My Kid Just Rebooted 6th Grade… I am SO HAPPY!!

Zizi is officially in a Middle School homeroom, BUT because the school teaches to mastery, instead of the set-state guidelines of what has to be presented every year like the public schools, we got the option of considering this year 6th or 7th grade. We picked 6th. It won’t be a repeat year – she’ll learn all new things and continue to build herself academically in every way, but she’ll be graded and tested as a 6th grader instead of as a 7th grader. AND WE GET AN EXTRA YEAR OF OUR WONDERFUL GRADESCHOOL BEFORE GRADUATING!!!!

I am so thrilled, I can’t even explain it properly – this is the advantage of having moved her out of public school all those years ago, this kind of individualized education, and allowing her to learn at her own pace. This is what a real IEP experience should be like, and never is in the cookie-cutter system of the US today. And we can do it without any social stigma or knowledge of her friends – Zizi’ll be happy, she’ll be challenged, she’ll still be in the same classes that were scheduled for her, and she’ll get a much stronger academic and social foundation before eventually moving on, and we aren’t “holding her back” in a panic at 9th grade, freaking out about what we are going to do the following year. It’s a gift to our whole family.. these years are going by too fast, and pushing that 3-year event horizon out to 4 years, I am so relieved. She’ll be on much more solid footing when it’s time to move on out of “the magic bubble” of this place. Another whole year to grow.

Grade 6 v. 2.0  – WELCOME! WELCOME! WELCOME!

So, let me catch the blog up on what’s been going on in our lives. Big, good changes.

In July, Zizi went to the Summer Program at the school, as she always does. We love this program: real academics in the morning, great afternoons filled with art, music, swimming, and cultural activities. It’s held at her school, but it’s a camp and it’s open to all, so there are kids from other school who come as well, and it’s a great way for our kids to meet new people and make new friends, and it’s also a great way for kids who might be new students to get their feet wet before the real school year starts.

Well, this year, there was a new girl at the camp, and let’s just say, the 12 year old boys all sat up a little straighter and took notice. (Or at least one boy in particular, one that Z has had her eye on for the past year or so). Zizi is a beauty, but this girl, being all SHINY and NEW, meant Zizi suddenly found herself with some real competition for the first time.

Zizi got jealous, and started to wake up and take a look at herself. All of a sudden, it clicked with her, and she started asking about why all the boys like the new girl and not her? What was wrong with her? Wasn’t she pretty?

Now, as a parent, (and as someone with eyeballs) I could honestly promise my daughter that she is indeed very, very pretty. Several people have asked me if she’s going to go into modeling (over my dead body, and you better have a Ouija board and a good exorcist because I will rise from my grave to keep my baby away from that horrible industry). But having Brent to “give a guy’s opinion” carried even more weight than I could: “It’s not that the girl is prettier than you, it’s that she’s new, and that’s what got their attention. It’s a boy thing. That’s always the case.”

However, I also asked Zizi, “What kind of clothes does she wear? Does she have curves? Has she already developed a chest yet?” Oh yeah, big-time curves (for a 6th grader), combined with body-conscious dressing and summer shorts. It’s a wonder the boys didn’t all flunk the summer program with that sitting in class with them. The girl was perfectly nice, perfectly modest, and from what I could see, not even being flirty or playing it up at all, and totally oblivious to the boys’ attention and Zizi’s reaction. Just a sweet kid who enjoyed a new summer camp.

Zizi would cheerfully dance in a pool of her entrails. Still.

So, after she had her August week with her dad, it was time for back-to-school shopping, and Zizi told me, “I want to dress older. More …sexy.”

I was not alarmed. I was thrilled.  I had been expecting this, and impatiently hoping for it. My daughter isn’t asking to dress like a tramp, she’s just finally ready to move out of the frothy bubblegum pink and sparkly unicorns and glowing neon colors at the Justice store, and move on to a more teenage look. I was relieved and delighted. That store is really geared for the 6-10 year old set, and while Zizi is developmentally behind in her academics, this is REAL age-appropriate social (and sartorial) awareness. 

We talked about what kind of look she wanted – after all, she still goes to a Quaker school, she needs to be appropriate for the environment and her age. You know who made a really great role model that we could both agree was “older” and “sexy” without being trampy or too hard to pull off? Amy Pond from Doctor Who! Right down to Karen Gillian’s haircut, Zizi loved that look, and I 100% approve.

But I had NO idea where to begin. This is all so new to me, and our budget is tight. Thank the gods of the internets, I could actually Google “back to school clothes 7th grade girl” and not only on Yahoo answers to people post answers but those answers usually include great links. Zizi is highly visual so within an hour I had a load of pictures for her to see – she was really happy. Of course, the one Zizi liked best for her “First Day” was an outfit that, had we bought the original pieces of it, would have included Stella McCartney and would have cost more than Brent’s car’s Blue Book value. No worries. The great thing about mass-market fashion is we can put together those high-priced looks for normal people – if I work carefully, I can copy anything and stay on-budget. The look she liked was gray jeans, gray studded Converse Chucks,  a white graphic T and a gray tailored “sweatshirt” blazer with zippers, and a black crushed matte silk wrap scarf. I duplicated the whole look for less than the designer-customized Converse Chucks would have cost, thanks to Forever 21, Hot Topic, Journeys, and a cheap accessories boardwalk shop in Ocean City NJ. We talked about “building a wardrobe” -  instead of rainbow colors that mismatch, it’s better to have a more monochromatic wardrobe with neutrals, blacks, and only some occasional pops of color that can ALL work together – and how many MORE different looks, and style,  that will give her.

Oh, and can I just say? Forever 21 – a LOT better bang for the buck than Justice!

After our original shopping trip to our local mall, I also took her for a special mother-daughter day down to the University City area of Philadelphia around U Penn. It was all about people-watching, as we sat eating Zizi’s very sophisticated choice of “Vegetarian Margherita Flatbread” and walking around the shops. It’s an Ivy League school, (founded by Quakers!) it’s got a great prepp-urban vibe but nothing too outrageous, and if my kid is going to emulate anyone, I wanted her to see for herself what real (smart) college kids are wearing right now.

It worked like a charm. She was in one of her new outfits, and she noticed every pair of gray Chucks and gray skinny jeans and black boots that we passed. We even stopped in the University Bookstore/Barnes & Noble and – I couldn’t believe it -  a guy came up and tried to talk to her. Obviously a freshman, he was Asian and had an accent, and was skinny and the same height as Zizi (5’7″). He had grabbed a single folder, and while I was looking at a rack of posters, he walked up to her and asked her where he could find the registers. Zizi became totally flustered, and tongue tied, and I swooped in and immediately and helpfully ruined his whole day by cheerfully directing him to where he could make his purchase. Off you go, college boy! Zizi hadn’t even realized that he had been hitting on her.

10 minutes later, however… The guy who rung us up when we were finished smiled at her as well. She’d decided to get a thick, bound Hello Kitty sketch book as a souvenir. Without missing a beat, she smiled back and pretended that she’d “forgotten her credit card” while rummaging in her purse… OH MY! Not flustered now! Time to go home and Mommy needs a glass of wine asap! I smoothly said, “Oh, let me get it for you this time, hon.” and covered for her. The clerk realized she wasn’t college age, but I don’t think he realized that she was under 16, and he decided to humor her, I guess… she didn’t realize he knew that, and I’m glad he he didn’t blow it and embarrass her.. but oh. my. God. I am SO about to have my hands full for the next 10 years!

If her father had been there he would have had needed the emergency defibrillator. I had to explain to her that the first boy WAS trying to hit on her – she really had been oblivious – and that nobody goes to the university bookstore for a single paper folder. Or, when you’ve gotten into an Ivy League school, you don’t have trouble finding the registers you walked past on your way in the front door. OY VEY! She lit up when I told her that – it really boosted her, especially after a summer of watching the boy she likes crushing on another girl.

Boy, was she ever ready to get back to school in her outfit this morning! First day back, and between the new layered haircut and the new clothes, she was up and out of bed and dressed and already trying to get me into the car at 7:03 this morning – 40 minutes early and with no breakfast.  Girl was locked and loaded for bear. I had to slow her down and make sure she had a decent meal, get a picture of her… and cross my fingers.

It’s gonna be wild ride this year.

I Always Meant to Do This

I had an old blog years ago, and there was one particular day, when Zizi was 5 years old, in January of 2006, when I had absolutely the quintessential BAD DAY in Motherhood. Seriously. Now I can look back and laugh about it, but I am so, so glad that I took the hours the next day and wrote it all down, because nobody would ever believe me, otherwise, that this really happened. But it did. To me.

This morning, as I logged on to see what new and funny things were happening in George Takei’s internet… I noticed that there was a request for family stories for Unique’s next magazine issue. So I dug out this story, dusted it off, and I’m sure they’ll be editing the hell out of it, given my potty mouth writing style. But I thought I’d post it here. I always meant to include it in this blog, just never got the moment when I could fix it up and put an update onto it. Enjoy!

All About Soul

(Originally written as a post in my personal blog in January, 2006. Updated in May 2013 )

By Liz Whalen Tarditi

It’s all about soul
It’s all about joy that comes out of sorrow
It’s all about soul
Who’s standing now and who’s standing tomorrow
You’ve got to be hard
Hard as the rock in that old rock ‘n’ roll song
But that’s only part, you know in your heart
It’s all about soul

~ Billy Joel

Last night, I lost it. I broke. Between 7 and 8 pm, I sat on the basement floor, by the door to the laundry room, crying my heart out and asking God, the Blessed Mother and my guardian angels: Why? Why? Why? I had been pushed to my limit, and then past my limit. I just couldn’t take any more.

It had been a bad, bad 3 hours.

The day started out pouring heavy rain, but by lunch time the clouds rolled back, and the sun had broken through, and it was like spring. Everything smelled earthy and fresh. The house was all nice and clean, for once, and I was pretty proud (and slightly in dazed awe) of that fact. I love Fridays. I had run to the grocery store for a few things, gotten a new flavor of ice cream as a surprise for Zizi, and found that the big sea scallops were on special. I was all happy, with visions of pan-searing them and putting them over pasta in a vodka-lemon cream sauce, for a nice dinner for myself after she went down for the night.

