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Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Heat is On

I'm not blocked.  You should know that.  I'm not really writing anything, but I'm not blocked.  I COULD write loads of stuff, I just haven't really had the time or inclination.  Writing, or at least the need to write, sort of builds up in me sometimes, especially when I haven't done it for a while and then I feel like I need to write, and the process of putting it down on "paper" sort of empties it back out to some extent.  I just feel sort of "better". . . like I accomplished something, even when what I write down on "paper" is crap.


So lots going on. . . 


1.
There's a story burning in the background begging to be told, but I'm just not there yet.  That story is the answer to the question. . . "why do you keep saying lots going on?" and "how come you haven't been reading or commenting blogs as much?"  So there's that. . . sorry it's a bit cryptic, I'm just really sure how to approach that story.


2.
A side effect of the greater untold story is that a lesser untold story has been sitting in "draft" for the past two weeks, and every time I consider typing it all out and making it all "clever-seeming" or "writerly" or whatever, I get bored with the idea and put it off.  So. . . in a nutshell, it's like a yo mama joke.  Yo mama so busy. . . 


So lately we've been busy.  And we're a little scattered.  Little bits and pieces of our day, schedules and commitments fall through the cracks and are forgotten.  A couple weeks ago I was getting ready for work.  I told Leslie I was going upstairs to say good bye to Emma.  The ritual works like this:  On days when Emma doesn't have to get up early, I go upstairs to her room, kiss her on the forehead and say something to the effect of,  "Emma, don't wake up.  I'm going to work, but you can sleep in today, okay?"  I wait for a nod of understanding before continuing, "I love you, and I'll see you when I get home.  Give me a kiss."  And then she blindly arches her neck a bit and purses her lips and I give her a kiss and tell her sweet dreams and go back downstairs.  So that's what I did.


Once downstairs I loaded my car, laptop, coffee, lunch, and said goodbye to Leslie.  I gave her a kiss, told her I loved her, then drove to work.  About a half hour later I was sitting at my desk and logging into the network.


About fifteen minutes after THAT I got a call from Leslie, who was laughing.  "What's going on?" I asked.


"I've been waiting for you to come down from Emma's room this entire time."


"What?"


"I thought you were still upstairs saying goodbye to Emma."


This should tell you 1)  how memorable our morning kisses are and 2)  that we have a lot going on.


3.
The oven stopped working.  I made hash browns for Emma over the weekend.  I pulled them from the oven after about 20 minutes and let them cool.  Emma came downstairs and ate them.  I noticed I hadn't turned off the oven yet.  


The hashbrowns cook at about 450.  That's pretty hot all oven-wise.  It is not surprising that I'd failed to turn off the oven.  I OFTEN fail to turn off the oven.  Usually I'll be sitting at the table with the kids and I'll hear the click of the thermostat and realize the oven is still cycling on and off to maintain temperature and I'll be like, "SHIT!" and turn it off.

So. . . SHIT! I went over to turn off the oven. But it was already off. That was unclear. The dial was on "OFF" but the oven was still on. In fact, nothing I could do would turn it off, except to turn the broiler on, which turned the other burner off, but started the broiler. . . no help there.

I flipped the breaker. I turned dials. . . toggled switches. . . reset breakers. . . the oven still came on full blast.

There wasn't even the cycling click of the thermostat. . . just full on HOT.
After a lot of soul searching and trouble shooting we decided that our 20 year old oven was not worth the approximately $300 cost I estimated to repair it. But we needed an oven. So I headed out to buy one.

It was fancy. A gas stove top with convection gas oven. . . magnificent. Now, at last, I'll cook like Lily's idol, Bobby Flay. It was to deliver two days hence.

I came home and informed the family. There was much rejoicing. Oven or no oven, baby's gotta eat. We had thawed hamburgers and I started the grill warming. 15 minutes later I realized the grill was out of gas.

No grill, no oven. Best day ever.


I got the gas refilled, brought it home, threaded it on and cooked dinner. One problem solved, at least.

