Love. Listen/Observe/Read. Act. Repeat.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #141

Peggy: You're working at Albertsons on Halloween. You gonna dress up as something? Wanna be the banana?
Sam: No, Mom, I don't think so. We're not allowed to have fun at work.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Halloween

My good friends at Texas Parent-to-Parent sent out their fall newsletter with some tips to help kids with disabilities, and particularly those with autism, Aspergers and sensory dysfunction to make the most of Halloween.

I asked Sam tonight if he remembers when it got easier for him to wear Halloween costumes. He stopped eating his Blue Bell Christmas Cookie ice cream long enough to say "high school."

So, long past the trick-or-treating days.

Here's a tip sheet for costumes and activities.

And here's a tip sheet for the rest of us to help make Halloween special for all the kids.

Remember what Lucy Van Pelt said: Never jump into a pile of leaves with a wet sucker.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #140

(as Peggy sets her cup of chicken broth down on the table)
Sam (in a stage whisper): Mom's going to the bathroom.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cleanliness is Next To Impossible

The problem with putting your house on the market is that people come over. And before they do, you have to clean it.

A lot.

And not that Erma Bombeck way, where you just give it a sweeping glance.

Opening our lives this way has been traumatic for Sam, but he's getting better. I got just a little ptsd leftover from when we sold our home in California in 1993. At the time, I was pregnant and chasing two preschoolers. We lived in a 1,100-square-foot house with a forest of tubas in a "hot zip." Real estate agents were supposed to call and schedule a visit, but they would sometimes pull up to the curb and "call."

After a while, I gave up. They could just tour a messy house -- dirty diapers, toys, dishes, tubas, and all.

Here, we live too far off the beaten path for people to take a chance on pulling up and getting permission to see the house. But I am tired of always being "on" with the cleaning. This market is a lot tougher. I've got the place priced competitively, so we have too many people coming through. Some rooms in the house have taken on a museum-like quality.

My mother has that kind of tidiness in her house. My sisters do, too, at least in certain rooms.

I've not ever been that way. It's not like I don't know that I should clean the refrigerator once a month to discourage listeria, but it's amazing how long I can go when I think no one is looking.

I vowed to get better the day that Michael and Paige came running into the office -- I was writing something -- to announce that a spider nest hatched because there were a thousand baby spiders on the living room ceiling.

They thought it was really cool, but decided that leaving it to nature wasn't a good idea. And there really were a thousand baby spiders on the ceiling. I vacuumed for about an hour.

After that, we worked out something called Hour of Power. We put about two dozen small cleaning jobs on slips of paper in a bowl, the kids would roll the dice and take turns picking jobs on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Mark and I would do the tough stuff, like mop the floors or address whatever disaster had been waiting all week (the refrigerator, for example.) By the time we were done, it looked good and lasted almost til the next Hour of Power.

Those were the good ole days.

Well, back to cleaning.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Propped Against The Meyerson Wall

Random thoughts from today's half-marathon (a first for me, for Dallas and for the guy in front of us at the porta-potties).

Following the crowd can be a good strategy, unless you are looking for a parking place. After running 13.1 miles, it's wicked difficult to get out of your truck and walk up your drive. Just because the main architectural feature of a Highland Park house is rustication, it doesn't mean the occupants don't have a sense of humor. Some of the Katy Trail bounces. Volunteers give out water and Powerade. Angels pass out strawberries. The best freebie wasn't the finisher's medal with the 13.1 time turner (needed that really badly about Mile 10), the Oreos (which I'm chewing in this picture), the mini-muffin, the orange, the water, the Powerade or the pretzels. It was the pre-moistened, Texas-size, super fresh, moist towel. There are still places in the city where you can sit on your steps on a Saturday morning, in your robe, drink your coffee and watch your granddaughter watch the world go by.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Just a Little Further

My first half-marathon. And on the Katy Trail. Runner Susan is packing orange-flavored sports beans.

Can't wait.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #139

Peggy: I'm not sure dinner turned out.
Sam: The smell doesn't bother me. Are you sure it didn't turn out?
Peggy: It's not what I expected.
Sam (lifts lid of wok): What's the smell?
Peggy: Peanut sauce.
Sam: That doesn't bother me. (pause) But I'm not taking the tofu.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #137

Peggy: Oh, my. I can't believe it. Tiger got a mockingbird.
Sam: Tiger got another mockingbird.
Peggy: He got two?
Sam: Tiger is a cat criminal.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Southern Impolite Meets a Yankee Can of Whoop-Ass

(Note to readers: This is not one of my best moments. I'm exploring events from our lives for the next book, in hopes that there are lessons and wisdom in these experiences. Or, at minimum, a good chuckle. Let's see what happens with this one.)