And, I have to admit, there was a spring in my step. The snow some had predicted never came. My period’s finally almost done. This week, I had a lot of work that I did for Zizi. I was in SuperMom mode, every single day. But I also made time for myself: dinner one night with an old friend; I have my pink sweater outfit all set for Sunday’s party; and I even managed to squeeze a trip up to the mall in, and replaced all my makeup that the kid destroyed last week when she painted the dog. I tried to see the silver lining to the disaster: ok, so I lost 2 full bottles of foundation, eye shadows, lipstick, and my 2 best Mac brushes (that hurt the most, they cost a bloody fortune). The silver lining was that the new spring colors are in, with lots of really pretty pinks. I didn’t really want to drop $225 on cosmetics, but it’s not like I can take the money out of a 5-year-old’s piggy bank. I justified the expense in that the new makeup will last me until summer.

So, like I said, I was happy. I’ve been waiting all week for the weekend to finally arrive, and it was finally here! Hooray! And then Zizi got off the bus.

And she said she wanted to play in the backyard. Great! Take advantage of the nice afternoon, and I could finish up the housework before dinner time. I had the back door open, and I could hear her laughing and playing, with the dog, and I’d peek out the windows as I went from room to room, putting stuff away.

She wasn’t out there 10 minutes, when I looked out the window of my bedroom and saw that she had taken off her clothes (no coat, no pants, no sweater, no socks, no shoes) and was on the sliding board, sliding right into an enormous mud puddle at the bottom. I hadn’t seen the mud puddle from the back door, but seeing from the second floor… oh crap, it was like a grave. Or an elephant wallow. Soaking wet and covered in sticky brown mud from head to toe, my child was having the greatest time in her life. In nothing but a t-shirt and cotton panties. Oh, shit!

I ran. Completely aware with every gasping heartbeat that my child had probably already caught quadruple pneumonia, hypothermia, and some disease they didn’t even have a name for yet combined, while my neighbors were all speed-dialing each other and Child Protective Services over the white trash single mother letting her child run naked, unsupervised, for all the child molesters in the world to see, in January, frolicking in the mud puddle. Oh shit, oh shit oh shit oh shit.

So I got out there, and “convinced” Zizi, who was perfectly happy the way she was, to come inside with me to get a nice warm bubble bath. On the way in, I discover the pile of clothes and shoes by the back door. Soaking wet. With pee.

Sigh. I didn’t know if it had been by accident or on purpose, so there was no point in issuing a punishment – she needed the bath, and by the time that was over, she wouldn’t understand why I was upset about the clothes anymore, anyway.

Oh, damn. Her brand new, less-than-2-week-old sneakers were stinking and soaked as well. I replaced the last pair of sneakers for the same reason – too many “accidents” running down her legs, befouling the shoes. Can I put Nikes in the washing machine? If they had been covered with mud, it wouldn’t have been as bad as this – they may be completely ruined. So I brought her up, thinking this was a new record for the house: the house had been cleaned less than 2 hours ago, and here I was putting a mud-covered child in what had been the pristine bathtub, slopping up the nice clean bathroom, and pretty much canceling out any possibility of sneaking in a relaxing bath myself after she went to bed for the night.

But she was happy to take the bath, and it warmed her up well, and then I dressed her in nice soft clean sweat pants and long-sleeved t-shirt. She told me she was sleepy, and wanted to get into her bed for a nap.

OMG Awesome! A quiet hour so I can go clean up the bathroom, wipe the muddy ring from around the tub, go wash the pee-soaked clothes, and then get back to the housework I dropped 45 minutes ago? A gift from the gods! So, as per Zizi’s request, I laid down next to her in her bed, and rubbed her back, and sang softly to her while she curled up and snuggled her Blankie, and sucked her thumb. After about 10 minutes, she didn’t want me to leave, but I got her to let me go, and stay in the bed.

For all of 5 minutes.

Then she was up and running. And wanted to watch TV, and have a snack. Yeah, the nap was too much to hope for. I’d already known that was truly a miracle if it happened. So I put on her favorite PBS Kids show, got her cookies and milk, and settled her in downstairs in front of the TV. She was warm and clean, and I’d attended to her every desire, so she looked content. She said she was happy.

I went upstairs to try to clean up the bathroom, again, muttering that cleaning it twice in one day never makes it twice as clean. And then I hear her shouting at someone. Sounds like she’s shouting outside, saying “Hello! Hello! I’m Zizi!” to a neighbor. It hadn’t been 10 minutes. WTF? Is she outside? I know I didn’t leave the back door open, I bolted it at the top where she can’t reach. I was on my knees in the other bathroom, cleaning the tub, so I called to her, and asked what she was doing. She yelled back, from what sounded like her bedroom, “Nothing.”

Yeah, right. Mama don’t play that game.

I went looking for her. Searched the whole house, including checking that supposedly bolted door, finally going all the way back upstairs to the bedrooms. She wasn’t in her own room – she was in mine. In my bathroom. She was standing on the toilet seat, had rolled the second-story window wide open, and was shouting out to the neighbors and throwing the contents of my medicine cabinet, my vanity, and all my toiletries out of the window to smash on the cement patio, walkway, and grass below.

“Zizi!” I grabbed her away from the window, absolutely horrified and aghast. She smiled up right in my face, like, “Ha, what are you going to do about it?”

Let me make this clear: the child absolutely knew she was being bad. She has the run of the house, but my room is not a place for her to play. After turning Maggie-dog into a greasy 85-pound makeup brush the previous week, Zizi received a stern lecture, a “time out” and the RULE that she was never to go into my bathroom. This was just mean. Taking pleasure in defiance and destruction.

The piddled-on clothes might have been an accident; this was not. I was furious. Opening that window was absolutely unacceptable. Dear, sweet Lord, if she’d climbed out she would have been killed. I was shaking as it hit me in waves what might have happened to her. She left the cookies and milk for the dog to eat downstairs, had snuck past me, and gone looking for trouble. She knew this was bad, and she did it anyway. I could see it all over her face. I pulled her into her room, yelling about breaking the rule and being a bad girl – and she laughed at me. Laughed right in my face. I told her she was going to “get a spank!” and she laughed about that, right in my face.

Anyone who disagrees with what I’m about to say next, too damn bad. She had to know that if she ever touched that window again, the consequences would be swift and severe, and no laughing matter. I love my child. I would die for my child. I am NOT playing around when it come to lessons involving her safety. I gave her 5 swats, right on her bare little bottom.

And we were both crying on #5.

I said, “Time out!”, left the room, and locked the door so she couldn’t get out and do anything else, while I cleaned up the backyard.

I was shaking. I’d had to spank her. It’s the worst thing in the world. It was too early to send her to bed without dinner, and the time out last week had obviously not worked, but I was shaking in both fear and anger. Things like this, I don’t understand – I had treated her lovingly. I had given her a bubble bath, and cookies and milk, and put on her favorite show, I got repaid by this? I just don’t understand it. I don’t know what to do, or how to deal with this.

And the weight of this, the raising of this child, the helplessness I feel and the failure, was heavy on my heart as I walked outside to go clean up. It was everywhere. I was cringing. I could only imagine what the neighbors thought, whoever she’d been yelling to, as they saw me gather my hairbrush and can of hairspray, and styling products in their bright green containers. And the Crest Whitestrips. OMG, the box had broken open and the little foil packets were scattered everywhere across the whole lawn, so now the whole world knows my teeth are naturally beige. And my pretty candle holder that had sat on my sink! Oh, damn, the glass was smashed into a thousand shards, all over the cement and in the grass. Make up sponges everywhere, bottle of Motrin, hand soap pump bottle … and all the brand new, unopened boxes of Lancôme makeup that I’d just spent all that money on, a day before. That I’d been so happy about, that I was going to wear this weekend. The new blush I’d bought had exploded inside its packaging, and I could see the pink dust pieces in the plastic wrapper.

Look, I know it’s just stuff. Just things. But I live for this child. My life revolves around her care and comfort. Is it really, really too much to ask that a few little things remain mine? That they don’t get shared, and trashed, just for her amusement? Is it so very, horribly, selfish of me to want something nice of my own? I picked it all up in silence, too embarrassed to look around and see which neighbors were outside watching me.

I brought it all back up to my bathroom, and wiped the mud and grass off what I could, and if there was any bright light in all of this, it was the packaging, and landing on the wet grass, saved a bottle of the foundation. The blush was ruined. I think there’s still broken glass outside, I have to go back out in full sunshine to make certain there are no more pieces left in the grass.

Mommy needed a timeout.

I sat on my bed, feeling so old and worn down. And so much like a stupid, clueless noob when it comes to motherhood. Shaking my head, I took a few deep breaths to try to center myself again. Then I went back in to her room. The child was still crying, but had calmed herself. She ran to me and said “I’m a good girl, I’m a good girl, Mommy!”

And I picked her up, and sat on her bed, and held her and hugged her gently. We both looked into each other’s eyes, and I said, “Oh, Zizi, we are not having a good day today, are we? What are we going to do?” And I held her, and rocked her like a baby, and kissed her and soothed her, until she wasn’t crying anymore. Then I talked to her, and gently, but firmly, repeated the rules: no going in my bathroom. No touching the window. No climbing up. No touching my stuff. It took a few times before she repeated each thing back to me, one at a time. Once she did, I said she was my good girl, and I love her, and we both walked out of the room together.

I directed her back down to watch the TV, but by now it was time to get dinner ready. She wanted soup, I was grateful for something so easy. We were both ok with each other – loving. Kind. Zizi  has a job to feed the dog a cup of kibble at dinner time (with supervision), and she did it right, so I rewarded her with her favorite, a maraschino cherry. The scallops were in the fridge, but I was feeling tired, and sadly thought maybe it wasn’t the night for cooking myself any big-production dinner, even after she went to bed. She ate her soup, and some yogurt, and finally, the new ice cream I’d got her for dessert.

While she ate her ice cream, and watched some Disney, I went into the laundry room, to put those sodden clothes into the washing machine. I had a wet load ready for the dryer, too. Just then, the phone rang. It was about 6:30, the Exhusband was calling (late) to talk to Zizi. They talked for a few minutes, and then I was supposed to talk with him to update him on the progress I’d made for the past 2 days in getting her records from her current program, and who I’d spoken to, and the work I’d done, but I was bone tired. Too tired to even tell him about the day we’d had. I was tired just climbing the 8 steps up from the basement to hang up the phone. I asked if we could talk another time – I was busy with folding wash, and cleaning up the dinner dishes, and we hung up.

I walked back down the basement stairs, hearing an odd noise, a soft metallic bang-bang-bang the sound of something being banged into the metal sides of the appliances?

Oh, God.

Zizi had taken one of her step-stool toys, pulled it over to the two appliances. Climbed up. Reached a 64 oz. bottle of liquid Downey fabric softener. Full bottle.

