Upon A Midnight Clear

524112_10151217056930963_642016827_nThis is my favorite night of the year. Everything is done. There is no more hustle and bustle or running around or tackling crowds… the kids are humming with excitement and their teeth are practically chattering with anticipation, and there is nothing now except putting on new jammies, reading the Christmas story, and tucking them into bed. They’ll squirm and flip and flop and sleep will elude them for a while, and I’ll collapse on the couch with only the lights of the tree glinting in the darkened living room. Once it’s quiet, like every other parent I know, I’ll tiptoe into hiding places and closets, and invite a little childhood magic into our lives.

I don’t know how much longer they’ll believe in fat magical elves, or in mama’s ability to makes things beautiful. I don’t know how much longer they will tumble down the stairs Christmas morning, a jumble of tangled hair, new jammies, and hearts racing with joy and excitement. But while I’ve still got it, I’m going to stop a moment, notice, and treasure it. Merry Christmas to you— wherever you may be, and whatever magic and love you can mine. Blessed be you and yours this holy night.

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Some Facts in the Storm: From the Mother of a Child with Autism

“I am a big believer in early intervention. I am also a believer in an integrated treatment approach to autism. People are always looking for the single magic bullet that will totally change everything. There is no single magic bullet.”

~Temple Grandin

Autism is a developmental disorder, and with current medical knowledge and the best resources we have, is viewed as a brain developing in an atypical manner, believed to be already present before birth. Alone, it is not considered a mental illness, just variation within the human species. It is specific, defined variation though, with clinical markers and actual physiological differences within the brain itself. That’s part of why it’s not considered a mental illness.

Frequently autism can be accompanied by problems that are labeled as mental illness, but they are not necessarily chronic and/or linked. Autistic people are more likely to suffer depression and other neuro-chemical imbalances. In children this is particularly difficult to diagnose and treat.

Autistic children on the less severe end of the spectrum must learn to function within their personal variation, and must learn to read social cues and to interact with other people. Diagnosed children are frequently in therapy as early as two years old.  Statistics show that the earlier intervention, occupational and physical therapy are started, where indicated, the better the long-term results. Autistic children are not categorically more prone to violence or harm, and depending on where they fall on the spectrum, frequently their difficulty communicating with typical children and adults is their largest barrier.

The most benign example of typical spectrum reactions and interaction in pop-culture is Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory. For a beautiful true-life example, I would suggest anyone interested in learning about children and adults with autism watch the HBO film “Temple Grandin“.  Grandin is a remarkable woman with autism who has reformed the animal industry in the United States and worldwide. If you prefer reading, I highly recommend John Elder Robison’s book “Look Me in the Eye“. Robison is another adult with autism who writes exquisitely about his own experience; he helped me understand my own son, and I hold him in high regard.

I am not a doctor. I am not a metal health professional. I am a mother with more than nine years now raising a child with autism. My opinion- while well considered and founded on research, reading, education and experience- is still only an opinion.

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”                                     ~Wm. Shakespeare

Only paltry, inadequate words. My children came home from school, and tears overflowed the corners of my eyes as I took each of their faces in my hands and kissed their warm, flushed cheeks, enfolding them in the embrace of a parent too aware of the fragility of life.

What to say? What wretchedly pitiful words can a mother give her children in the face of unspeakable wrong? The news will remain off, and I will carefully filter and protect them from what I can- illusory protection, moths-wing fragile.  As certain as those parents in Connecticut did with their children this morning. And I will avert my eyes and choke down the swollen mess of my heart, and hold them tighter.

“A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children, refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.”
-The Gospel of Matthew 2:18

Still Kickin’

481704_10151200553205963_964460328_nYeah yeah yeah, I know. It’s been insanely busy. I got a job. It’s not making baklava, as shown above— that was yesterday’s activity, between writing and knitting the last two socks of the holiday. I’ve been knitting. Did I tell you that? Anyway…It’s only very part time, but it’s the first regular income I’ve had since… well, before Jeffrey was born. Oh, I’ve had income- from books, patterns, freelance work, commissions, etc… but nothing on a monthly basis I could count on. It’s not many hours, but it’s work, and it’s writing, and it’s paid. So yay!

