Thursday, September 30, 2010

Are You Sure I'm Not an Alien?

Jake popped his head out of his bedroom with an inquiry. “Mom, you’re sure I’m not an alien, right?”

“Pardon?” Oh, here we go...

“I mean…you remember seeing me come out of your vagina, right?” he asked, scratching the little furrow in his brow.

“Honey, it’s not something I’m likely to forget anytime soon.” I was trying to concentrate on The Rachel Maddow Show and knew if this little tête à tête went on for much longer, I might as well forget about enjoying her take on the wackadoo mid-term election campaign ads. Since Ms. Maddow is one of my few guiltless pleasures, I don’t like missing her show.

“What does that mean?” His brow wrinkled further as he tried to process my last statement.

“That means I was in labor for eleven hours with you - three of which was actual pushing. And the experience left me with the gift of little hitchhikers in my butt.” I know when I say things like this it will only serve to drag the conversation out further, but for some reason I can’t stifle the urge to shut the hell up.

“What?!?!” I’m pretty sure it was the ‘little hitchhikers in my butt’ that now had his attention.

“Never mind. Suffice it to say I have a very vivid recollection of pushing your melon head out of my who-ha and leave it at that.”

“What’s in your butt?”

“Forget it. Nothing…” Bad Mommy, Bad!

“What about Jaxson?”

“What about him?” What were we talking about, again?

“Do you remember Jaxson being born - because he’s kind of weird.” This from the kid who regularly bathes in anti-bacterial hand sanitizer.

“Yes, I remember it, though he was a month premature so he slithered out like a lizard. You paved the way for the little guy so he didn’t have as much work to do on the way out.”

“So you remember us both being born?

“Yes, Jake. Now go finish watching your show. It’s almost bedtime.”

...and Rachel is back from commercial break.

“Okay, thank’s Mom.”

“You bet.” Possible OCD crisis averted.



Jaxson's Developmental Evaluation and First Day of School

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dissecting Jake

My son Jake has OCD. In fact, since hitting his teens, he’s practically teeming with hormones and his obsessions have multiplied; like the explosive acne that is sure to follow. For Jake, it materializes in the form of rapid-fire questions that he simply must get answered before he’s able to move on to the next thing.

If he can’t wrap his head around something, he will be asking about it all day.

Well, last week he spent an entire school day obsessing about a frog.

When he plopped into the passenger seat and I pulled out of the school parking lot one afternoon, this was the first thing he said to me:

“I lost a square today because of a frog.”

Losing a square, in the context of his world and classroom, means he got a warning. Squares on the whiteboard, used as visual cues, keep track of how many warnings each student in his ASD classroom has, and once they loose three, they get lunch detention.

“Okay, tell me about the frog.” This ought to be good, I thought. I immediately conjured that Looney Tunes episode where Michigan J. Frog kept making a fool out of his owner. Every time they were alone, the frog would hop out of its box and sing, “Hello my baby, hello my darlin’, hello my ragtime gaaaaaaal…” But whenever the guy tried to show someone his singing/dancing frog, it would just sit like a lump and croak.

“I saw these two high-school kids kicking a frog and I wanted to go rescue it but Chris said that we should just tell Mrs. D. and—”

First I needed to acquire some context. Frog? Where? Inside the building? So I interrupted - which he hates - and found out this happened immediately after I’d dropped him off, earlier that morning. The high school and middle school are attached by a library, so the middle school kids have to pass the roughhousing high-schoolers in order to get inside the building. Apparently the little amphibian hopped too close to the wrong crowd.

“Well I think Chris made the first appropriate choice this morning,” I said.

“But I wanted to hit those stupid kids and rescue the frog and bring him inside.”

“First, we do not hit. And messing with high school boys is asking for trouble. Second, we do not bring any animals of any kind into the school building. Ever. Do you understand?”

“Yes, but…”

“No buts. Your friend Chris did a good job giving you advice this morning. What would you have done with the frog if you brought it inside? Where would you have put it?”

“I was gonna take it to my science teacher.”

A giggle started to bubble up from somewhere inside me. The sadistic giggle of a mother about to shine the ugly light of reality across the face of her innocent autistic child. “Uh, Jake… What do science teachers typically do with frogs?”

He looked at me but hadn’t put two and two together to equal formaldehyde… yet. That would require a bit more prodding on my part.

“Do you know what dissect means?” I asked.

Jake’s eyes widened considerably. “Oh no! I wouldn’t want him to dissect the poor frog! I dissected one once and now I have guilt about it.”

“I didn’t know you dissected frogs last year.”

“I didn’t. I dissected one by myself. In the basement. When I was ten.”

