Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Secret To Maintaining Harmony In A Family Of 11

So far, our blogs have been pretty tame. But obviously, living with so many people isn't always easy. And I hope that Keri will write someday about what it's like to live with someone else's autistic kid, or the frustration she and Matty must sometimes feel living in a house they have told me will never feel like theirs.

One thing that might surprise those who wonder about our arrangement is that there are virtually no fights (at least, not among the adults). And this is why: we've learned that keeping the peace requires letting a lot of things slide.

This flies squarely in the face of one of the big lessons I remember my mother teaching me when I was a kid: if someone does something that bothers you, tell her (or him) about it. The problem is, when so many people live together, there's always something bothering somebody. Andy, Keri, Matty and I have all been guilty (to varying degrees) of leaving messes, forgetting messages, and of STOPPING THE MICROWAVE BEFORE IT CYCLES DOWN TO 0:00 AND THUS LEAVING 17 USELESS SECONDS ON THE DISPLAY THAT MUST BE CLEARED BEFORE THE NEXT PERSON CAN USE IT, WHICH MAY SEEM LIKE A SMALL THING BUT KERI DOES IT ALL THE TIME EVEN THOUGH SHE KNOWS IT DRIVES ME CRAZY. Right. Now, what was I saying again?

But seriously, there have been a couple of times where I spoke out of annoyance and I always regretted it afterwards. Because the target of my sniping would inevitably get defensive and point out (not inaccurately) of previous transgressions on my part. And who am I, arguably the laziest person in the house, to get peeved at anyone else's lapses? So now I hold my tongue. And you know what? A couple of hours later, the tide of annoyance always recedes, and good feeling is restored without ever actually being disrupted. Although we've never discussed this directly, I suspect Keri and Matty have the same approach. I can tell sometimes that Keri is irritated about something, but if I don't ask, she doesn't tell, and it passes.

Of course, when it comes to the big things, it's a different story. Probably the most important thing about two sets of parents and two sets of children living together is that the same rules apply to all the kids. And it's an ongoing conversation. One of the few times Matty has snapped at me in the last year and a half was when he thought I took a toy away from Declan as a punishment for a squabble he was having with Hilary in the car on the way to the aquarium. I was only enforcing a rule I've had since Jonah threw one of his Sesame Street figures in the eagle exhibit at the zoo - no toys on outings. But it turns out Keri and Matty didn't have that rule. Now we've agreed to make the kids leave their toys in the car.

So I guess I would have three questions for anyone who was considering a similar arrangement (and as far as I can tell, that consists of exactly one person, a teacher from our district who was recently out several times to evaluate Jonah): first, does everyone really truly like each other, second, how laid back is everyone involved, and third, are any of the parties involved professional chefs? Actually, the more I think about it, the last two questions are really all that matters.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bad Kid

I love my kids. I really do. But lately Ronan has been such a complete pill. Remember this post? Well, you can forget about it. The award has been revoked.

There are many things I admire about Ronan. His red hair, his lean and muscular build, his strong will. Oh wait, did I just say I admire that? Never mind. I hate it.

Declan has always been very sweet and accommodating, so at first I was impressed by Ronan's strength and independence. I looked at his willfulness as a positive thing, something that would make him a stronger person. And perhaps one day it will. But right now it makes him just really, really hard to parent.

When Declan was Ronan's age, we started disciplining him for typical toddler infractions by putting him in time out for 2 minutes. After a few time outs for things like throwing cups at the table or biting, he seemed to get it and stopped doing it (for the most part--hey, he's not perfect). But Ronan just doesn't seem to get it.

Ronan likes to throw things at the table. Heavy things. Towards people's heads. He finds this hilarious. So hilarious, in fact, that he waits until you're watching him, then gives a sly smile and chucks whatever's handy--sippy cup, steak knife (oops), plate of pancakes, tissues (not quite so dangerous, but still annoying). When we reprimand him for it, he laughs. When I scold him and explain to him what he did wrong and why he's going to time out, he smiles. And when he comes out of time out, suitably upset and teary, he does it all over again.

I'm sure he'll outgrow it. I don't know too many adults who throw their drinks at the table. And I know Ronan's not a bad kid. I just wish he could be a little more good.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Another Successful Holiday Card

Holiday cards are symbolic for me in a way I know they aren't for most people. I love to get cards from my friends and family members with pictures of their adorable children doing things children do: playing in the snow, splashing in the pool, mugging for the camera. Those cards symbolize normalcy to me. Normal families have plenty of pictures of their normal children behaving normally. I always assumed they didn't have to make the decision about whether or not to send out a holiday card based on whether they had even one picture in which all their kids looked normal. That's my criteria. I need one group picture in which Jonah doesn't look autistic. It helps if the other kids look good too, but all I really care about is that Jonah isn't playing with his fingers, biting at the base of his thumb, or flapping his hands. That's the way you can always tell the autistic kid in the picture, by the way. Just look at the hands.