But what that also means is that I’m running around like a chicken with my head off, juggling waaaaay too many things for my taste. I know some folks like to be really busy— I’m not one of them. I value my down time, and I value having swaths of the clock where I can exhale and remember who I am. For me to feel sane, that’s vital. So while the job might be small, reorganizing my time along with all the holiday hustle and bustle is making me the tiniest bit crazy.

What are your best cookie recipes for Christmas? I have another slab of baklava to make, as this is all being mailed out, and ditto the fudge. I got a recipe for salted brown butter Nutella chocolate chip cookies. I wish I could taste them, but they LOOK divine. I’m thinking along with the above, I’m going to add Sugar Cookies (of course), Wedding Cakes, Toffee and Ginger Snaps. Oh, and Rosettes. Know what those are? My mom used to make them when I was a kid, and she sent me the iron set. They’re my favorite cookie ever, and I’ll find a way to make them gluten free, come hell or high water.

dec-605I’ll do a tutorial on them if you want- but you do have to have the irons- there IS no other way. Fried cookies…Yummmmmmmm…. How long will I have to stay on the eliptical to work those babies off? SO WORTH IT.

Particular Hipster Pedestrian and Being Absurd

3468346507_cdb7674905Driving in DC is a nightmare. There are too many people, too many cars, too many old narrow streets that meet at cattywhompus angles (L’Enfent, the French planner retained by none other than George Washington, designed the city with spokes radiating out from rectangles. All well and good until it’s 221 years later and city’s population doubles during the day, and you end up at an intersection of 12 of those different spokes meeting at angles that would make a pile of ‘Pickup Sticks’ proud.)

So anyway. I had to be in DC at Children’s National Hospital; my six-year old daughter was seeing a specialist. Our appointment was at 11:20, and while it takes me about half an hour to get across the Potomic, I knew traffic would be heavier earlier, and I also factored in that I was heading to a part of town unfamiliar. I left the house with my daughter 2 hours and 20 minutes before our appointment. Should be enough, right? I even imagined getting there early and having time to duck into a cafe and grab a cup of chocolate or something cozy and Hallmark-y with my kid, who doesn’t get a lot of one-on-one time with mom.

First, it was raining. That always caused people to forget how to drive, for some inexplicable reason, but I plugged the address into my trusty GPS with confidence, smugly noting the two-plus hours I had to make this happen. You know what’s going to happen, don’t you?

Abby and I pop on some Christmas carols and hit the freeway. 66 East is a nightmare during commute, but it’s usually late morning when I head in and it’s smooth and open. This time, so close to 9 am, I expect traffic, but there are two of us, and we should be fine. FYI, during commute hours, 66 inside the Beltway is entirely HOV. The WHOLE FREEWAY- not just a few lanes. So you best have a buddy with you or you are screwed.

The freeway wasn’t so bad- yeah, we hit brake-lights around the Beltway interchange, and it was slower, but it wasn’t bad. I was patting myself on the back. We crossed the Potomac and headed into the District with more than an hour to spare. My trusty GPS was telling me in her soothing British voice where to turn, as we curved north around the Kennedy Center, hopefully avoiding the congestion of the National Mall. The interchange at 66/50/Constitution and E Street looks like a pile of snakes from the air, and it’s as much fun on the ground. Despite the dulcet British voice, I missed my turn. Recalculating. Just go up to M Street and cut across Georgetown and George Washington. Still not panicking, I’m now several miles from where I want to be. Traffic is bad, the streets are wet but at least it has stopped raining.

