Monday, December 31, 2007

What I have learned

One odd thing I found out about myself once I got out of high school was that I was a kinesthetic learner--I have to do or experience things to learn. Even if I write an essay, I have to walk around the room while editing in order to be effective.

Unfortunately, that carries over into life in general. I do not learn by reading that patience is a virtue, nor do I learn by people telling me how strong I really am. I have to learn to have patience by experiencing the same things, over and over again, which make me impatient. I have to be tested to learn, finally, how strong I am.

One thing which I cannot learn, however, is to not worry. It appears to be an unwanted hobby of mine. I generally will awake about three a.m. and begin to worry about various things, none of which I can control or address at that time. And no matter how many times things work out okay, I still continue to worry, forever generating new worries and losing way too much sleep over these mostly unwarranted concerns.

If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know. I would like to take up something more restful than worrying for the new year, perhaps fencing or fire walking or motocross racing.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Manicure mania

Kiki is at that age where she no longer gets toys for Christmas, so Nita gave her nail clippers and a small manicure set, a choice which was helped along by their mother.

Never has so much attention been paid to nail care. We have had a frenzy of salon activity here. Kiki trimmed and polished her own nails. She gave Nita a cuticle treatment. Then she trimmed Rocky's ragged nails, ignoring his yelps of pain when she removed portions of his fingerprints as well, simply sitting on his arm to hold him still to "prevent any pain." During quiet time yesterday, she and Nita gave poor long-suffering Bob the Bunny a pedicure. When she started eyeballing Dirty Harry's dewclaws and discussing which nail color would best match his brown coat, we declared a moratorium on beauty treatments for the day.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Guilt and guidance

The hardest thing about the dementia which affected our family, for me, is the guilt.

I see it now in my neighbor: she feels guilty because she couldn't keep her husband home; she feels guilty because she is relaxing and resting now with him in the facility; she feels guilty because she is relieved to have that stress from her life. When my father died, I felt guilty because I felt relief, and I will feel relief again when my Mom goes, along with the grieving I am doing and have done. So much in the way of loss. We work so hard and spend so much money to keep them alive, and for what? Mom always said (in her own illogical/logical way),"There are worse things in life than being dead."

One thing which saddens my sister but impresses me is how comfortable my kids have become around the odd behavior manifestations shown by the people in the nursing home. The kids, especially the girls, just go with whatever comes up during a visit. Plus, they have learned to see the people who are in there behind the strange brain activity.

On Christmas, my cousins Ida and Sara had sent a huge box filled with great kid presents: fun pens, decks of cards, pencils, small things which kids love. The kids, with some prodding, had agreed to forego opening presents at home on Christmas morning, and to take their stockings and the box to the nursing home to open in front of my mom and her friends. (We would have the family present opening at home closer to lunch). When we left the nursing home, not one kid had any candy left in their stockings--they had joyously shared it with the people there and probably got more enjoyment out of that than they would consuming the candy themselves.

When it was time to go, we went around and said Merry Christmas to the residents. One lady, who has progressed quite far with her dementia and who frightens many visitors with her odd behavior, gave us the absolute sweetest smile, and the kids gave her a hug and kiss. Somehow, deep inside her, she found some memory of Christmas and blessed us by sharing, oh so briefly, the love and joy from that day.

Perhaps it is odd that some of my kids' most important lessons in life, love, and loss are being learned in a locked wing with people who are diagnosed with a form of mental illness. However, I am content to let the kids glean what they can from all this--in this case, our guides have damaged bodies and fragile minds, but their souls are still very much intact, and I somehow think that they are in closer contact with heaven than we are and consequently know what is really important. And who better to provide us with direction?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Wasabi Soy Mystery

I gave EG flavored almonds for his birthday. Today, there is one almond left in the container, and the investigation into who consumed the contents is in full-out operation.

Of course, no one is admitting that they had anything to do with the crime. If they had their way, the children would place all the blame on the dogs, who have been cleared because the lid was replaced on the container, and the dogs do not have opposable thumbs. Plus, their tastes being what they are, they would have eaten the container, too.

