Pajama Bottomed Out

Written by: Andrea Angileri

There was a scene from The Real Housewives of New Jersey that you probably missed. It was somewhere between the cat fights and the mending, it was the morning that Teresa Guidice drove her girls to school. Coffee mug in hand and make-up on and in her pajamas. These were mighty nice pajamas, but they were pajamas. I could somewhat hear moms across the land with their ‘You Go Girl!’s or their ‘OMG get dressed!’, because that’s how far apart our mommyworld goes. As I watched the scene I was able to reflect on the fact that with a looming trial and prison sentence, the last thing on Teresa’s mind would be what she would be wearing the school drop off, because her priorities had totally been shifted. Teresa would never have to get out of her SUV, but many moms do. Pajama bottom moms.
When I take my children to school I am not competing in any beauty pageants. I force myself out of the Christmas dog pajama bottoms, but am likely to wear something of its cousin called ‘sweats’. On work days I will have my trusty black slacks with sensible black shoes and a shirt that says ‘Fine, I’ll go to work’. My mommyhood shows in the slight static in my hair and the subtle bleach stains somewhere on my person. But today, ahh…today is Friday and not a work day. This morning I have on faded jeans with black leggings underneath which peek through the ‘not so fashionable’ hole blown out in the knees. My sweatshirt is over-sized because it is my husband’s and it is sports-related. It reminds me of sleep deprived days where I’d stumble into a Walmart and the person behind me would start talking about the sports team of the shirt I was wearing and I would have to smile and nod because I had no idea what happened in that game, this is just a post maternity shirt. My hair keeps my head warm, but is not all that superior to my bed headed preschoolers.
My morning moods range. I’m not always going out of my way to talk to anybody in this daily survival crusade a.k.a. ‘School drop off’, but there is something about Friday which adds some pep in my step. I start talking to preschool moms and just rest in the knowing that I’m so close to stepping out of this beautiful but strange period of time into the next beautiful but strange period of time, that I can just focus on all our similarities of being a mother to a preschooler and dismiss the differences.
Today I have to ask the teacher about a book accidentally brought back that belongs to our house. I have hundreds of ignored books, but there is something endearing about this book. I’ve had it forever and it reminds me of laughing with my oldest when he was so small and the other kids enjoy it as well.
“Oops, we accidentally gave it to a parent who claimed it,” says the teacher assistant.
I shake it off because it’s just a book, but as the assistant mentions it to the parent that it was returned to, I smile.
I smile because it is a mom that I have never had a conversation with, but for some odd reason God had put it in my heart to talk to her in the last couple weeks. I wasn’t really sure why. Preschool drop off for this particular school means standing in a congested hallway in the morning waiting for doors to open. There is no really good place to stand, but we just shift around. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t. We are parents and grandparents just sort of loped together for a common purpose.

“We have the same book at our house,” she laughs off.

I start a conversation with her and am surprised at the ease of our exchange. Was she related to so and so? She wasn’t sure because though she was born in the area, she spent many many years in a warmer climate. The cold weather is a big discomfort to her. I confess that it’s hard for me to take the dogs out when it’s cold and she says it’s almost impossible for her to play in the snow with her kids. As we walk to our cars I find out that she definitely has a handful more children than the one she drops off to preschool (as mentioned in conversation) and she tells me that she lost a baby to SIDS not too long ago.
It was then that I knew why God had wanted me to talk to her, to express some sort of compassion and gain some insight about things. At first glance you see a somber mother in pajama bottoms, whose hair is still wet from a last minute shower, but upon further exploration you see so much more. For this mother, mornings are tough. Tougher than mine. It’s not only about taking the kids to school, but about mourning the loss of her baby and still having energy left to respond to the needs of her other children. It’s about watching the season turn cold and longing to return to her warmer climate. I notice that today she is wearing jeans, which contrasts from her typical pajama bottoms. Maybe she has errands to run or maybe she just needed to do that for herself today.

Today I am reminded to be extra cautious about where my mind goes when we try to hierarchy people by their pant wear. That when we are tempted to judge a book by a cover our first glance hunches may be blasted away and we may become Pajama Bottomed Out.