The next day my dad started running the gas line for the oven while I was at work. The new oven would replace an electric oven, so we didn't have a gas connection. Dad had done it on his own, so he bought the pipe and ran it complete with valves and safety checks.

That night Emma asked for popcorn. The stove top worked fine, so I figured I could just get everything ready, pop the popcorn, then go back to the basement and flip the breaker off when it was done, and it wasn't really any big deal.

I reset the breaker. The oven didn't turn on. Yeah. . . it was back to normal. I turned it on. I turned on the broiler. . . I turned on a temperature setting. . . check, check, check. . . all systems normal. WTF.

Ultimately, even though I couldn't get the thing to malfunction again, I didn't feel safe leaving the breaker on overnight, and that alone justified buying the new oven. . . but STILL. COME ON, universe.

Oh. . . and then the oven came. . . and had a dent in it.

Whatever. . . it's all settled. We made alfredo tonight. . . gas cooked alfredo sauce is SOOO much better than the electric cooked kind.

Anyway. . . I'm not blocked.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Brave

No, this isn't a review of the movie, although the movie ties into it. It's just good timing. Or bad timing. Hmmm.

I'm quick to describe all the ways I think I'm an awesome dad, so I suppose I should be just as quick to point out the ways in which I'm not. . . or the ways I need to work on. Fortunately for Lily the defects in me seem to manifest themselves as strengths in my wife.

Leslie is brave. And you people (most of you) don't even really know the half of it, but that's a story for another time. 

What I mean in the context of this post is just her willingness to leave her comfort zone and push the envelope with Lily. Where I'm content to just leave things alone, she challenges my understanding of what Lily is or is not capable of, and what she can or cannot handle comfortably. Back in January, it was Leslie who elected to take Lily (solo) to Jumpzone and THEN to her first movie in a theater, Chipwrecked. I wrote about it >>HERE<<. There were a lot of points that indicated both Chipwrecked and Jumpzone would be right in Lily's wheelhouse, but. . . there were a lot of points against them too. . . and regardless of hindsight, it wasn't ME pushing the envelope, it was Leslie.

When Father's Day rolled around this year I felt some pangs about our yearly tradition. Emma and I get tickets to Sandcastle (local waterpark) and spend a day together on the water slides and in the wave pool having fun. And I lamented the fact to Leslie that I felt really guilty about excluding Lily from my celebration of fatherhood. And although it's still not time to take Lily to Sandcastle with us (I don't think even Leslie would argue that point) I was hard pressed to figure out a solution, and so I allowed inertia to carry me into father's day without really having any plan to include both kids.

Emma gave me tickets to see Brave. We'd been seeing the trailer for months and it looked so awesome. We were both really excited to see it. My parents asked if they could take Emma to see it, and I explained that Emma and I would be going as part of my Father's Day present. They asked if they could come with us and I essentially said no (which I suppose is kind of a dick move) because I like being able to take just Emma and try to make it our special event. . . get some popcorn, sit in one of those photo booth thingies (we did that when we went to see Kung Fu Panda), just a fun daddy daughter day.

Here's where we get to the part where I'm a knob (moreso than usual). Leslie asked if I wanted to take Lily. She offered to drive separately in case Lily had problems, and take her home if it got stressful. There was my chance to include both kids, right? But Leslie offered the day OF the event, and I'm horrible at reacting to changes to my plans so I was all sullen and pissy about it, and felt cornered. How do you say, "No, I don't want to include both my daughters?" I had this vision in my head of how the theater event was supposed to go, and her new plan was mucking up my vision. And I knew the right answer, but I was still pissed. And I don't really honestly know about what. 


Maybe what irritated me most was my own failure to envision a plan that would allow Lily to participate in a celebration that she and her sister were really responsible for bringing about. I don't know. I do know that I felt ashamed of myself for feeling pissy about the whole thing. . . ashamed of myself for not jumping immediately at the offer and telling her what a great idea it was and thanking her for allowing Lily to participate. I know that's what I probably SHOULD have done.

