Skunked

In which we do not get sprayed by a skunk

Back in November, we decided to give Geocaching another whirl. Our first adventure, documented here, was a total failure, but a fun one. Also, we wanted to give Caroline a long ride on that two wheeler before the cold weather made access sporadic. As a final incentive, we could explore one of the few Rails to Trails sites in Alabama.

So, armed with some new equipment to make cache hunting more effective, we drove an hour to Valley, Alabama. It’s an old mill town located along the  Chattahoochee river.

Part of the mill along our trail

Right at the outset, we discovered not one, but two old bridges to explore. One was a covered bridge, a covered railroad bridge, which meant it was bonus on the route. The other was the town’s old driving bridge, a metal structure that climbed above the roadway. It was the perfect spot from which to photograph its covered counterpart.

Picturesque doesn't even begin to describe it

Although paved, the track was poorly marked, so we were lucky Scott had already scouted ahead online. Otherwise, it would have seemed like the most pointless adventure ever, since a major road cut through the path about a quarter of a mile in and it was impossible to see where it continued. The Geocaching GPS insisted our find was over a mile away, so we would have been mightily annoyed to stop so soon.

Let me pause here to say that Geocaching and Rails to Trails are not united things. The trails are handy spots to place Geocaches, and the two are certainly capable of coexisting. But they are separate entities, without very much technical in common. Keep that in mind.

The trail wound around past city hall, where we met this fellow. He’s a wise man, part of a nativity.

Plastic Camel Rides two dollars for charity (not)

I’m afraid my primary thought was “Too bad Sam’s already got a mount, because that camel is in serious need of a rider”. (Because Sam was abike, too. He still has his training wheels, but it was a perfect course for both kids.)

See Caroline? The bright pink dot on the path?

Can you see the little card to the right of the door? If you click the picture, you can enlarge it on its own page to see.

We’re pretty sure these were occupied as houses in spite of their run-down condition and the blank ‘store-hours’ card in the front of one. It was just one symptom of the very real poverty in this town. We passed numerous dilapidated homes, some in states of outright decay. And all of them were occupied. I took the above pictures when we thought it was just the town’s old business district. Beyond that, tourism photography seemed disrespectful.

After that, we followed the path away from town. It kept crossing roads, which was convenient for keeping Caroline in check. She could ride ahead to the next stop sign, which was only out of our sight a couple of times. Then, she had to either wait for us to catch up or ride back and forth to us in the interim. When we started the afternoon, she still needed a push off to get going. By the time we were finished, she could kick start herself. Cheers to boredom.

A mile and a half in, the geomachine said we were almost there. At a mile and three quarters, exactly at a trail end, the machine suggested we dive off into the underbrush. As I said, Geocaching is not directly related to the Rails to Trails project. Also, this kind of direction isn’t uncommon with Geocaches. They are typically located a little off the beaten path. So we ditched the bikes and headed into the woods. There was a little walking path to follow, and the machine agreed we were headed aright.

But when we got within three feet of our destination, things went a little haywire. The GPS software couldn’t quiiite get a bead on us, so it would jump from saying we were 9 feet away, to saying we were 15 feet away, to saying we were right on top of it without our ever moving a step. But we knew we were close. So we started looking for logical spots. Behind stumps and around bushes. We were so engaged with looking that I didn’t think to take pictures.

Then I saw it. The perfect little burrow in the ground.  Geocaches are often hidden inside hollow logs and down in holes in the ground. This had a bit of both going for it, but right away we knew something was wrong. There was, surrounding the hole, a very very faint odor.

It was so faint, in fact, that I was the only one who initially noticed it. I said, “We may have found it, guys, but I think a skunk moved in.”

Scott took my word right away and said, “OK, let’s go then.”

But the smell was so faint. I said, “Well, maybe not. Let me poke around a bit.”

So I took a stick, and I jabbed it in the hole. Nothing happened. I shifted around some leaves, and nothing continued happening. So I got bold and grabbed a longer stick. I had just started rooting around with that when the odor level increased (not much, but everybody could smell it) and a sudden movement in the pit snagged my gut.

A black and white head with beady eyes popped out and looked around at us as if to say “What the hell are you doing in my house? You want to come in? You want that we should meet more closely?”