She’d climbed down again. Opened the DRYER that had been running. Poured the Downy in the machine, on the door, and then, emptied the rest of it all over the floor. Half an inch deep. Then she went to the cleaning closet, got a sponge mop, and was “mopping” it around on the laundry room floor.

How long had it taken me to hang up with the Ex? 3 minutes? Not even. I started to hyperventilate when I saw her in the middle of the lake of Downy. Then I saw the dryer door was open, and oozing, and I started to cry. We can’t afford a new dryer. We just can’t. Oh, God.

And she smiled up at me. I looked at her in horror, at this monster that is my only child.

I picked her up and took her to her room – she immediately started to throw a temper tantrum that she didn’t want to go to bed yet. Kicking and screaming and hitting me. I was speechless. I laid her in the bed, in her sweats, and said “Zizi, look at Mommy. Mommy is crying. Do you see Mommy crying?”

She just didn’t get it. She was pissed at being put to bed, and kept yelling at me, and I couldn’t take it. I walked out and locked the door to her room. I couldn’t even look at her. I was shaking, gasping for air. I made my way down to the kitchen, got a roll of paper towels, then back to the basement, to the doorway to the laundry room.

And then, I just crumbled. Fell to my knees on the carpet, looking at all of the mess. When I looked at the ooze, coming from the dryer, I started sobbing. I couldn’t hold it all back anymore. I just broke.

I’ve been so scared. Those new  evaluations came back, and all hell broke loose, and I’m terrified, and all of a sudden, I’m back at square one again, fighting the state to try to get her the help she needs. The school, the school that I thought was doing so much to help her, with all its OT gyms and Masters Degree Special Ed teachers…turns out has not helped, Zizi has not made meaningful progress, she has regressed. I don’t understand it – she’s too much for THEM and they deal with all kinds of special needs kids, even kids with Cerebral Palsy and oxygen tanks and all kinds of scary stuff, but my little girl needs a team of 3 to handle her?!?! Now they have been trying to push her out on to the school district, even though she’s not ready. They don’t want to deal with her for another year. The state agency is already playing politics and negotiation tactics. All these people who chose this as a profession, and have years of training and experience… and none of them have any idea of what to do! How can this be possible?

And the condo hasn’t sold. I’ve been carrying 2 mortgages for 9 months, and have had to borrow against my equity of my house, and replaced the carpets, and still, with two open houses, no offers have come in. And this week, I got a notice from the condo association that they are levying a $5,000 assessment on all the units, to replace all of the furnaces.

The taxes are going to be due in two months, and dear god, how am I going to pay it this year? More equity out of the house? And the support runs out next year. I was supposed to have a business incorporated, and up, and profitable, and I put it aside for one year, then two, and now… forever? How am I going to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads, when every time I try to work again, this child’s needs nuke any chance or hope of me doing anything but taking care of her? Forget about having my own business, how can I hold down a job, when it’s always a crisis, always a new problem, when it never ends?

I’m alone, I’m terrified that I can’t keep it all together. That I’m a terrible mother. That I can’t handle all of this. How can I be calm, and loving, and kind with all of this on my plate? How can I nurture this child, and give her my best, when everything is spiraling so out of control? When I feel so lost, so alone, so completely overwhelmed? How do other single moms do it? I know they do, but HOW?

And I asked God, and the Blessed Mother, and my guardian angels, Why? Why would it be this way, when all I have ever wanted in life is to be loved, and to have a family, and be a good mother, and make a loving home? Why would I chart this for myself in this life, and set myself up for failure? I am failing. I can’t do this. It’s too much and I’m breaking, and I know it.

I love this child. I love her like the ocean it’s so big. And I’m failing her. I’m not good enough. I’m not strong enough. I can’t take any more of the hard part. It was supposed to get easier, the light was supposed to be at the end of the tunnel, and now it’s all taken away? Why? Why would God give me more than I can handle? Because I am not handling this. I am sitting on the floor of my basement, pathetically sobbing over a pool of fabric softener.

And I yelled at God, and the Blessed Mother, and my angels: This is enough. I admit failure. I admit I’m just not good enough. I need help. Pick something. Pick one thing, and take it off my plate, dammit. Sell the condo, or let the school stuff work out right away, or bring me somebody who will be a helpmate. Pick one, and help. Please.

And then, abashed what I had just done, what I had just said, and the way I had said it, I bowed my head, I added the words, if it be Your will. Your Way, not mine, oh Lord. Your Way, not mine. If it be Your will, please, please help your servant. Help me not to fail. Help me to be the good mother she deserves. Give me strength. Make me better. Lift part of this burden that is breaking me, and I can handle the rest. Sell the condo. Or send me some support, so I’m not doing this all alone. Or take one of the things I am scared about away, and let me do well for this child. Help me to understand and take care of her. Because I am broken.

Maggie dog had seen me crying, and just then came an put her paw on my lap. She understood, even if she didn’t know what it was all about, she understood. I petted her as the flood passed out of me. Finally, when I was recovered enough, I started at the doorway, and began sopping up the fabric softener with the paper towels, making a clean path until I could get to the dryer, without slipping and falling, or getting the Downey all over my skirt. I took the clothes out, and put them into the washer again. Then I wiped and cleaned the door of the dryer, and the insides, until it looked all clean, and it seemed safe to try a test run. After 15 minutes of running empty, no funny smell or smoke came out, and I let out a breath of relief. Zizi hadn’t killed the dryer.

Maybe that counted for my one thing off my plate.

I had put the load back into the washer, to rinse out the Downy again, turned on the machine, and then shuffled upstairs, drained, exhausted beyond anything I can describe, I took a frozen dinner out and put it in the oven. Went and put my pajamas on, then came down and looked at the open bottle of pinot grigio on the door of the fridge, and didn’t pour myself a glass. I was drained. My body was aching. I’d felt chills ever since the afternoon, and knew if I didn’t watch out, I’d have a nasty cold that would ruin Sunday. Besides, there are times, when the wine is good for blowing off steam, and then there are times, when it’s bad for blowing off steam. It had been too bad of a day to end it with alcohol. Beyonde here there be dragons.

I poured myself a big glass of iced tea, and went back downstairs to change the channel. SciFi was coming on any minute. I’d just curl up and wait for my dinner to cook.

The laundry room was flooded with 3 inches of water.

Somehow, in cleaning up the mess, I’d dropped a wad of the paper towels into the utility sink. When the washer drained, it swept them into the drain, plugging it. The sink filled. Then overflowed. I spent the next 3 hours cleaning it up, using beach towels. On commercial breaks. At least the Downey’s been washed away. My bare feet were in the freezing cold water pretty much all night. I was sick before I even went to bed.

Today was better.

Did you really doubt it? It would have been pretty effing hard for it to be any worse!

But I know, we all have days like yesterday. Today was better. Someday, I’ll laugh about yesterday. That my life was a monument to Murphy’s Law. Not quite yet. I really hope tomorrow is a good day.

 

Post Script, written 7 years later (May, 2013):

The condo finally sold about a month later. I stopped buying Lancôme makeup, and have bought L’Oreal, with coupons, at my local drugstore ever since that episode. The move to the school district was a nightmare – the worst 2 years of our lives –  but because of it, the Exhusband offered to pay for her to go to a school that is truly a godsend, for “bright children who learn differently” .  With caring, engaged teachers, the right supports in place, and the right medications, we were in a much better place. About 3 years later, the pediatrician suggested we get the micro array test that told us Zizi had a deletion of 16q24.2. Neither of us have the same deletion, and the doctors said Zizi was only the second child in the whole database who’d ever been found with this deletion. Finally, we got the answer to the WHY?  All those experts were wrong, they had NEVER seen any child like Zizi before. She is my snowflake child: perfect and unique and a prism of rainbows. Now at age 12, she’s a leader in her school, and she loves it and has blossomed. She stole the show in the school play this past year, played right field on the softball team this spring, … and is such a gifted artist that she creates her own graphic comic books in the Manga style, fortunately using pencils, not makeup, for coloring them in.

Also, thanks to Zizi and the fact I couldn’t go out much at night, I used to play World of Warcraft online. Well, I made a friend in the game, who later became much more than a friend in real life, and the best part was, thanks to the blog I used to have, and posts like this, he knew all about the reality our lives before he became part of them. He was the helpmate that I had been praying for. We got engaged this past Christmas.  Zizi adores him, and is very excited to be my Maid of Honor.

 

 

“Help! I Need Some Diversity Training!”

OK, so yesterday, it was Wear Your Pajamas To School Day, and we did Breakfast for Lunch for the kids. They LOVE this. It rocks. It wasn’t a lunch put on by the Parents’ Association (that’s this Friday, and yes, I’m making Potato Leek Soup for that as well) but the teacher asked if I could come in to help out and of course I said yes, and ended up toasting (on an electric griddle, 10 at a time) about 120 Eggo waffles, and in payment for my services I am now stealing the teacher’s technique of heating a whole crock-pot full of 100 links of Brown-N-Serve sausages in watered down maple syrup as the “braising” liquid… my GOD, I almost wept, it was so delicious – talk about a magically easy way to feed a crowd!

But while I was there, helping out, one of the kids came up and asked (in the way that she was almost telling me) me if she could call me Missy.

I go by a lot of names, some nicer than others, but Missy ain’t one of ‘em.

This particular child does this – asking random, nonsense questions -  frequently. They haven’t been rude or vulgar, just… random oddball, nonsense. Zizi has had a hard time this year relating to her, though I think she’s far less stressed out about it now than in the beginning of the school year. I’m around the school so often that pretty much most of the kids know me by name, and either call me “Zizi’s Mom” or “Liz” or “Mrs. Tarditi” – and they ALL know me as one of the “food moms” when we have a special lunch day.  It’s so easy to get kids to like you, all you really gotta do is smile while you feed them. And this isn’t the first time this young girl has asked me a strange question, though usually before they were about Zizi, “Did Zizi wear a sweater on January 1, 2007?”

Now, of course, given the Heap of Disorders my Zizi has, my first thought was, “Wow, there’s one diagnosis we HAVEN’T got – that’s refreshing!” But coming right on it’s heels was the realization that I had NO idea what the protocol was for correctly handling these questions… and the sneaking suspicion that I was Doing It Wrong. The past several lunches I’ve helped out at, I’ve been so busy and we had so many moms there that we were all talking to, that I never really thought too much about it. But yesterday I realized that I hadn’t ever seen her talk to the other lunch moms at things – she was reaching out to me in particular. I don’t know if it is because Zizi and she are in several classes together, or just because I’m at the school so often, or a combination of both… but that I should make sure I get some “training” on this.

