Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Power of "the Momb"

In a fit of desperation once, attempting to assert authority over my kids, I relied on that age-old expression that unequivocally answers the "why" question, "because...I am the mom." Only I was flustered and mixed it up with "being the boss." What came out was, "I'm the bomb!"

It was highly effective because we all burst into laughter (not because they respond favorably to dictatorship). Moms wield immeasurable influence. When my kids were infants (one not sleeping so well) I marveled at the power my drowsy hand on their crib had to soothe. My voice changes their behavior. My wave makes their day. My prayers break down the doors of heaven.

True confessions: I neglected one very important entity from my Top Ten list yesterday. My Mom! I am eternally grateful for her prayers for me, her formation of my life, her investment in my kids, her example of optimism in any circumstance, and her bold belief. She is the bomb! (Not only that, she's also my most faithful reader!)

Moms are moms, right? By that I mean, they are so woven into the fabric of our lives that we often forget they are other. So integral is their impact on us. This clip by the author comedian, Nicole Johnson at Fresh Brewed Life, is an apt illustration of how this happens.

We laugh because its true. Each of us is guilty of overlooking our moms. Those of us who've become moms, also laugh in recognition of how the shoe feels on the other foot. In all seriousness, my mom has lived a life of everyday sacrifice creating her own cathedral of beauty as a legacy. And so, I believe I can too...and so can you! For as she'd be the first to tell you, her strength is not her own; it comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, through His Holy Spirit.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:19-21

Children's children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.
Proverbs 17:5-7

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2:18-20

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I've Got Plenty to Be Thankful For!

Do you know this movie?  Holiday Inn is one of our all time favorite musicals. The movie covers the entire calendar from Valentines to New Year's Eve but, the message of this scene is appropo to Thanksgiving. Listening to his own chipper recording, reminds even Bing Crosby that thankfulness can transform any duldrum into gumption!

How true it is that a little gratitude changes our attitude!  It's in the movies; it's in the Bible; it's real honest to goodness truth, as Mamie might say. Holidays can be hard times when the feelings and the circumstances don't match what we know to be true; our perceptions on those days may not be reality.  We are staying put this year, in the clear, without travel or trappings to stress and strain. So, I will make my list now and carry it in my wallet for the next time I start to sulk.

I am thankful for:
1. a dentist I've had for 17 years
2. friends who pray for me
3. kids who are affectionate
4. money in the bank
5. kids who are readers
6. a husband who supports my success
7. a husband who can fix anything online and off
8. a husband who has loved me for 23 years
9. a free country where we can worship and study the Bible openly
10. knowing Jesus as a friend
11. a place prepared for me in heaven
12. living close enough to see the vastness of the ocean every day

Try it. Give me your top ten in a comment.

Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High Psalm 50:13-15

I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 2 Timothy 1:2-4

...give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 
1 Thessalonians 5:17-19

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Trip to the Dentist

No autism blog would be complete without a section on dentistry.

Here's one and here and here. For autism moms, dentist stories might be the equivalent of childbirth stories for other women or war stories for men a generation ago.  We all have at least one and tell it like a badge of honor or a rite of passage into the ranks. The difficulty achieving basic dental care is one of the many, many things I never imagined I'd be dealing with like potty training a teenager or soundproofing my house so my neighbors don't call CPS. Compromising positions which take "character building" to an Olympic level. Incidents we know are unconscionable to most yet, totally understandable to us; they go with the autism turf. 

So, here is one of mine. We switched from my beloved dentist to a pediatric dentist recently in order to better serve Reid's needs. The new dentist has a pimped out office with ocean murals, flat screens in the ceiling and a Blockbuster selection of DVD's and video games in the waiting room.  Even with all that--perhaps because of all of that--Reid was unable to hold still enough for long enough to get the amount of sealants and work done that had accumulated in the years that we'd been trial and erroring it with my patient, prayerful hygienist.  So Dr. Ocean Dentist for Kids got the job of referring us to Children's Hospital for the full treatment under full anesthesia.

We survived that and I will disclose full details in a longer post later.  For now, let me describe the more recent check up that followed back in his deluxe office by the beach.