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Lack Attack

Written by Andrea Angileri, Ed.S

It’s happened again. I have lost my wallet. I’ll take an estimated guess that I first gained and lost a wallet around the age of 12 or so, so that would make it 26 years of the same old same old. This time…it was a kid…I swear it was…I can smell it. I wish it was the wallet that smelled…because then I would find it a lot faster. No, I’m pretty sure it was a quarter hoarding kid that moved it, because the last time I saw my wallet it was opened on a short dresser. I remember closing it, quickly shunning a child, and then there’s just this big black hole.
After day in and day out of taking my wallet in and out of the car, my husband’s car, and various purses and work bags, it doesn’t surprise me. And obviously the fact that there is a brand spanking new driver’s license in it….well…I have lived with myself for 38 years…this is my life. So that’s why when I’m tempted to panic, get mad, and scream obscenities to the dust bunnies through the shadow of my cell phone light I will once again remind myself that this is just not that important in the whole grand scheme of my human experience. It is merely a temporary distraction and a reminder of what’s more important in life.
I will say a prayer to St. Anthony, and trust God because I know that when I need my wallet the most, it will resurface. I know (from experience) that replacing my driver’s license for $5 versus spending hours of precious time and energy worrying is a damn fine investment. I know that my insurance card will be renewed this month. I also realize that I really have no business at all using my debit card anyways, and all the other little cards are just for decoration any more. And then in true Witty Wed Motherhood form, I will turn this all into a spiritual metaphor.
There are times in our lives where we will experience lack. Whether it’s financial, emotional, spiritual, relational, mental, there will be some time somewhere in our lives where we WILL experience lack. It might show up as paying for gas in quarters, a void in our relationships, or just not finding what we want and need at the moment. It’s at these moments we will be tempted to experience a ‘lack attack’. A ‘lack attack’ is basically a melodramatic melt down that can occur as a quiet haunting whisper or manifest into a loud roar of a pity party. It takes a lot of discipline and practice to realize that even though we don’t FEEL something, it is still there and will resurface when we need it most. For example, I know my wallet is in the house…it is…I just can’t find it. In the meantime, what can I learn (besides about being more organized and responsible and shut up about all that blog audience I mean the nerve)?
Lack can be maddening, but to sit there and and let the ‘lack attack’ win is a waste of time. Yes, it’s a pisser, it’s getting in the way of things we want, need, and probably deserve, but I dare you to look beyond that. We can understand our part in why the lack is here, try to headlock the habits that caused it, and ultimately try to do better next time..or maybe the next time…or maybe the next time. The ‘wallet’ will resurface or it can be replaced, temporal materialistic things are just that way. While we look for the lost things in our lives, we will find other things.  From the literal missing sock to all the other real stuff that we are truly made of, but don’t make yourself dizzy looking for it.    Turn off your cell  phone light, get up off the floor, and refocus.  It’s time to bathe in your blessings, wash off the lack attack residue and be pruny with the knowledge that our blessings are too bulky to be stuffed into a missing pocketbook anyways.

Cause of Death: Picture Day

Written By: Andrea Angileri, Ed.S

The clothes are laid out….the back up plan set as well…the day has come.. ‘Picture Day’. Ah…Picture Day. For some it is a piece of cake, for others…well…not so much. Despite the 1,000s of Instagram and Facebook pictures floating around of my children, there seems to be something ‘high stakes’ about picture day. It is a $25-$50 investment that has some risk involved. Hair that wants to fly away…unnatural expressions…you can only hope that the 1/3 of the shirt that shows illustrates some parental attempt at ‘giving a shit’.

Today was a complete breeze for the 5th grader. I gave him 2 choices, he quickly made a choice, put the shirt on, reluctantly…but agreeably wore jeans…requested a belt…moved on. Hair is short, so no fuss no muss. But for the youngest…my daughter…why am I even surprised anymore.

Mistake #1: I actually picked out a shirt. A medieval looking, pretty, obviously uncomfortable shirt. Despite my ‘You’ll look like Elsa’ naïve approach. Doomed to be iced.

Mistake #2: Trying to act nonchalant. “Oh, I’ll just slip this on as her picture day shirt…no biggee”…like I haven’t spent the last 4 ½ years with my daughter.

Mistake #3: Caring. It’s the moment that you realize that you care…but too much…when you fall into the emotional trap of making it about YOU.

Mistake #4: Putting choices on the table…but they are not reflective of your child’s choices. When ‘medieval Elsa shirt that will never get worn ever never ever and should just be given away to another child’ was iced, I instructed my daughter to go upstairs to pick out a shirt. She comes down with a pick and black t-shirt with a bunny that said, “Let’s focus on me”….to—che..

So…I had a choice. I could just let her wear the “Let’s focus on me” t-shirt or get all Type A mommy and redirect her to a couple other long sleeved fall picture looking choices. The morning was young, and Dr. Shefali wasn’t in the room. After a climactic tense moment of me yelling at my daughter through a green and ivory paisley shirt in my daughter’s face, I realized the ridiculousness of the situation…and we would move on to much more important things…like hair.

I didn’t like my hair brushed as a child…and I try to remember this with my daughter….I REALLY…REALLY try. But I lose. I want her to just sit still and let me brush it. I can’t do anything fancy with girl’s hair…it’s just not me. It’s one of those things like housework and cooking that I would gladly pay someone else to do without letting it crumble my domestic OMGodess spirit. My daughter will sit beautifully for my mother-in-law (who is a hair dresser). She will sit through (and even request) to have her hair washed, conditioned, brushed. It just wasn’t in our morning plan to stop by and render that service.

Miraculously, we were all in the car on the way to school. We had all settled down. I would apologize to the boys for the drama and they would be divided. One son would feel bad that I yelled at his sister, the other would be glad I served some ‘justice’ and the other would be on some sort of fence. Watching somebody else’s power struggle is terrible and I would acknowledge that. In the end I would admit, “It doesn’t really matter…it’s just ‘Picture Day’.”