So back in the Kitchenette, while I was making up the next batch of waffles to take out, one of the teachers walked in and since we were alone and away from all the kids, I explained the situation. I didn’t even mention the student’s name, or ask what the diagnosis is – I just said, “Can I ask you a question? I think I need some diversity training. One of the kids has something that my kid doesn’t have, and I want to make sure I’m handling things the right way when I interact with them.” She said “SURE! What’s up?” I said, “I won’t mention names, because it doesn’t matter who it is, but one of the kids just asked if they could call me Missy. And other times I’ve been here, same kid, has asked me other random questions that just make no sense and kind of boggle my mind. I’m caught off guard, trying to process what they are asking… or why,… because the questions have nothing to do with the lunch or the food or anything that I can tell?”

Her eyes lit up as soon as I got to the word “Missy” by the way. Maybe I’m not the only one who the kid was trying to rechristen this week. So much for me being special. So she knew exactly who I was talking about, and yes, the kid does this to everyone, all the time, and it is part of her “thing” but she couldn’t mention what that thing was of course.. but yes, my fumbling, caught-off-guard expressions were feeding the situation, the right way to handle it is either to ignore it an ask the kid “How are you today?” or simply say, “That’s a nonsense question.” Or, like I had answered, “My name isn’t Missy.” Keep it brief, and flat.. less of a response is best. They are working on socialization, and we don’t want to feed into the bad habit. And, if I want to follow up I could ask Mrs. X about it since the kid is in her room and she knows the child best so she could give me better pointers.

That simple. 3 minute “cheat sheet” Diversity Training… (from someone with a Masters in Special Ed., God bless our wonderful school!) and now for all the times I see and interact with the kid in the future, I know the Right Way to handle it, and if any of the other moms ever need help, I can pass it on. And, for that child, I can now be comfortable and confident in interacting with her, knowing how, and not undermining the work the teachers are doing.

I am so glad I asked!

Editing the News

The last 9 months have been brutal for a kid who is just waking up to the greater world around her. The Sandusky Trial, Sandy Hook, and now the Boston Marathon?

Jesus H. Christ…. what a world to grow up in.

One of the jobs I’ve had absolutely no qualms about as a mom has been editing Zizi’s exposure to the news. To be honest, it’s been hard that I have to let more reality in these days, and stop protecting her as much. She wasn’t even 9 months old when 9/11 happened, and one of my thoughts that day was how glad I was that she wouldn’t remember it firsthand. Over the years since then, a lot of absolutely horrible things have happened, and when she was younger, I had to make sure those things didn’t touch my child. Editing my own exposure to the news has been a much harder skill to learn.When something is really hitting the fan, and I find myself glued to the TV.. I’ve had to learn to make myself turn it off, and only check back for updates as truly necessary.

I’ll never forget the coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Zizi was 4 that summer. We had just bought our house and had spent the summer renovating it, and had just moved in less than 2 weeks earlier. I was still unpacking. Needless to say, having the damn 24-hour news cycle on every channel was bad enough, but then, as we all know… the media got the story wrong. Badly wrong. Reporting atrocities of rape and murder and gang violence – that were later proven false, in case you didn’t hear the quiet whisper of retraction on the part of the media – but there came a time when I just had to turn the TV on to kid shows, or put Disney videos on, so there would be no chance of “Breaking News Updates”

I almost ended a friendship that week over Hurricane Katrina reporting. After making that conscious decision that my child at age 4 did not have to have her own experience of Hurricane Katrina, given that we lived over a thousand miles away, nor did Zizi deserve to have an upset, fearful mom who was totally bugging out over the scary TV stories, I got a call from a friend who’d been glued to the TV for 48 hours. And who, despite me trying to change the subject about 5 times, wanted to talk about the upsetting and horrible news stories that had been her steady diet of brain food… and when I finally said for the 5th time “NO I haven’t been watching the coverage” she got very angry and really unloaded at me, about how irresponsible I was being, and how could I just ignore what was going on?

My friend wasn’t a mom. She didn’t get it.

Kids at 4 aren’t dollies that we dress up and watch play. They are incredibly smart and savvy, and they have all the brain power at that age that they will have at 18.. they just don’t have the data blanks filled in. My 4 year old might not have been able to find New Orleans, LA on a map, but she sure as hell knows if Mommy Is Upset Today.. and kids internalize Mommy’s upset as something THEY did (because let’s face it, the majority of times they’ve seen us upset, it’s usually over a crayoned wall, or a dog wearing $265 of lipstick and foundation, or a potty accident…. in other words – it was the kid’s fault!)

So, yeah, my friend and I had it out. I had to set limits, and I had to get clear with my friend: it’s OK to prioritize your own information stream. To choose what you let into your house, and into your own mind and spirit, when you have a little child who needs love and nurturing and a safe home. And I had nothing to apologize or feel guilty for – we live in Pennsylvania – what the hell did my friend think I was going to do to solve the problem? Load up the kid and dog into the car and drive across country to go hand out bottles of water? Bring my own shotgun, and declare myself the Queen of the Superdome? She finally got the message: I wasn’t going to turn on the TV anymore and I wasn’t going to be able to talk to her any more about the news she saw and had gotten so upset over… my daughter came first.

We are still friends today. But she knows, when something horrible happens, I still might choose not to discuss it if Zizi can overhear.

I am damned sure that when Boston went on lockdown this past Friday, parents everywhere were blessing their DVD players for the kids, and kissing their smartphones and computers for news updates for themselves.

But that’s not the only news I edit. The personal “news” of our grown up life problems and crises close to home, that never make the TV coverage, they get edited out too, for as long as we can, at least. Kids don’t need to know every little worry and problem we have in paying the bills, or managing money in these hard times.The don’t need to be fully informed about every little detail on all the worst case scenarios of medical conditions for people they love. They don’t need to know the psychological profiles of every nut and fruitloop hanging on the family tree.

However, and especially as they get older, the areas where you used to edit the information stream become hazy and gray. Like you MUST talk to your kids about predators when they are in Nursery school, no matter how much you don’t want to have that conversation, and with each new year, you have to keep updating that information. And you have to tell your kids than when their teacher gives them emergency instructions, they must follow the plan immediately and without question. It’s amazing to me that some parents don’t know it’s totally OK to say “NO, we can’t afford that” a hundred BILLION times through the grocery store when your kid wants to buy everything from Plastic Water Guns to Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs to Justin Bieber’s Glossy Teen-Millionaire Life in Photos. Or that, even if we are teaching them to “love others and not judge their differences”…. every single person ever featured on MTV’s Teen Moms, The Jersey Shore, The Kardashians, or Honey Boo Boo are complete and total IDIOTS (as well as possibly being the Harbingers of the Apocalypse, but I digress…)

Last week, I had a piece of news that I knew Zizi would need to hear about from me, but it was one of those “This SUCKS” moments in life, because it was going to hit her, and hurt her, personally… and there was nothing I could do about it. I simply could not edit this news. The only thing I could do, was decide how to present it, and how to turn it into a positive Teaching Moment for her.

Here’s the backstory: My parents have a beautiful 5-bedroom Shore House, with a pool and a dock, on a lagoon in Ocean City, NJ, and we love going down and staying with them on weekends in the summer time. We typically drive down Friday afternoon and leave early Sunday mornings when we visit, to beat the traffic. (Beating the traffic from Philadelphia to the South Jersey shore towns is something of a cultural obsession with those of us who love the shore.) While we are guests in my parent’s house, it is NOT like staying at a hotel or being on vacation – my mother has very strict expectations about how guests are to behave and clean up after themselves when they are in her home – but it is a great experience for Zizi to spend time with her grandparents, and we have tons of family and friends who all come over for swimming and hanging out, and it’s great to get away from our real life and… it’s The Shore. We love it there. We’ve always said if we win the lottery, the first thing we’ll do with the money is buy our own Shore House.

Zizi’s favorite bedroom is called “The Blue Room” it’s decorated in blue, white and tan, with model ships and carved wooden seagulls, and a boating motif, as you can imagine. She loves sleeping in that room, and I like it for her: it’s soothing, quiet, dark, and cool, and makes a perfect “retreat” during times when she’s gotten overwhelmed with sensory overload from a lot of people being over, and the sun and the wind, and the activity going on during any given weekend. She always wants that to be her room to sleep in, ever since she was a baby, but it goes beyond a mere preference of taste.

Unfortunately, my parents built the shore house while my brother was still living at home, and that was designated His Room when they’d be down at the shore… so  by default it always is the “boys room” in my mother’s mind when the two grandkids come down at the same time. She always gave my nephew the room to stay in, instead of Zizi, for that reason, she said. Yes, I did point out it was the darkest and quietest room of the house, and that Zizi had a real need that the room served, better than any of the other bedrooms… but my mother was not interested in changing her mind. And when you are the guests in my parents’ homes, you abide by their rules or leave.

So here’s the scenario: my mother has decided to invite my nephew, who is now 15 years old, to come down and live at the shore with them for the whole summer this year. He’ll be expected to have a full-time summer job, of course, but basically, it means that he will have the Blue Room,  and his grandparents’ attention and time,  all to himself for a whole summer, while Zizi and I will only come down for 3 or 4 weekends. And when asked about it, my mother stated plainly that “in 3 years, when Zizi is 15″  my mother will be “too old” to extend a similar invitation to Zizi.

While it’s not the first time that my nephew has received preferential treatment over the other two grandchildren – his own mother has complained about it – this is the first time her grandparents’ favoritism is going to be thrown so blatantly in Zizi’s face that it couldn’t be downplayed or mitigated.

So, first, I waited several days until my own reaction had dissipated, and I could look at it from a rational distance, and talk to Zizi about it calmly.  I decided to tell Zizi while we rode in the car alone together on her way to school. It’s about a 25 minute ride, so it let her have time to react, but not get herself whipped up into a real frenzy over it – she’d be naturally distracted by the rest of her day. Then after she had a couple days to think about it, we had a therapy appointment scheduled anyway, so I used that car ride to bring it up again, and listen to how she felt about it. She was understandably angry, and I made sure to validate those feelings. She is entitled to her feelings, they are natural and appropriate, she’s right express them to me. But I stayed calm, myself. I didn’t add fuel to the fire.

I then told her, “Just because we love somebody, it doesn’t mean that we always have to agree with or approve of their choices. I do not agree with or approve of what your grandparents are doing, and I agree with you, you have ever right to feel angry and hurt. it is unfair. However, this is maybe your first lesson of a big part of life, and that is, Life is Not Fair. I’m sorry you have to learn it now, in this way, from family… but it IS Nanny’s and Poppy’s shore house, and we are only guests there. They can choose to invite whoever they want, for however long they want, and we have no say in the matter. That is what it is to be a Guest. The Shore House doesn’t belong to us. It’s their house, not ours.