Like any good mother, the night before the appointment I was flossing his teeth and what to my wondering eyes did appear but, two chipped teeth! The bottom two, right in the center. Horror of horrors! How did this happen? When did it happen? What's to be done? Oh no! not this! Caps? More anesthesia? What will this mean ?

To answer the "how" question, I didn't have to wonder too hard. Reid chews, a lot. Whether to relieve stress, receive proprioception or just test the strength of his teeth, I don't know (that would be the why question). He just does. Any number of things could have been the culprit. Hard objects, like buttons off every single polo shirt, rugby shirt and even some pants we own. His old school allowed gum chewing as a compensation which was not ideal since he swallows it. At age 14 though, the new school deemed the chew toys totally not age appropriate and the gum-in-school rule totally not bendable.  So, he is learning--the hard way--to just not chew.  Last year, we went through one shirt a day, literally. I began to shop at thrift stores moving to the second "R" in our mantra, reduce, re-use, recycle. Unable to reduce the number of shirts we were consuming, I could at least re-use ones already manufactured and not put an unfair drain on the sweat shop labor of Taiwan. At $4 a shirt, it was costing us more than a Starbucks fix.

Reid tests his teeth on other materials besides fabric: pen caps, ink pen chambers, plastic packaging, Unifix cubes, marker tops, pencils, credit cards, bottle caps. He has Crocodile Dundee beat. So, I knew not when but, could easily imagine how the bottom teeth had chipped.

To save my pride at least momentarily, I decided to wait before divulging this information to the hygienist. I'd wait and see if she noticed. She was new. Emerging from the aquatic hallway to debrief with me afterward, she seemed to think she "got a lot of work done." Is it ever as much as my daughter gets? Ever a full cleaning? "He has more calculus than plaque", she shared. I have gone to a dentist twice a year for my entire life and I have no idea what calculus is. Is this "new dentistry" like new math and I have to pick up a new lexicon. Or is it metric? 

I asked, but even the answer didn't make sense. I decided she was young and on new turf. Perhaps she couldn't translate her jargon into my plain old English. When I brought up the chipped teeth (secretly hoping they would have spontaneously healed by then) she launched into another foreign diatribe (I know some big words too, missy) about # 8 and 9 being affected......blah blah blah...subcutaneous... I missed a lot of it before asking, "Which ones are 8 and 9?" "The two front teeth," she says. There's hope for her yet.

When I explained my best guess of how the teeth had gotten chipped, her inane self-evident reply was, "that's not a good idea. You shouldn't let him do that." It was then I realized she must not have kids, of any age, or any kind. She must never have babysat or had a younger cousin. Do I look stupid? Obviously, this is bigger than simply being told it isn't a good idea. OK, are you related to the rental agent at Hatteras Realty? What part of autism don't you get?! Did you read in his chart about the recent need for full anesthesia? Did you notice he's a teenager? You honestly think my telling him its not a good idea is going to have any impact? What other light can you shed on my task of parenting?

In God's infinite grace, there was a boy about the same age in the waiting room admiring saltwater fish with me. He had chipped 4 of his teeth by jumping into a pool. (This is a normal kid, no label that I could discern.) His mother and I commiserated over the sick feeling of seeing chips on our babies' precious grown up teeth that are supposed to last them their whole life. Ugggh! Her son smiled to reveal his and I honestly couldn't notice. The dentist and hygienist concluded, "we'll keep an eye on them and maybe later (for another office visit fee) add some composite." The problem was only cosmetic. The solution was too and would likely "chip again anytime he bites something hard." Like a cell phone antenna? I wondered silently.

Thanks for listening to the latent anger. I weary of being polite. With the optimism of inexperience, the young hygienist's final move was to schedule another sealant and attempt it in the office (as opposed to in hospital). Now that's progress!  And I could grow to love her!

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
James 4:5-7

From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.
John 1:15-17

Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us, for we have endured much contempt.
Psalm 123:2

photo credits:,

Friday, November 7, 2008

High low points or low high points

We play a game at dinner which began as a way to structure conversation. Since it worked, we still do it. When all else fails for conversation starters with my now- teenagers, they will almost always play at High point Low point. It's easy. No board required, no dice, no pieces to chew or lose under the sofa. (I like the Food for Talk resource too if you prefer to spend money on the desperate attempt to get family to talk for food!*!*)

Here's how the low budget version works. Everyone shares their low point of the day. For Reid this is often, "I didn't get a star in Math" or "I didn't earn music today." Good to know. For Allie it might be, "We had three tests and you were late picking me up," revealing what bothers her most.