Consequently, the kids are alluding to someone breaking in while we were out looking at Christmas lights, ignoring the electronics in the house, and eating the almonds, leaving one to throw us off the track.

Maybe we should dust for fingerprints.

This reminds me of a neighbor we used to have, one who called the police because someone came in and stole her scissors out of her desk. When the police answered the burglary call, they discovered the scissors in a different drawer than where they were usually stored. Our neighbor insisted that these were not her scissors, but exact replicas left by the thieves to throw law enforcement off their trail.

Just now, when we subjected each kid to individual questioning, Nita was tripped up and said, "But I didn't eat ALL of them."

We allowed her to plea bargain.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas letters

My dear friend Toby suggested that we write Christmas letters and include the story of Rocky as the night visitor.

This led me to reminisce about those form letters which we have received in the past.

My one neighbor, Mrs. Gladys Kravitz, always sent those we-are-so-fabulous-I-bet-you-wish-you-were-us newsletters to my mother, who lived next door. It made me want to gag.

I was always so tempted to send out our own version.

Dear Friends,

Merry Christmas! Yet another year has passed, this one more eventful than the last.

This year, Kiki struggled in math. She has gone to tutoring and has brought her grade from a 40% to a 42%! We are so proud of her, and it cost us only three thousand dollars. The doctor finally has diagnosed her with attention deficit disorder, and we are hoping that is the reason for all those outbursts which we have formerly attributed to hormones.

Rocky is doing so much better; we are so very proud of him. We have been to the police station only one time this year, and the police have been here only once--and this time, he didn't use the siren. Plus, he has been banned from only one store this year, and it is one which we don't frequent anyway. Rocky has been chosen for a special group in school, and he gets to go to a math class with three other boys. Not only that, he has been singled out for reading and is in a class by himself. Plus, his teacher has chosen him to sit with his desk right against hers, and the lunch room ladies allow him to have his own table and sometimes even sit with the girls! He has joined boy scouts, and the leaders like him so well they have chosen him to sit next to them at every meeting! This kid is truly loved.

This year has been great for Nita, too. Hers was the first name learned by her teacher, and the teacher has our phone number on speed dial on her cell phone. I feel so blessed--we are so popular!

My true Christmas blessing is that Mrs. Kravitz doesn't like us and doesn't send us those letters. Perhaps she is afraid of what she might get in return.

Happy holidays to all, and may peace prevail in your homes.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A series of illogical events

Rocky, as I have said, was diagnosed with attachment disorder. His disorder is now considered to be resolving, but he still has a diagnosis of attention deficit/hyperactivity.

Last week, I parked on the street in front of his scoutmaster's house to drop him off for a meeting. This decision on my part started a chain reaction of illogical events.

Rocky hopped out of the van and raced down the sidewalk, past the scoutmaster's house, to the NEIGHBOR'S house. I started honking my horn, but he ignored me, thinking I was saying an enthusiastic goodbye.

He said he went to the other house because the neighbors had more cars in their driveway. To make matters worse, Rocky ignored all his previous manners training and didn't knock at the wrong house--he just opened the door and thundered into the front hall. Then he froze.

The family, a mom, a dad, and two toddlers, was sitting around their kitchen table eating supper; they, too, froze when Rocky walked in. It isn't every day a black kid waltzes into someone else's house out here.

Rocky asked, "Is this the boy scout meeting?" Oh, duh.

The family stared, forks poised above their plates. One of the little boys began screaming, "A monster! A monster!" Now, I'm not up on these things, but how many monsters are four feet tall and wear cub scout uniforms...

The light finally dawned. Rocky said, stating the obvious, "Uh, wrong house" and backed back out the door. The family stared after him.

Rocky came back down the driveway and zipped back to the van. The girls and I were doubled over laughing.

Tonight I dropped Rocky off again. I was so tempted to drive into the wrong driveway, just to see if the neighbors had started locking their door against marauding monster webelos. However, I restrained myself and parked at the right house.

This one time.
I recently ran across the story of Peggy Hilt, an adoptive mom who beat her daughter, causing the child to die.

