Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Thing in My Basement

You may have noticed that the background and color scheme have changed a bit around here…this is short term, Halloween-related stuff.  We'll return you to happy pastel pinks and purples after the “holiday”.

Halloween is the perfect time to bring up the thing that lives in my basement and thirsts for my family’s blood.  The following is a true story:

When Emma was 5 or 6 years old she hated going downstairs alone into the basement.  I think pretty much all kids are afraid of going to the basement, but Emma was really afraid. I remember reading that one of the best things you can do for kids is to not discount their fears, but to be understanding of them, and explain why there’s nothing to fear, but to just allow them that.  So I would go with her into the basement. I told her I understood that she was afraid, and that I was afraid when I was her age too, and that it was no big deal if she wanted company and that made her feel less afraid.  And in fact, that’s all she wanted.

For perhaps a year or so I would always accompany her downstairs. No biggie.  But by the time she was 7 or so I began trying to wean her off that, standing at the top of the stairs and watching for her to come back and only making her do little quick chores where she’d only be out of sight for a few seconds.  I’d talk to her while she was down there so she always knew I was still watching.

And I think for the most part she was fine with that. . . but then after a few months she again told me she was afraid of the basement. And again I was understanding. . . but I asked her, "Why are you so afraid of going into the basement all alone?"

"Because I hear whispers when I'm down there alone."

 I kept my voice calm and sort of laughed. . . like no biggie. . . everyone hears whispers. . . houses creak, the wind blows. . . whatever. But it was a little freaky.  I don’t think I ever heard whispers as a kid.  Absolutely heard the house creak when I was alone.  Absolutely heard rustling or scratching at the window panes, that sort of thing, but not “whispers”. 
Hungry Ghost
Not really the same thing at all.

I said, "What do the whispers say?"

And she replied, and I'll never forget this because a chill literally went up my spine, "They just keep calling my name. . . "

And I'm really not a believer in that kind of shit, but I talked to people who were and they said. . . "If you have something in your house. . . you need to address it. You need to tell it that your family is off limits. That it needs to move on. That you won't accept it reaching for your children."

 And I said, "I don't believe in that shit."

 And they said, "Then you'll all die."

The End.

Okay, they didn't actually say we'd all die. 

But it got in my head a little bit, both the conversation with friends, but also the talk with Emma about whispers in the darkness.  Something in the basement wanted my daughter’s attention.

And it would get in further in my head when there’d be strange “dead smells” coming from the stairs.  And my wife would be like, “Can you find whatever it is that died down there and get rid of it?” My mind would return to the conversation with Emma about the thing in the basement that whispered her name.  And the thing that died in the basement would transform from a mouse or a snake into that thing, that hungry ghost.

The Ring
The Ring...
I would "challenge" myself by dismissing it all as ridiculousness and turning all the lights off, maneuvering myself disdainfully through the basement blackness to prove perhaps to myself that it really wasn't in my head, that I was no more afraid of this thing in my basement than I was of the dark.  But even as I would climb the darkened steps, the light behind the closed door above would frame it and I would remember the scene in "The Ring" where they locked the little girl in the well and boarded it up, leaving her only the ring of light at the edges of the cap to see as she died.  Or...mostly died.

Back then I was running at night on the basement treadmill.  Everyone in the house would be asleep.  Sometimes it would be 10:00 or even 10:30 p.m  before I’d even start my run.  It could be a bit spooky in the basement.  The light at the bottom of the stairs had a shitty fixture with a bad connection and one or two of the bulbs would occasionally flicker and go off or turn on.  I’d be running and all of a sudden, there’d be more light, and I’d glance up from the movie I was watching, or the treadmill’s control screen and wait for someone to come downstairs before realizing that it was just the stupid fixture flickering on or off.  Or maybe I’d even say, “Who’s there?” or “Les, is that you?”

spooky basement
Not my basement, but wouldn't be surprised
to learn SOMEONE had been murdered here.
It’s weird how ‘addressing an empty room’ can feed your fear and give it shape, how saying, “Who’s there?” out loud can create doubt or manufacture frightening possibilities in your mind where once there were none.  Once you were alone in the basement, now you are perhaps not alone. 