Then everyone shares the high point of their day. For my bottomless pit, always ravenous, celiac husband, it might be the meal I just served. Mine might be finding a comment from a non-relative on my blog! Yesterday, Allie reported that her high point and low point were one in the same. She wasn't just copping out to save time and get back to her ipod. In fact, her drama class is challenging her beyond her comfort zone. At the same time, it is surprisingly engaging and fun. 

This tied right in to my current Beth Moore study, Psalms of Ascent, which is awesome. Our assignment for Psalm 126 was to draw a timeline of the psalmist's record. In the first 3 verses he recounts the highest highs when God's work in his life seemed too good to be true. Then, leaving space between the lines for the lowpoints of fear and insecurity which coincide, he concludes with promises of what God will do again. He is confident that the Lord turns the limbo into a great harvest when we wait. 

Psalm 126 
The Message by Eugene H. Peterson

A Pilgrim Song

1-3 It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion's exiles. 
We laughed, we sang, 
we couldn't believe our good fortune. 
We were the talk of the nations— 
"God was wonderful to them!" 
God was wonderful to us; 
we are one happy people. 

4-6 And now, God, do it again— 
bring rains to our drought-stricken lives 
So those who planted their crops in despair 
will shout hurrahs at the harvest, 
So those who went off with heavy hearts 
will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

In my own application, I'd take it one step further. There is something intrinsic to the lowest points of life, the hardest, biggest challenges we face that is actually a prerequisite to the highest highs. Allie's example was a required drama class which had her in trepidation of taking risks, not knowing the "right" answer, making a fool of herself, and blushing ten shades of red. It was the hardest point in her day. But from it came the highest point of glee and accomplishment because she mastered it, signed up to audition for a main part, and broke out of her shell!  

Don't we all crave transformation? God brings it on through trials. In more of a macro lens, I spent the lowest 6 years of my life tearfully praying on the stairs of our condo. Plagued by shame and stymied by our infertility, I was in constant pleading with God for a baby. Little did I know (or trust at the time) what the Lord had in mind for us. In short order, once His perfect timing had come, He allowed us the incredible, ecstatic, highest point of my life: the blessing of adopting beautiful boy-girl twins! Jim and I walked on air for quite some time. Like a dry seed, our greatest trial contained the potential to burst forth like green sprouts in damp, rich garden soil but only when we gave it over to God, the master gardener. And only after we waited.

Life is full of highpoints and low points. The two pictures flanking the cover of today's Wall Street Journal show it clearly; the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat recur relentlessy from birth until death and from continent to continent. It is what universally unites humankind. Only the particulars vary from person to person.

I think maturity comes from experiencing enough low to high swings that we gain an ability to anticipate them. I am grateful that my daughter has made this association relatively early in life. The ultimate would be to embrace difficulty trusting full well the Father in heaven who "will do it again" and transform, do it again and redeem, do it again and turn the lows into highs. He promises that in Psalm 126 and there isn't one promise in Scripture that he's broken.

If I could load mp3's on my blog, I would put Chris Falson's "Like A Tree" here.  Arrgghh! Reid is home sick today singing, "I'm OK When Things Don't Go My Way" off the Kibbles CD segueing into "Feelings...make a frustrated face." Appropo! How does he know?

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.  
2 Corinthians 1:19-21

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."
Jeremiah 17:8

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1:1-3

photo credit:

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Kingsmen Rock!

The Kingsmen recorded a debut CD last month. I hardly know where to begin to itemize the cornucopia of blessings it holds.

It is beautiful from so many angles. Takes me back to a sculpture class I took for my art history degree. There was something so obvious, yet eye-opening about walking around a work of art to appreciate it, as opposed to standing in one spot in front of a painting.

Music, even more than sculpture, is multi-dimensional, changing with each hearing, venue, and circumstance of the listener. 