Here is the link:

I have two domestically adopted children and one bio daughter, and with Rocky I was THIS CLOSE to where Peggy Hilt was. And I do mean THIS CLOSE—I had something in my hand and was heading toward him, enraged beyond anything I had ever experienced before. And Rocky, at two, stood there and laughed at me. Luckily, I was able to detach enough to leave him in his room, lock the door, and call someone to come help me before I crossed that line.

Attachment disorder is hard for many people to understand because it totally contradicts the conventional belief that "all they need is love." When a child has not had the basic needs met of crying for a caregiver and having that caregiver come, they don't need love in the traditional sense--they need a therapeutic form of loving and parenting. New parents will take a child who has been surrendered, thinking that THEY can do what the previous parents did not.

What I think people fail to realize is that some adopted children, because of the trauma they experience, are driven by fear, so they are constantly fighting to maintain control of their environment. These kids honestly believe they are fighting for their lives because they could not depend on caregivers in the past, and their interactions with parents, especially moms, have been described as abuse. Much like other forms of abuse, it is subtle and gradual, and the parents feel isolated and are afraid they will be judged or blamed.

To make matters worse, the child is so outwardly charming to everyone else, the parents appear to be unbalanced.

Plus, it is hard to admit "I feel like killing this child" because people do not understand the complexity of the situation--they read an article or see an episode of Law and Order and think they understand this disorder. Also, many kids, both foreign and domestic, suffer from other disorders--fetal alcohol exposure, drug exposure, mental illness, lead exposure, autistic spectrum, and even physical illnesses; this makes the treatment each kid receives complex and different.

Parents who are interested in adopting should educate themselves about issues experienced by children who are in the system. It may take years to find an answer or a treatment which works. Also, they should be prepared to love fully and totally and perhaps not be able to reach this child. Some of the absolute best parents I know would traditionally viewed as failures because their children can no longer remain in the home, but to me, they are the real heroes, the true parents, as they have shown a damaged child what a family feels like.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Home Alone

This morning, I am at home alone.

This happens maybe four or five times a year. This ironic part is that EG said, "Gee, if I had known you were going to be home this morning, I wouldn't have made these other plans." It was all I could do to not shriek with hysterical laughter.

This is the last day of school until after the first of the year, so I am savoring my solitude.

Generally, the only alone time I get is when I am driving, so the minivan with the bike crash scratches has become my idyllic retreat, despite the homework papers, wrappers, boy scout uniforms, toys and other jetsam which shifts around in the back as I turn corners.

I remember when I was in college--there was a guy we knew who used his backseat as a trash receptacle, simply pitching fast food bags and candy wrappers over his shoulder until he had the time and access to a dumpster, not to mention the inclination to shovel out the mess.

His car got mice.

Which he discovered when one raced over the back of his seat one day while he was driving, and flung its little self into his lap.

Since the driver threw himself out of the car without stopping, let alone putting it into park, he lost control of the vehicle and ran it into some stationary object. When the tow truck guy arrived, he found the driver had gone to someone's house, gotten their trash can, dragged it to the curb, and was using his snow scraper to shovel out the back of the car. The tow truck guy stayed way back until the driver was finished.

So despite the mess which seems to regenerate itself, I am vigilant in keeping the car from becoming verminous. Since I do sometimes arrive places early and just sit in the peace and quiet for a minute, I would hear scritching and nibbling from the back. The kids scritch and nibble, too, but they are much louder. I can tell the difference, I think.

One night, I went to get Rocky from Cub Scouts, and I left the girls at home with their dad. I had left fifteen minutes early, as I felt stressed. I parked in front of the scoutmaster's house, watched the rain fall on my windshield, and called my sister.

I said, "I need to know if I am crazy."

"Well," she replied, "since I am standing out in the pouring rain in the dark and wearing a head lamp so I can barbecue, my perspective might be somewhat skewed."

Anyway, I digress. This morning, I mopped myself into the room with the computer, so I am forced to sit in here or walk on the wet floor.

Guess which one I chose. Maybe later I can grill while wearing a miner's helmet.

Monday, December 17, 2007


Well, the storm finally broke.

And I didn't.

However, this morning we got up and turned on the television (not a normal activity at this house that early in the day) to find that school was cancelled for the day. EG, who does the daytime childcare and relishes his free time during the school year, wailed, "Why? I don't understand..."