At the end of Sam's second-grade year, the kids and I went with Mark to Shreveport for a year-end concert with the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra.

It was a great opportunity for the kids to see their dad perform as the tubist in the orchestra. Most concert settings are so formal, even I had hard time behaving.

The Shreveport Symphony had always held their year-end concert in the convention center. They put out round tables and lots of kitschy decorations around the room. Some people decorated their tables, too, and of course the food and wine flowed as the symphony played a pops program.

The acoustics were horrible -- there was a level of background noise in the room that I'm sure made it a real challenge for the guys on the mixing board. But a great time was always had by all.

The kids and I sat in the back with some other symphony friends at our table and at tables around us. Given how young the kids were -- Sam was 8, Michael was 5 and Paige not quite 3 -- I was thrilled how well they behaved. Especially Sam. He didn't get up and run around the tables. He wiggled and fidgeted some in his seat. Sometimes he would slip down and stand up next to his chair, but at his size, he wasn't tall enough to block the view for any one around us.

This was a huge accomplishment for him. We had worked hard during second grade to help Sam learn to stay in his seat and pay attention. He had such trouble with it at the beginning of the year that his teacher had begun to send him out to the hallway with his aide when he couldn't sit still. While I could see her point that he was a distraction for the other kids in the class, the aide noticed that sending him out in the hallway was reinforcing the problem. She got worried. I called Kevin Callahan, a special education professor at the University of North Texas at the time. He came to observe and designed a little intervention that helped Sam teach himself to stay in his seat and pay attention. It was brilliant and it worked.

But Sam's behavior wasn't perfect, and even though his little brother and sister wiggled and fidgeted, too, Sam's wiggles got the attention of one woman a table or two away. She would watch Sam. She would whisper to the people at her table. It was hard not for me to notice I was being judged, too.

I did my best to ignore the Chinese water torture of her judgment. We were making some good memories and I didn't want to give her the power to spoil it.

After the concert ended, people began packing up their tables. Sam, Michael and Paige rushed to the stage to hug their dad and meet the other musicians. I stayed behind to pack up our things. I looked up to see the woman was approaching me.

She began to tell me what she thought was wrong with Sam.

I listened patiently for her to get to her stopping point. I told her that actually I was quite proud of my son because he has autism and his dad was performing and this was about the best he had sat still and paid attention this whole year.

Then she smiled this treacly smile and said, "Well, I am a teacher of the emotionally disturbed and in my experience ..."

I lost it.

I leaned forward and yelled, "Get out of my face."

She looked stunned. But she didn't move.

"Get out of my face!" I yelled again.

She took a step back.

"I said, get out of my face!"

Rule of three, she finally went back to her friends.

I was ashamed of myself for losing my cool. And a little grateful that the room was full of ambient noise, enough that only the woman and her friends knew what had happened between us. Maybe another table, but that was about it. The kids and Mark never heard it.

I walked very deliberately towards the stage. I could feel the woman and her friends watching me. I told Mark what had happened and turned and pointed to the woman. He studied her. She and her friends finished packing up and left.

"Do I need to go over there and do something?" he asked.

"Nah," I said. "I don't think she'll bother another autism parent again in her life."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Overheard in the Wolfe House #136

Sam: Hang on, Mom. Your mind is just a tangle of questions. I can't answer them all at once.
Peggy: Yes it is. Sorry about that.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Things I Never Knew I Was Waiting For

I'm fond of telling my kids that their grandkids will be in awe of their childhood experiences -- all of what a computer couldn't do, how crude a smartphone was, how brutal medical practices seemed (that last idea comes courtesy of Star Trek IV The Voyage Home).

I tried to apply that perspective to all kinds of situations in raising Sam. Being aware that you are in pioneering territory is helpful. Lots of people have come before us to do the Lewis and Clark equivalent of defining the landscape of accommodating someone with a disability and laying the groundwork with the public policy that opened up this new frontier of living with a disability.

I try to remember this journey as the Wolfe family Conestoga wagon settling the autism frontier. Nearly every day something new, something without precedent. Sometimes it's exhilarating. Sometimes the risks are clear and present. And always, always, exhausting.

The pioneering days of speech therapy are behind us. If someone in the discipline was interested in a exit interview, I have things to say about what worked and what didn't. I would imagine Sam does, too.

