiness, and I feel like this will be, by far, a more daunting task than finding the Kettle-Cooked Lays Chips. What makes me happy? Me. Not the things about other people but, rather, the things about myself. Pete is not the sole proprietor of my happiness. PJ isn't, either. This idea will take some work and will be a work in progress for a long time, but it's something I want to work on. In the end, I think it will make me a better person, a better wife, a better friend and a better mother. 

Do you feel like you are the owner of your happiness? How did you get to that place? Was it a journey or something you always knew? I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

"If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad"
-If It Makes You Happy, Sheryl Crow