I cheerfully hopped into my car to mush the thirty miles on snow covered roads to give a final.

It is amazing how perceptions can shift so quickly. Another day, I may have been saddened and jealous that they all got to stay at home while I had to drive on treacherous roads to administer a test. However, after three days of non-medicated, Christmas hyped children, I was delighted to risk my safety just to get out of here.

And I wasn't in too big a hurry to get home, either.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Day 2 of the snow-in. We had rain overnight, but now the temperature is dropping and snow is starting again.

EG is giving us updates on the weather from the weather station in the kitchen. He is right on it--telling us every time there is a change, every minute or so.

Rocky has severe ADD/ADHD. For those of your who are unfamiliar with alphabet diagnoses, this means he is really hyper. According to my doctor, we should be leaving Rocky off his meds on the weekends so that he doesn't develop a resistance to the meds as fast. However, despite my not-so-subtle hints, the doctor has not volunteered to take Rocky for those two days a week. We just gave him coffee. I am, of course, referring to Rocky, not the doctor.

What with Santa coming in less than two weeks, the barometric pressure off the charts, and being housebound. . . . I was viewing images of Jack Nicholson in The Shining this morning.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Today is a snow storm. We are all in the house, holed up to wait out the storm, which has blessed us with three inches since lunchtime and looks to a lot dump more on us by tomorrow night.

One dog is yapping because it is suppertime, one dog is sitting in the middle of the living room looking as if he has lost something of value, and the third dog is in the basement after a dose of Pepcid AC. She had a bad case of heartburn for three days and is limited to chicken and rice and is not happy about it, as she prefers a diet of grass, things which stink, and whatever she finds that is borderline edible on the counters. The girls are upstairs, playing Santana and doing their version of dancing, which consists of jumping around until their dad yells or someone cries, whichever comes first, kind of an American Idol contest, I guess. Rocky is in his room, burping out Christmas songs. American Idol redux. Or is that reflux?

It is getting dark. It looks to be a long, long evening.

I remember driving across country, and seeing a deserted house up on a hill, surrounded by corn fields. I started thinking about the women who traveled with their husbands across the country to homestead. These women did not have neighbors nearby, television, radio, the Internet, or much else in social outlets. They had small houses or cabins, and they had only their husbands and children and livestock for company. Sometimes all of them lived in one room. How did they ever survive and stay sane?

It makes me wonder. Perhaps they were of "sterner stuff" than I am.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The next exit

My father died of complications of Alzheimer's disease, leaving us in baby steps. My sister compared our journey to a car trip--we were passengers in the back seat, and this little old man was driving down the interstate with his right signal perpetually flashing. We would approach an exit, thinking the journey was over, and we would pass it by yet again. Periodically, when my father's blood sugar crashed or he would fall or he would end up in the hospital for something, we would actually tool down the exit, only to re-enter the highway yet again without stopping, accelerating to merge with the flow of traffic.

When my father died, we had already received the diagnosis of dementia for my mother, who had remained at home; we had a lovely woman come in several times a week to help out and check on her. Within three or four months of his death, my mother was in the nursing home for the same reason. The journey continued. As my sister said, we got off the highway and came to a stop, but we even never got out of the car to stretch our legs.

This journey has not been easy, but it has been extraordinary. We have encountered much heartbreak. However, it has also blessed us in such unexpected ways.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Dirty Harry

Not too long ago, the kids and I drove an hour to a neighboring county to visit the dog pound. When we got there, we found a relatively young chocolate Labrador retriever who had been picked up as a stray. He was skinny, dirty, flea-infested, balding, and smelled incredibly awful. However, he jumped on the door of his kennel to greet us and wagged. I asked if we could take the dog outside. He was gentle, and he allowed me to handle him all over without making a fuss, but he had no manners and had a preoccupied air about him, much like someone who had misplaced his income tax papers on April 14.

We decided to bring him home.

Since he was a chocolate Lab, we named him Harry London, after the candy company.

However, this dog smelled so bad that we ended up calling him Dirty Harry.