So I found a theater that wasn't super far away (the big 3D theater that I wanted to go to had screwy times for Lily to participate in, and my folks had invited us for dinner after the movie, and going to see it, then driving back to my parents house was going to be a huge pain in the ass, so that made me pissy. And then it turned out my parents had already independently planned on seeing it at that very theater, and so essentially absolutely everything I had envisioned in my head was flipped upside down, which made me even more pissy.

"Happy" father's day indeed. I felt like such a jackass for being surly and petulant about the whole plan, but also found myself stubbornly unable to pull out of it.

It was never going to work anyway. . . at least the way I had it figured in my head. "Chipwrecked" worked because Lily loves the chipmunks. She has since the first movie. We have them both on DVD and she watches them incessantly. But Lily's likes and dislikes are almost impossible to gauge. What we THINK she'll like (oh, there's lots of music and dancing, she'll LOVE this) she hates and what we doubt she'll like (Up, for example) she enjoys. "Brave" was not a slam dunk.

But Leslie wanted to include Lily in my father's day celebration, and, as is SO OFTEN the case, she wouldn't allow my shitty attitude about the whole thing to stop her from A) Doing the right thing, or B) Pushing the envelope.

Who fought against kindergarten for Lily? Me. Who didn't think Lily was ready for a theater? Me. Who would have kept Lily home from Emma's softball games? Me. Who ignores me and does all that shit anyway? Leslie. And she's almost always right. Lily had a great kindergarten year, a great time at the theater, and actually enjoys going to Emma's games.

So we took Lily to "Brave" and I had both of my girls with me to celebrate Father's Day. And it was great. Lily was such a good girl. . . and it WOULD have been less stressful going to a movie that was a little less "new" and fresh (we went the first week it came out) but she was GREAT throughout. I was really happy both of my girls (and my parents (and my aunt, who came in from out of town. . . it was apparently, fuck-with-Jim's-perception-of-what-Daddy/Daughter-Day-means-Day (which is so awkward it will NEVER make your calendar))) could be with me. Some of the guilt melted away and I said I was sorry and gave Leslie a hug (wait. . . did I, Les?) and I said I was sorry to Lily and gave her a big hug (which she squirmed out of) and then we all went to my parent's house and ate dinner. It was a great night. And maybe I learned a lesson?

Because. . .

I took a page from Leslie's playbook. Probably she didn't even know. I just know it was cute watching her play the paranoid skeptic. The executive secretary at my company called me and said, "Jim, I just drew your name for four Pirate tickets for Thursday's game against the Astros. Do you want the tickets?"

The week was already pretty busy. Emma was just finishing one softball tournament and beginning practice for another. Leslie had appointments, I had appointments. . . "Let me call my wife and see."

The long and the short of it was that we could do it, and I wanted to take Lily to her first Pirate game. Emma had been to several. I thought, "If she can watch Emma play softball, she can go to PNC Park for her first game."

Leslie shoe-horned (in typical fashion) one additional agenda item that I was willing to completely blow off prior to the game, but the minute she got home we took off with a cooler of freezepops, bottled water and ice.

We parked after an initial stress frenzy realizing that I had no cash ended with a sympathetic parking attendant letting us in the parking garage and giving me directions to a cash machine next door. We walked to the park, had our bags searched, then took the escalator to the main level to find our seats. They were good seats, along the third base side, and we sat down, and were doing okay. . . at first. Lily didn't want to sit, but because the seats we were in were the company seats, they were right in the thick of things. Lots of people around, and Lily was having a tough time keeping her hands to herself. She was also standing. And even though she's just a little spud, it made me feel uncomfortable that we were blocking the view of the people behind us.




Our seats at the start of the game. . .

The man whose sweaty hairy back Lily would slap occasionally. 
Two innings into the game, Leslie pointed with a disgusted laugh at a giant section of completely empty seats further along the third base line, toward the outfield. Maybe she meant it all along, but I said, "You want to move there?" She said yes, and at the end of the inning we gathered our stuff and moved.