The Kingsmen is a band of four guys who are all clients of the Music Therapy Center of California. They range in age from 10-15 and rehearse weekly with Rachel Gant as a facilitator. Charlie, Conor, Kenton and Reid hone many skills in order to make music together. They interact as a team, read each other's body language, listen intently for cues, tolerate diverse senses of humor, exercise patience, and encourage each other to new milestones. Their commitment and willingness to perform have yielded an incredible sense of confidence and achievement in each of them.

Without any precedent of what to expect, the Kingsmen pulled out all the stops to capture their current repertoire of hits including Three Little Birds by Bob Marley, Meant to Live by Switchfoot, and the live crowd pleaser, Hang On Sloopy. Each of the band members have a solo on the CD which rounds out the project. During the 3-hour recording session there were many smiles, and a definite mix of jubilation, fatigue, and concentration. Working toward a common goal, the boys now have something concrete to show for their efforts and share with the world. They are proud of the outcome!

I am proud of Ted Vaughn and Chris Hobson who made the recording session a reality at our church, Solana Beach Presbyterian Church. Ted has an interest in all things musical. More than that, he has caught the gestalt of the Kingsmen. Like a quarterback clutching a pigskin and driving toward the end zone, he has philosophically embraced what the band has to offer others in our community.  Everybody scores when they enter the spotlight and do their thing, rather than be relegated to the sidelines. Chris defies description. With the mystery of a kid-whisperer and his impeccable ears for sonic integrity, he is silently impressive. The interaction between these minds was something to behold.

At my first hearing of the recording, I used the word, "sweet" (of course, I am the Mom). The second time, "heartwarming" came to mind. I've landed on "endearing." Others say it has "raw honesty" and "tells the story of these guys." Kenton's rendition of Ingrid Michaelson's "The Way I Am" brings tears to your eyes. 

These boys are fast becoming young men; they have come a long way from "early intervention." Now they are finding a niche in society. In an effort to stay age-appropriate, their music therapy has morphed from one-on-one sessions to this more demanding and normalizing social experience of being in a band. Music is a bridge that can catapult them into "real world" encounters.

They played last year at a local Border's bookstore, Christmas on the Promenade, and several Walk Now for Autism events. What we find at these gigs is that despite their emerging musicianship and irregardless of their performance any given night, the boys have a message of struggle, promise, and victory that is universally relevant and inspiring. The manager at Border's commented that they were better than any in-store event he'd ever booked. Mind you, I know they weren't better technically, but their effort was greater and as a result the experience seems richer to the audience. Like the widow who gave her last mite, these guys are walking parables. Many life lessons are magnified by their example. Oddly, (and fortunately, for the moms listening in trepidation in the wings) not much explanation is needed for the audience to "get it." The boys can't hide their struggle or their success. People are moved for reasons that are hard to deny and don't need to be explained.

They will play at our church during December. I am both nervous and excited about this.  I can't help but hear countless Biblical foundations through The Kingsmen. Perhaps they are able to convey these truths more profoundly than the professional worship leaders we are used to hearing up front. Precepts from the Bible jump off the pages when they deliver culturally relevant lyrics like "you know you gotta help me out...." from the Killers "All These Things that We've Done" or "we were meant to live for so much more..."from Switchfoot or "don't worry about a thing..." from Bob Marley.  Are those not doctrinal sound bites that resonate with God's Word? No wonder they're so full of hope!

Now, I must figure out how to load MP3's on a blog.

If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!  Ecclesiastes 4:9-11

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Matthew 6:33-34

What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  Matthew 16:25-27

"I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others." 
Luke 21:2-4

Monday, November 3, 2008

More Music Mastro

Ours was a weekend full of music that ran the gamut from Kibbles Rockin' Clubhouse hits to Coldplay covers to Mussorgsky's Hopak from "Sorochinsky Fair." Scratching in my mind are partial tracks from each of these as I face Monday morning. My husband was hanging on by the hair of his chinny chin chin to keep up with the whirlwind schedule the kids and I had memorized.  Reid sang at least 4 times from the Walk Now for Autism stage on Saturday.  Allie played flute in the first San Diego Youth Symphony concert of the season. High brow, low brow, we were all over town.