Shortly, I realized that having Harry here is like having Clint Eastwood for a roommate. Like Mr. Eastwood, he is bigger than he seems, more gentle than we expect, and has an unexpectedly quirky sense of humor. I had ordered some dog toys, and this morning Harry opened the box, took out a rubber Kong, and proceeded to pounce on it for an hour or two. He is also much more intelligent than we would first judge him to be. Our female lab, Penny, was outside by herself earlier today, and she started barking at our neighbor’s cats. Harry walked up to me and barked to be let outside; normally, he would walk over to the door and wait, but I was in the other room, and if he had barked at the door, I would have scolded him. And like his cop namesake, Dirty Harry, our Harry won’t start something, but he sure will finish it.

However, our Harry has separation anxiety. We would leave a radio on, give him treats, and sneak out of the house, but he would bark anyway. He tried digging his way out of his dog crate, so we went out and got a replacement. One afternoon we came home to find that Harry had pried off the thick wires running down the sides of the new crate, leaving the cross wires intact.

We, stupidly, figured that would hold him. The next evening, the kids and I came home from the nursing home to be greeted at the door by an ecstatic Harry. He had busted out again, obviously squeezing himself through a six inch square opening which he had previously opened. Consequently, the dog crate has been relinquished to the basement, and Harry has the run of the house. I think we may change his name to Harry Houdini.

Friday, December 7, 2007

We wish you a merry chaos

Last night was the school Christmas concert.

These things are difficult for me. I like quiet and serenity. That is not something which Christmas concerts promise to the viewing audience.

I always have the perception that the children, when dropped off, would go to their seats, and the parents would do the same, keeping an eye on said children so that any miscreants who start galloping around the auditorium would immediately be redirected to the appropriate place. My kids know that they will do as they are told, or they will be pinned to said seat by the laser beam stare which I inherited from my mother. In her day, she could bring a ten year old boy with severe, unmedicated ADHD to a dead stop from across the room by merely raising an eyebrow.

And I understand now that I am delusional in thinking that the parents and grandparents would sit and respectfully listen to the other performers even while their children are not on stage. Never in a million years would it occur to me to talk on my cell phone while some children were performing The Littlest Angel, or to clean out my purse, loudly discussing each item I found with the person next to me, during Silent Night. Nothing like "all is calm, all is bright, round yon virgin, oh, look, now why did I keep that receipt from Burger King from last March?" to set a festive tone for the holiday season.

Also, what is this with the videotaping frenzy? These people are so busy recording the concert they don't pay any attention to who or what is around them. Last night, a man decided to videotape his child, who was in the same grade as my child, by standing directly in front of the empty chair in front of me. No, he didn't sit down. So, I had the choice of poking him in the seat of the pants, moving, or staring at his derrierre (a rather elegant term for a not-so-elegant view).

Since I am not incarcerated, guess which one I picked.

To make matters worse, I was somehow the only mom who did not get the letter about the costumes--the kids were to wear yellow shirts and crowns. When I asked Nita this week if she had to wear anything in particular for the concert, she said, "A tiara." Since this child is stuck in princess mode 24/7, I dismissed that as opportunism on her part. Consequently, my child stood out because she was wearing a very red poinsettia patterned sweater in a sea of yellow and gold

She was a whole lot less distressed by this than I was. Except she would have enjoyed that tiara, and I am sure she will remind me of that on numerous occasions over the next few months.

But the good news is that the concert season is over, and now I can get in the holiday spirit by sitting in my living room and putting in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Just those couple of minutes with Linus lisping while he quotes the story of the birth of Christ can center me each year and bring me back to where I need to be.

And I guess this is the moral of the story. We get so caught up in putting on and preserving the perfect show that we forget that simplicity is the real answer, and that the most perfect moments can only be recorded on and preserved in the heart.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Excedrin Headache, anyone?

Today my migraine started right about the time the student bit the police officer, and I took pain pills about the time they carted him off to the pokey.

It has been a week, and perhaps things will calm down before the holidays.

But perhaps not.


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

And we aren't even on the steppes of Siberia

Some Russian author (or at least I think it was a Russian author) once said, "Any idiot can handle a crisis. It is the day to day living that wears us out."