With matching visions of having to burn our clothes and shave our heads, Scott and I seized the children by the hand and took off back down the path. For the rest of the way back to the car, Sam kept saying, “The skunk stole our Geode”.

Well, no honey. Not exactly. But the effect was the same. As with our last failure, the adventure was so much fun that we knew we would give Geocaching another shot. The very next day, in fact, we made our first finds. Four of them, once we got the hang of how to look. But none of those were so fun as the one we didn’t find, the one that got “stolen”.

Gratuitous adorability

_________

a flicker of inspiration at Lightning BugWith apologies, I’m linking up with The Lightning and The Lightning Bug’s Flicker of Inspiration post. I must say, I didn’t understand the prompt right. When the prompt said to ‘fix’ something that went wrong, I assumed ‘fix’ meant ‘write about’. I now realize we were supposed to do a fictional re-work of the scene. Oops. My gaffe. Just to be clear, we were absolutely never sprayed by the skunk.

Passports

There’s this story in my mother’s family about my great-great uncle. He and his wife once forgot their passports and nearly missed a plane rushing home to get them. Thereafter, each demanded of the other several times before any long journey, “Did you get the passports?” It became a running joke, a family-wide reference to anything small, important and forgotten. Tickets to a play? “Honey, don’t forget the passports.” Social Security Card? “Honey, don’t forget your passport.” Turning off the appliances before my grandparents’ annual pilgrimage to Floria? “Passports!” In fact, neither of my grandparents nor my Mom had a passport, serving to further confuse friends who happened to overhear the reference.

In my Dad’s family, in contrast, it’s considered sinful to lack a passport. I guess they want to be prepared to flee the country. Mom flipped when Dad got me my first one at the age of ten. She thought he was going to kidnap me across national boundaries or something. I used it exactly once, going to Canada with my paternal grandfather long before a kid needed a passport for such a crossing.

In spite of this lack of use, the absence of a passport in my life has nagged me ever since the old one expired when I was fifteen or so. (Sometimes, it takes a lot of nagging to get action out of me.) This year, Scott and I bit the bullet (and the expense) and got our whole family passports. We have no international travel planned in the immediate future, but we would like to be ready should an opportunity arise. (Please, opportunity, find me!)

So we dragged the kids out on a day we were already taking family pictures (or maybe it was the other way around) and got our passport photos at the same time. The woman taking our photos at the post office could only be described as a harridan. She was shorter than I was, meaning she had to look up at practically everybody, making already unflattering photos even worse. She stalled and shooshed, scathed and snarled, and she consistently refused to do retakes, even in the case of the woman whose head got chopped off above the eyes, until her supervisor intervened.

“No smiling!” That was her biggest edict. And have you ever tried to not smile when somebody is screeching at you about it? It’s like white polar bears. As soon as somebody says “no”, it’s all I can do. She finally got three of us straight-faced long enough to take her shot. But Sam, who she had to perch up on a stool anyway, was too nervous to stop cackling. She had to retake him twice without argument because he kept flipping forward to grab interesting things under the stool and vanishing from the photograph. So when his final picture came up with a half-smirk, she let it ride.

We sent out the forms and such, and the passport folks eventually returned the completed applications (along with our birth certificates, thank you very much). They also gave back the ‘extra’ pictures, since you have to submit two, but the office only uses one.

Oops, I scanned Sam upside down

Oops. I scanned Sam upside down

They’re horrible. Even Caroline looks bad. Sam’s is saved by the half smile, but all of us still look like felons.

The felons confess

 Family Convicted of Something Really Bad

Deputy T.W. Trogdolyte didn’t bother with a trial when he picked up this group. “Between the famer’s tan on the man, the frown line and double chin on the woman, and those pale, pale children, I knew I’d found my rat.”

This reporter was lucky enough to gain access to the prison to ask the group about their horrific deeds. The man said, “I can’t believe they caught us.” His wife added “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of my eyes!” The daughter said, “I accept responsibility for my actions and look now to the future, the future.”

But the son’s reaction was the most astonishing of all. He smiled directly at the camera and told me, “I’d do it again for a bag of Skittles.”

