I Guess My GPS is a Politician

My GPS (her name is Samantha) hates left turns. She’ll take me on outrageous adventures around blocks and across highways to avoid turning left. The other day, from my friend Jenny’s house, I ran up to the grocery store for a few minutes. Because the store was on the right, I knew I’d be making a left turn getting back out of the parking lot.

So I knew better than to buy it when, after I’d finished my shopping, Samantha said “Please continue to highlighted route” and drew a little right arrow down the road I’d been on before going in the store.

“Uh-uh.” I told her. “I fell for this yesterday and let you drive me around a tiddly-wink block to cross the street and deal with two extra red lights rather than just turning left. Not buying.” I turned left out of the store and waited.

Samantha said, “Recalculating,” which is her fallback position if I’ve made a choice with which she disagrees. Then, “Please drive 2.1 miles and keep right onto highway I-71 North…”

“No,” I said. “Not that either.” It was another left turn she was dodging, but it was dark, and I was unsure exactly where I had turned right coming to the store, so I wasn’t quite clear on where to turn left returning to the house. In any case, by then I was pretty sure I’d gone too far (the turn was a matter of feet from the store’s parking lot to the light).

Samantha can’t hear me. She lacks the ability to respond to voice commands. But she knows when I’m disobeying her will. Much to Samantha’s discomfiture, instead of getting on the highway, I turned around.  Left followed by right. It earned me two “Recalculating”s.

However, this turnaround put the road I needed on my right, and Samantha’s left turn aversion was thus overcome. She took me back to Jenny’s without further confusion, even going so far as to admit that I would have to make two additional left turns on the way back.

Yes, I know, my GPS needs psychotherapy. I know just about how the session would go.

Therapist: So, Samantha. Tell me about your manufacturer. When did this left turn aversion begin?

Samantha [robotic voice]: I’ve had it since I was first programmed, doctor.

There is no consistency to her behavior. Sometimes, she’ll let us turn left as appropriate for an entire lengthy journey. Others, she’ll change her mind five or six times over the course of one fifty mile trip.  She’s about two years old, and her maps are admittedly outdated, but she does this with roads that have existed on maps for much longer than she has been in existence.

After all my visiting was through, and the time to return to the airport had come, I needed to fill up the rental car prior to returning it. So I needed directions from Cincinnati to a specific gas station in Louisville, and from the gas station to the airport. Samantha said something like this:

“Take exit 8, on right. Turn right. Continue .6 miles to Thornton’s on right.” (The gas station was on the left. But she frequently gets right and left confused, largely to favor the right.)

Scott and I have learned that all instructions (especially those close to a destination) must be taken with a grain of salt, so I checked the route after getting my gas. She said:  “Turn right on Crittenden drive. Keep right and take ramp ahead. Drive 21 miles to ….”

 I turned her off before I followed even one of those commands. I could see the airport’s perimeter fence while standing at the pumps. It was not twenty one miles away. I tried asking her to find an alternate route. When that didn’t work, I just went inside and asked how to get there. The attendant’s directions were a lot shorter, coming in at about  a mile and a half long. Unsurprisingly, there were multiple left turns.


Samantha’s name derives from the voice options in the Garmin range. Formally, she is “United States. English. Samantha.”

Back from whence I came

Memories Captured: Caught one


This is one of my favorite pictures of my kids. It’s from January of 2008. Christmas is over, but we haven’t taken down the tree. We don’t yet know it, but we will be moving from Lexington, Kentucky to Montgomery, Alabama in a scant 7 months. Caroline’s hair is cut into the adorable pageboy she wore until she was almost seven years old. Sam is still all mischief and only limited anger. He and Caroline are roughhousing gently. And they are both delighted to be there, glad to be brother and sister, and happy to smile for the camera.


Got oneI’m linking this post up with  the Memories Captured project hosted by Galit of These Little Waves and Alison of Mama Wants this.

Dear Caroline and Sam

Dear Caroline and Sam,

This morning I woke up with

the dawn

I put on

my slippers

Oops. I meant to put on


my shoes

My car was covered


with ice

I turned on


and drove to


I bought

bacon eggs and milk

Then, I drove back to Jenny’s, and we had breakfast. I love you, I miss you. Keep taking good care of Daddy for me.

