Monday, February 22, 2010

The Farmer's Market Biathalon

Love the way Bari Weiss wrote this piece in the Wall Street Journal about revered Temple Grandin. It's a challenge to capture something new for those of us who've been around the block, heard Temple speak at conferences, read her books, and now seen the HBO special, but Weiss does.

My new twist is to recommend A Thorn in My Pocket, the book by Temple's mother, Eustacia Cutler, which tells the back story of her success. Her husband refused to see any potential in their daughter and in fact, sought to commit them both for being overly optimistic, if not delusional. I still get goosebumps remembering the Jewish, Holocaust-survivor therapist who told her in no uncertain terms to get out of the marriage. With dramatic flair, Cutler loves to tell, "he understood the importance of a quick getaway."

For those of us who are moms swimming up the streams of discouragement and doubt even today, this curly girl offers hope and an inspiring true story of resilience and fortitude.

"I'd be in an institution if it wasn't for her," Ms. Grandin credits her mother for insisting that she engage with society. That was a generation ago, on the east coast...and could not have been easy, forgiving, merciful or smooth. Imagine the stares.

Just this weekend, I can report real-life examples of both victory and defeat in this equivalent of an Olympic-level sport. Saturday, we aborted an attempt to eat at a new hipster restaurant, The Mission. The 30 minute wait, cable box on the sidewalk in front of the place, and a Verizon van parked nearby got the better of us. The excursion ended in bail-out mode and "to go" containers.

I count it progress nonetheless for as Stephen Kwagga said, "Try and fail, but don't fail to try." Soon, and very soon, we will return to that very Mission restaurant, wait on the patio, sit, order and eat the newfangled, "chino latino" fare and be very proud of ourselves and Reid. We never do anything just once, in this family. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

Case in point: Sunday's outing was victorious. About a month ago I decided to tackle our local Farmer's Market with Reid. Sounds simple enough but, woe to you who treat it thus. The tight alley-like setting, the throngs of shoulder-bumping patrons, the seemingly free buffet, and melange of smells actually make it a sensory disaster waiting to happen in public view. (Who's with me, on this?) At the same time, it is an opportunity for countless goals to be mastered.

Our Sunday ritual had been Allie and I making a rushed pass at it, grabbing tamales and flowers while Reid and Jim waited (sometimes circled) in the Eurovan. We'd hop in Little Miss Sunshine style, bags in hand, Allie still hankering for a crepe and me wondering why we hadn't made it a girls-only trip.

For several weeks we did just that, Allie and I leisurely sampled everything from jalapeno goat cheese to blood oranges. We made fast friends with "Frenchie," the crepe vendor and dreamed of a trip to Paris in April.

Call me a glutton for punishment, call me brave, call me a woman after Eustacia Cutler's own heart! I just couldn't stomach the idea that this couldn't be a family activity. That stubborn refusal, in my opinion, is the core of what Temple's mother possessed. It is also what Tony Attwood refers to when asked what single factor dictates a successful prognosis for a youngster on the spectrum: a determined mother with conviction.

So the past two weeks, we have set out--all four of us--with some simple parameters and pre-corrected expectations:

+ "You have $10 each to spend as you choose."
+ "Walk slowly all the way down to the flower stall, then back."
+ "Stay together."
+ "Hands stay at our side."

Third time's a charm. Yesterday, Allie and Jim were predisposed as it turned out, so Reid and I went with an out-of-town guest I hadn't seen in 12 years. Talk about challenging the system! She had actual groceries to buy for her timeshare and no prior experience with our Reid-centric machinations. Can I tell you, it went really well! We are not perfect, but we are becoming mighty flexible.

I think I broke the $10 limit, but the Sprite, cinnamon roll, cheese crepe, jalapeno bread, and balloon sword-on-a-belt were well worth it. Dolly couldn't possibly have put it in perspective, but I was impressed at how Reid waited for her at each vendor, negotiated the new variables, kept his hands to himself (other than to hug her halfway through saying, "I'm so glad you came to visit"), and noticed things we'd missed in the past. Who knew, they pipe in Frank Sinatra tunes at speakers mounted between the French linens and Philippines salt?

Each week is progressively more fun as our rapport grows with the apple man, the Sprite man at the sausage booth, the balloon man who shared, "God's given me favor with kids with autism," the Bread & Cie vendor, and of course, Frenchie, whose photo and proper name I promise to provide soon. We are now regulars and (almost) everybody knows Reid's name!

I do want a medal for this--not gold, platinum, please. And guess Who has one waiting for me?