“The next thing I’m going to tell you is this: It won’t do you any good to go down to the shore with a big chip on your shoulder, being all mad at Nanny and Poppy over this. Their minds are made up, and we are only guests. They can choose not to invite us at all, if you go down angry and with a bad attitude.

When we got to the therapists’ office, and I told him everything, he said I handled it right. Validated her feelings, but then offering perspective. Privately, he’s concerned that it seems like there are some issues on the horizon with my mother and the way she deals with Zizi, and he cautioned me that I need to be a presence in their interactions. But then we brought Zizi in to join us, and she told him how mad she is, and he let her express that… then, I asked Zizi to think about which room she’d like to stay in, instead of the Blue Room – which was her next favorite room? That distracted her, and snapped her mind out of the “I’m so angry” thoughts – her whole face changed for the better. She’s stayed with me before, and I think the room that’s “my room” is her second favorite in the house, and that’s what she chose. It’s somewhat quiet, but not as dark and cool. It’s a good choice for her, to be more with me… not as great for me getting sleep or being able to sit and read a book in bed at night, but I’ll manage. I agreed right away that that’s what our plan would be.

I also repeated what I said, in front of the therapist, to Zizi, “You can love someone and not agree with their choices. I

We talked more with her therapist, and I told her, “When you think about it, each summer we’ve gone to the shore maybe 3 or 4 times, but then we do lots and lots of other things. You have summer camp, and visit your dad. We go camping with Brent’s family, we go feed the ducks, we go out for ice cream… we do a million things all summer that take nothing away from our fun, and there’s no difference between this summer and all the other fun things we’ve planned to do on our own. You can choose how YOU think about things. You can choose how YOU react. You can dwell on what you don’t have and be miserable, or you can choose to focus on all the fun and the good times, and be grateful for what you have.

I’ve also told Zizi that this is another lesson for her to have in life: “some people try to stir up trouble, for their own amusement. They are instigators. It’s not mature, or nice, but some people do go around trying to pull strings, and treat other people like they are toys to play with.  The only way to win is to not play the game.” The therapist agreed.

I waited a few more days, and when I checked back in with Zizi again about this, she said she had been mad, and part of her still feels that way, but that dancing the other night really helped her get the anger out of herself, and now she’s ready to be “flexible” and not bother about her cousin and the shore house.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, not so fast. It isn’t done. This one might never be done.

This afternoon, as I was writing this post, Zizi came to talk to me about her upcoming Special Friends Day. She was thinking about asking Nanny to her Special Friends Day at school. I said, “This is about the Shore, isn’t it?” Zizi said yes, she was hoping that “She could see what I do there, and how good I am. And then she might want to invite me too.” Talk about a moment where I couldn’t flinch from the whole truth: having to explain to my daughter, “There is nothing wrong with you. The wrong is theirs, not yours. Not being favored is no reflection on you and all about them. And you can’t make people change who they are.” Brent, Zizi and I had to have a whole Family Meeting about it – and stress that we can love someone, and still disagree with their choices.

We’ll spend time strategizing our visits so that we keep the drama to a minimum. For the first time ever, I’ll be asking Zizi if she even wants to go down at all… and let it be her option if we don’t go. I will expect her to be a polite guest, as always. But I will also leave the door open for her to talk to me privately, and to tell me if she ever needs a “break away from the house” – which we have done in years past, especially if there is a big party.

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Judgy McDumbass

While I don’t want to share a story that isn’t my own to tell, this post was inspired by another mom who posted on the Unique Facebook page on Thursday. Thanks Lea! You rock! (Lea gave me permission to use it. And she liked my name of the post! WOOT!) Lea shared a truly adorable story about her little ones playing Mommy*  to a close friend.

Unfortunately, instead of the friend 1) basking in the miracle of Children Playing Nicely For 5 EFFING MINUTES and neither beating each other to a pulp with their dollies nor trying to feed Barbie body parts to the dog; or 2) commenting on how creative play is SO developmentally wonderful for kids because it builds language skills and socialization as well as engaging their imaginations; 

there was a third possibility that we hadn't even counted upon

(as Arlo Guthrie put it), and that was to immediately switch into Judgy McDumbass mode,  moping that it made him “sad that (her girls) thought that was normal”.

Dude. Seriously. WTF.

 

I am inventing the as-yet unheard of ZORRO-SNAP FACEPALM. In Z-formation.

And I can’t get the damn video to embed so go here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kp68bcN7N8Q

 Welcome back.

 

The truth is, though, we’ve all met Judgy McDumbass. Many times.

Judgy McDumbass is, 99.999% of the time, NOT part of Team Zizi around here, (or at least not part of the Z Team long, that’s for sure) but they are usually “close by” and always “well-meaning” which makes their dumbassery even more pernicious.

Judgy McDumbass has told me, personally, “Your child has special needs because:_______ “

  • I held her too much as a baby
  • I had her when I was 34 years old; my eggs weren’t fresh
  • I allowed her suck her thumb, at age 2, while she was in her stroller in Nordstroms Department Store, as I tried to find a pair of black opaque hose (<- the world’s first Developmental Pediatric Hosery Salesclerk!)
  • I don’t feed her a diet exclusively of healthful Yogurt smoothies
  • I drank Diet Coke. Ever.
  • She has ears that “stick out”, and should get fixed surgically when she’s older
  • I smoked pot. Ever. (OK, in senior year of high school, and a couple times in college.) (Maybe 20 times, total.) (And that’s exaggerating for the sake of trying to not look like the TOTAL geek I always was, even back then.) (Zizi was conceived YEARS later.) (I haven’t had a single hit in her lifetime. Even when offered. Sigh. Such a loser. Ask me again when she turns 18.) (Yes. I do know exactly when she was conceived, down to the minute.) (Because some marriages are just like that.) (Fine. It was on a Saturday morning, after I had had SUCH a naughty dream, and woke up and pounced, before my then-husband could figure out what was happening.) (He didn’t know what hit him for the first 10 minutes, and it was over in under three.) (Nary a Doobie anywhere.) (The bud or the band.) (I really like them! – they’re coming to Atlantic City and Jim Thorpe this summer! Totally wish I could afford tix!) (Maybe Zizi isn’t the only one with ADHD, huh?) (Or maybe I shouldn’t have smoked so much doobage, back in the day.) (OK… moving on now.) (No really, I am.) (This entire bullet point I offer in homage to Terry Pratchett.)
  • I was adopted and therefore my DNA is suspect; such as that of a “mutt” instead of getting a dog from a reputable pedigree breeder
  • I let Zizi eat pasta
  • I let her eat white steamed rice instead of brown steamed rice when we got Chinese takeout
  • I gave her bread that wasn’t whole grain, organic, and gluten free.
  • I gave her milk that had not come from grass-fed organic cows
  • I allowed her to have any gluten in her diet whatsoever
  • I let her have any form of refined sugar. Ever.
  • I don’t love JESUS enough. JESUS saves, y’know, y’all.
  • I drank one SINGLE “glass of bubbly” to celebrate making settlement on our new home when I was 5 months pregnant.
  • I want her to have problems, so I can get more money out of my exhusband
  • I put up with her problems, if I didn’t put up with them, they would go away
  • I am a lazy mother
  • I don’t discipline my child enough
  • I don’t discipline my child the right way: I should hit her more
  • I’m making up ADHD because I want to give my kid drugs instead of parenting
  • I’m making up ADHD because that will let me live off the government instead of working
  • ADHD isn’t a real disease, it’s just bad parenting, and it’s my excuse
  • I spoil her
  • I’m not “holding up my end as a parent” (<-Evil School District said this, while the aide they employed was physically abusing her in 1st grade)
  • I don’t read to her enough
  • I don’t work with her enough (I was a stay-at-home-mom for her first 8 years)
  • I shouldn’t let her eat so much – that’s why she’s like this
  • I should never raise my voice to her, only praise, then she won’t have behavioral problems
  • I should never laugh with her, or make her laugh, or seem amused in her presence: if I was a solemn parent, she would calm down and toe the line
  • Because we divorced, (God’s punishment for breaking the family)
  • Because I am a single mother, (God was punishing me personally?)
  • ODD is not a real diagnosis, back in my day it was a kid who needed a beating, I should get a belt
  • I let her eat chocolate
  • I let her watch too much TV
  • She is bored, I should engage her more
  • I let her play too much Pokemon on her Nintendo DS
  • Her dad and I are “helicopter parents”, and we, and her school, and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and all the experts who’ve ever evaluated her are just manufacturing problems that didn’t exist 50 years ago
  • She only has problems in school because we don’t push her enough.  Learning Disabilities don’t exist.
  • She’d have less problems if she was more physically active in sports.
  • I should make her grateful to be here, it’s a Special Occasion
  • She can “take a break from all that” while we’re on vacation
  • I let her “get away with it”
  • She should be glad that she has cousins to play with and stop her nonsense (30+ kids for 5 hours gave Zizi sensory overload and we “needed a break”)
  • …since I could go on 3 more pages, I’ll close one of my very favorites, from the news, because some politicians think that nobody who has real problems might also have the internet these days when they open their mouths: previously terminated pregnancies are THE cause of having a special needs child. No, really, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/01/17/1055502/-Abortions-Causes-Birth-Defects-Says-V-A-GOP-Senate-Candidate

Oh, lord, just making THAT much of the list… I’m pouring myself a glass of wine. Judgy McDumbass is a soul-sucking energy vampire with the empathy of a hungry alligator and the intelligence of a turnip. Excuse me a moment, I must imbibe. Feel free to join me. Social!

Ahhhh… what was my point? Oh yeah! Judgy McDumbass.

Here’s the thing, Judgy McDumbass comes in many tones of voice. Some are the easily-dismissed ramblings of people who we were never going to turn to for parenting advice in the first place. You know who I mean. They either don’t have kids, or they were utterly ghastly parents themselves, and if you took anything away from observing their own parenting, it was what NOT to do. I’m not saying their words carry no weight or venom. You can prepare for their assholery in advance, make “code words” with your spouse, and execute a psychology book full of strategies to set boundaries and maintain distance with these people, and yet still feel your pulse in your eye sockets the minute they open their stupid mouths.

Some are just the blowhard jackasses who bray and bray and everyone in the room just finds somewhere else to look out of embarrassment. Like the racist great-grandpa expounding his social philosophy so loud his  half-charged hearing aides can catch every word, while his card-carrying ACLU-member grand kids quietly pour Pappy his next drink and turn on the TV “so he can watch the game and not get so up in a fuss” at family gatherings, and draw straws to see who gets stuck driving him home. A single glace to anyone else in hearing range of some Judgy McDumbasses reassures you that everyone else is ignoring them as well.