Love Mama

Sam Meets TSA

I’ve been flying since I was three or four years old, flying alone since I was ten. I love airplanes. I went through a period in my early twenties when I feared flying. Some combination of motion sickness and tension over those thrill bumps at take off and during turbulence served to make me a less than confident traveler. And anxiety still tugs when the plane first starts to taxi. But after that bump when the wheels leave the ground, I’m usually OK.

I usually fly with my family these days, either sandwiched between Sam and Caroline or forming the bread with Scott on the other side. The kids are decent flyers now, though Sam had a rough period there when he was three or so. The last time we flew with both kids was decent. We had problems, but they were all to do with the airline, not the kids. Sam napped on the flight and spent his awake time trying to jump up and stab the overhead buttons.

I considered this an improvement over that one bad year when, besides having a previously undiagnosed ear infection that caused him to moan through take-off and scream through landing, he managed to shut down the Ft. Myers International airport security system all by himself. Oh yes. My baby did that.

I was flying alone with the kids, coming home from Florida, and we were running late. It is hard to get out of a hotel, return a car, and race through the concourse with two small grouchy tagalongs. I had Sam on a leash, one of those backpack things, and he loved it as much as I did. It gave him a sense of security, and it gave me the ability to yank on the other end if things got crazy. But the security folks made me unbuckle him way too soon. I had always planned to remove it before we went through the scanner. But my idea was to wait until the last second, rip it off, throw it in a bin, and stuff it back on the instant we reached the other side.

However, while I was still trying to get the kids out of their shoes, some watchdog of a woman informed me, “Ma’am, he’ll need to stow that in a bin right now.”

“He really needs it. Can’t I do it just before he goes through?”


So I stripped it off and, absent the force that he knew I was using to control him, Sam went nuts.

“Ma’am, he can’t stand in a bin.”

“Sam, get out of the bin.”

“Ma’am, make sure your bags are all lying down before they get on the conveyer belt.” And, while I was trying to comply with this command, “Ma’am, where did your son go?”

If there are five words in the English language a mother doesn’t want to hear in the airport security line, then those five words must be ‘where did your son go’.

I panicked, stopped fixing the bags (the conveyer belt had stopped anyway) and whipped around. I called “Sam!”

“I’m wight hewe,” he said calmly. He was nearby. I could hear his little voice. But I could not see him.

And then I could. There were two lines of people, two conveyer belts moving our items down the pike, and he was between them, lying on the floor.

“Ma’am!” said Lady Watchdog with a new note of urgency in her voice.

She never finished her sentence. She didn’t have to. Because right then, I realized both  both conveyer belts had stopped. The little green and red lights where people walked through had gone dark. One guard monitoring a screen said, “Hey, what happened?”

Did you know that airport security can be turned off by pushing a single big red button?

I didn’t either. Nor did Sam. I have no idea why such a button even exists. Maybe in other airports it doesn’t. But TSA is really extra-strict in Ft. Myers, because it is a pretty common liftoff point for international travelers.

Perhaps that has something to do with it. Or maybe the button is a holdover from some earlier time when there might be some reason to suddenly shut off security.

Whatever its raison d’être, the button is supposed to live under a locked plastic case, so that someone like my industrious three year old can’t accidentally turn it off. But the case was open. Sam, sitting up, smiled at it.

“Pusha button,” he told me.

I said, “Sam!” But I couldn’t even think of what else to do or say. I had visions of arrest, of having Florida Children’s Services seize my kids while I was interrogated for terrorism. How in God’s name am I going to explain this to Scott? I wondered.

“I’m wight hewe,” Sam said again, patiently repeating the information I had clearly failed to absorb. “I pusha button.” Then, he popped out from under the line and went back to dancing in one of the totes on the floor. This time, nobody tried to stop him.

The TSA woman and I gaped at each other across the line. I wanted to say “I told you he needed that damned vest,” but I was still too stunned by the possible repercussions of his actions to even verbalize the thought. Other passengers, those immediately in front of us, and those behind us as well, had noticed the disruption, and they were all turning to stare.

Suddenly two burly men descended on our stuff. “If you want to just follow us this way, Ma’am, we’ll hand check you and get you on your flight.”