Publication

Writing is a business for me. It is my passion. It is the thing above all other things that I must do to remain sane. It is the guidepost I use to measure my bipolar, because when the crazy gets too bad, the writing goes away and I have to Do Something Else Pharmaceutical About It. So when I’m not grading, doing other things for my paying job, getting obsessive-compulsive about the state of my house, or being a Mom, I write. Sometimes, often, I throw over those other things to write, because the writing, in addition to being my bipolar barometer, is also my therapy.

And sometimes, I sacrifice my writing time to become my own marketing department. Because I have not yet either reached the level of success that mandates that I need an agent nor yet found one with whom I mesh perfectly. And because writing is my passion, and it is also my business. One I would like to get paid for.

In spite of the fact that my blog is almost exclusively nonfiction, my strongest writing can be found in my fiction.  I don’t harbor the illusion that many people want to pay a lot of money to buy copies of Sam’s Hide N’ Go Shit Report. I do harbor that illusion about my speculative, mystery, and ‘other’ fiction. But I have to hunt around to find those people. There’s a statistic that I can’t be bothered to find that says I have better odds trying my luck at major league baseball.

Today, I spent my time looking through various magazine guidelines to see who might publish my short stories. I started by combing through Writer’s Market, then I visited a bunch of potential websites, and I eventually narrowed the list down to five places where I might send one short story I’ve been working on. It’s a tedious process made more frustrating by baffling publisher websites.

When I’m shopping stuff around, I maintain an excel spreadsheet for each story. I keep things simple, logging the publication’s name, its web and e-mail address, the fiction editor’s name, the submission guidelines, and whether or not it accepts simultaneous submissions. Once I actually submit, I add more, but when I’m just planning, that’s it. An astounding number of journals and magazines can’t be bothered to provide me with these mundane details. I need a WTF column in that spreadsheet for the ones that explain themselves like this:

SouthTurn* is a shockingly original journal concerned with the postmodernist crisis of identity stemming from pantheistic atavistic anti-nationalism. Published on an unpredictable schedule. Circ. 3. Because only our parents would buy the thing. And not all of them.

We publish creative stories only. Things you wouldn’t find in another magazine.

Accepts submission only by snailmail with SASE, replies in 100 to 10,000 days.

No simultaneous submissions.

Guidelines available by SASE. If you can find the address.

I get it that magazines would like me to read them before I submit. That doing so is in my best interest and theirs. And part of my research process does generally include reading online samples from the publisher. (And sometimes getting so engrossed in those that, even though I have eliminated a particular publication as having potential for my story, I spend hours on the site just enjoying myself.)  When possible, I order a copy and pay them something.

But I cannot afford to be part of the mill of writers that support a whole host of publications by buying copies only so they can figure out the submission guidelines. I am a working mother married to my kids’ working father. I do not have time to sit around the bookstore and browse copies. And we have to share the mail with Sam and Caroline. Pretty much anything that comes into the house has to survive their interest before it can get to Scott and I!

Moreover, this is the twenty first century. In the old days, “SASE” was the only way to get those coveted guidelines, many age spotted and faded from too much photocopying, some still showing symptoms of a close relationship with a mimeograph machine. In the old days, snail mail was the only way to submit at all. And in the old days, journals distinguished themselves from trade magazines with verbose semi-pompous self-descriptions.

But this isn’t the old days. The good journals have either developed a strong elite following for their niche or else come down off their high horses. Pretentious wording is just pretentious wording, and it doesn’t make me want to send in my work.

Beyond that, most of these journals have websites, but many fail to make appropriate use of them. Why the hell should people have to send out an SASE for writer’s guidelines when the publisher can put those online? Doing so will increase traffic to the website and save time for the editorial staff. Similarly, why not accept e-mailed or online submissions? Glimmer Train does it, so why not The N’oreast Nevada Review?** I can’t be persuaded that virus protections software isn’t effective or that it’s too much of a hassle for the editor to learn how to open webmail. Besides, it’s oh-so-easy to bounce back work to the people who blow off the requirements and even give them a link to the guidelines page!