The LOUD RECORD SCRATCH in my head was immediately followed by a laughing jag that was so boisterous, Jaxson - who was sitting in the back seat playing his DS - raised both hands and yelled, “Guys, guys…CALM DOWN.” (Yes, very clearly. His speech is coming along quite nicely!)

Because I’m getting over bronchitis, I coughed up half a lung, grabbed the antibacterial from Jake - who is on constant on germ patrol - and managed to swerve back into my lane.

“Oh Jake. I love you. But why did you dissect a frog? And how did you kill it, or was it dead when you found it?” I didn’t even want to ponder what implements of torture he’d used.

“I dissected it while it was alive.” Jake mumbled. “I won’t go to hell, right?”

The other half of my lung came up, and out came the hand sanitizer, again.

“No, honey. You won’t go to hell. But you won’t be dissecting any animals outside of science class anymore, right?”

“I’m NEVER dissecting ANYTHING again! I have a passion for animals now.” Jake yelled.

I sighed and wondered how that would go over when the fetal pigs came out in science class in a few years. I remember them being particularly gnarly.

The morning after what will now be referred to as The Frog Incident, I had a meeting with the school psychologist, speech therapist, behavioral specialist and a few other regulars - just for a check-up on Jaxson‘s progress. (Which is rolling along splendidly, I might add!)

But, the first thing on the agenda - because the same staff treats both of my kids - was, “Did you hear about the frog episode yesterday with Jake?”

We had a nice chuckle and I learned a bit more about the story. Like, as soon as he’d entered the building and rushed to his ASD room, he relayed the frog story to his teacher, who promptly took him outside in order to see if they could locate the frog and put Jake’s fears to rest. I think she hoped they’d find the little bugger alive and well and that would be that. I can only imagine what would have happened if they’d encountered a pile of frog pulp.

The school psychologist arrived soon after to head up the ‘social interaction’ class. This is where Jake and his fellow socially inept brethren learn about conversing with others, discuss personal space and facial expressions, and other things that you and I might take for granted. As she exited her car, she saw Jake pacing up and down the sidewalk, watching his teacher look for the frog that would remain on his mind for the rest of the day because the frog would never be found.

And that’s the story of how a frog caused Jake to lose a square.

Today's video--The beginning of our journey...Moving to Michigan and all the changes for the kids.

STAY TUNED! for the next blog post which will include a video showing Jaxson's first developmental evaluation and first day of pre-school in the Early Intervention program.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Not Just a Mama: My Pen is My Sword and it is Rarely Sheathed

My mother tells me when I was a shy little girl in kindergarten, I wrote a story about a gumball machine, comparing the little round balls of varying colors to people in the world. I'd share the poem with you, but Susan isn’t exactly the scrapbooking kind of Mama - no hoarding of precious little memories for her. I'm guessing she read it, smiled, then rolled something into the tiny piece of paper and smoked it.

It was the 70's, after all.

I should note, my mother is the type of mother who would, years later, wake me with a three a.m. phone call: "I just had the best idea for a porn movie!!" What followed was a three hour trip to a local store the next day, where I was horrified to find the toy dolls made for young girls looking suspiciously like whores. Out of that shopping adventure came a three page script for a movie that could only be described as Barbie-Porn, and would years later come back to bite me in the ass.

Mom and I were working on a film project with learning disabled students at the local elementary school when the school administration became aware of Making Porn With Mom. (catchy title, right?) Well, apparently someone thought to look up our production company name and not only found my blog, but also my Internet Movie Database Listing and my cache of YouTube videos. The whole thing left me with a raging case of the runs, but frankly a simple Google search before we spent a year working with the kids might have been a good idea. Alas, they dropped the ball, not I. I was merely doing what I always do.

I have spent almost forty years reading and writing and I've learned to speak out when I have something to say. As a ten year old Catholic School girl I checked out The Diary of Anne Frank and it made a huge impact on me because I related to her. I was about her age. I could be her. I could rage against the horrors of a life lived in secret. I, too, could be remembered long after I was gone.

I asked for and was given a diary to record my own juvenile thoughts. My entries were decidedly less awe-inspiring than Anne's.

July 9, 1978

Dear Diary,

We went on vacation and it was nice, except there was a strange smell in the VW van the entire trip from something Mom and Dad were smoking. She said they were ‘herbs‘.

(note to self: look up the definition of herbs)

At the Grand Canyon I was surprised that the railing to keep you from falling was so small. Resi ran right up and swung from it, but I stayed back. I don't know why but suddenly I thought one of my family members might push me over the edge. Could that happen? I don't think any of them are THAT crazy, but the idea would not leave my head, so I stayed back while they all looked.

(p.s. I do not trust them.)

Then we went back to the campground and while Mom and Dad took a nap, Resi and I played with two brothers named Nick and Roger. Roger asked me if I knew what a ‘blow job' was.