It was a completely deserted section, but a seat attendant approached us and asked if we had tickets. I started to explain the situation. . . "no, we actually have seats over there." and pointed to our seats, "but our little one here is having problems with the cro-" and he interrupted me with a smiling shake of his head and said, "It's okay. . . I have to ask. You sit here as long as you like as long as the seat holders don't show up to claim the seat." I was so grateful because Lily was already fine again. Leslie sat two or three seats away from me, and Lily just roamed back and forth between the two of us, looking up at the scoreboard and saying, "What his name?" whenever the next batter's image would display.

Sooo much happier with a little elbow room.

My girls. . . wait. . . where's Lily?
"That's Andrew McCutchen," I told her.

"Cutchen," she replied.

"Yeah!"

"What his name?" Sauerkraut Saul. . . A racing pierogie. 

It was a hot night, and the person who had the least fun was probably Emma. She was sort of stuck on the outside and didn't really get to sit next to anyone but Leslie, who IS TOTALLY FUN, DON'T GET ME WRONG! But she didn't get to sit by me or Lily, just by virtue of our makeshift play pen that ironically kept Lily from going stir crazy.
It almost looks like she's watching the game here. . . 

We made it to the seventh inning stretch, and probably could have made it longer, but it was already an hour and half past Lily's bed time, and we still had to walk to the car and drive back home. It was, however, an absolute success. Lily had fun. . . granted, it was the same sort of fun she might have had at home, but I felt really good about having not skipped over something fun just because we were 'afraid' that Lily couldn't handle it.

There were certainly things I learned from the visit, things like the things we learned from the movie visits. . . sit in the back, go to theaters that aren't crowded, have relatives sit in front of us so if Lily gets grabby, it's family she's grabbing. . . only for the ballpark. I learned that Lily is a little afraid of escalators, that she needs to sit in an area that isn't too crowded, and that we should always have lots of freeze pops.

Sometime around the end of the evening, Lily spotted the Pirate Parrot and she started ceaselessly requesting to "I want pet green!" That was more or less when we decided to leave and I said, "Let's go to the car and find green!" and she happily popped up and held hands up the steps and over the escalator.

Emma suffered some guilty pangs about this and said, "But isn't that lying? The parrot isn't at the car."

"We can look for it on the way. It's just not likely we'll find it."

She looked at me a little skeptically, but didn't object to this.

On the way out of the park, Lily was FREAKED OUT, by a giant statue of Willie Stargell. I had Emma go give it a hug to see if that would show Lily it was nothing to be afraid of, but she was very leery of the giant metal man.


It was a great night at the park together as a family. Nobody got left behind and everyone had fun. Mostly.


Monday, July 2, 2012

In Defense of Parents

Emma and I were watching "The Next Food Network Star".  Despite Emma's issues eating food, she actually enjoys watching shows where chefs are preparing it.  Food Network is a nice family compromise because most of the programming is pretty kid-friendly, and the contest/reality shows, Chopped, Iron Chef, Cupcake Wars, and The Next Food Network Star for example, are paced nicely and are interesting viewing even if you're not that into cooking. . . or eating.


From http://www.bigislandvideonews.com/
Last night the contestants were required to prepare a dish for Paula Dean and her brood, then make a kid's version of the same dish for a "beach party" themed challenge.  I'm getting to my point, I swear.  "Ippy", the 23 year old, broad faced, broad bellied, friendly Hawaiian, made a statement while he was prepping the meal, something to the effect of, - I think kids should eat what their parents eat.  I think if you raise your kids right, then everyone eats at the table together and you don't have picky eaters - .  


I said, sotto voce, "And that's because you've clearly never had any kids."


Emma overheard me, turned to look at me and said, "Why did you say that?"  


"Only someone who has never had kids could make such a positive statement about how best to raise them."


"What do you mean?"


"I mean, until you've had kids, you don't really understand what it's like trying to get them to eat.  You're sure that you know the best way, only because you've never experienced anything other than your own imagined success at it."