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown
that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 1 Corinthians 9:24-26

Now there is in store for me the crown
of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-9

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Top 10 Tuesday

Top 1o Things I Miss about the Midwest

10. Tree farms

9. Winter wonderland

8. Incredible neighbors with no fences

7. Acreage

6. Pick ur own fruit

5. Family within driving distance

4. Pedestrian towns

3. Friendly, open people

2. The work ethic

1. The nip in the air

...polo field, gazebo, river, fall foliage, sweater weather, the list goes on of memories from my childhood in the Chagrin River Valley of suburban Cleveland, Ohio. It's not just Ohio though. A similar list could be inspired by Wisconsin where I went to college or the year we lived in suburban Chicago...climbing trees, small town parades, community pools, chatting over the driveway...

It happens 9 times out of ten when I meet someone I like. We connect at some core level. Inevitably, they are from Kansas, Minnesota, Michigan. All I can say is, "I knew it! Figures." The commonality defies description. We're like pieces of eggshell adhering to itself. Same dye lot.

Most recently, we were at the Belly Up, nicest venue west of the Rathskellar. A new colleague of Kat's at Lululemon Athletica, Chelsea, went to UW-Madison, my alma mater. That was coincidence enough. As we got talking about dorms we'd lived in and how campus has changed, guess what? She lived in a sorority house, which one? Alph Chi! No way! We only momentarily disrupted the peace with our shock and gleeful outburst! We were sisters! Alpha Chi's from the same campus having had neighboring rooms in the same house. Serendipity.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


When I say provision do you think of food? Ordinarily I would too, though "I'm not a big eater." Ha!

However, let me go on record as saying there are more important provisions than food. When I look back at our journey through autism thus far, there are some pivotal people who the Lord has provided for us at just the right time in truly miraculous ways.

Danielle, was the first case manager for Reid's home program. She became way more than that, like a counselor and trusted advisor. What amazes me still is how we had met in Bay Area through an early mentor mom to me, Irma Velasquez (she has since started Wings Learning Center). Reid had had a facilitated playdate with her son, Aaron, which Danielle facilitated. We connected on some gut level and remembered each other. In less than a year's time, we both were planning a move back to San Diego. Danielle confided that she might also be relocating to work at the UCSD Autism lab.

Timely enough, we had a shoe-in for our home program --someone I already trusted fully. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Danielle had gone to our church as a college student. Our shared faith further bonded us and blurred the lines of professionalism. Suffice it to say, I was very comfortable with her in the house training our team and spending long hours with Reid. We cried when she left at the acknowledgment of God providing exactly what we needed in those early days.

Carla, was part of the glory days on Danielle's team. We hired her with the same gut feeling that she'd just plain be good. A Canadian expat, she worked part-time as a guidance assistant in our local district. Little did we know what mysterious ways the Lord was working in then. I will never forget the first time Carla and Reid came into the kitchen after their closed-door play session. They were singing little Sunday school praise songs, which were Reid's only words at the time. I was flabbergasted to see that Carla knew them! God had provided.

We cried when she drove off for Florida in that orange Penske truck, not knowing that she'd be back. The amazing recurrent blessing of Carla is that she moved back for another year under very different circumstances for a Masters in Real Estate. The gift of that year was for me as much as Reid. It marked a million milestones in both our lives and moved me forward in writing, mothering, and sisterhood, for that is what we've become.

Kathryn Mary, cousin Kat, has been a similar kind of gift these past 5 months. She has been friend, confidante, family member, sous chef, and breath of fresh air to all of us. For such a time as this, she has helped us shift our focus to Allie's imminent college decision; she offered a naturally occurring novelty of socialization for Reid; and without realizing it helped us raise the bar on many habits--whether wearing pajamas, shutting the bathroom door, or flossing more often. She left a week ago and we cried then too.

As I near the completion of Kelly Langston's Authentic Christianity Challenge, I think being authentic is acknowledging that the best things in life come from Him. In so doing, I also project that what He's done before, He will do again. The Lord will provide.

Who or what has God given you that you couldn't have arranged yourself?

Every good and
perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:16-18

So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:20-22

And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" Esther 4:13-15

Thursday, February 4, 2010

FPC (Flexible, Patient, Calm)

"How flexible are you?" the hotel reservations clerk inquired of me.

"Oh, you have no idea! I am sooo flexible. I'm about the most flexible person on the face of the earth," I boasted. "But, you mean how flexible am I on the arrival date, don't you?"