Sometimes, lucky networking can be more effective than these fruitless searches for valid outlets. I actually found the folks who published Divorce: A Love Story  by networking. The husband of a friend of a friend was starting a small publishing company with some lady in England, and I found out because we were Facebook friends. Seriously. And let me pause to say that Throwaway Lines is a very cool small press. The lady in England turns out to be this fantastic idea dynamo who is willing to put in time and enthusiasm to make things work. Jason and SJ have fought through some of the hardest things a small press can fend off, have completely lost the battle once, only to reform successfully in this current incarnation. I have no idea what their publishing future is, but I want it to be awesome. (The Throwaway Lines blog/website is currently under revision. I’m sure that when it is all prettied up, it will have all the things an author needs to submit, so stay tuned over there.)

Anyway, to get back to my original topic, I spent around five hours on a search today, and I really only found four or five potential matches for one piece. Another is weird enough that I have to pore over my physical copy of Writer’s Market (yes, I do still have one) before I decide my online search strategy. I plan to shop the first one around, see what kind of rejections I get, then revise it some more and repeat the process. And then do it again a few more times. If nobody accepts it, at some point, I’ll deem it revised to death and stop making changes. After that, at some other point, I’ll deem it submitted to death and stop sending it around.

I’ve got another piece outstanding. I sent it to two places last August. One rejected it sometime in December. The other made ‘drowning in our own inboxes’ squeaks, but at least took the time to contact me, meaning I’m waiting a little while before taking the next steps in this cycle. And the interesting thing about that last one is that it’s got networking potential, much like the novel did. I have an interested party, I know what guidelines to follow, and I’ll be sending it along there when the second place I actually hunted up and already submitted to gets around to rejecting me. I’d do it sooner, but I think I’ll get a guided rejection out of these other people, and I’d like to see what they say.

Although I’m a little bit jaded by the whole submission process, I think it’s fair to say that I’m a little bit jaded about everything. My handle is jesterqueen because ‘jaded queen’ sounded kind of stupid and I’m often too scathing to have any legitimate claim to the word ‘snark’.  Mostly, I want to see my writing in other people’s hands. I devote a lot of research to that process, in addition to my writing and revision. While I really would like to see clearer submissions guidelines, there’s a nasty little part of my soul that revels in disambiguating a magazine’s requirements all by myself. I imagine that this somehow makes me a better match for it. And I harbor that fantasy right up until the moment I am rejected. For being 3,000 words over the upper limit. Because the guidelines mentioned nothing about that little detail.

___

* Magazine name and precise wording made up to protect idiots. But it’s pretty close to about six of them that I saw today.
Just take me back to the damned entry

** Yes, I invented this one, too.
And you brought me down here to tell me THAT?

It must be in the air

Dear Bella,

I swear to GOD my four year old can’t read. So I KNOW he didn’t see your blog entry about The Professor’s laundry today. Besides, he was in school. And he was still in school when my husband and I were talking to each other and saying it was exactly the kind of thing he might try, nevermind that your professor is five years his senior.

Nonetheless, we seem to have jinxed ourselves.

We put Sam to bed at 8, and he was back to annoy us at 8:15, 9:15, and 9:30. When things quieted down thereafter, we hoped it meant he’d finally gone to sleep. We figured that the transition back to school after two weeks off has to have some fallout, and that we could handle a bouncy bedtime after the great school day his teacher had reported.

At 10:15, he shouted, “I need new sheets!” and we knew it meant an accident.

But Bella? It was no accident. Because he had just been down from the bed three times for purported potty trips, and the kid has not got an infection. Because it wasn’t conentrated all in one spot on the bed like it is in a real accident.  And if it had been an accident, he wouldn’t have pulled his pants down so they wouldn’t get wet.

In this case, I think the behavior was more ODD blockheadedness than laziness. But still, he peed the bed so he wouldn’t have to climb down the ladder. The one he’d just bounded down some three times already. Sam was responsible for putting his own sad little lovies in the wash, knowing he won’t see them again until tomorrow.  And while my husband and I flipped up his mattress (yes, it has a rubber sheet) to wipe it down and replace the soaked bedding, I couldn’t help but think of you.

Because dear GOD if we were in this boat alone, I think we’d both be ready to jump overboard right now. So. Thank you for sharing The Professor’s behavior. I think it saved me a sobbing attack tonight over my own little Gremlin. This is not the behavior we will feel nostalgia for in 20 years.

Toodles!

Jessie

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Notes From The Road: Happy New Year

Notes From the Road: Happy New Year

I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. Deciding to do something  just because of the day of the week has never really made a whole lot of sense to me. But sometimes, the first of the year seems like the perfect time to make a change.