After dropping off the last boy, my daughter would insist that I put on her jacket at this very moment and I would calmly explain that ‘Mommy cannot put on your jacket because I am driving’. A few side streets later, I was able to pull over and invite her into my lap. There were some residual tears left in her eyes and I would help her dry those and restore whatever had broken in her that morning. We would pull up at her school with plenty of time to spare and I would have to tuck away the brush in my large sweatshirt pocket, zip up her jackets…realizing full well that she would probably shed all of the zippered things and end up taking the picture in her underlying pink t-shirt. I would walk her to the door with a couple lame attempts of hair brushing and I would realize (again) it doesn’t really matter in the whole scheme of things. It is her four year old preschool picture, something that just lays in a 8 x 10 frame that will just be covered up next year with her kindergarten picture…and so on and so forth.  And really, isn’t Picture Day somewhat about reminding up who that child really is at that moment in time?

On the drive home, I would recollect everything and anything and realize that ‘Yes…a cause of death is Picture Day…but it is a death to the ego’s self.  Once again, I will acknowledge that God gave me three boys to warm up and a daughter to complete my motherhood baking process. Each one of my children have taught and will continue to teach me numerous things about myself and others. I am learning much more by having a daughter (who at least up to preschool-age) demonstrates classic strong-willed behaviors, than one that is easygoing, because this is my own pre-destined individualized learning plan. But, with anything and everything….this too shall pass. I was reminded of this over the weekend when discussing potty training with a group of child care providers. When you are no longer in the throes of it, you can look back in hindsight and just laugh (mainly at yourself for taking it all so personally)…you will move on to other things and other places…and you might even wish it was all as easy as what 1/3 of a shirt, a few loose fly away hairs, and crooked smile develops on Picture Day.

SMILE! This is captured Witty Wed Motherhood moment!

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I Met Someone Today

I met someone today…it’s not what you think… I’m happily married. I met another mom. I’m at this somewhat ‘last call’ phase of parenting, where I have 3 children down and 1 to go for full-time schooling. In this last year it feels a little like a bucket list mission to use whatever time I’m not working during the day to satisfy that last stretch of “Mommy and Me” time….you know…when we’re not sitting on the couch with our iPads and iPhones.
A toddler comes over to greet my daughter and I at the Lego table in the children’s section of the library. Legos. Legos were never my thing, as can be told by the haphazard way I am constructing whatever it is I am constructing.
I smile at the toddler and as my mom approaches I make a light remark about me not being sure to give her any Legos lest she put one in her mouth. Mom says that luckily she doesn’t do much of that anymore, and I use this as a perfect segway into the story of my daughter swallowing a magnetic marble at my mom’s while I was at home unknowingly watching a neighborhood break in. Because this is what happens when I am forced to small talk to another mom.
Her other daughter is also 4 and begins playing with my 4yo daughter. Soon, I find myself absentmindedly building with Legos on the table and having an actual adult conversation. A nice girl…younger than me…looks like somebody I already know…moved here from out of state…husband’s a pastor. Not the type of friend you’d have a glass of wine with while dishing the last episode of ‘Orange is the New Black’…but a Christian woman who might be a breath of fresh air. I bring up my daughter finally putting earrings back in her ears after a 2 ½ year break…I pause wondering if this is against her religious beliefs..but press on because she seems cool anyways.
I remind myself of my appearance. Freshly showered, but very casual. My dance momesque t-shirt (bra status compromised) and shorts…no make-up…and ‘Let it Go’ Elsa hair offset by this pastor’s wife neatly pulled back hair and cute print dress with sweater. But still I felt an ease of talking that comes from a ‘I’ve been here and done this long enough that I know that your outwardly appearance is just not the end all’…the comfort in one’s own skin that comes from 38 years of ‘paying dues’.
I tell the mom about my family structure, 4 kids, 3 boys aged 13, 10, and 6 and my daughter who’s 4. Her daughter begins to ask her mother for a ‘baby brother’, which I laugh at as I then refer to my daughter as our ‘Grand Finale’ in a way that makes me reek of Cafeteria Catholic…but which is my own personal truth. In all reality sometimes I wish the topic wasn’t so taboo and moms would just wear t-shirts that say “I use birth control…but I don’t think my employer should pay for it” or “I only have one child because of infertility issues” or even “I’d have more kids, but I can hardly function with these two..have you met these two?!”.
We begin talking about her move here, the congregation her husband works for, and I ask questions and show actual interest. I Google the church, we exchange phone numbers, and I tell her that maybe I’ll stop into her church or look into a future Bible study. She mentions a bonfire this Friday, but I stall her with a ‘Whoa Nelly…we just met’ response which really just means that we’re just not at the social stage of our lives where we can bring all 6 family members out to a church bonfire with enough grace any Friday night soon.
After an abrupt separation (her kids down stairs to greener pasture…my kid to the craft table), I catch her on our way out and bid farewell in a ‘Nice to meet you, maybe we’ll see each other again, but no strings attached’ manner and congratulate myself on being more open to being’ in the moment’ a.k.a ‘not being absorbed in my iPhone’. It’s then that I realize that I’m at a good comfortable place in life. I’m slowly getting back to some resemblance to the person I was before I even had kids. I’m starting to read more, take moments to replenish myself, even considering reconnecting with old friends or asking God to bring new people into my life when he sees fit…for however fleeting it may be.