(note to self: Ask Mom what a blow job is.)


July 12, 1978

Dear Diary,

My parents are horrible, horrible people. I must be adopted!!! Resi asked Dad what a blow job was and he said "What the hell?" and his face got all red and he pulled the VW van over and got out. I hid under my pillow in the back seat and cried, so Mom told me and Resi what it was. My parents are GROSS!! She said when two people love each other, they do certain things. I said "Gross things..." and she said, "Come back and tell me how you feel about it when you're thirty." I told her she was going to hell and so was Dad. Resi just asked if she brushed her teeth after. My sister is so stupid. I hate my family!!!!!!!!!!! ...And I am stuck in this van with them for three more days.

At that point in my writing life, what I was regurgitating was a plethora of unmemorable material which could only qualify as melodrama. Sappy, unrequited love story type of stuff that even now causes my lunch to take a sudden u-turn, heading back from whence it came. (READ: Kind of like anything that appears on Lifetime Television for Women.)

Next came my dark period. I cannot recall what these stories were about either, except to say that after reading some of them, my father had one comment: "Jennifer, must everything you write be so maudlin?"

I had to look up maudlin and thus began another unfortunate chapter in my writing life: my obsession with the dictionary and thesaurus. ...which spawned my poetry phase. It was not pretty, but in my defense, I thought everything was supposed to rhyme.

Today, as a writer, often my job is to put a spotlight on life’s sores. So, if I have something to say about how today’s dolls look suspiciously like streetwalkers - and choose to do that through a satiric Barbie Porn - I’m going to do it.

Just like I’m gonna write raunchy song parodies with two writer friends and assume people get that I’m not singing them to my thirteen and nine year olds.

If I have something to say about former President Reagan and his treatment of AIDS in the 1980's, I’m going to shout it from the rooftops in the form of a short film entitled Macy’s Wait.

If I don’t like what my government is doing, I’m gonna have something to say about that as well, hopefully providing a little entertainment in the process. (READ: Waiting for Karl Rove--Come on publishers, you KNOW you want it!)

And if I want to volunteer my time to help a class of learning disabled children on a project that helps them not only learn the art and fun of writing, but help them gain self-confidence, I’m going to do that too. Until such time as I’m told I’m no longer able to because somehow what I write about or film is unseemly when juxtaposed against working with special needs kids.

Bump that, my friends. I’m not just a Mom. I think there’s an inherent danger in being all autism, all the time. Or all Mommy, 24/7. I’m a woman, a writer, a mother, a sister, a wife, a daughter, a citizen of the world - and so much more. I refuse to make my life all about the one thing in my life (autism) that takes more effort and attention than the rest of those other areas. That would not only be unfair to me, but would be extremely unfair to my kids.

They’re more than their autism. They’re amazing, profound, funny, delicious little creatures that deserve better than to be summed up by a medical diagnosis, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna be the person who shoves them into a box.

By all means, stay in your box if that’s where you feel most comfortable. But don’t concern yourself if someone else jumps out of theirs, bends over and takes a crap on it, douses it with lighter fluid and watches it illuminate the sky.

To each his own.

I am one person with many facets, each one as important as the other. I don’t believe one facet negates another. For me, it’s as simple as that.

If this is the one thing I manage to pass on to my kids, then my job here is done.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tales of a First Grade Drama King

Today’s offering: Five minutes of film shot by Jaxson Lopez. (*compiled and edited by Mommy)

Watch carefully and at times you’ll find the little director wanna-be has purpose, intent and motive written all over his face.

My job: I’m just the gal who fishes cameras out of the toilet and waits for the next shoe to drop, because one always does—and they’re never Prada or Manolo Blahnik, they’re Ked’s, Crocs, and Dollar Store flip-flops.

Friday, September 10, 2010

I'm Ready for My Close-Up!

It should come as no surprise to anyone, given my filmmaking proclivities, that I’ve had a camera in the faces of my children from the moment they sloshed out of my who-ha on a tidal wave of amniotic fluid. (Well, Jake anyway. Jax didn’t slosh, he sort of slithered out.)

At some point, I fully expect Jaxson to take over in the filmmaking arena, given he’s now prone to carrying his little video camera wherever he goes. He's presently got three cameras, but I'm sad to report at least a dozen have previously lost their digital lives due to his early experimentation with the toilet and running water. (It's a pricey hobby, but when my kids show an interest in something, I do my best to support them.) Thankfully, Jax has finally come to understand that SD cards and cameras do NOT mix well with liquids.

Now the little guy spends his time putting together movies with his Buzz Lightyear and Woody action figures. Let me just say, as a director he's quite the little task-master. If I don't get a line right, he lets me know it. And I can't tell you the surge of joy I got the first time he said 'ACTION!'