And in the next twelve months, I have a big change coming.

Scott knows what it is.  But as of now, only a couple of other people do, and it would be stupid to announce it just yet.  The blogging equivalent of posting  nude pictures to Facebook. For one thing, it may not happen. And if I said “it’s coming”, then couldn’t pull it off? Yeah. For another, assuming it does work, I’m going to piss some people off. Not that this is anything new for me.  Pissing people off is practically a second job some days. But I think I’ll wait to give them notice to be angry before I say anything less vague here.

But.  Within the next year, there’s a major adjustment I need to make in my life. And it’s the kind of thing I’ll be positively tap dancing about over here. It has to do with the recent publication of Divorce: A Love Story by the very awesome people over at Throwaway Lines.  (And it’s definitely not them I’m planning to make mad.)

Stay tuned for infrequent updates. I don’t set goals. Those are just invitations to failure for me. I either do things, or I don’t do them. And this is something I plan to do. It’s something I need to do. And I’m very goddamned resolved.

Notes From the Road: Union Terminal

I should be grading. One of the sucky things about my job is that it never takes breaks. Which means that when my husband, who is also an academic (is even more of an academic) has a school break, I don’t. Ever. I get one month off a year, all at once, and the school doesn’t take holidays. My month off is March. So when we travel at the holidays, work comes with me, and I have less time for family and much less time for writing than normal.

But.

I’ve been grading on and off for I think the last twenty four hours. (Now forty eight) I slept somewhere in there (and now also visited with family awhile), so that can’t be right, but it feels like I’ve done nothing but SCHOOL on my computer since yesterday (now two days ago) afternoon. Mama needs a break. (I’ve now had to bounce back and forth a zillion times over two days).

So, I will tell you how I spent my time yesterday (two days ago) afternoon. As a family, we went down to Union Terminal, the place where Scott and I started our honeymoon, where Amtrak still has a station, and where three different museums now reside. After we had gone to see the holiday train display on the history side (more on that another time), I had to leave the kids with my husband and mother-in-law to fend off the dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum and the plastic balls in the Cincinnati Children’s Museum so I could grade. Mostly, so I could download my work so I can grade offline, when my aircard is being persnickety.

I didn’t miss much in the Children’s Museum. Quite frankly, it bores me, and would have done when I was an actual child, as well. My kids love it, though, and I would have enjoyed the time to visit with my Mother-In-Law and spousal unit. And I definitely regretted having to pass on the Natural History Museum, where the coolest manmade cave on the planet thrills us all.

Instead, I cozied up to a table in the crowded lunchroom floor and spent two and a half hours downloading essays. (I have a hundred students right now, and about a third of them had something due on Christmas day. I extended all deadlines, but still, it means they technically were expected to work on Christmas and so was I.)  While I was clicking and waiting and answering e-mails, I looked around at the vast museum atrium and pondered urban decay.

Because that’s what everybody thinks about at such times, right?

No, really, it came to mind because Union Terminal came so close to ending up a piece of elegant decay. Shaped like a giant old-time radio, it stood practically abandoned for years, and most of the glorious murals that once lined the whole building were removed and reconstructed at CVG airport. If not for the enormous risk taken by The Museums of History and Natural History to jointly move to the building, it would be no more than a glorious remnant.

Think about that a minute. Two separate museums co-located here. And there was room left over so they installed a third. And they still had more room, so they opened that up for a holiday display that used to be setup in a huge room in downtown Cincinnati. Though this section will only be open once a year, it will be stored there year round. Intact. Does that give you a sense of how sprawling Union Terminal really is? 

I only took a few pictures with my cell phone (again, I’ll be revisiting this from another perspective), but here is one of the few murals that either remained or could be added.

MuralIt’s pretty amazing. Consider those relics you find in pictures by searching “Urban Decay”. Imagine how they used to look. And think about what must have gone wrong for those beautiful visions to collapse. Perhaps it was outrageous to begin with. Maybe it was incompatible with its owners’ economic stations.

I think of the David MacAulay book Motel of the Mysteries, in which a team of archaeologists (and one avid runner) in some future time unearth a motel and assign to its contents various religious significances. What would those future scientists make of the gorgeous ruins that dot our urban landscapes? How would they view our culture through the lens of things we abandoned?