And then you have the Judgy McDumbass parents of typical-abled kids who may be great parents: to their typically-abled kids. And they have all the answers. They do things so much better than everyone else. Everyone could be Winners if they just were exactly like Judgy McDumbass. Like Shirley Valentine once noted, “You have a headache, so they have a brain tumor.” But they just have NO EFFING IDEA that their little knocks and bruises on their “bumpy” road of life would be a blessed VACATION for you. Or that you’d saw through the femur of your right leg slowly with a rusty spoon if your kid could have their “normal” problems to deal with. You walk away from the coffee group unfulfilled, and feeling judged and misunderstood and frustrated… but you also know, in your heart, they just don’t get it. And you are right to pity and have empathy for their ignorance, it comes from smug stupidity, not malice.

But then there are those who, you know, should reasonably be expected to be part of your support network. They should get it. And naturally, you find yourself turning to them, expecting real support, and engagement, and respect from them. Expecting that, because they are close to you and your child, and have had more opportunity to grok the reality of your situation, they will be more knowledgeable, more informed, more enlightened and understanding that the run-of-the-mill uninformed Joe Schmuck Dumbass on the Street. But they are not.

And that’s even more infuriating. But worse, it hurts. It hurts your heart.

And for a long time, too long, you might tie yourself up in knots over it. You think you can fix it. You think you need to try to educate them,  try to explain. It may be a teacher, or a school administrator, or a close family member, or a dear friend. You desperately WANT them to understand you, and your life, and your situation, so you can stay connected. So you can have them as part of the Inner Circle of those who KNOW what’s going on. So that when they speak to you, it’s from a place of real wisdom, not just another episode of “Judgy McDumbass watched Dr. Phil today, and is now a Behavioral Psychologist”.

Yeah.

It’s hard when people disappoint. When they just can’t stretch themselves. It’s not like you have had a choice, you HAD to stretch yourself, right? For love of your kid, you learned a whole new language, and whole new reality, and there was no going back… but you realize, over the years, that some people just couldn’t make the journey with you, for whatever reasons they had. As time goes on, you might try to mitigate the “problem” by working harder with your kid, going over and over rules of conduct and good behavior, training them pre- and post- visit, teaching your child how to have a “good” time with these individuals. You try to make the relationship better, to “facilitate” and “mediate” so that everyone gets along… you cast yourself in the role of peacemaker and ambassador and treaty negotiator, the subtleties and complexities of which would make a U.N. veteran run shrieking from the room.

Let me take a moment here, to thank a friend for some of the best advice I have ever been given in this life. Thank you, Rob Schneeweis. You told me, “You can’t force fate… You can’t make (someone) have a good relationship with Zizi. It’s up to them to make it up as they go along between themselves, whatever it’s going to be, good or bad, she’ll be better off seeing the reality and dealing with it instead of you shielding her from it.”

That’s what I used to do. I tried to deal with the Judgy McDumbasses who were the closest to us by listening to them, running interference in the relationships, trying to fit Zizi and myself around their expectations and fantasies of what a Picture Perfect Kodak Moment would be/should be/could be. I’m finding now that it’s easier to avoid them. After all, they pretty much excluded themselves from the daily grind and reality that is our lives as a Special Needs family, so it finally dawned on me, in a big ah-ha moment… why am I wasting my time and energy doing this?

Change the subject. Only talk about superficial things. Keep the walls up. Put them on a Need-To-Know basis, and then remember that’s where they are…on the need-to-know list, and not look to them as a resource for solace, or as a sounding board, or for any kind of support.

Here’s an example: A few months ago, a close relative opened a conversation with, “I think you should fire Zizi’s Speech Therapist.” FYI, the current ST is wonderful. She’s a veteran. She rocks. She’s been working with Zizi for about 2 years. In contrast, the relative has never even met the ST, has never attended any of Zizi’s Speech Therapy sessions, which have been weekly for 10 YEARS now, and has absolutely no personal experience, education, or training to offer an opinion in this area. Needless to say, it was a relief to realize, even though I may love and respect this person in other areas, when it comes to my kid’s speech therapy? Yup, they are having a Judgy McDumbass moment. Bless ‘em. (Bless ‘em, don’t listen to a word they say!)

Maybe that sounds harsh, but the reality is, at this point, my Zizi is 12 years old. And I don’t need to be second-guessed or disrespected by someone who hasn’t been here as part of the Team on a daily basis. I’m not judging them, any more than a professional baseball player “judges” high school players…  I know they mean well, but they just don’t get it, they aren’t up here in the Big Leagues of parenting. They can play armchair coach all they want, but right here, me and my kid and Team Zizi… we’re the ones with skin in the game. Just like the professional players, we may hear the roars of the crowds in the stands, but they aren’t the ones who are grinding hours of practice every day, who are pushing themselves to the peak of their abilities with every new challenge, scoring the wins and agonizing over the setbacks on a personal level.

The opposite of Judgy McDumbass is… Team Veteran.

And there are times when it’s completely appropriate to say, “F— you, this is MY house.”

 

 

 ********************************

*Some of the NORMAL Mommy Things the kids in a Special Needs Family might imitate are: Mommy making sure kids take their meds on time. Or blenderizing a meal for a child with problems eating. Or driving to the speech therapist. Or calmly stroking a child’s hair while a seizure is going on. Or arguing on the phone with someone over treatment or doctors appointments or insurance (here in the US.. grrr). Or pouring herself a BIG honkin’ glass of pinot grigio after meetings with the school. (Ok, that last one might be just Me).

When Zizi imitates Mommy during creative play? I  get imitated as a crazy shrew hellbent on making everyone slaves to housework. WTF? Seriously, this house hasn’t been clean – all the rooms, at the same time – since we moved in. (2005)  My mother shudders at the mere thought of coming to my home for dinner, and then picks a restaurant to meet up at instead. Or we have “dinner at her house” which means I cook dinner at her house.

I’m Back IN!

I couldn’t log into my WordPress Account for the past 2 months, and suddenly, POOF! I have no idea how I’m here, but hello all!

SO very much has happened.

First, thanks to another mom reaching out to me, I’ve joined Unique – The Rare Chromosome Disorder Group. http://www.rarechromo.org/html/home.asp So very, very thrilled to have other moms to talk to and network with, even if we are all scattered around the globe. It’s nice becase they also have a Facebook group – God Bless the Internet. AND, I’m excited to say, it seems like there are now 3 other kids found with deletions in Ch. 16 like Zizi’s… though I haven’t connected with them yet… again, we are all over the whole globe – UK, Austrailia, US…lotta time zones.

Next, Zizi is growing like a weed, and I think she’ll be taller than me sometime this summer. Kid clothes (and kiddie prices for clothes) are now truly a thing of the past – she’s a Women’s 4 in jeans! YIKES! – and she’s still growing up-up-up so the other day when I looked at her I realized, those jeans are going to look like Nerd Pants pretty soon. Luckily, she’s still wearing boots to school so nobody has noticed my kid wearing “highwaters”.

We have had the longest damned Winter Season I can ever remember. Not pounded with snow, but just cold, gray, rainy, and more cold — no little pre-spring days of warmth peppered in to make it less dreary. Honestly, from Hurricane Sandy till now, it truly felt like the movie Groundhog Day. That quote from Bill Murray, “It’s gonna be cold, and gray, and last you the rest of your life.” It started in October and is still hanging out in April… it should be in the 60′s now, I should be able to drink a glass of wine on my deck and walk outside barefoot to do it, but noooooo. This morning it was 31 degrees when I drove her to school. Even on sunny days the wind cuts right through your body like shards of glass. This morning the weather reporter on the radio was promising, “It’s going to get warmer! Really! Any day now! Ok, so it’s going to rain this weekend again, but REALLY! Spring is coming!” There was a certain desperation in her voice… I wondered how much Hate Mail she gets. Or if her neighbors egg her house at night.

Even when we went down to visit my parents in Florida for Presidents Weekend, it was crazy cold down there, too – we wore jeans and sweaters (and thank god we had them with us!).

Sigh. My parents just came back up from Florida, after 23 years, they sold their condo. They got a wonderful price in a tough market: someone made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. But it’s sad to see them let that go. I’m sure the Shore House’s days are numbered, given how much “trouble” my mother complains it is, and that will break my heart.

On the other hand, I have my own plans for the Shore this year — I’m making money from it! After all the years of being a Summer Lover,  I’m channelling that life experience into my new Personal Chef business, and offering a special menu, frozen, delivered to people’s shore houses, of foods that really work for entertaining. I kept it simple: 7 different kinds of Stromboli, 3 dips, and a dozen kinds of Hors D’oeuvres or Appetizeres, and then people can also order made-to-order sweet or savory Bread Puddings and Fruit Compotes. Cocktail hour and breakfasts… exactly what people need when they have a shore house and all their friends and family descend to join them each weekend, and they have to feed the crowd.

It’s also a way that I’m able to do a limited amount of catering, and still not take away my time on nights and weekends from Zizi. I’m renting out time in a licensed kitchen in a nonprofit, and if I get a lot of orders, I’ll both pull in Brent and Zizi to help if needed, and also I can call in my old kitchen crew from the Peak Center, Joan and Briana. It was always wonderful working with them. So I’m back in my chef togs. And I’ve lightened up – I got myself fun prints this time around, instead of just black & white houndstooth or plain whites. And I’m rocking a skull cap, not a toque. But the food is just as awesome as it always was… and I’ve had a lot of really good response to the pictures I’ve posted on Facebook and the business website. (Which I helped build, btw! HTML code and everything!)

Much work to do now that the site just went live. Much work. Now my marketing can really take off in earnest, and I am really, really ready for things to move forward, and start building the business up. We need the income, but more than that, I need to be productive again, and see results. I need for this to succeed, not just for financial rewards, but because… well, because I had so many years of set backs and bad luck in life, the Wheel of Destiny just HAS to turn sometime, right? If even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day, I must be able to use the talents I was given on SOMETHING without the gods throwing mellons at my head for once, otherwise, why would I have them?

Zizi has been taking an interest in me starting the business, too. Naming it Hot Mama Tarditi’s Gourmet-To-Go-Go menas that someday, if she wants, she can take it over. But only if she wants. But she brought home a book of recipes and started reading through it – I think she’s ready for me to teach her – and has expressed her own interest (usually when I’m neck-deep in the middle of something completely different, of course).

