Friday, October 31, 2008

Politically Incorrect

We're all fairly political. Not that we all agree—Matty is just left of center, while Andy is just Libertarian—but we always have the news on in the kitchen, where we tend to hang out in the early evening as Matty or I prepare dinner. So it's not surprising that most of the kids in the house know that there is an election going on, and those above the age of 4 can even identify the candidates. (Declan, however, misidentified the gentlemen on a recent Newsweek cover as Barack Obama and John McCain (it was actually Joe Biden), but who can blame him? Old white-haired guys all look the same to a 4-year-old.)

Erika, recently asked Andy a question about Obama, and Andy replied, "Barack Obama wants to steal our money."

Matty was appalled. "Andy, you can't say that," he urged.

"Okay," Andy replied. "John McCain also wants to steal our money."

Needless to say, this did little to calm Matty, who, rather than say something he might regret, scooped up the boys and retreated to our bedroom. Where, I should point out, Declan asked plaintively, "Why does Barack Obama want to steal our money?" I lied, "Uncle Andy was just joking."

Matty wasn't mad about the affront on Obama, but rather the overly simplistic and completely inaccurate characterization of both candidates. Kids are literal. They know what stealing is. People who steal go to jail. Collecting taxes isn't stealing.

Later, I heard him telling Erika that Obama and McCain were two different candidates with different positions on many issues and that some people liked Obama and some people liked McCain, just like some people like McDonald's and some people like Burger King.

Clearly, we want our kids to share our values and beliefs. And I sympathize with Andy, the lone Republican-leaning Libertarian in our liberal-leaning household. But painting our politicians as criminals is not the way to do it. Painting them as fast food franchises is a much better option.

I'm not being glib; a 7-year-old child has no concept of real politics. But she does know that Chicken McNuggets are better than Chicken Tenders, but that Wendy's burgers are far superior to McDonald's. In other words, she knows that there are some great things about each fast food outlet, but none of them is perfect.

As parents, all we can do is present our kids with the facts as they can understand them, and know that as they get older, they will make their own decisions and form their own opinions. Maybe they'll agree with us. Maybe they won't.

A few days later, Erika told me at breakfast that she didn't support Obama because he wanted to take her money. I started to correct her but she interrupted me, "I know what it is, it's called taxes." But what does a 7-year-old know of taxes? All she knows is that if she can't keep her money, that's one less Webkinz she can have.

Amy thought we should keep the TV news off in the kitchen when the kids were around, at least until the election is over, but I think that misses the point. Now is the perfect time to start exposing our kids to politics, in any way they can understand. And if that means a few more visits to Wendy's, that's fine with me. (It's much better than McDonald's, anyway.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Ghosts of Halloweens Past

Sid and Nancy, 2005

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bee-ing There

I like to think that I would do anything to protect my children, that I would sacrifice myself and my well-being to prevent any harm from befalling Declan, Ronan, and now Molly. I like to think that.

But I'm wrong.

Since Declan was born, there have been two instances where I feel that I have completely and utterly failed him as a parent. The first was more than three years ago, in Ireland. I was carrying him down some stone steps, lost my footing, and fell the last three steps to the concrete floor. I landed hard, with bruised knees and ego.

And I dropped Declan.

He was fine, a bit scared, and cried for a few minutes. But I was horrified. Here, when my son needed me most, I failed. My instinct should not have been to put out my hands to break my fall, it should have been to wrap my hands around my baby and hold him tight.

Then, last year, I was in the kitchen with Declan, Matty, and Andy, when there was a small explosion on the stovetop.

Did I throw myself on top of Declan to protect him from what turned out to be an exploding gas lighter, or dive to push him out of the way? No.

I ducked behind the sink.

I think that is in these moments, when pure instinct takes over and we cannot obsess or analyze how exactly to react, it is then when we see our true nature. And my true nature is clearly trying to tell me something.

I have my moments. When Declan was a newborn, some horrid creepy crawly thing darted into his carseat (with him in it), and I didn't run screaming in the opposite direction or call Matty and insist he come home from work straightaway. I calmly scooped out the bug and then washed my hands 17 times.

This past weekend, we took the kids to a birthday party at Linvilla Orchards, a favorite spot for pick-your-own fruit. Last year we picked apples on a particularly hot September day, and Declan got stung repeatedly on his wrist by a very angry wasp. Since then, we have picked peaches and blueberries, and even tiny plums, but each time Declan announced that he would not go apple picking.

The day of the party was very sunny and brisk, a bit cold for bees, I would think, but once the pizza and cake were served, so were the bees. They were everywhere, crawling into cups of lemonade, hovering over pizza crusts and resting hungrily on cake crumbs. Declan was literally shrieking with terror.

Now I must confess, I am terrified of bees and wasps. Not allergic, just really, really scared. Years ago, when I lived in Florida, I had to call a friend to let me into my house because there was a beehive over the door and I simply couldn't walk under it (she let me in the back door). So I know where Declan's coming from. And I can't say I was too happy at this party either.

But I didn't let Declan know any of that. I stood with him among the bees and stayed calm. And though my instinct was to scoop him up and hide in the car, I stayed strong.

If I can handle bees, I can handle anything. I hope.