And how would they interpret Union Terminal, which, through a little miracle, has not been abandoned, retains its grandeur, and shows vividly what a culture can do when it bares its soul?

Notes From The Road: Caroline

I don’t want to make Caroline into something she isn’t.  But she’s a pretty amazing little girl, and she has this talent that’s hard to describe. I’ve blogged previously about how her Aperger’s Syndrome seems to drive her outward where it drives a lot of kids inward.  It’s more than that, though. Caroline is so loving that she draws others out, as well.

She can make friends with anybody, on or off the autism spectrum, with no concerns for age, race,  gender, or skill level. A trip to the zoo where she doesn’t either meet a new friend or bump into an old one is a tragic day indeed. She has a good sense of caution, and I’ve never felt like she was throwing herself into a dangerous situation with strangers, but she’s just so friendly that others find her irresistible.

We’re travelling today, and she’s gone and done it again. We walked into a restaurant and within five minutes, she had a new best friend. Where Caroline’s Asperger’s is hard to identify, even to parents with a child on the autism spectrum, her new friend was clearly somewhere on that spectrum. One eye wandered, the girl’s words were hard to understand, and she flapped madly. I suspect there was gross motor dyspraxia, as well, because she was uncomfortable climbing in the play area, even with help from Caroline.

She was as thrilled to meet Caroline as Caroline was to meet her.  But where Caroline bombarded her with introductory information, the primary word this girl’s vocabulary was “Ayeeeek!” It’s a word Sam unfurls a lot when he’s headed for sensory overload. However, she used it in a very happy way. At a guess, I’d say this girl was six,or seven but that was largely because she had a brother in his early teens with the telltale fuzz of early adolescence above his lip, and I heard their mother chastising him “she’s half your age!”

I got the sense that this girl would like to be as friend-filled as Caroline, but the love she is obviously pouring out to the world may not always reach its intended targets.  Her parents seemed eager for her to play with Caroline, even though Caroline had basically invited herself over to their table in the middle of their meal, and the little girl left her food unfinished (was permitted and encouraged to do so) to go off with my kids. Then, all three of them, Sam and the two girls, ran around the fishbowl that was the Chik-Fil-a play area, Sam and the new friend squealing while Caroline laughed.

And then Caroline headed up to the slide.

Immediately, the girl’s happy shrieks turned distressed. All the parents looked. So we all saw when Caroline came back down, took the girl’s hand and led her up. The girl’s mother covered her mouth with her hand really fast and looked away, and I knew Caroline had just pushed her friend to some new threshold. It wasn’t that  long ago that proprioceptive distress kept Caroline from climbing up restaurant play areas. She has only been really comfortable up there for a couple of years, and I remember the patient months her therapists labored so she could understand where her own body was in space.

Caroline hasn’t forgotten that time in her life, and I think she must have used something from her own experience to convince her friend it was safe to go up. But I have no idea what, and Caroline can’t remember her exact words now, after the fact. I remember clearly that first time Caroline went willingly up those stairs herself, what my heart felt like when those months of therapy came suddenly to a head in McDonald’s. And I recognized myself in that other girl’s parents, just as Caroline recognized herself in their daughter.  Although Caroline’s eyes have always gone where she wanted, and her pronunciation has always been strong, these girls clearly had a lot in common.

Because we are travelling, I had to make Caroline come out to eat for a few minutes, but I promised she could go back for a little while if she was quick. As soon as she was gone, the little girl’s father bolted into the playground, climbing up and down the stairs himself, up and down and up and down, his curious child behind him. She never went above the second step. This was clearly an early, early breakthrough. But she followed him over and over, until Caroline came back to play some more.

That alone would be enough.  But it wasn’t all. A couple more kids went to the playzone, these girls probably neurotypical. They were willing and happy to bound up the stairs, dive down the slide, and then do it all again, Caroline and Sam shifted their attention. But Caroline did not abandon her first friend. She merely widened her net. Every time she headed up to go to the slide, she poked her head back out, inviting the girl along. And every time Caroline popped out the slide at the other end, the girl shouted “Boo!” and Caroline pretended to fall over with fright, but really laughing so hard that everybody picked up her giggle..