This year, I got a great picture. Well, technically I didn't get it, but a photographer was able to get a good picture of all the kids in which Jonah doesn't look autistic. It doesn't qualify as a great picture by my mother's standards, which require that all subjects be smiling and staring at the camera, but I think it's sweet. Jonah is looking down at Hilary, his favorite sister, who sports a rather serene smile. Erika is rocking back a bit, almost laughing at something. Gretchen is in profile. Only Aaron actually looks at the camera. So this year, I sent out a card, which is something I wasn't able to do last year.

What's ironic is that, in considering this year's crop of cards, so many of my friends have opted to use the wonders of digital photography to design cards with separate pictures of their kids, instead of one group shot - an option I had always rejected in my quest to do what I thought normal families did. I guess I'm not the only one who finds it difficult to get a good picture of all my kids together. Maybe it's not as much about normalcy as I thought. Maybe it's just about being realistic about the nature of children.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sick Kids

It's December in our household of 7 kids, which means three things: the kids are whining for more Hanukkah presents (because 8 each isn't enough); Andy's turning the heat down while the rest of us are surreptitiously sneaking it back up; and someone is sick.

Who? It doesn't matter. In this house, the illness creeps in sometime in late November and slowly makes its rounds of the kids repeatedly until late March. With 7 kids hanging around 7 different groups of other kids, there isn't a germ in the world that doesn't find its way into this house.

Today, it's Declan's turn. Hilary, as usual, started the fun last week with a fever/vomiting illness that lasted a few days. During this time period she watched TV for about 72 hours straight, leading the rest of the kids to think that being sick is just about the coolest thing ever. (Of course, when Hilary was sent home from school early this week and Amy informed her that there would be no TV, Hilary said, "I'm feeling better now.")

Declan, thankfully, has avoided the fever/vomiting illness but is stuck with a cold that is causing him to leak from almost every orifice (at least the ones on his head).

I'm always so conflicted when it comes to whether or not to keep the kids home from school. Our mom had a clever policy: good ol' Jewish guilt. "Only you know if you feel too sick to go to school," she would tell us, and leave us to anguish over the weight of lying to Mom versus the freedom to sit home and watch TV all day. But how do you instill Jewish guilt in a 3-year-old?

The truth is, the only reason not to keep a marginally sick kid at home is because, frankly, it will be a drag for me. I'm not proud of it, but the first thing I thought this morning when Declan said he was too sick to go to school was, "No way, buddy, I'm not missing spin class again." The fact is, there's nothing he'll miss in his pre-pre-K class today that can't be made up. And wouldn't the world be a better place if every mom kept her leaky kid home from school?

So, he's home, infecting, er, playing with Aaron and Gretchen. (Hey, it's only a matter of time, right?)

Stealing My Thunder

On the second night of Hannukkah, I gave Andy a present I knew he would absolutely love: a "Dick in the Box" t-shirt from the hilarious Saturday Night Live skit of the same name (check it out here at NBC if you haven't seen it). He was, in fact, thrilled with the gift, and was in the process of effusing over it when I heard from across the room, "Eh-hem."

Andy was so enraptured, he didn't notice. Then I heard it again, louder this time: "Eh-HEM." Everyone looked at Keri, who was sitting on the couch, waiting for me to acknowledge that the gift had been her idea.

And it had been her idea. She had almost bought it for Andy before going in with our mother on a different gift. I think she found it trolling on the internet for humorous t-shirts. (She also found one with a shofar on it that said, "BLOW ME," which I thought was perfect for Andy, since that's a favorite catchphrase of his, but we decided he could never wear it out of the house).

I've all for giving credit where credit is due. However, in this case I just wished Keri had kept quiet. As Andy's wife, I have so much more to gain from his happiness than she does. We've been married for ten years, and it's gotten harder and harder to think of great presents for every birthday, anniversary, Hannukkah. What do you give the guy who has no expensive hobbies or collections? (This year, Andy was so sick of me complaining about how difficult he is to shop for that he made a list of fifteen gift ideas for himself, which he showed me when Hannukkah was over. One of the items was running boards for his truck, a gift that would have required me first noticing the boards were showing some wear, then somehow sneaking the truck, which he drives to work every day, to the dealership. Who is he kidding?)

Giving the perfect gift is rejuvenating to a relationship. I really believe it creates a tangible increase in goodwill that can manifest itself in countless ways. Maybe Andy would have rubbed my back while we watched TV that night, or offered to run downstairs for the baby monitor we always forget to bring with us when we go upstairs for the night. Maybe a trace of satisfaction would have lingered all the way to my birthday in May, when it will be his turn to pick out a gift for me. Conceivably, Keri's short-sighted quest for gratitude and recognition might have cost me some serious bling.

And the fact is, I WOULD have thought of it myself, if I only knew such a t-shirt existed. I came up with the idea of a new gym bag on my own, and that was number two on Andy's list.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Ronan on Silver Strand, Sherkin Island, Ireland, August 2007