Now I am in the University District, which are charming and full of delightful tiny little cafes and shops and interesting smart people- and hella crowded on tiny, delightful 200 year old cobblestone streets. The Hospital is on the other side of town, and there is NO simple way to get there. I tell the GPS to find me the quickest route, which would have been awesome, had those streets actually been not utterly torn up with construction. She sent me through Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, and up New Hampshire. It was a nightmare, but, two hours down (!), I still had about 20 minutes to get there, park, check in and get Abby upstairs to the appointment. Have I mentioned I hate being late?

Enter the Hipster. I am on a narrow street with orange construction barrels lining one side. It’s a spoke intersection, and there are several chanels of traffic moving through a very small space. It can be disorienting knowing when to go, and if you don’t know which spoke is your exit spoke, it’s sort of stressful. Add in the wet, the daughter singing Rudolph for the fifth time in the backseat, the impending lateness, the two hours of traffic, and you can feel your own stomach knotting up.

I made it through the spokes and immediately found myself at a four-way stop. The Hipster is a man with an orange and white umbrella standing at the corner across the intersection from me. I am at a full stop, and wave him with my hand to go ahead and cross. I find this quite magnanimous of me, considering my time and stress levels. He is about 3/4 of the way across the street when I start to inch into the intersection. The only other car is a blue Mercedes behind me. The Hipster sees me inching forward, and stops in the crosswalk. I frown and tap my brakes. The Mercedes starts to honk.

Here’s where it gets fun.

The Hipster is gesturing to me to get back on the other side of the crosswalk (the crosswalk on the other side of the street from him). I frown again, and looking at the clock and glancing at my daughter in my mirror, figure I don’t have time for this. I stay right where I am, waiting for him to finish crossing so I can keep going. That’s all I want. To just continue on my way. I am regretting waving him across.

He now stands himself right smack in the middle of the street, holding his orange umbrella aloft, and begins to scream profanity at me, questioning my intelligence and insulting my female parts. My daughter is listening. I’ve had enough. I very slowly start to drive around him. There is a good four feet between where he is planted and where my car is passing. The Mercedes is now honking more and has rolled down his window to yell back at the Hipster.

The Hipster ATTACKS my car with his umbrella, poking and smashing it into my hood as I creep by. I am not revving my engine, I am not close to him, ALL I WANT TO DO IS GET MY KID TO THE DOCTOR and this entitled a-hole decided this particular sidestreet crosswalk is his Appomattox where he’s gonna take his stand against all the lazy, consumptionist, breeders and SHOW THEM!

Whatever.

His mistake was not bashing my car with his umbrella and screaming words I wish my child had not heard- nope. His mistake was moving on to the Mercedes behind me when I passed, and bashing HIS car with his now-bent and mangled umbrella. The last thing I saw in my rearview mirror, the Mercedes pulled over, turned it’s flashers on, and a very large man in a nice suit got out and CHASED THE HIPSTER DOWN THE STREET.

Abby and I were ten minutes late.

Kids’ Book Review: iPlates, Volume I

We had the good fortune of receiving an advanced copy of the new graphic-novel “iPlates, Volume One”, by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood. Based on the Book of Mormon story about Zeniff, Abinadi, and the battles between the Nephites and Lamanites, it’s a comic-style adaptation that piqued my grumpy tween into devouring a scripture story and raving about it to his friends. No joke.

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Jeffrey’s own review:

This book was awesome. I even took it to school and showed it to some of my friends. I might even like reading scriptures if I could read them all this way. I can’t wait for the next one. (do we get the next one, mom??!)

~Jeffrey M, Age 11, Hater of scripture study.

You can check out the book on Amazon. Carter and Atwood are creative parents who have worked together on this enjoyable project, and are currently in production of Volume II, which my family is looking forward to reading. Rumor has it there is a volume in the works about Abish- we can’t wait.

iPlates, Volume I. Stephen Carter, Jett Atwood. $14.99
Create Space Independent Publishing, 2012 ISBN-10: 1478372028