I was never a better parent than I was before I had kids.  I remember sitting with my girlfriend, Leslie (spoiler alert - we get married later in the film), at a Pirate game.  There was a mother sitting with her two kids.  We broke down all the failures in her parenting after the game.  She sat down in her seat, and the two kids sat to her left.  That, in my estimation was her first mistake (I'd have split them up, one on either side of me, or so I told my girlfriend).  She bargained, she threatened, she failed to follow through on threat after threat, she coaxed, and she cajoled.  We tsked to ourselves and thought about all the ways we'd never fail at parenting.  Until we became parents and failed at all of them many, many times.


And it's not just parenting.  It's everything.  I never knew more about politics than I did before I went out and got a job, got married, had kids and sent them to school.  I never knew more about other people's weight problems than I did when I was 6' tall and 150 pounds.  I never knew more about unemployment than I did before I left college to get a job.  I never knew more about disability than I did before I had a disabled child. 


Experience teaches so much, but overall I think the most important thing it teaches is how little we really know about anything, how important it is not to pass judgement on someone else's decisions or approach because unless you have experience with it. . . you don't KNOW anything.  It teaches empathy, or it should.  It teaches patience, or it should.  


I hope it's understood that the above implies I'm aware I still make the mistake of judging people without having experienced what they've experienced, but I do try.  I do continue to experience and learn and grow.  Sometimes it is important to remember that some of our harshest critics are just kids themselves, and as intelligent as they may be, if I may quote Inspector Douglas Todd from "Beverly Hills Cop", ". . . you got great potential, but you don't know every fucking thing."  There's some comfort in remembering that some of the most cutting rebukes we receive as a parents are coming from people who. . . for lack of a better phrase, just, "don't know every fucking thing."  Nobody does.


So we sat and watched Ippy pass his judgement on my past parenting blunders and I thought this:  
I thought I was a picky eater until I met my wife. I thought my wife was a picky eater until we had our first daughter, Emma. I thought Emma was a picky eater until we had our autistic daughter, Lily. I thought Lily was a picky eater until we applied for feeding therapy and learned that other children were being fed from tubes.

There's always something more. Someone always has it "worse" or "different". You don't KNOW what people are dealing with until you trouble yourself to learn or experience it first hand.

And that made me think about this post. . . the ironic idea that with every new truth revealed to us there is still so much about which we remain ignorant; our learning broadens our understanding of how little we know.


Apply this "lesson" however you wish, but if I'm to make this an Autism Community-Specific post, I'll say this.  It bothers me to see well-meaning parents harshly criticized by childless autistic adults.  I don't necessarily always disagree with their criticisms, but the repeated theme is that because they are autistic, they know better what to do and what not to do with your autistic children.  And that's just not a good argument. 


Emma said, "I know what kids would eat because *I'm* a kid."  


I looked at her and replied, "Yeah, but just being a kid doesn't mean you know how to RAISE kids."  


Being autistic doesn't mean you know how to raise autistic kids.  Some of the bluntest critiques leveled at parents of autistic kids are coming from newly minted autistic adults.  Razor sharp minds in that group, let me tell you.  I read their blogs. . . I often have to reread them because their brains are three steps ahead of mine.  But that doesn't mean they know every fucking thing.  


This post isn't about anything that's happened to me.  It's not prompted by any specific blogospheric occurrence, but it's something that I've thought a lot about in general during my brief stint here posting blogs, and reading others' blogs, observing the friction and factions and sort of just trying not to make waves.  And there have been a few posts I've read that got my blood boiling and made me want to engage. . . parents killing their autistic kids, parents seeking a 'cure', restraining/not restraining, etc.  Their are just some topics where, if I'd have read them in a vacuum I'd have thought, "wow, good point, I never thought about that, you're totally right," then reading the exact opposite view point (in the same vacuum) would have thought the exact same thing.  Reading the comments, the judgements, and the criticism by whichever side you wish is what makes my blood boil.  Too much judgement, not enough understanding.


We are all still learning.  The more we learn the more we find out we don't know.  Even our harshest critics may someday learn that the criticisms they leveled at us weren't justified once viewed through the lens of real experience.  So try to deflect a little of that criticism's cut with the understanding that the person expressing it may just not really get it, even if it does make your blood boil.  


Unless you're just a shitty parent.  Then I guess you got what you deserved.