But, as the stair light flickered out, I was reminded of my ghost problem and I literally, on my treadmill, watching movies, paused the fucking movie at 10:30 or 11:00 at night and, feeling simultaneously ridiculous and also mildly freaked out, "addressed" the thing in my basement that was calling my daughter's name.

It was one of those stupid (or wise) Pascal’s Wager moments, where my love for my family outweighed the immense ridiculousness I felt at speaking out loud to phantoms that existed only in my daughter’s mind.  But the benefit outweighed the “risk”.

I was very respectful and told it that I loved my family and that I understood it was here with us in the house and sharing our space, but that it wasn’t allowed to contact us because it was scaring my little girl and because if it continued to talk to her I would find a way to expel it from the house. 

And by saying it out loud my mind opened to the possibility that such a thing could exist in my basement, and forced me to consider the possibility that I really had no “Plan B” except I suppose to summon a priest or something. 

In the winter I always ran with the window open so the cold air could filter into the room and the fan would cool me off while I ran.  I could see my breath puffing out slightly at the cold air coming in. 

And something detached itself from the wall near the fuse box by my TV, and I heard a soft hiss of breath and a gust of “smoke” and it advanced on me where I stood straddling the belt of the treadmill, backpedaling reflexively. 

Okay, that last paragraph didn't really happen.  There was no visible spirit, no cold gust, no angry hiss, no breathy sigh of hungers disappointed…just an empty room with a flickering light. 

And you know what?

It didn't do any good at all. Three years later she's still scared of the damn basement and the whispers.  And now I am too.

Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 26, 2012


Today I'm posting (note I did not say "guest" posting) a "Meet the Blogger:  Jim Walter" introductory post at Childswork/Childsplay.  I am finally legit, y'all!  I'm no longer the filthy little secret that Childswork is keeping from its wife.  They liked it.  And they put a ring on it.  Oh oh oh.

I'm seriously horrible with analogies.

I'm now an official employee of Childswork/Childsplay with a regular twice-monthly blog post on themed topics for their blog page along with a couple other bloggers:

Jessica Watson, whose personal blog is here:  Four Plus an Angel
Rob Gorski, who also blogs here:  Lost and Tired
Dr. Whitney Roban, founder of SLEEP-EEZ KIDZ

Now, don't ask me for their autographs, I don't know them all that well yet, but when I do, I promise headshots and "best wishes" for every collector.

What I really love about the assignment is that each blogger covers the same theme.  You get several unique perspectives on parenting/coping/accommodating/whatever from people who are living the dream right along with you!  Probably mine will go off on a tangent at some point, but that's what's great about me!  SQUIRREL!

It needed a picture.  (Lily reading "Jakes Learns the Tooth")

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Hate Speech is Alive and Well on Twitter

This blog is almost entirely written about my family and specifically focuses on Lily and special needs.  So today I'm directing you someplace less Jim's-family-centric and a little more. . . general.

Ann Coulter posted something last night on twitter that I found offensive, and I wanted to write about it, but I felt like I needed that general forum to attempt to get folks who are not so focused on special needs kids/families/politics, so I've posted on SprocketInk.com and would really appreciate you swinging by and giving it a look.

Here's the tweet:

Maybe you still think that 'retard' is okay.  Maybe you don't get "all the hubbub".  Maybe you don't understand how folks in the special needs community view that word.  I encourage you to visit the Sprocket site and see.

Here's the Sprocket Ink link:  Acceptable Speech?

Visit Jillsmo's blogpost if you would like to link up your own article/opinion regarding this here:  This is Who You Insult With Your Words

Thanks all,

Friday, October 19, 2012


This is not a cry for help, but a post about crying for help.

It's hard to ask for help.  I've mentioned before that opening up isn't really something I do a lot (in person) but I'm learning.  Asking for help is related to that.  Asking for help is like opening up about weakness.  Asking for help sometimes feels like a personal failure.  Asking for help implies not being able to handle something "on my own".  And although what it feels like and what it is are often two very different things. . . it's hard to overcome the idea that needing help isn't some kind of failure.

Leslie's the same way about asking for help.  She gets more practice though, because I think she recognizes how uncomfortable asking for help is for me, and so she takes it upon herself to ask instead.

  • Can you help with the kids?  
  • Can you pick Lily up from the bus?
  • Can you drop Emma off at dance while we take Lily to therapy?  
  • Can you babysit so we can go out to dinner with friends?  