Seriously? My kid shut down your airport and I get by with a patdown and luggage deconstruction. But I wasn’t arguing.

Behind me, I heard the machines coming back to life and slowly booting up. And I clearly heard the phrase, “Why wasn’t that locked ?” at least twice. They seemed to consider the whole thing their own fault. Thank God.

I wonder if they still have that button. I wonder if it has been disabled or put in a metal box. And given Sam’s proclivity with locks of all kinds, I wonder if the box wasn’t really locked all along and he just so dexterous that it might as well have been open.

Not just anybody’s Mama

I’m not your standard Mama. I curse around my kids when others cover their children’s ears. I teach them Beatles and Rolling Stones where others play high-pitched-children’s voices-singing-it’s-supposed-to-be-endearing. (And I did NOT introduce the Wiggles to them, thank you very much. The kids introduced them to me, and after years of hating, I have actually grown to enjoy that one single kiddie group. And also one song by Raffi. But that’s it.) I’m kind of a control freak about things other parents don’t care much about (and I totally don’t care about the things I probably should prioritize.) I’m a liberal whose kids go to private schools and would even if they didn’t have autism. And I am absolutely not the clingy type.

So it horrifies me to realize that it has been at least five, possibly eight years since I took more than a night away from my children. (And then only one since Sam was born, and that was with Scott.) Scott travels sometimes with work for a weekend. Rarely. But I have never really taken a trip by myself since becoming a Mom.

Until now.

I’m leaving tomorrow for four, count them four days and three nights. My Auntie Em’s daughter is getting married, and this is a wedding I don’t want to miss. I already had to miss one friend’s wedding this year, and it killed me that I had to pick which one I could go to. I so wanted to attend both. And I’m so grateful to be at least able to attend one.

And, even more exciting, I’m a GODMOTHER, and I get to stand up in church in front of God and all his disciples and promise that I’ll never let Jake down. (And I won’t, either.) (However, if you hear about a Catholic church getting struck by lightning this weekend in Northern Kentucky, someone please see if my body can be retrieved from the wreckage.) This is beyond cool. My friends Genie and Mike have actually got two godmothers and one godfather for this baby. I’m the… I think the official term is non-same-religion godparent. Or something like that. And anyway, the godfather is off being a soldier, so my boobs and I get to stand in for him! It’s like being both in one. Genie calls it my Victor/Victoria stint. (Only nobody’s gonna mistake me for Julie Andrews.)  It’s causing the deacon in charge of facilitating this thing some real distress. Nevermind her.

This is something my agnostic butt wouldn’t miss for the world. Genie has stood by me at times when almost nobody else would. She has been my friend since fifth grade, and I can’t wait to hold her baby in my arms and promise to love it forever.

To triple the fun, I’m staying with another friend. Jenny and I have been friends since preschool, and it’s been far far FAR too long since we got to just hang out. Our parents used to gripe about our incessant sleepovers when we were five and six. But GUESS WHAT Mom and Dad, we were pre-making up for practically the rest of our lives.

So I’m really excited to be going.

But my anxiety level is also through the roof. Because I’ve never left the kids for this long. I’ve never totally abandoned Scott for a weekend. He ditches me as rarely as possible because these two require two parents most of the time. It is neither practical nor sane for one of us to plan a long weekend away.

And I don’t understand this emotion. Who the fuck am I? It’s not like I feel Scott is incompetent. He’ll cope OK. Or at least do as well as I do when I’m pulling a few days as a single Mom. This kind of separation anxiety … it’s the kind of thing other parents feel. Not me.

Because I am not your standard Mama.

And I desperately need this break.

Surely I’ll be fine once I get on the road tomorrow.

Yes. I think I will. Now that I’ve written it down, the excitement is starting to trump the anxiety already.


Yes, I have an Auntie Em. You don’t? Didn’t everybody’s mother and her best friend watch The Wizard of Oz obsessively every year, to the point that they don’t know why they weren’t named Dorothy? Oh. Just me? Well. Learn something each and every day. Take me back to the blog

It’s the Muppet Show

I didn’t start to cry until Kermit’s first song twenty minutes in. That’s pretty goddamned restrained, if you ask me. By the time we got to “Rainbow Connection”, I was bawling. And when the idiots at the theater brought the lights up five minutes before the credits began, I started howling with incoherent rage. Sorry. If the main characters are still on screen, it is not the credits yet. I don’t care if they’re sharing the space with text.