 

 

Happy New Year

Last night we had a quiet evening home in our pajamas, watching a Doctor Who Marathon until it was time to see the ball drop in Times Square, and then everyone head off to our beds. We were festive, in a low-key way. We finished up some frozen hors d’oeuvres from Christmas, I made a pot of Champagne Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto, and Brent and I each had a glass of the champagne, while Zizi had her Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider (“Apple Champagne” as it’s called around here – it’s actually very tasty, I have braised red cabbage in it before.)

And just like a real employed person, I worked my tail off all day yesterday and today! Man, my boss is a tyrant. Gotta love being a boot-strapper again. There are no holidays for small business owners in start-up mode.

That being said, good things are happening. I got a lead on a radio show which features interviews with local Women in Business. I spoke to the host of the show, and she is interested in my concept. Since I’m just getting started, we are going to put it off until March, but I told her about my next door neighbor with the candy company. In turn, I called my neighbor and told her about the radio show, and then my neighbor called me back, and she wants to invite me to a business networking group luncheon this week. Then, I noticed a bunch of my Facebook friends have also Liked the Hot Mama Tarditi’s Gourmet-To-Go-Go page. Wow…. Momentum!

Brent and I talked this morning about the household bills, and how we are going to make ends meet this month now that I have no more unemployment. We are having a garage sale soon, both to raise some extra cash, and because we need the space in the garage for my supplies and par stock storage.

We also talked to day about our family food budget for the month; thank God we are both skilled cooks, and our whole family are omnivores when it comes to our food likes. We are going to be making some homemade calzones for the freezer, some soups, and of course beans, beans, beans, and rice, rice, rice. I don’t feel deprived or worried… if anything, I feel supported, optimistic, and hungry for the challenge of living on a shoestring for a few months while I get the business up and running. It’s so good to have support at home. I really am so sensitive to negativity now, in these early stages, that I’m avoiding anyone who is critical or negative. I can’t afford the luxury of a negative thought. I need all my energy, positive mental focus, and creativity at its peak while this company is born.

There are no words

I was just starting a post on Friday, December 14th, when the news started coming in that there was a shooting at a school in Connecticut. I immediately called Brent to check if the town where the shooting happened was anywhere near any of his family or loved ones, and never got back to the post. Yes, all the Kentner family is safe and accounted-for, but what happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School was so evil, and so heartbreaking, that there was no possible way I could write a post about it, or anything else that day.

And it was the start of Zizi’s birthday weekend.

So, how did I handle such a terrible thing? I prayed. I followed the news reports. I cried as the story unfolded. I purposely calmed myself down, but I just couldn’t wait until 5 to pick Zizi up from the after school program. I needed to see her, and to hug her, and to know my own baby was safe and sound. I told her I was picking her up early because it was her birthday weekend.

And yes, in the car, on the ride home, before she’d hear it from anyone else, I told her about the shooting. I was calm, and I gave her as few details as possible: an evil man brought a gun to a school and people had been killed. As she reacted, I also reminded her of the locks on her school’s doors, the cameras, the safety drills they practice… and that she goes to a Quaker school where peace is taught as way of life. Peaceful conflict resolution, I told her, is the Quaker way and our way and something that is going to make the world a better place. I told her that her dad and I are so glad she goes to such a good a school that teaches her generation Peace. I told Zizi, her school is a place of safety and love.

Dear God, every single one of those parents thought Sandy Hook Elementary was, too.

Zizi was first afraid that the evil man could come to her school. I told her no, he was dead. He will never hurt anyone ever again. She asked if he was “in the H-place?” I said, “Absolutely. He’s in Hell with the Devil and may he rot there for eternity as he deserves.” She nodded at that.

I also banned Zizi from watching the news when we got home (she still caught some of it until I made her turn it off or face losing TV altogether). We had tickets to go see The Hobbit on Friday night, which was a HUGE deal for her, to see the movie in the movie theater. (She had to hide her eyes a few times, but after it was over said it was the best movie ever.)  Saturday she got to open presents, and wear some of her new clothes, enjoy the gourmet popcorn I gave her,  and have apple sparkling cider “champagne” and hors d’oeuvres when my parents came over. But there was a subtle sadness that was in our hearts, and on Sunday night she cuddled up on the sofa with me, and asked me more about the tragedy.She asked me if I was scared. I said no, I am not scared. She asked if I was frightened. I said no, not frightened. She asked me then if I was in “protective mode” and I laughed, and hugged her, and said “Yes, my baby, I’m in protective mode about you, always.”

I had to tell her: “I can’t give you a world without evil. I wish I could, and when you were younger, I shielded you from knowing about all the bad things, but your old enough now that when you ask a question, you deserve an honest answer. I can’t protect you from the reality that there are evil people who do evil things. But I can try to make you as safe as possible, and I can tell you that there are far, far more good people than bad ones. And (Thank you, Mr. Rogers) whenever you see something bad happen, Zizi, there will always been heroes and helpers, who rush in. And all of those children who died, every single one of them, went immediately up to Heaven, where there is no fear and no sorrow and no pain. They are with God, and protected and loved right now, and safe with Him.”

She asked if they would be reincarnated, and I told her, “Maybe, if they want to someday, but this life for them is over, and their parents and families will never be the same until they also get to Heaven. And so everyone is so sad because of the actions of one evil person. Let that show you how much more good there is in the world, my baby, all the people who are so sad and heartbroken and crying, and all the people who are brave helpers, they feel that way because they have loving hearts. Think of all that Light, fighting the evil darkness. That’s because they have Love and Goodness and the Light in them. The  Light always wins.”

Our wonderful Head of School sent around a letter on Sunday, to let us parents know how they would handle Monday with the kids, and I thought they did a great job… as they always do. When I drove Zizi to school that day, she was asking me about what memorial services are, and why the flags were at half-mast, and what it all means – I explained again that people are sad, and this is to show we share their sorrow and sadness, out of respect for the hurt and pain. We talked about some of the teachers being real heroes to protect their kids. And, just as I dropped her off, I told her to be “extra good” and if some of her teachers seemed to need a hug, to give it.

We’re Engaged!

Wow, I gotta watch out for this guy, he’s SNEAKY.

Ok, so this is what he did, and why I love this man: He sat back and very, very stealthily let me do what I usually do – look at jewelry. I love jewelry, like most girls. But, unlike most girls, just because something is sparkly and fabulous doesn’t mean I need or want to own it. I like to LOOK, but 99% of what I see is mass-produced and kind of all blends together in the same settings and styles after a while. I like contemplating beauty and art and when I get to enjoy a real human’s creativity in making something unique, it makes me happy, just browsing it. Jewelry is wearable art, and there are many artists who make gorgeous works by hand, and that’s the kind of jewelry I love best. Something that’s handmade by a real person, it carries within it a kind of inner joy. I like natural stones and pieces that are unique, and I like a stone that has what other people call “imperfections” – I like to see the crystalline structure of how it formed in nature, I like the variations of color in natural stones, I like to see a little variation in clarity… all of that makes a stone less sparkly, but I dig less sparkle and more…mystery.  I also like bezel settings because they don’t snag on sweaters, and they protect the edges of the gemstone, AND, last but never least, bezel-set stones are much “safer” from falling out of your ring.

And, unlike most people, he actually listened** as I told him all of that.

And then when I wasn’t around, he contacted the artist, told her about the ring I loved the most that had sold  year ago. She had another rose-cut pink sapphire that she had bought with the first one, but that she hadn’t used yet – so he had my ring custom made, in my size, just for me. I’m in awe – that was ninja-level sneaking, I never had any idea he’d even think of doing that! Challenge Accepted resulted in EPIC WIN for Brent! (And me!)

**(Just a side note here, I don’t know what it is, but it’s something about about my voice, – which I’ve been told is a very pleasant speaking voice, btw, even though I can’t carry a tune with handles on it for singing purposes – but something about when I speak in a normal, soft level in a gentle, polite tone?  I have found that I am NOT taken seriously. I’m not even heard many times. Even in my own family, especially with my parents, when I’m not outspoken and forceful, almost shoving what I have to say right in their faces, they don’t really absorb that I’ve said anything at all. But it happens all the time! From the first neuropsychologist PhD who ever tested Zizi and wanted to videotape the child failing the test for teaching purposes (5 NO’s in a row!), to the salesgirl who asked me four times to open a store credit card as her associate rung up my purchases, I have to remember to 1) lower my register, and 2) Project Authoritatively. And I’m not some breathless Marylin Monroe type of fluffball, either, so it was very puzzling to me that my own Quiet Voice is apparently easily dismissed… I am good at making eye contact, the person obviously hears what I say, because they wait until I stop speaking… but then they usually go right on with whatever their own mind was made up about. It’s maddening!)

So credit where due, Brent also listened when I made the personal observation that it would be an unconscionable and ridiculous waste of money for him to spend a year scraping together a couple thousand dollars just because the DeBeers diamond cartel decided decades ago that they preferred to pick young couple’s pockets in two-month increments. Loathsome! Think about what we could do with that money!!! We could go back to Disney World as a family! We could go to the movies in the theater every single month! We could pay off his freaking student loans a year earlier, goddammit.

And he heard me – he really got it. He paid attention to me and what I needed. This is why I love him.  I didn’t want any of the trappings of what people think of as WEDDING today. And he listened, when I worked it out for myself exactly why I didn’t want all that traditional pomp and glory, why I recoiled from the stuff that most brides go into raptures over…. it’s just not me anymore. It’s not who I am.

I can’t wear some perfect, rainbow-sparkly diamond flashing it at everyone, as the symbol of Our Life Together! LIFE isn’t like that, and I know it! It’s going to be hard, complicated, and messy, and murky, and God only knows what… don’t promise me perfection that can never be attained, promise me that as screwed up and imperfect as it gets, there will still be beauty in the chaos, and we’ll look for those moments of clarity and love together. That’s a symbol that I’ll be proud to wear on my finger, and want to have to remind me down the road that I had my eyes wide open when I signed up for this journey. The only expectation I have is that something, somewhere is going to go very, very wrong. My hope is that, with that in mind, we try to build our future to handle it, with acceptance and honesty of who we both are, reasonable expectations, and pragmatic solutions.

So the man I love gave me the respect that I know my own mind, and that I was giving him my truth, and he accepted it – like he’s accepted me, and my kid, and the damn hard edges of a life built around being a Caregiver and raising a child who is … unique and beautiful and truly perfect in her own way. My snowflake child.

My God, he’s brave.

This is not an easy life, and he’s choosing it for himself. Seriously, the courage and strength to do that? The LOVE? He takes my breath away. I don’t know how I ever got this lucky, but maybe, just maybe, he saw the beauty that was here along with all the imperfections, and he decided he liked it better than perfect rainbow sparkles, too.