You Say Quinoa…They Say Marshmallow Sandwich

 

“Can you make me a marshmallow sandwich?”

This is what my four year old daughter asked me the other day. A nice white bread sandwich with marshmallows in the middle. A sugar on top of sugar, sandwiched with sugar sandwich. Sigh..I hate food sometimes.
I am a program advisor for a food program. We filter money from the state into daycare homes. Daycare providers receive reimbursements that (ideally) help them purchase the nutritional foods that they will need to provide for their daycare children.

“This recipe book has some great ideas about what to do with quinoa,” I told this to various daycare providers during our home trainings. It was after about the 50th home when the daycare provider turned to me and asked…

“You mean ‘keen-wah’?”

It was then that a little Sandra Dee in my head threw her red and white pom pons and exclaimed,

“YOU’RE A FAKE AND A PHONY AND I WISH I NEVER LAID EYES ON YOU!”

Because yes, I did mean ‘keen-wah’, it was just that I was pronouncing it as ‘Quin-oa’ the whole time…probably because I had never seen it before and it wouldn’t make my grocery list ‘cut’ anytime in the near future.

Being in this particular role has taught and convicted me in many ways. I am never in a place where there is not something to learn. Here are some things that I have learned on the job.

1. Your responsibility is to put the food on the plate, the child’s responsibility is what they will eat.

2. Meal patterns as followed:

Breakfast = grain, fruit/veggie, milk
Lunch= protein, grain, 2 fruit/veggies, milk
Snacks= 2 of any food group

3. Portion sizes. Lots of visuals for this, deck of cards, an egg, look it up. 1 TBSP per year of age up to 5 is easiest I’ve remembered. This is when I joke that I am 37 so 37 TBSPs works (bah dum dum).

4. It might take a long time for them to like a certain food. A lot of times, like 20 or something like that (please don’t make me research this). That means 20 times of putting peas on a plate to be completely ignored. Try one pea, lick a pea, those kind of things. Not pushing, just encouraging.

5. If you don’t want them to eat it. Don’t buy it. This is a home lesson in progress. We shake our fists at the popsicle binging and the red dye imbibing, but who brought it in?

6. Don’t fret about picky eaters. Kids are picky. There are homes I go into and I marvel in the one year old who is happily eating avocado. This caregiver enjoys food prep and may or may not have parents who support healthy eating at home. The caregiver has bought avocado and serves it. It doesn’t always work like this. Children have concentrated taste buds (more than adults) and may not like certain textures (sensory issues or not). Don’t make it a power struggle and remember this is developmentally typical in preschool children.

7. Avoid the power struggle. No need to elaborate. Don’t do it.

8. Model Healthy Habits. You can’t expect a child not to want the cookies that you dunk in your coffee. You opened a can of worms when you created the warm fuzzy happy meal feeling. Guilty as charged.

9. Start small. Look a lot of people are just naturally awesome at healthy eating and others who just aren’t. Start by making smoothies and introducing a darker shade to your bread, this isn’t a contest.

10. May the Forks Be With You. Good luck in your journey, don’t get discouraged.

Parenting without Judgment

 

“Get back in your f@#$ing carseat!”
This was the loud command I heard from the car in front of me….while sitting in the fast food drive thru. It was years ago, but I had my oldest son with me. He was old enough to have heard the word and understand how to use it in a sentence, but young enough that I felt some need to use this as a teachable moment. After a slight awkward pause I turned to him and said…

“Hmm…I’ve never heard of that name brand before…do they make cribs too?”

We laughed and then went home and shoved greasy fast food in our mouths (entertain judgment here).
Fast forward a bit. I am the mother of 4 now. My youngest is the only one that I have ever had to remind to stay in her car seat. When they are younger, you have straight-jacket like buckles…but the mother of a strong-willed child understand the Houdini-like routine. You look in your mirror and notice they have broke free. You pull over. You redo the seat. You drive. It’s this nauseating cycle.

“Just firmly tell them to stay in their carseats. Don’t drive until they do.”

I’m sure the mom who yelled, “Get back in your f@#$ing carseat” once heeded to those naïve words too.
I judged the mom back then. I understand her now. Though I’ve never told my daughter to get back into her F@#$ing carseat…I have thought it…oh boy have I thought it.

“I saw a mother walk into the gas station and use her Link to buy cigarettes for herself and then chips and pop for her kids. She told her kid, “I only have a dollar!”