Each new request seems like more of an imposition than the last, and all of those requests for help seemed to default to her until I started noticing how much they stressed her out and vowed (silently to myself. . . I like to surprise) that I would start asking people more often.  And I do ask more often, but not more often than Leslie does.

In the autism blogosphere we talk a lot about "literal thinking" because in a lot of cases it applies to the diagnosis.  Leslie and I find that, at least with regard to asking for help, or accepting help, we tend to be very literal.  We need a lot of help, so I sometimes think that when it's offered in the context of "do you need us to. . . ", we scrutinize the concept a little too literally trying to decide if by accepting help when we want it but don't need it. . . we're perhaps going to "run out" of help when we literally need it, like offers of help are a zero sum equation and we've reached our limit.

It's nothing our family or friends are projecting on us. . . it's completely just how we're wired.  When you need a lot of help, the more you ask the more you try super hard not to ask again unless it's REALLY important, and you try to "save up" for when you really need it.  Sometimes the whole thing is made better when you aren't given a choice of whether you want help. . . it's just forced on you.  It makes it feel less like you're being a burden.

My wife underwent her final radiation treatment for "the recurrence" last week, and she's suffering for the accumulation of treatment this week.  Think of a beach vacation, when you walk in the house after a long day in the sun you look in the mirror and say, "Uh oh, looks like I got a little red!" then walk by the mirror an hour later and say, "Holy shit, I'm fried!". . . and apply that concept to 28 days of concentrated radiation.  Or, think of the worst sunburn you've ever had, only instead of it just blistering and peeling the top layer of skin, it goes all the way through your chest and out your back, weakening and embrittling even your bones.  She's got blister cream and prescription soaks and god knows what else. . . pain medicine so she can sleep through the night. . . cortisone. . . and she has to deal with my shit.

And she's tired.  And sick.  And her job said (I wasn't there, so I'll paraphrase), "Leslie, go home and rest.  You're forbidden to come back until next week."  And it came without a choice or a consequence, and so it felt less like she was taking "one more day off" or "one more day working from home" and became more of "they said I have to do this. . . so I will."  Less guilt. . . easier to accept.

Leslie's mother called me at work yesterday and asked me if they could help last night.  I didn't honestly know how to answer her.  Leslie had told me she was feeling about the same as she had the previous day, but the previous day she'd worked.  I really wasn't sure she needed the help.  I told her I'd call Leslie and find out if she thought she needed it.

It was there that I sort of failed the whole process.  I had the help.  It was right there.  It was being offered, it's not like I had to go out and ask for it, but then I said to Leslie, "Leslie, your folks have offered to help this afternoon if you need it.  Do you need them to come over and help with Lily and Em til I get home?"

Did she need the help?  She said no.  Why?  Because she didn't.  Not really.  Need?  No. . . need's too strong a word.  Would help have been . . . helpful?  Would it have been awesome?  Would it have given her a chance to get some damn sleep?  Sure. . . but she didn't need it, and so she said no.  And suffered through it.  And I. . . I let her.

When I got home last night my wife talked to me when we had a free moment and told me tiredly what I (of all people) should have known. . . "Don't ask if I 'need' help anymore, okay?  Just tell me who's helping."  And I got it.  We talked about the whole idea of "needing" versus "really really wanting" and how sometimes when you balance how much help we seem to request "need" takes on an almost literal definition.  "Need" becomes "I'm physically unable to move and require assistance" instead of. . . "I'm really sapped of strength, and Lily keeps hitting me on the radiation burns and I can't fend her off and rest at the same time and, and, and. . . "

Thanks everyone for helping when we've asked, and for offering when we haven't.  I have a feeling we won't be turning it down too much over the next couple weeks. . . we need to get over ourselves in that respect; we need to stop defining need quite so literally, or recognize that there actually is a literal need right now.

Here's me in a magical unicorn mask (because it felt like this post needed it)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Big Timin' It VI - Childswork Guest Post

Today I'll be visiting Childswork-Childsplay.  It's a website devoted to "addressing the behavioral, social, and emotional needs of children."  They also have a section of their site for blogs.  That's where I'll be.  The topic is "Marriage with Special Needs Children."  I'll be replying to comments there, so please swing by, read it through, and give me a thumbs up...or down, or bless me with your marital/parenting insights!

Flush the sporns,