The girl’s father stayed in after Caroline came back, though he retreated to sit on the parent-benches. When he saw the new kids join them, he started trying to gently coax his daughter down, probably trying to end her playtime on a high note before the potential heartbreak of losing a new friend reached her.

But his daughter, entrenched on that second step, refused to move. She sat there, laughing, shrieking “Boo!” and waving at Caroline at every pass. And then the really cool thing happened. After Caroline went four fast rounds up the stairs and down the slide, she added a new component to the game.  Everybody stopped on the second step. The new additions had been clearly initially uncomfortable with the first little girl. But when Caroline stopped and grabbed her hands at every pass, the others fell naturally in line, so that at every turn, there was a moment when all four girls (Sam having retreated into his own bizarre little games by then) held flapping hands and shrieked laughter. And it went on for some five minutes.

It was magic, the kind of spell that only Caroline can weave, and it only works because she appreciates no difference between the neurotypical kids and the austistic ones. Caroline knows she has Asperger’s syndrome. We talk about it. And she recognizes some of the differences it introduces to her life. But to her, in social terms, the girls are all different from her. She doesn’t rank the kinds of difference. She finds them all enjoyable and fascinating.

I imagine it this way. Caroline is standing on this bridge overlooking a distant valley. On one side of the bridge is her neurotypical world and on the other is her autistic one. She has equal access to both and only sometimes gets stuck on the autistic side anymore. The rest of us, those of us who really fully exist on only one side or the other of the bridge can all see Caroline up there, looking down into that valley. It’s impossible for us to tell what she sees, but all of us, on and off the autism spectrum,  can tell that it’s fascinating. Whatever is going on up on that bridge, we’re interested in it because Caroline is. And so we come out to meet her there, and suddenly we meet each other, and because we are in Caroline’s world, it all makes perfect sense and is wonderful fun.

As I said at the outset, I don’t want to make Caroline into something she’s not. I don’t want to force her into a role. But all of this comes from her. I do not send her out to make friends. I am, in fact, often in the position of having to tell her, “Caroline, you’re with our family today. You need to make friends some other time.”

But I don’t want to stifle this gift either. I want to let her explore and enjoy it and marvel at the people she touches along the way. She may do this forever, or it may fade as she grows up. And if it’s that second thing, I don’t want her to have missed even one friend.

As they were leaving the restaurant, their smiling daughter flapping ahead of them, the child’s mother said, “You have a very sweet little girl,” to us. I couldn’t explain “She’s on the spectrum, too,” because that would show I presumed something about her child when she was so clearly not presuming anything about mine, just enjoying her for who she was. Instead I said, “So do you. I think they had fun together.”

And then we both looked away, because it was very, very hard not to cry.

________

a flicker of inspiration at Lightning BugI’m linking up here with The Lightning and The Lightning Bug’s prompt #33, Common Ground. The post was not written specifically for the prompt, but it matches it exactly without any stretching from me, for once.

And then there were two

Well folks, it worked. Or anyway, it sorta worked. There were kinks, and things got hinky there when Sam realized we were really taking his bed away, but our two little sugarplums are nestled right now in their big new beds.

Things got off to a rough start, because the shape of our house made it impossible to drag the beds in ahead of time, meaning we had to plan to deliver them as a middle-of-the-day-work-in-progress surprise. Only when we woke up, it was shiver in my bones pouring rain. Queue Ten Thousand Maniacs. Scott checked the radar, identified a brief hole when we could drag everything in from the shed, and as soon as the predicted letup began, we raced inside with a thousand parts.

PARTS

I got these beds used off of Craig’s list. But the guy said they were practically unused, because he and his wife purchased them to make their kids room in their tiny army housing bedrooms, only to find out that their kids didn’t want them. Or rather, that their kids only slept in the bottom bunks that came with the units, while the top bunks were taking up badly needed space. So when he said ‘only used five times’, he meant it. The sticky tags were still in place, people. Melted there, from sitting in his shed for a couple of months, in fact.

I could have left them on until we could go get some Goo Gone, but they were bugging me, and they had to be removed.

They did NOT want to scrape off

And they turned into a slurry that had to be knife-scraped

Also, as we knew, they came with some assembly required.