The San Diego Youth Symphony honors a music educator each year who has devoted their career to developing young musicians.  Dean Hickman, chosen this year, gave a brief but moving acceptance speech. You know I love music and its myriad benefits are already swirling around like visions of sugarplums in my head. I spent last week helping write the mission statement and vision for Banding Together, a non-profit organization newly established "to make music with people with special needs to unleash their creative potential and connect in community." (I've memorized that after tweaking and typing it so many times.)  

So, Mr. Hickman's sentiments are ringing in my ears.  As he eloquently said, music is the universal language.  By teaching it, we prepare future leaders of the world with character, discipline, and skills in every discipline from math and physics to diplomacy and foreign language.  His own son grew up in the ranks of the SDYS and is now a principal trumpet player for a symphony in the midwest. He told of international travel opportunities where students unable to communicate one word of each other's language could sit down and engage at length over a piece of Mozart music.  So strong is the language of music. Agreed.

Given our family dynamic, I couldn't help but notice one itty bitty inaccuracy. When the inimitable conductor touted his truly outstanding program, he pointed out the beauty of this annual concert is that it features all five levels of the SDYS program thereby displaying the development and progression of musicians through every ability level. Well...almost every ability.  

I am not suggesting that the SDYS take on students with diagnosed disability. But rather, wouldn't it be nice if a similar program existed that really was fully inclusive? Well, it just soon may! 

Maybe not in the classical vein but with a similar goal of developing musical talent at all levels. Only a few precedents exist that I have been able to unearth. The Naturals is a band in Chicago founded by music therapists at the Creative Music Exchange. They have attained attention from the media here if you want to hear them.

Keys to the Studio in Toronto is another one.  People inside and outside the disability world are excited about this place.  News coverage lists the professionals who volunteer and connect under the studio roof.  Listening to the CBC audio interview with founders, John Jowitt and Salina Eldon, gives me goosebumps.  As he says, "music is an open, infinite field that allows for all kinds of sound.  It is also a method of communication and a way of seeing what's in peoples' minds. The connection that you develop when playing music with someone is very strong...and leads to social connection..which is really helpful integrating people with each other."  I want to meet this guy!

In order to allow artistic expression and build trust, there is no right and wrong at Keys to the Studio.  Doesn't this smack wonderfully of Greenspan's Floortime and RDI?  By following the child's lead, withholding preconceived expectations and accepting each other's ideas as valuable, we build relationship and engagement.  As this generation of autism grows up, the world will need more programs like this for teens and young adults.

As I manned the MTCCA booth last Saturday at the Walk, I was quickly reminded how much music has driven and transformed Reid's development.  I could honestly say to the throngs of parents filing through the resource fair:  "Reid grew up the songs in the In Harmony curriculum. Before they were published, Angela used them in her private sessions with him."  "Until age 8, everything he knew he'd learned through music" (counting, the alphabet, greetings, sharing, Bible verses, the Lord's prayer, days of the week, months of the year, continents).  "Music engages him instantly because with it he can access both sides of his brain." 

We call her Lady Babyish now, but the female voice on an old Discovery Toys (check out the new Autism Program on their site) "Sounds Like Fun" cassette was his first teacher.  She covered a lot of ground with him at naptime, bedtime, and drive time.  Thankfully, we've progressed from there to more age-appropriate musical selections.  Much to my dismay, my car radio is now tuned to Star 94 and I am having to edify "Laura's Dirt" and Jeff and Jer's morning show on a regular basis.  Reid, "you know 'dirt' is actually gossip which is harmful. Remember what Judy Rogers (another awesome early musical educator in Bible literacy) sang about the seven things God hates"? Be that as it may, music remains a great vehicle for lifetime learning, recreation, and "therapy" at any level.

The vision for Banding Together includes a recording studio space where professional and amateur musicians, of truly ALL abilities, can pursue their passion together. Turning obsession into vocation as Temple Grandin exemplifies and advocates in her book, "Developing Talents," can happen--not in a vacuum--but in community with others who share the same passion. Through mentorship, jam sessions, workshops, open mic nights and recording opportunities, we intend to take the goals of the SDYS to the "n"th degree. Stay tuned...

As they make music they will sing, "All my fountains are in you." 
Psalm 87:6-7

So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. 
Matthew 25:24-26

But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. 
1 Corinthians 7:6-8

There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him.  
Proverbs 6:15-17