This is a week for wearing people out. The kids are sick. Along with the normal work/kids activities/school program schedule, we have had an electrical issue because the ceaseless rain last week caused a never-seen-before lake in our front yard and the standing lighted outdoor Christmas decorations shorted out. Siding blew off of the house because of the wind and we had to replace it in the pouring rain.

The rain finally did stop, only now it has turned to snow, snow, and even more snow. It took me 90 minutes to get to work today. And, of course, the kids assumed there would be a snow day, then responded with the expected whining and complaining of "that's not fair" when the bus could get through. I mean, we live in Northeast Ohio--this is what we always have, and why expect that the world is going to shut down because of two inches of snow?

Then there was a water problem in the basement, which turned out to be a leak in the pipe which carried dirty, murky, stinky water from the sump pump to the outside, and which I couldn't help but discover when I was standing right next to it when the sump pump engaged and the effluvia spurted all over me and the clean laundry. And of course, shutting down the pump before it completed its cycle was not an option, so I had to just wait it out or walk through a worse spray to get out of the way. The kids told me that I smelled like hard boiled eggs. Plus our renters called us--they are having problems again with their electricity, oh, and they can't pay the rent on time. Again.

EG had my grandfather clock fixed this week, and it strikes the hour--one o'clock--on the hour, every hour.

The clock man informed me that it was right--twice a day at one o'clock.

Plus, the SWAT team was outside work today, one of my students now has a warrant issued for her arrest, and in an unrelated case, there was an alleged theft in my classroom yesterday.

And it is only Wednesday.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Nene and the cats

We have three Labrador retrievers. Well, two labs and a mix. Nash, known as Nene, is a lab mixed with Great Dane or Mastiff or some other monstrously large animal, possibly a throwback to Tyrannosaurus Rex. He is a sweet dog, and he actually smiles because he is happy to see us. The first time he walked up to me, showing a mouthful of pointy pearly whites, I backed away slowly. However, Nash is a gentleman.

Nash loves stuffed animals, and he will grab them and run around the room. The kids will scream hysterically, but Nash will drop the toy on command.

Unfortunately, we have a neighbor who has cats, and this neighbor does not spay or neuter. The adult cats live for only a couple or three years, and new generations replace the old ones. Her cats are allowed to breed indiscriminately. They are beautiful animals, nicely marked, and very sweet, but because of inbreeding, poor health care, and most likely poor food, they are, to put it bluntly, stupid.

One gorgeous mama cat insists on having her kittens in our shed or burning barrel, right in the middle of the area where our dogs run. Our neighbor will come over, retrieve the mother and the kittens, and take them home to the garage. If she gets out, the mother will try to bring them back to us. And so it goes. Once the kittens are about six weeks old, our neighbor will allow the kittens to go outside. We try our best to keep the dogs away from the cats. Unfortunately, between the dogs, raccoons, opossums, hawks, foxes, and coyotes, the kittens rarely make it much beyond this point. Eventually, only one or two kittens will have survived. At this point, the mother cat will bring them over to the border of the dogs’ radio fence, and all will sit just out of reach, washing themselves, and I’m sure giving the dogs little kitty flip-offs when I’m not looking.

Eventually, the mom will decide it is time to trek the little ones directly across our yard to teach them to hunt baby bunnies and mice in our field. Unfortunately, this is where Nash gets involved. I can see his little doggy brain alert, most likely thinking, “Hey! A walking fuzzy toy!” Or, “Finally! Now’s my chance!” He will run up to the mother cat, who will retreat back home, leaving her kittens to their unfortunate fate--some mother. The kittens will sweetly wave their tails in the air and stare at Nash, who will then grab a kitten and race around the yard with it. He does not kill the cats outright, but the outcome is usually inevitable by the time we tell him to drop it.

We have taken our concerns to our neighbor, and she says she understands—it is an unfortunate thing that her kittens die and she knows the dogs are acting on instinct. I have strongly suggested to her that spaying and neutering are a part of responsible pet ownership. She told me, “But we like having the kittens, and the mother will miss having babies.”

Or if we are going to assign human feelings to an animal, maybe the mothers will be relieved to not have babies, only to have them die.