Friday Favorites 3/13


1. President Obama’s speech in Selma, marking the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

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2. Brene Brown’s Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto. We were given this at our foster parent training and I look at it every morning now: Above all else I want you to know that you are loved and lovable. You will learn this from my words and actions- the lessons on love are in how I treat you and how I treat myself. You can download it for free here.

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3. Hausfrau, by Jill Alexander Essbaum. I had the privilege of reading an early copy of this powerful, poetic portrait of a woman’s soul, in all its lightness and shadow. The first line is: Anna was a good wife, mostly. This book is going to be a sensation. You can and should pre-order. Or go out and buy it at your local indie bookstore on March 17.

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4. Nutella-Stuffed Brown Butter and Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies. From Monique at Ambitious Kitchen. You’re welcome.

5. Screw it, I’m in Austin and the weather is gorgeous. I’m outtahere! The first four are really good, though.

Tariku Turns Seven!

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My little man turned seven Friday. Add your own cliche about time here. It’ll be true. It’s all true. These milestones never fail to blow me away.

Here’s a belated birthday party picture dump, because I was (supposedly) observing the National Day of Unplugging while throwing a party for 80 people. Why so many? Because I’m a sucker, that’s why. And because I can’t stand any of the kids feeling not-invited and then I can’t stand for parents to have to find childcare for siblings and then I of course want all our besties there to dance with me and do the heavy gift-lifting. So we just invite em all, and wheeee!!! I have many commendable personality traits, but being sensible ain’t one of em.

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Did I manage to do it unplugged?

Well…

Sorta.

We had some people over Friday night for T’s actual birthday and we did turn off our phones. We talked and hung out by the fire pit, looking at the stars through T’s new telescope. The kids played music for hours. They weren’t exactly playing ukuleles and washboards or anything– they were totally plugged-in and jamming to Katy Perry’s “Firework” over and over. But the the jam was not Instagrammed.

On the morning of the party, I cheated. Scott didn’t unplug, so I pretty much just barked texts at him all morning:

Text the DJ and confirm!

Text Meredith and see if she wants to ride over together.

Text Jen and see if she’ll take pictures.

Scott said, “I don’t think the point of this is that you get a personal secretary and a personal photographer.”

True, true. But it was still an educational experience…I did learn that if the day ever comes that I get to have a personal secretary and a personal photographer, it will make me feel relaxed and awesome!

At the actual party, my phone did remain in my purse. I didn’t take pictures (photo credits are all Jen Rindler- thanks, Jen!), which is, like, a Herculean effort for me. The truth is that I had a great time without it.

What I liked most about my pseudo-unplugging, was that even in the ways that I failed, it made me more conscious. I did walk away from it feeling grateful for the ways technology enhances my life and aware of the ways that it’s probably extraneous.

Overall, the party was a smash. Tariku gets super, super super excited about his birthday. He’s already planning next year’s party. I’m not kidding. He’s also assigning birthdays to his stuffed animals, so that “they” can also have parties.

As you can imagine, that’s a whole lot of pressure and expectation for everyone. So it was a wonderful weekend, but also anxiety provoking for all of us. I’m glad we did it and I’m just as glad that it’s over and we’re getting back to our usual routine.

I can’t believe I just said that, but it’s true. Even though it was initially contrary to my free-spirited nature, the practice of establishing a routine for Tariku has been far and away the most effective thing for increasing his sense of security in the world. The more consistency we employ, the more regulated he is. I’ve come to crave the structure as much as he does. It makes all of our lives so much easier.

So now we are back to relative normal, and eagerly awaiting Tigey’s (T’s tiger/alter ego) bday. I’m a little bit worried about it, because frankly Tigey can be a real a-hole. He’s like T’s Jungian shadow. But we’ll be okay. We’ll make it through. And I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure I will opt to stay plugged and Instagram the heck out of it. Because you deserve to see a stuffed tiger in a party hat.

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Imperfectly Seeking Help

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I’m more likely these days to celebrate Tariku’s triumphs on this blog than I am to explore our day-to-day challenges. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe the successes are just clamoring louder to be written.

But I got an email the other day from a woman parenting a child who also has Sensory Processing Disorder and PTSD. She told me that she had combed this blog for more about our struggles and had only really found the “everything is so much better” stuff. Better than what? What was it like? Please tell me, she asked.

Things are remarkably different now than they were a few years ago; it’s true. But I don’t mean to misrepresent the situation. Here’s a little snapshot:

T rises from his pillow at 5:30 like a hummingbird who has just smoked methamphetamine. That’s how he rolls all day, until we strong-arm him into bed. He wakes up with approximately one-hundred-and-forty-three questions about cloud formations and tornadoes and Cuba and sharks and death and, and, and… He’s extremely bright and curious and hilarious, but will take almost no direction. Whether it’s baking a cake or doing math or playing a piano concerto, he knows how to do it. His favorite word is no, accompanied by an impressive eye-roll. When he gets over-stimulated, he has no sense of his body in space and very little impulse control. He literally climbs the walls. They have the scuff marks to prove it. He wants to be in control of absolutely everything, including the time and the weather. It’s sort of like living with a cross between Iggy Pop and Fidel Castro.

I love every crazy minute of my son; I truly do. Just the other night we were on the bed together and I was reading while he watched TV. He reached over and took my hand. We held hands like that, while doing our own thing, for the longest time. I swear it was one of the sweetest things that’s happened in my entire life. But I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that he suddenly turned into Shirley Temple overnight.

Much of our life is still spent negotiating therapies and school intervention. Most nights I still wake in a panic at 3am, worried for him.

In fact, this morning I was just on the phone with a new counselor, who offers some innovative therapies. I talked to her about T’s trajectory thus far.

“Did you ever try so-and-so pre-school?” she asked.

