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