The poor guy on the other end of my phone. He did not know what a buzz word he'd just sounded.

Of all the code words we amassed in the past five months that Kathryn lived with us, the most oft quoted was: "FPC." Short for "Flexible, Patient, Calm," this is the internal memo we announce as needed in response to (or anticipation of) escalating anxiety, tension, difficult circumstances, mounting chaos and just high spirits. She had a way of recognizing and naming what has become second nature to us.

Akin to the British, "Keep Calm and Carry On," our shorter version builds solidarity, keeps us united to make the most of any circumstance. It's at once a claim of credit deserved if you've kept your cool, a reminder to repeat that directive without any affect, and a call to action to take the high road. It's become a household policy and an injection of comic relief.

Especially when Jim says it. For 90% of the time he botches it up--first by accident, now on purpose. "Flexible, patient, and mild" was one permutation he spewed out mockingly. Over Thanksgiving, he'd verbally pat himself on the back with a double tap and it became "ohoh! who's flexible, patient and bountiful?" loud enough for all to hear.

The true test of learning something is being able to teach it. So it is cause for celebration when I hear my own lessons turned back on me by my kids. The other day we left Golden Spoon (the originator of the California frozen yogurt craze). I have frequent cravings for their pistachio flavor which rotates sporadically into the standard offerings. Predictably, that day they did NOT have pistachio. As we left, Reid sweetly pointed out, "Mom you were flexible." Yes, indeed I was.

Patience is a fruit of the Spirit. Jesus was meek (which could be a synonym for mild). Anybody got a verse for flexible?

Be joyful in hope,
patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Romans 12:11-13

Be completely humble and gentle; be
patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:1-3

But the
meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace. Psalm 37:10-12

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Let the Good Times Roll

Reid is acing his move to the Adolescent Program at his school. Yesterday marked his first full day upstairs with a new Case Manager and several new teachers. This very intentional, gradual transition has been orchestrated over the past 6 months. With his Student of the Week certificate from downstairs still in the backpack, he was ready!

The inaugural call from my new liaison reported some towering high points: Reid is peer-tutoring another student in reading. They were impressed to witness his fast facts on planets and continents. "All the teachers really enjoy him," she confided. And, on his way out of her class he heralded, "Thank you for the great class, Miss L!"

Wow, do I relish these moments as shreds of evidence that I have done something right. My latest mantra is that "manners matter." Lo and behold, he is using them right there at school. Small wonder, he got off the bus last week saying, "Thank you Curt" to the driver. That's my boy.

It's been said, "when Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." Around here the reality is, if Reid ain't having a good week, ain't nobody having a good week. The degree and frequency of his symptoms are such that, as much as we try to correct the imbalance, the household can still seem to revolve around his behavior. I know my mood does.

When old behaviors recur, there is the temptation for Jim and I to live on pins and needles communicating anxiously at the end of each day with the precarious question, "how was Reid's day?" Remember the Admiral Boom on his widow's walk in Mary Poppins, "Banks, shouldn't wonder if you weren't steering into a nasty piece of weather..." Suffice it to say, we make up for the lack of weather to report in San Diego.

In the homeschooling days I had this verse stenciled on the wall of our "classroom" to remind me not to base my moods on anything but God's goodness; not to assess the day on anything except how close I was to the Living Water.

He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."

When I ask myself if fear takes over in the times of drought (like last month or the time before), I am surely convicted by the answer? Did I bear any fruit? (cringe) Most often, I shrivel up, hibernate, and wait for the "chancy bit of weather to blow over." My friends know when I don't call or answer; you can probably guess when there are no posts. The heat came and I was toast!

Happy times are here again and I am praising God for the evidence of joy and peace and victory in Reid's day (and the rest of ours.) So it is I also realize again the distinction between being thanking for the gifts rather than the Giver. An authentic Christian, doesn't forget in the dark what she knew in the light.

Top 10 Tuesday

Top 1o Time Management Skills

10. Commit to an all-in-one dry cleaner, pharmacy, bank, photo lab and grocer

9. Join a CSA for your weekly produce

8. Shadow Yubo for a day
7. Choose a signature color and make it your uniform

6. Book standing appointments for recurrent events

5. Handle mail (even e-mails) only once

4. Turn all electronics off on Sunday to reboot

3. Get an iPhone and sync it

2. Run yellow lights

1. Just say "no"

My mom requested this list but, I am quite sure I got all my driving technique and organizational skills from her. As high adrenal, achiever types we don't let much grass grow under our feet. Dust bunnies? They're another matter.