 

That Went Well

I can’t believe it took me five weeks to write that last post. The problem was with the Little-Miss-Expert tone that I didn’t want it to have, even though it still does. Blah. I’m not an expert in anything! It shouldn’t have been that hard, but it came out all wrong, very preachy, and yet I still wanted to make sure I got it all down, so that next time – and there will be a next time, given climate change – I have a reminder to myself so the lessons we learned won’t hafta be relearned. In other words: I’m smart enough to know what a dumbass I can be, and to prepare for it in the future!

And now it’s already December. Another year over, God, life goes by so fast.

We have our Christmas lights up outside, and the tree up and decorated inside, but I haven’t finished the indoor decorations yet. We had two back-to-back long weekends of family activities, (and coping with each other!) due to Thanksgiving and a teacher in-service day … this is my first day of having a few hours alone with myself in weeks. And probably my LAST day of having a few hours alone with myself for the rest of the month, so yes, I’m being bad and self-indulgent and I’ve given myself permission to write instead of baking cookies, decorating, buying presents, or cleaning.

Bad, bad Liz.

On the other hand, this is a WONDERFUL month.

We went to see The Nutcracker. It was broadcast to movie theaters as a one-night-only event, the performance was originally performed in December 2011, at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. Tickets were $15 each – double regular prices, and if I’d known it was in 3-D I wouldn’t have done it (hate 3-D with a passion!) and I REALLY wouldn’t have done it if I’d known in advance that it wasn’t a live performance, but previously recorded, and there was no Sugarplum Fairy (seriously, WTF?), but this was Zizi’s first time seeing a ballet, and she loved it, so that’s the most important thing. She was twirling and dancing through the parking lot as we walked out… hooray! My child absorbed art and culture, and SHE LIKED IT! And, unlike the first time I tried to take her to a ballet, she was developmentally able to enjoy it. And, also unlike the first time, I was smart enough to bring her to a movie theater where she could eat popcorn and ask me whispered questions, instead of adhering to the higher level of “Theatre Etiquette” that would be expected attending a live performance. Baby steps. Art for the people. Give us bread, but give us roses.

Next up is (sigh) my damned birthday. Blah. It’s SUCH a pain in the ass to have a birthday in December, and Zizi’s is 4 days later. On the other hand, 5 years go when I turned 40, our lives were in such crisis that I literally forgot my own birthday, thanks to that horrible school district and the torture they were putting us through. Five years later, my baby got picked as the cover girl for the annual giving development drive for her school,  I’m happily an officer in the PTA, and the recent tweaking of the meds seems to have worked for now until she growth-spurts again. I’ve kept a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothes on our backs, and even if it’s been a rocky road, there have been far more blessings and good than I dared hope.

Speaking of blessings better than I hoped for… Brent is thoroughly evil, and enjoying every minute of it. He bought a “piece of jewelry” from one of my very, very favorite artists on Etsy… who just happens to specialize in rough diamond and rose-cut diamond and sapphire engagement rings, in recycled gold and silver, and bezel settings… which is exactly what I’d want if we were to get engaged. And then he SHOWED ME the black box on her site that says “RESERVED for BK” with NO picture! What kind of rat bastard sadist does that?????? I have tried to hack the site, tried Googling up the cache of the artist’s work, even tried comparing her listings and sale dates by date. And then the box from the artist came yesterday, and he was at the store and I had to sign for it, and sit there with it staring at me, all taped shut with no way of opening it to peek without being caught. Evil, evil man.  And he did it all on his own, too… I had NO say. I was totally NOT IN CONTROL OF THIS!

Seriously, do you know what this does to a Sheldon Cooper like me?!? I do NOT deal well with surprises. They freak me out. If I had my way I’d know exactly the day I was going to die, just so I could make plans for every single day leading up to it, arrange my own funeral, and select the reception’s catering menu. And teach the caterer how to make the recipes.

And that will be my segue into the other thing that’s on my mind these days. I’ve been looking for a job for 18 months. I’ve had a couple of interviews, but no luck finding anything, even when I apply for things that are a major step down for my skills and experience – try convincing an HR manager that you really DO want an Admin position because the hours will be predictable and the company is around the corner from your kid’s school. But that’s the trouble; anything that would be a good career move for me is going to include longer hours and no work-life balance, and potential travel for conferences and networking.

However….

Weeks ago, on the Daily Kos news community, one of the other bloggers wrote a diary about her difficulties during her chemotherapy. Poor girl is a single mom of two little kids, and her own mother has already passed away, but her father has been taking her to her treatments, and, to be kind, the guy isn’t processing that his daughter has STAGE 4 CANCER very well. He gave her hell and reduced her to a sobbing mess when he criticized her for having the breakfast dishes in the sink when he brought her home – what if she had to entertain people stopping by and they walked in to that? Meanwhile, he made no offer to help her with the dishes, or any housework, or even pick up takeout food so she wouldn’t’ have to cook while she was so sick from her treatments. He just stomped off after criticizing her for not keeping up appearances. The only place she could talk about it and get support was to the online friends she’s made in the Kos community – who are very supportive, empathetic people. And there is a cancer survivor support group, so many commenters swooped in with resources for her to help her get care and real-world support for her family. She was from Pennsylvania, but on the other side of the state, so I wasn’t one of the many who offered to help her out, but I did make the suggestion that she could look to hire a Personal Chef Service, to do some grocery shopping and cooking for her.

And then I felt the nudge.

Once Upon A Time, it was my dream to have my own business. I had been an events planner, and I loved it. But for catering, and business ownership, you need to be able to do every job in the house before you can manage other people doing those jobs so I went back to school first to learn the business side of running a food service operation and just got lucky to also discover my Art. Everything just fell into place, at times, it felt like the hand of God was at my back, pushing me along. So it came to pass, in a city out in the Pacific Northwest, before the EPT showed that second blue line which heralded the blessed arrival of Zizi on Earth, a young culinary school student who was in her last semester and top of her class paid the fee and incorporated her own business. It was called Today’s Gourmet LLC, and it was a Personal Chef Service and Catering business. It was my second planned business – the first didn’t work on paper (pure catering was too much capital investment for start-up costs, and 3 years until it became profitable). This business did work. I was never going to be wildly rich overnight like the dot-comers, and I did make a few mistakes along the way in the beginning, but my clients were happy, and I was happy, and I was busy-busy-busy.  I picked up occasional weekend catering gigs that REALLY helped (and I worked part-time back at the school after I graduated, and they liked me so much, they let me use the licensed kitchens when I did have catering gigs beyond what I could do at a client’s house).

I was happy then. Every day, really, genuinely happy. I even had to turn business away, I got to the point where I hired another chef to work with me.

And then, about 8 months earlier than we thought it would happen, I got pregnant, and after 2 trips to the ER the doctor told me I had a choice to make: only be on my feet 10 minutes out of an hour, and lift nothing heavier than 10 pounds… or possibly lose the baby.

And so then I had a beautiful baby, but a really ugly marriage, and life went on from there. When I came back to Philadelphia, and Zizi was young, I knew I didn’t have the physical stamina to do personal chef services and run after her ADHD-fortified little bottom, too, and I sure couldn’t work catering hours as a single mom – all nights and weekends.  I had planned, and tried, to start a little gourmet specialties shop and lunch cafe, and god I spent a ton of money on the start-up exploratory part of that business plan… but it got horribly derailed at every turn. I tried everything, and just couldn’t catch a break. I tried refining the idea, I tried just doing the single, most profitable thing and selling just cookies… nothing came together. Every time I let myself hope or dream of my own business, it was like God punished me… something MORE would go wrong with Zizi, or Dave would create more problems, or there were fresh issues to worry about, or I just couldn’t catch a break.

I finally gave up all my hope. I was a mom, and it wasn’t about me and my dreams anymore – my child needed me. I took the last little bit of cash I had in savings and sadly went back to school again, this time to the University of Pennsylvania’s executive fundraising management program, to polish up my resume to go back into nonprofit fundraising work. The economy was crashing and the Great Recession had just begun, and the stimulus hadn’t even started to be implemented yet.

But here we are now, and I’ve not been able to land a job in a year of looking, and in the last couple of months, the idea of doing personal chef services hasn’t seemed like such an impossibility anymore. The economy has picked up. Zizi’s meds have gotten ironed out, and with the added behavioral supports in place, we’ve nipped her Lady Sith Dark Side of The Force nonsense in the bud as quickly as it started. She’s STILL in a growth spurt – this week, measured her in the school nurse’s office, and the little bugger is now 5’5 1/2″ so this won’t be the last adjustment we need in the next year. But she’s in school from 8 am- 5:30 pm each day, which is plenty of time for me to do a PCS, if I take her with me and do the grocery shopping at 6 am before her school starts. And she’s got a good support system with her school, and her therapists, and Dave is no longer fighting against me at every turn, or letting his wife stir up more trouble about trying to move Zizi out to Seattle. (Don’t get me started about THAT bit of nonsense and the lawyer bills it generated…)

And, I felt the nudge.

It’s been a long time since I felt a nudge for anything other than being Zizi’s mom. The last non-Zizi nudge I felt was when I helped one of the mentally ill ladies at the senior center who was the victim of a predatory landlord’s illegal activities. This nudge said to me, “There are so many people in this area dealing with cancer, and you live right by Fox Chase Cancer Center… and how many other compromised immune systems could use meals made for them? How many moms out there are struggling to feed their families something other than frozen mass produced crap and junk food while they work long hours in this recession?” I’m ServSafe certified. I’ve cooked professionally for  clients (and family) who had compromised immune systems (hello – and most recently for Zizi while she recovered from surgery and was on all those horrible antibiotics!)

So, I decided to make a Novena and pray about this nudge. Yes, I’m not Catholic in any way anymore, and I don’t even say the formal Novena prayer. But I do pay attention when God gives me a nudge like this, and I think 9 days of serious thought, prayer, and soul-searching reflection are the least I can do, if I take this nudge seriously and move forward on it. Today is Day 3 of my Novena, and I’ll be heading down there in about an hour. Believe me, this idea sure as hell didn’t come from me – friends have asked about me cheffing again for years, and I’ve always dismissed even the remote possibility because I knew it wouldn’t work. The path was roadblocked in so many ways.

But I felt the nudge. So maybe that’s God saying I should try again, now. Maybe.

I’ve asked Him for a Name for the company, as a sign. Something that will reflect it’s mission and direction. Something that will resonate with me as soon as I hear it. Let’s see if this is meant to be.