Never was that more clear than when I read the following line in Diane Ackerman's book, One Hundred Names for Love (a book about her husband's stroke and continuing recovery from aphasia, which has some interesting similarities to Sam's speech impairment). She describes a scene where her husband, Paul West, also an imaginative writer, struggles with fill-in-the-blank worksheets meant to help him regain his ability to talk.

"Choosing the correct answer could be as tough as herding cats. But, like most people, I did know the accepted answer. Selecting it, I had to ignore all other answers that spring to mind or were truer to my experience."

Correct is not the same as accepted.

Furthermore, we cannot ascribe too much meaning when a client cannot come up with the accepted answer.

I tried to explain that in my book, when I relayed Sam's experience of confronting vocabulary cards with images of things he'd never seen before. Diane absolutely knocked it out of the park, explaining the inherent social context of many speech exercises.

I think it could be a much bigger problem than those working in speech therapy might realize.

Throughout the book she describes "deliciously ambiguious words" and takes us on verbal joy rides with them. She sprinkles phrases without context and then gives us a fun house worth of perspectives to show how much we depend on context for meaning.

I wish I knew that two decades ago. I can only imagine how much better his speech therapy would have been. I wish I knew that a month ago when we were hit again with this problem.

I wish I knew these things I never knew I was waiting for.

Overheard in the Wolfe House #135

Sam (as Peggy tries to brown chicken in the new tagine on the stovetop): It smells bad in here.
Peggy: That's it. It's going in the Dutch oven.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

See Sam Drive

Sam bought replacement windshield wipers today and, just like his father used to do, decided that five minutes before it was time to go to work, he should try to put them on.

Mark drove me nuts with that. "Oh, don't go to work just yet, I need to change the oil in your car," and I'd be standing there in my high heels and blazer and wondering why after 20 years of knowing that doesn't work, he still did it.

For Sam, it became an all-hands-on-deck operation and Michael managed to get them on well enough that Sam got to work on time.

When he gets home, we'll see if we can get those little guards attached. Meanwhile, I'm hoping the drought holds out for another hour.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Love Letter to Steve Jobs

In 1990, Mark and I didn't know anything about autism. But our little boy couldn't talk and we feared the worst.
Sam was drawn to a simple, hypercard game, "Cosmic Osmo," that came already loaded on our first MacIntosh computer.

As he played, we saw that even though Sam couldn't speak, he could think.

We never got to thank you while you were here, Steve Jobs. Today, I'm sure Mark got that covered.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Comfort Food

Tonight I made a batch of majadrah, a Lebanese lentil and rice dish that Mark and I came to crave when we were living in Sacramento.

The woman who cooked at Juliana's Kitchen would scoop a portion on the plate with falafel and tabouli. Sam was a toddler then, and he didn't care for the tabouli or falafel, but he ate lots of majadrah.

I would ask her for the recipe and she would always refuse. I'm not particularly good at tasting and figuring out what another cook is doing, so it took me the better part of ten years to get it down. The key, I've found, is caramelizing the onions, adding the cumin into the oil and letting it get fragrant before stirring in the rice and coating it with the cumin-infused oil.

Anyways, I had 2 cups of cooked lentils and I hadn't made this in years, so out came the old recipe. And with my first bite, I was back in Juliana's kitchen with Mark and Sam.

When Sam came home from work, I told him I made some lentils and rice and it was one of his childhood favorites. He got a big smile on his face, and then put his nose to it when I told him I started by caramelizing the onions.

"Ooooo, carmel," he said. "I've got to take a shower first, but I'll try it."

That's huge. Sam hasn't eaten beans since he was 3 years old. I'll let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, here's the recipe.

2 cups cooked lentils
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large onions, chopped coarsely
1 tsp cumin
1 cup long grain rice (white or brown)
1 cup water
1-ish cup chicken stock
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste.

Caramelize the onions in the oil in a Dutch oven. This can take 25-30 minutes. Once the onions are nicely browned, add the cumin and sauté another minute. Add the rice and sauté for a minute or two to coat. Add the lentils, water and stock, cover and cook, over very low heat, without stirring, until the rice is tender. If the liquid is absorbed before the rice is tender, add more stock. Sprinkle the salt over the top when nearly all the liquid is gone and return the cover to the pot.
Taste and adjust seasonings.

Overheard in the Wolfe House #134

Sam: Uh-oh, fluorescent lights. (pauses). Mom, where are .... ?
Peggy: Yes?
Sam: I was about to ask an inappropriate question.
Peggy: An inappropriate question? Oh, you mean you were about to ask where the light bulbs are?
Sam: I was about to ask where the light bulbs are.
Peggy: And you know where the light bulbs are?
Sam: I know where the light bulbs are.