Somebody recently told me this. Their tongue heavily laden in conservative goo.
I rebuked the judgment. Well…yes…this seems like really sh#tty parenting, but we are not on welfare…at the moment. I suppose if I was on welfare and I smoked and my children really wanted chips and pop and my mommy guilt trumped my nutritional value sensibility, I could end up being that mother. Short-term rewards without long-term concerns. Is it really that much worse than a middle class parent who loads up on chips and pop and cigarettes on a credit card she will later end up filing bankruptcy on? Hmm…

I’ve judged parents and they’ve judged me. I’ve heard daycare providers say things like this:

“ I don’t understand these parents. Dressed to their nines while there kids look like they just rolled out of bed”

I smile and nod. I know how it looks when I take my bedhead daughter out of the house. It looks like I don’t care. I am dressed to the nines because I have to go to work and do not throw a fit when I pull a brush through my hair…well…usually. I put on the outfit that I pick for myself and I know the importance of putting my shoes on the right feet because it’s more comfortable. I have parented long enough to understand that while it would be wonderful to not have power struggles and have control over everybody it’s not worth the stress. So…whatever…judge me. I have seen many bedhead kids grow up to be valedictorians of their middle school class and they eventually do care about their outer appearances.

“They don’t spend time with their children. They pick them up from daycare, put them in front of the T.V., give them dinner and a bath, and put them to bed.”

Another judgment. I’ve been both a stay at home parent and a working parent. I understand the importance of bonding with your child in infancy and early childhood. I know that some people are more equipped than others to spend the entire day with their children. Money aside….some people are just not naturally made of the stuff that it takes to be with young children 24/7. It doesn’t warrant a ‘Well then why did they even have them?’ comment.

I love raising kids, but there is definitely this sort of relief in reaching different parenting milestones. I see parents of newborns and I smile because in some sort of way I know I am a little jealous of their newness. They will wonder in their child and obsess about breast feeding, while I know that years and years later what does or does not come out of your boobs is the least of your worries…maybe…if things are still coming out of your boobs years later you might need to get that checked.

The funny thing about writing while parenting is that I invite a double whammy. Ooh…let’s judge the mommy who blogs about how she mommies and how she blogs. I’ve got your number…and I’m not adding to it. More understanding and less judgment. It’s a work in progress worth making.

5 Things Every Writer Should Know

So…you’ve decided to be a writer. Congratulations you poor pitiful soul. You have chosen to tap into your most inner world and expose yourself to all of humanity. Here are some things that every writer should know.

Not Everybody Agrees With You. If you are a people pleaser, you probably shouldn’t write. You will write things that you felt on one particular day and somebody will find the need to disagree with you and post that underneath your comments. This usually happens when I post on sponsored blogs. Congratulations! You have created a reaction! You might even have to explain how writing about a touchy subject can help somebody else. It might be good to have a dialogue with loved ones about what might be off limits to write about…maybe you’ll even listen.

Be Aware of Your Audience. Again, write for yourself, but if there is an audience you are writing for then adapt to that. I have contributed to sponsored blogs. This is just one example of how similar, but different an audience could be. When I contributed to ‘dad blogs’ I had to keep in mind that I was writing for a male audience (mostly), with the mommy blog I was writing to a vast mommy audience. There are some posts that did better than others, and when you are aware of your audience it gives you more insight on what works.

Know Your Intent. Blog posts can come across as lengthy rants, articles can be informative, humor can sneak in anywhere. I know that personally, I write to vent emotion, to inform, to entertain, to empathize…it can all be thrown into the same post sometimes. It is important that you, as the writer, know and understand your intention for writing a particular piece. Give it a purpose….then realize your intent. An audience member that takes your parody humorous post with a journal research article mind is just not your problem.

Be in the Moment. It is not important that you write things that you will agree with later on. I can go back to a certain blog post and realize that I don’t necessarily feel that way right now, and that is fine. It would be worthwhile if readers would remember this truth to. Just because I wrote a tongue in cheek comment about not being able to leave the house with my four kids on a cold winter day when my youngest was a toddler does not mean that I won’t take them all out to a festival on a sunny day by myself today. I still do not take them all to the grocery store without backup. This truth stands. Blog posts are basically journal entries shown to the public. While words do, in fact, have power, it is important to know that people evolve, people change…little kids grow up and so do their mommies.

Write for Yourself. Once I wrote a super long blog post and somebody advised me that I should shorten it for the sake of my audience. I then decided to give a Part 1 and then Part 2 to the next blog post…nobody cares. Realize that as a writer, you may or may not have an audience. Be true to that truth. Also, you might not make any money writing…at all.. Don’t take the expression “Penny for your thoughts?” too literally. Write because you enjoy it, but understand the true value of your words.

A Blog With a Dog: Getting Lucky

 

 

 

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This tweet was written like any other, heavily laden in sarcasm…meant to be witty. Little did I know that just 3 months later I would be sitting on my couch with three of my very own dogs. Dogs….sitting on me or near me, licking themselves obnoxiously, shedding hair like crazy…dogs. I suppose I should tie up my shoelaces because I’ll probably have to run the marathon or go Black Friday shopping this year. So how did I go from this tweet to 3 dogs? Let’s just start by talking about getting Lucky.

Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” would be a bit of a theme song for me early 2014. I’d be ‘up all night to get Lucky’…food…water….back into the house. Lucky…the Beagle. Shortly after Christmas, my husband and I sat on the couch and had this conversation.

“Maybe next year we’ll get a dog. Who knows…maybe for Joey’s 10th birthday.”

I can’t remember who said it…but we were in agreement about this. Little did I know that we would get a dog next year, and then adopt two more, taking them home on Joey’s 10th birthday.

I looked at the box of dog treats getting stale on my dresser. I bought those for my job. In my job, I travel to daycare homes to monitor their food program. Inevitably, I’ve found that almost every house would have 1-3 dogs, maybe a couple cats, and then…of course…kids. “These ladies are nuts!”, I’d think. Why would you want all this chaos? It’s not that I never had pets nor enjoyed them, but with my four kids the idea of caretaking for anything else, picking up poop, having a needy critter…I poo poo’ed it. These days I’ve had to find some sort of meditative mantra as I pick up the poop in my backyard.

So….anyways…once the idea was planted to get a dog (whether it was God or my barking deceased uncle’s idea)…it was a seed planted that had to grow. Daily, we’d look at the shelter’s webpages. I was looking for a Shih Tzu (like my mom’s)…or at least some sort of Poo Foo Shih Moodle type of dog. My husband kept noticing this dog.

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“Biscuit” just wasn’t rubbing off on me. He wasn’t a Poo Foo Shih Moodle…he was a Beagle. I didn’t know too much about Beagles, but then I gathered they like to run (away), dig, howl, hunt. Joe kept associating warm fuzzy feelings about Beagles from his sister’s old Beagle ‘Corky’ who passed on, but was a good dog.

The County had a Shih Tzu. My husband was home from work on lunch hour. He agreed to go look at the dog with me. Of course, the Shih Tzu was gone.

“Small dogs get picked up pretty quick,” said the Shelter staff member.

We decided to look anyways and there he was…’Biscuit’. ‘Biscuit’ looked nothing like the picture. He was serious. The thing that attracted me to him was that he wasn’t barking. I liked that. We had a meet and greet with him and he was very excited. He jumped on us and I remember him smelling Dorito dust on Tony. All but 1 out of 4 kids would meet ‘Biscuit’, and we soon decided we’d go for it. Since he was an older dog (their best guess was 5), we even got the ‘Golden Whiskers’ rate for him $55. We joke about our $55 dog, the best $55 we spent. ‘Biscuit’ would have to get neutered, so we would bring him home the following day.

When I walked into the Pet Smart, I felt like an expectant mother walking into ‘Babies R’ Us’. Everything felt so new and foreign. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Obviously, like a new mother I bought all the wrong things and forget a few necessities. It was like “Ooh…look at these newborn cowboy boots!” and then forgetting to buy onesies.

At Target I anxiously told the checkout lady, “We’re getting a family dog…we’ve never had one.”

Target lady, “I have 4 kids and am scared to get a dog…we’re too busy.”

“I know,” I said, “I felt that way for a very long time too”

After 14 years of marriage we adopted ‘Biscuit’ renamed ‘Lucky (Luciano)’ on 1/14/14. I noticed the number pattern and found a few insights on the internet…take it or leave it…but considering where I had come from it is meaningful to me.

050

051

When Joe brought Lucky home it was like a newborn coming home.

“Dad’s here!…with Lucky!”

Joe carried Lucky in, all doped up from his neuter procedure. We had his bed ready…his food/water bowls We walked him outside, where Lucky would quietly look around…at all the Polar Vortex winter wonderland…and back at us…he was home.

Assburgers with a Side of Sighs

Me: “You know you have A.D.H.D….but you also have some characteristics of Asperger’s”
10yo: “Assburgers?! (he laughs)”
Me: “I know…I thought the word sounded like that at first too (I acknowledge our similar sense of humor) ”
10yo: “…I’m not Autistic..”
Me: “There’s a huge range of Autism, like a spectrum…a rainbow…”(uses hands to show where Asperger’s might be)
Me: “You don’t have all the traits…I mean..you understand sarcasm and don’t take things literally…you can have good eye contact…but..you know how you are really interested in certain things…and you use big words when you speak?….those are a couple traits.”