Today, I’m posting a 14 minute short film from the longer version of Every Journey is Unique, a documentary about autism that I continue to work on.

My hope is that one day I’ll have footage showing their progress from toddlers to adults and since I have a mini-filmmaker in my midst, hopefully Jax will add some of his own footage one day.

He already uploads his masterpieces into the editing software on my laptop and even tries to make rolling credits at the end. I say tries, because he’s got the words CAST and THE END down, but everything else in between those words is written in his own language. But I give the kid credit, he can even score his films with music from my own personal files. Willie Nelson’s version of Sunny Side of the Street and Ringo Starr’s Oh My My are among his favorites.

Jake, being the thirteen year old that he is, scoffs every time I pull out the camera, but that’s to be expected. He’s had his fill of my cinematic endeavors by this point. He did star with his cousin Max in an early movie (a really BAD early movie) entitled Toyzilla, though. He was seven at the time.

UPDATE: By the way, as of this writing, the boys will have successfully completed their first week of school and I’m ecstatic to report they’ve both done extremely well.

Won’t you join me in doing a little happy dance? VICTORY IS OURS!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I Hate School

(This is the back to school face.)

T-minus six days until my boys go back to school.

Next Tuesday is going to be rough. When you know there’s a good chance you’ll be physically dragging your 77 lb. child into school on the first day, and probably for many days thereafter, it makes it hard to rise to that giddy level of ‘Back To School’ elation that plagues the Wal-Mart and Staples commercials for two months every year.

In fact, those commercials aren’t even advertising the products I need.

“Now, for a limited time, when you order your HoverRound-Up™ - invented for the little second grade cherubs in our midst who have to be rolled into school like Hannibal Lecter - you’ll get the Mommy-Nerf®, squishy full body armor, available in sizes up to XXL. If your Lil Tyke punches, bites and kicks when they’re anxious, this product is for you!”

Perhaps I should start drawing up some prototype schematics.

Thing One and Thing Two hate school. (Try and look at that like a Seussical reference, not a totally inappropriate one.)

I’d like to say I’m one of those parents who is relieved when my kids go back to school - happy to enjoy a quiet house and do my chores before partaking of a few hours of uninterrupted writing time. This is not the case. I worry when they’re not with me. As soon as the alarm goes off on day one, up and until the last day of school, I spend most of my life waiting for the other shoe to drop in the form of a call from school. Either Thing Two is acting out and three para-pros have him pinned to the floor, or Thing One is obsessing about one of the fifty-two thousand things he obsesses about on a daily basis - like his penis falling off - and they can’t get him into class.

It’s heart-breaking, gut wrenching, toilet hugging stuff. The ‘I Just Dropped My Two Autistic Kids off at School Diet’ consists of lots of coffee and a fair amount of time on the john.

Yesterday, we (Mom and I) went to register the boys for school and Thing Two lost it before I could get him out of the car. He doesn’t even want to look at the elementary school building, never mind go in for five minutes while I fill out his forms. Because Thing Two is not very verbal, (but making great strides!) he can’t say: “Mom, I’m frightened and I don’t know how to deal with this.”

There is no ‘talking him thorough it.’

After the parking lot meltdown, the hallway meltdown and the library-slash-registration-holding area-meltdown, we got back into the car fairly unscathed, only to have Thing Two melt down while we waited in line at the middle school for Thing One to get his picture taken for his school ID card.

Mom remained with Thing One (who was also over-stimulated and stressed) while I cajoled Thing Two out to the car, a guerilla maneuver that ended with two sweaty, slightly mauled and out of breath people - one adult, one child.

God bless my little Thing Two. He’s terrified. And it’s not like I can say, “Okay, honey, just stay home with Mommy.” Man, that would make things easier. But, kids have to go to school and I fear if he can’t pull it together, there’s no telling where he’s going to end up. I want to make something better for him that is out of my control. So I round up the troops, talk to the psychologist and pediatrician, make a plan, and hope everything comes out in the wash.

Till then, my ass spends plenty of quality time on the toilet. Luckily I’m reading a good book.

But, then, there are other moments. These truly sweet gifts that make everything a little more okay than they were fifteen minutes earlier. In the evening, after the chaotic day, Thing Two had settled down and was giggling as he made his Buzz Lightyear fart on his Woody action figure - and, of course, filming the process with his video camera.

Thing One looked at his brother and said:

“Mom, he’s just trying to find his place in the world, isn’t he?” Sometimes Thing One says something so profound, I want to cry. And these little gems stand out because most of the time he’s saying things like:

“Mom, say stupid monkey butt fart.”


“Say it!”

“Honey, please…”

“Mom, please, just say it!”

“Stupid monkey butt fart.”

Farts are the great equalizer in my house.