“No. We heard about it. We thought about it.”

“That’s too bad. It would have been a really good fit. Their forte is working with extremely bright children with social and emotional challenges. Maybe they could still help you with an after school group. I want you to call them.”

“I…I…I don’t remember why we didn’t. It was so confusing at the time,” is all I managed to stammer.

The rest of the conversation was encouraging. We set up an appointment for an intake. I chirped something about so excited to see what the future holds and then hung up.

I put the phone down and sat, staring at the website of the special needs pre-school he didn’t attend. We’re very happy with our school now, but it looked like it would have indeed been perfect a few years ago. And even though I had already loaded on my mascara for the day, I began to weep.

The essential thing I forgot to do. The thing thing that would have helped him. And I missed it. I failed my child.

Which sends me right down the spiral of… at what am I failing right now that I’ll have to answer for at a therapist’s office in three years?

Scott’s guru guitar teacher showed up at the house as I was in the midst of this. I answered the door and actually cried on his shoulder. I barely know the guy.

He asked me tell him what was going on. So I did.

Have I mentioned I barely know this guy?

I can’t imagine what Scott was thinking. It was truly bizarro of me. But sometimes you gotta just be where you are.

“I’m not doing enough,” I sobbed. “I’m doing the wrong things.”

“Are you willing to let that story go? “ he asked me. “Because that’s just a story you’re telling yourself.”

It’s a story I often tell myself. And it’s true I’m usually getting something wrong. It’s true there are plenty of great avenues of help that we’ll never find. But all three of us are seeking help with such hope and dedication. It’s not ever enough, but it’s our best effort. Just look at our little Iggy Pop. He’s learning. He’s making friends. He’s growing all the time. He’s a wild, white-hot ball of pure love. He’s perfect. And I will fail him many times before this gig is up. But that’s just one story. There’s another in which we’re all heroes.

I deeply relate to the desperation and confusion of the woman who wrote me the letter. This isn’t an answer at all. It’s just a story about my morning. But I hope it helps.

Guest Post at 28 Days of Play

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I have a guest post up today at the 28 Days of Play blog, over at Rachel Cedar’s You Plus 2 Parenting. It’s a cool series, in which writers and bloggers answer the question, “Do you play with your kids?”

Here’s a teaser:

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I spent my brief stint in college studying something called experimental theater. I loved theater class, but it did involve some pretty goofy activities. For instance, we spent hours rolling around on the floor, stretching and making weird kind of moaning/screeching/mooing noises in an attempt to find our “neutral voice.” Also, there was lots and lots of staring into people’s eyes and crying. And no class was complete if it didn’t end with a group massage.

After training like that, I figured I’d be the awesomest, most creative, least-inhibited mommy on the block. I mean, no one can bust out some improvised Shakespeare or sing the entire score of West Side Story quite like this mom.

As Peter Pan said, “Growing up is awful-er than all the awful things that ever were…”

I lived by that creed. I was convinced I’d never grow up. That I’d always hold sacred that spirit of playfulness I believe is essential to life as an artist. I vowed I’d never turn into my parents. See where this is going?…

Go HERE to read the rest!

Friday Faves (on Thursday) 2/5

I have a guest post up at 28 Days of Play tomorrow, so I thought I’d post my Friday faves today instead….

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1. Loving Day, by Mat Johnson. One of the cool things about being a writer is I get to read stuff that isn’t out yet. This book is remarkable. It’s funny and raw, somehow both real and surreal at the same time. It explores themes of race, family, belonging and real vs ideal worlds. Also, there are sexy ghosts! All the good stuff. It’s out in May, but you can and should pre-order now!

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2. On Being with Krista Tippett podcast. We who live in LA get lots and lots of good weather… that we mostly get to experience by gazing out at it from the window of a (slowly) moving vehicle. As a result, I consider myself rather a connoisseur of podcasts. Tippett converses with some of the great spiritual, scientific and humanitarian leaders of our time. She explores the Big Questions with humor and complexity. If you happen to like thinking and feeling, you you will love this podcast. Start with Father James Martin, Brenè Brown, Reza Aslan, or anyone really. They’re all great

the skimm

3. The Skimm is great for those of us who are a wee bit stressed and/or lazy and still want to keep abreast of what’s happening in our world. It’s a daily newsletter that offers a much more balanced, savvy, and intelligent perspective than a quick perusal of the Google news headlines. It’s my current obsession. Sign up! You’ll be smarter.

4. Ask An Autistic, with Amythest Schaber. A friend whose child also has Sensory Processing Disorder, like Tariku, turned me on to this video and I immediately fell in love with this neurowonderful (her awesome term) gal. This is the most clear and concise description of SPD I’ve ever seen, told from the inside. SPD is a complex thing to understand. It’s hard to wrap your head around. I need constant reminders that my son is processing sensory information in a different way than I am. The ways that this manifests in his behavior can be incredibly frustrating and I need all of the tools, understanding and empathy I can get. I think Amythest’s videos would be illuminating and inspiring for anyone, regardless of whether or not you’re parenting special needs. Her videos remind me that the ways we are “different” are so often the doorway to the ways we shine.

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5. Dinner: A Love Story, by Jenny Rosenstrach. Rosenstrach has documented every single thing she and her family have eaten for dinner since 1998. If you’re not a compulsive documenter like me, that might sound a little bit scary (personally, I just feel beaten at my own game by a noble foe). I can assure you the book is anything but scary. It’s all about encouraging and supporting the family table, but not in a “every night you don’t cook seasonal organic meals from scratch you’re kid is losing IQ points” kind of way. This book manages to have a foot in the worlds of both the aspirational and the attainable. It has become my go-to for family-friendly meals. My picky eater wolfs down her salmon. And it’s so funny and engaging you can read it like a novel.