It was the beginning of an ongoing dialogue that I would have with my son Joey that would also include sensory defensiveness awareness (he has never liked loud noises, is not an extremely affectionate kid, and likes his physical space) and a call to self-awareness. The fact that I even used the term ‘characteristics’ when talking to a 10 year old is just a hint of what I’m dealing with. I took an Asperger’s screening for him online in which the results showed ‘a moderate risk of probability for Asperger’s’. I know enough about Asperger’s to realize that children are not typically diagnosed until later in grade school…if at all. I know enough about Joey to realize that he may or may not even benefit from further investigation of this topic. Why? As of now, summer before fifth grade, he has been doing fairly well in school. We do give him a low dose medication to help him focus. Though he does still have some ‘2’s on his report card (1-4 scale) for listening and comprehension, at this point he does not have an IEP or 504 accommodations plan. This could change…time will tell.
Socially…he’s had his hiccups. I am grateful for my home daycare years, because Joey has made friends this way. He’s learned how to share his time, space, and materials in his own comfort zone. Perhaps the most aggravating thing to other peers is when Joey needs to disengage. He needs to be alone on the computer, might not want to play ‘hide and seek’ or go outdoors for very long. As he put it, “Do you know how much ENERGY it takes to entertain three people all day?” As a matter of fact…as a mother of four…who if not A.D.D at the least likes ample time to have quiet and reflective thought without interruption during the day…I think I just might understand his sentiment.
I’ve called him my ‘easy’ kid, because from birth…at home..he’s been easy. Joey was a smiley baby, who grew up to be a kid who always entertained himself through his hyperfocused sessions…be it setting up his Thomas the Tank Engine sets, sketching, video games. The not so easy part is when 5 out of 6 members of the family are on the couch or at the dining room table and we’d all ask, “Where’s Joey?” There was a rough patch, where realizing and embracing each other’s differences was really hard. An older brother criticizing the younger for his ‘quirks’. The younger brother moody and resentful of the loosened bond, of his older brother’s growing independence from the family…but that has been reconciled now. There’s always going to be sibling tiffs in my family, but more now with the 4 and 6yo who are like an old married couple at times.
Joey’s preschool teacher noted that there was probably something going on, but not quite sure where the finger should land. She shook her head at Autism, but the sensory issues and A.D.H.D was surfacing then…the trouble sitting still at circle time without touching his neighbor…those sort of things. I pushed down my inner Mama Bear when I noticed that there was a rectangular bright orange masking tape space for Joey at the carpet. The teacher had special education background, so I trusted her judgment…it was a strategy…she also suggested a playdate with another ‘quirky’ kid (my words not hers). I appreciated that the teacher was attuned to his needs. Kindergarten went by without a hitch, first grade led to A.D.H.D diagnosis. My educational background is basically all things early childhood, so even though I knew everything I needed to know and figured he had it..having to diagnose my child with A.D.H.D. was still an emotional experience. We didn’t medicate him right away, but after a little while it seemed like the right choice for us. We don’t medicate him on the weekends or during summer break, as Joey says, “I don’t need medication…it’s summer break…it’s time to let my imagination run wild”.
Medication is a touchy topic. Joey got a kick out of the pediatrician’s go ahead to ‘try drinking coffee’ (he didn’t like the taste that much). We went through a season of trying Melatonin. I talked to one mother who showed me her son’s progress report. The mother refuses to medicate her child. She feels that the pregnant teacher is just a little burned out and not effective in her behavior management. The progress report makes it blatant that the child’s behavior is completely distracting to his and other student’s learning. The mother complains that the teacher did not tell her earlier in the year about these problems, that the teacher thinks the child is acting up possibly more now because of a newly adopted child. And so it goes, the struggles of compromising between teacher, parent, and child. Sometimes this results in pulling the kid out, enrolling into a different school…a luxury that this financially compromised mother would have limited option. I recently talked to an expensive private school teacher who admitted, “We get the kids that don’t typical fit in to a ‘typical’ program”. I acknowledged the mother’s stance, gave her my own insight, and in the end, realized that I am only here..at her home.. to monitor her food program for her home daycare. Like we should do to other parents, but often don’t… I wished her the best on her own choices with no heavily laden judgment.
And in the end, it is about our own choices. I am greatly blessed with my four healthy children. Whatever trivial things I’ve endured is absolutely nothing compared to what some families will need to overcome. I understand the role of being your own child’s advocate. Each child has their own special need that the parent should be aware of. It can be difficult when family, friends, or professionals opinions clash with your own knowledge about your child. I’ll never forget the hurt in a mother’s eyes when she told me, “I don’t think the teacher even LIKES my child”. Admittedly at the time I thought, “Do you know the behavior your child is capable of?”…but years later…I get it. We want our kids to be appreciated and valued by others as much as we are supposed to do. I’ve questioned my subjectivity and in honor of other people’s opinions, I have entertained every possible imaginable fear and doubt in regards to my child.

“No, he does not need to be in a self-contained classroom.”

“No, medication has not turned him into a zombie.”

“No, he is not hypersexual. Yes, I understand some children with A.D.H.D are. Rather he does not particularly enjoy physical contact.”

“Yes, he does imitate things he hears on YouTube, though No…I doubt highly that he imitated that particular inappropriate action because he saw it on YouTube.”

“Yes, he does socially isolate himself, but he is capable of prosocial behaviors.”

“Yes, he did take a long time to learn to tie his shoes, but he is able to draw the most amazing sketches.”

“Yes, he is impulsive and might even describe himself as ‘short-tempered’ at times, no doubt like any other kid, he is capable of injuring yours.. I’m sorry he did that…but no, he is not an ongoing threat to your child or my children.”

“Yes, he is inattentive to that…it bores him.”

“Yes, he is engrossed in technology…he’s absorbing what interests him.”