Who the FUCK invented these? Please shoot that person for me.

We didn’t tell the kids what we were doing, listening as Caroline guessed “a place to put a TV in my room?”, “A really weird new desk”, and “my own hole like Ringo has in Yellow Submarine, only this one is square”. (She was referring to the space above the desk, which is something of a hollowed out rectangle until the bed gets into place.)

Hopefully the arrow shows

Although we had already told them that they each got one, as soon as they realized what was happening in Caroline’s room, that was the only place in the house they wanted to be. (Even before the side rails were in place.)

Where It's At

After we finished Sis’s, we moved on to Sam’s.

 

 

 

Caroline's finished productHe walked into his bedroom once, turned around and left without a word, then told Caroline, “Go look what they are doing to my bed.” Naturally, when she checked, nothing seemed out of place to her, since we had just done the same thing in her room. Clearly, she’s dealing with this change better.

What we did to the room. We cleaned up after, I promise. And yes, that IS all us, because I had just cleaned it three days ago.

So while I did this,

While I was doing this

Sam went away, found some scissors and gouged open a glass piggy-bank present one styrofoam bead at a time.

Sam was doing THIS(no pigs were harmed in the making of this disaster)

 “I only wanted to paint it,” he said. Instead, he got to spend an hour cleaning up the mess before I’d even allow him a dustbuster.

Bead by Bead (with apologies to Anne Lamott)

After that, it was still another hour before he was allowed to touch a brush or googly eye.

"Mom, why you gotta take my picture?" "So when you have a four year old boy who does this to you, I can whip this out and say you brought it on yourself."

Sam's finished productAfter we finished building, Sam refused to come in. He said, “No thanks. We can just share Sis’s new flying bed.” However, and I have no idea why this worked, when we found out he was mad because he still had his old mattress (I had thought I might be able to give him Caroline’s boxspring and half mentioned it before realizing that doing so would put his mattress even with the rails instead of below them), I told him the history of every mattress in the house and he was mollified.

So his first foray up his own ladder came at bedtime, when I had been hoping he would climb up sooner. Still, he stayed with only a minimal of extra-hug-n-kiss demands.

Sam: "Hey! How can you give me good night kisses now?" Me: "By standing on a chair."

In contrast, Caroline practically flew up that ladder. She couldn’t wait to bed down in her own personal flight center.

"I'm going to dream about flying"

Overall, it appears the swap-out experiment was a success,  Scott and I are drinking a bottle of celebratory Riesling now, as we clean up the disaster that is Christmas at our house. I notice that this bottle is about the same size as the one we had the night of the Polar Express disaster. We have been working on the same bottle for nearly six hours now and should finish up right at bedtime. That bottle at the hotel lasted only a third of that time. If that. And most of it went in me. *hic*. No wonder I fell asleep before I could post that evening. (I rarely drink and so have low alcohol tolerance to begin with. But I theeeenk that the phrase ‘really drunk’ has application in this situation)

Christmas has ended on a gentle note for us, and I hope for you as well.

Cheers,

Jessie

Dear Santa Clas [sic]

Dear Santa Clas [sic].

Damn, that's adorableI hope you enjoy the cookies. I hope the reindeer are doing whell [sic]. How are you doing? My name is Caroline Bradshaw Merriman. How is Mrs. Clas [sic] doing? How are the reindeer doing? Our house has a beautiful Chrismis tree Love Caroline

PS How is Rudolph Doing?

 

 

 

 

Dear Caroline and Sam,

Less so, but she was still thrilledHo ho ho! I do believe this is my longest letter from a child. Keep writing. You are very good at it. Your cookies were lovely. I am taking the chocolate one home to Mrs. Claus. I’m sure she is doing well and will love it. Rudolph is doing well, and so are the other reindeer. They appreciated the carrots. Merry Christmas,

Love Santa

 

 

 

Yes, I did write the response. Because, although I wish it were written to someone else, someone real, even I find it endearing. And I am the creative writer in our family. And if I shield myself from shit like Norad Santa Tracker, those damned holiday specials, and too very many people who don’t respect my disdain for the season, even I can manage that much for my child, who has chosen to believe.

Peace to all who celebrate, gracious thanks for all who don’t, and ‘welcome to the club’ to all like me, trapped in between and floundering.