Monday, October 27, 2008

No Riluzole Miracle For Jonah

It's official: Jonah's Riluzole trial is over. The new, $13/pill drug that so drastically transformed two other patients on the unit had virtually no affect on Jonah's lingering irritability and SIB (self-injurious behavior; Jonah often bites his hand when he's agitated).

It's pretty disappointing news. It took half a bag of chocolate chips and an afternoon of mindlessly trolling the internet before I felt like talking to anyone again.

To be fair, Jonah was not in the same kind of desperate predicament those other children were in when they were prescribed Riluzole. Jonah's behavior, since he was placed on lithium shortly after his admission, has been pretty good - much, much improved over how he was before he left home.

But Jonah's doctor feels she can do better.

Which means another new drug, another trial - another few weeks, at the very least, until Jonah can come home. And it's hard to get excited about the new drug. Instead of something cutting edge, something experimental, Jonah's doctor is going old school, prescribing a tricyclic, which is a family of anti-depressants developed in the 1950s whose popularity with doctors has been eclipsed by the development of SSRIs.

On a more positive note, Andy and I had an amazing visit with Jonah this weekend. It was just us and him, no other kids, and he loved having our undivided attention. We went to Target, as he's been asking to do the last few weeks, and stocked up on markers. We had dinner at Chili's, where he was perfectly well behaved. (I can say with absolute certainty I would much rather take Jonah to a sit-down restaurant than I would Aaron or (especially) Gretchen.) We even got his hair cut, without a single protest - although, historically, haircuts have often required martial-type headlocks from Andy in order to get through.

So, our weekly treks down to Baltimore will continue. I have to say, I am so weary of making the trip. It didn't bother me that much for the first, oh, say, eight months of Jonah's admission. But all of a sudden, I started hating it. I can't wait to be done spending four hours in the car every Saturday, splitting up the family for the day (or listening to the twins scream in the car, which we do about a third of the time), feeling more exhausted on Monday morning than I did on Friday night.

But I guess I'd rather Jonah spend a few more weeks in the hospital, if it enables his doctor to find the perfect pharmaceutical cocktail. Because this is something I never want to go through again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I honestly feel that I could once again inhabit the mind of a child, and truly experience the wonder and mystery of childhood that I have long since forgotten, if only I could appreciate the joy of running in circles, the thrill of jumping down stairs, and the precarious pleasure of balancing on . . . anything.

We have a carpet in our foyer that I believe is about 10' by 14'. When Jonah was two, he loved running around the border of this carpet, and when he was diagnosed with autism, I figured this was just another stimmy behavior, like lining up his magnetic letters or flapping his hands. But every one of the kids has spent hours running around that carpet. Most nights, after dinner, someone turns on the CD player, and Aaron, Gretchen, Ronan and Declan (and sometimes Sophia) chase each other around and around until no one's really sure who's trying to catch whom.

Stair jumping is also very popular, even with the older kids. I've caught Erika leaping from the first landing to the floor below - eight steps down. The little guys test their bravery by escalating from the first, to the second, to the third step - we don't let them jump from any higher. And I have to say, the practice makes them better jumpers. I wish I had video of Gretchen when she first started trying to jump off the first step - it was about as graceful as falling face-forward. But Aaron could do it, and she was determined, and now she has perfect form, like a skier about to launch down the ramp: knees bent, arms back, chest out.

Sometimes, I feel as if I haven't aged at all, that I'm the same person I was when I was much younger. But then I realize how much I have changed. Hilary asked me just a couple of days ago, "Why don't you have any toys?" I thought about my iphone, and my ipod, but realized she wouldn't consider those toys. So I said, "Grown-ups don't play with toys the way kids do." And she said, "So what do you do for fun?" I thought, poker is fun. Tennis is fun. Running around in circles is definitely not fun. At that moment it seemed there was no greater divide between my young self and myself right now - or between myself and my children - than my definition of fun. And it was a little sad, because I can't even remember a time when running around in circles was fun. I wish I did.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Metaphysical Conversations With Hilary

Hilary: I don't want to be a vet, because then you have to take care of dinosaurs.

Me: Actually, dinosaurs are extinct. That means there aren't any alive anymore, and there haven't been since before there were people on the planet.

Hilary: What happened? A giant rock hit the earth? [We had discussed the asteroid theory of dinosaur extinction with Erika on a previous occasion.]

Me: Some people think so. Maybe a giant rock hit the planet, causing it to become really cold, and the dinosaurs died because they couldn't find any plants to eat. [This is me bullshitting my way through the asteroid theory of dinosaur extinction. I'm actually not sure whether a colossal impact like that would cause severe climate change, or clog the atmosphere with dust, or maybe some other fatal consequence altogether.]

Hilary: What happened? [Repeating questions is definitely her m.o.]

Me: Well, we don't really know. But we do know there are no more dinosaurs.

Hilary: Is Uncle Bob extinct?

Me: Well, we don't really use the word 'extinct' to talk about individual members of a species, more like the species as a whole. So, Uncle Bob is dead, but the human race is not extinct.

Hilary: And that's why 'Tom and Jerry' is so funny!!!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Yet Another Reason It's Great to Live in a Communal Household

You always have back-up for removing stubborn splinters...