“Yes, he appears to be socially awkward at times…but his deeper understanding of humanity amazes me.”

And so it goes. What I’m proud of is more than the fact that I understand my kid, but that Joey really does KNOW who he is. He doesn’t sweat the small stuff, except when he does. One of the hidden gems I did pull out of the handful of counseling sessions we had was that sometimes he might need to talk to somebody outside his family about his anxieties and other nuances that make up his life.

Let it be publicly known…I have no favorites in my house, my kids are no better or no worse than any other. They are my kids to raise and are each as much of my own spiritual teachers as I am theirs. Sometimes they are my unruly, hot mess spiritual teachers, each one in a moment’s notice can belly flop onto the couch with a loud announcement of ‘I’M BORED!’ and sometimes that’s just me. But together, we are learning and growing. There’s a point where you realize that your children are as much the world’s as they are yours. You can’t shelter them from criticism, opinions, and other realities…they are (probably) going to fly the coop. People will have their own ideas about them, and that is (I’m learning) completely out of my control. This kid might not even have a diagnosis of any kind, but as long as he understands how he best functions, learns, and is understood by the world, that is all that really matters.
Joey spent a long time with a cousin of mine in an engaging conversation.

Me: “You seem to like to talk to her”

Joey: “Yes, we have a lot in common….we have similar interests..”

I nod and smile, this cousin (now in her 20’s) was diagnosed as a child with PDD-NOS. She has attended college, has her group of friends, she’s doing just fine. I nod and smile as I know in my heart that he will find his kindred like-minded souls throughout life and (his words) “Maybe some day I can inspire people”. Too late bud…you’ve already done that for me.

10 Things Social Media Has Taught Me

1. People have Facebook themes. Go ahead, scroll through your timeline…you will start to see patterns. For example, mine will go something like cute kid pic, mommy rant dipped in humor, inspirational quote, Netflix, repeat. My husband will go from a picture of grilled meat, to a bottle of beer, to a well-filtered kid or dog pic, maybe a dig about our city, selfie. We become a bit predictable…it’s all good.

2. You Can Say/ Post/ Tweet Whatever You Want. Congratulations! You’ve found the Freedom to Speech impulse button, push it…push it real good. Hopefully you won’t lose your high paid job/friend/spouse/dignity.

3. You Will Get to Know People on a Deeper Level. People can poke fun at ‘Fakebook’ all they want, but when I went to my 20 Year Class Reunion and people told me that ‘they feel like they know me’ because of social media, I took that as a complement. I have enjoyed pictures of children I’ve never met, inspirational quotes, and the pieces of people’s lives that I have admired like sea shells along a beach, collecting a few in my long-term memory bucket.

4. People Love Their Nerium.

5. What You Say on Social Media Can Change Your Relationships. I have talked to many people who no longer associate with other people based on things they have said on social media. Whether it be someone’s view on politics, dramatic relationship posts, or heated inbox discussions, the written word taken out of context (without the 99% non-verbal cues that we need to process it) can mess things up. It goes back to #2 on our list…and literal #2 as a result.

6. You Can Make Strangers Mad. As if irritating people I know isn’t enough, blogging is a great way to make people you’ve never met very pissy and opinionated about that one blog post you wrote 2 years ago on a cold winter Mommy morning. It just makes me want to blog more really to piss off judgmental strangers…pro bono!

7. You Can Make Professional Connections on Social Media. For some this may mean marketing a product or sales, but I’ve also seen people get jobs through Facebook, and though we are not always very professional, I’ve met some fun bloggers through #…Twitter.

8. Learning About the World Around You. Sometimes I’d really not like to know that there is a vehicle fleeing to elude or an armed robbery down the street, but click a link and you can find out what’s going on with crime in the area, but more than that you can get fast information on the latest local, national, and world news. Even if it is heavily laden with subjectivity…it’s news.

9. Meeting Like-Minded People. For every star in the sky there is a star on Twitter, just a little wink saying, “I get you”. I can honestly say the same sentiment goes for my 10 year old, where else but on ‘YouTube’ will you find such a large pool of tech junkies talking about the latest Wii U game or Minecraft hack with such intense enthusiasm?

10. Social Media is a Double Edged Sword. There’s criticism that Facebook exaggerates the fun times and making life far more exciting than it is, Instagram filters out clutter, wrinkles, kids attitudes, and the last argument you had with your spouse, social media is said to be in danger of isolating us, leaving us with stiff necks, and aggravating A.D.D, ….but…on the other hand…social media DOES let us communicate to each other the highlights of our lives, it serves as an anecdotal record of sorts of all the non-sense that makes up a life. Many people recognize my kids and not in a ‘stranger danger’ way, but in a ‘OMG that Maria…or a “I totally relate, my son is just like that too!” way’ …which is cool. We couldn’t possibly spend quality personal time with all of our social media friends if we wanted to…and let’s get real, sometimes pushing a ‘like’, ‘share’, ‘favorite’, or ‘retweet’ button is about all the social interaction any of us can handle at day’