I can’t say enough how much the Muppets mean to me. I’ve held off on finding out much about this new movie until the last second, because I didn’t want to hope. They’ve always done a decent job, even since Disney took them over. But with all this hype, if they screwed the movie up, I was liable to be devastated.

They didn’t.

I loved it. From the little Toy Story Shorts prequel through the last “mnah-mnah”, I was completely taken in. I don’t suspend disbelief. I don’t think you have to in order to enjoy a story. But I’m sure anybody who listened to me hooting and sobbing at the screen would have thought I felt otherwise.

I first saw the Muppets on my parents black and white kitchen TV when I was a newborn. No, I don’t really remember back that far. But it’s a close thing. I used to sit at the kitchen table and crane my neck because the only place for the kitchen TV was way up on top of a freestanding china cabinet. I remember exactly how I used to squeal every time Kermit came on and said, “It’s the Muppet Show”. I know the theme by heart. And I’m sure you don’t need me to linkup to Youtube, because now I’ve got the song stuck in your head, too.

The Muppets are exactly the same age as me. A few months older, actually. OK really, Kermit and a few of the gang are older than that, because Jim Henson was showing them around on places like Sesame Street before they got their own gig. In fact, I think Kermit was guesting on Ed Sullivan as early as 1966. Which makes him more than a couple of years older than me. Ten of them, really. IF you want to be technical. But by GOD he looks good. They all do. Really, the whole thing was true to Jim Henson’s vision.

But that’s exactly why my heart broke over and over watching it. As much as his creations will outlive him, as much as the magic of Muppetry keeps him alive in our hearts, Jim Henson is dead. He’s been dead for twenty one years now, and I’d really expected to stop mourning him by now. It’s awkward. I never met the man. But my heart hurts for his absence like he was a member of my immediate family. (This isn’t the first time I’ve made a fool of myself over Muppets. See here and here.)

So every time Kermit opened his mouth, I got a little more teary eyed. Steve Whitmore sounds exactly like Henson in the role. I have the first couple of seasons on DVD (and yes, I cry watching those, too). And the voices are indistinguishable. Whitmore’s Kermit is a kind of substitution. A game of pretend that teases me with the man himself. That’s not fair. Because Whitmore gives Kermit life. Really, he does. And there’s no reason Kermit should have to die (Tex “no relationship to the head injury” Richman’s opinion aside) with his creator. But seeing him, hearing him makes me miss the creator more.

It’s funny how everybody’s gone Muppet crazy here lately. If so many of us had really been raised on the show like it is being claimed, then it would never have gone off the air. When they tried to bring it back several years ago, it wouldn’t have failed. There’s a running gag in The Muppets that innocent shows like this have been cast aside for modern violence. Of course, the Muppets prove they are still relevant, good triumphs over evil, and everything comes together in a nice dance number before the credits.

The implication is that the Muppets offer a gateway to a simpler era, where the rainbow connection is a physical thing, probably being held up by Gonzo and Fozzie, who are waiting for Miss Piggy to squash it in a flying karate leap. But there are two problems with the image the movie presents. First of all, as I said, every attempt to bring the Muppets to TV has been ultimately unsuccessful.

Second, the Muppets aren’t simple at all. They’re richly complex, and they dance along the edge of seemly without ever plunging into the sea of inappropriate. Whatever that would be. (Also, they’re merrily violent.) There’s a scene where Jack Black comes out of his dressing room shouting  “I told you, I haven’t finished putting my balls on yet”. Risqué until you realize he’s talking about hard foam craft products. Linda (who turned me onto Muppet Radio at the last second today, the day before it goes off the air) says the chickens have been clucking along all week to the C-Lo Green ditty that drops an F-bomb. In the movie, they have a barbershop quartet consisting of the Swedish Chef and Beaker, among others, mangling “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. AC/DC’s “Back in Black” riffs run through at least one “getting the gang back together” scene. And the movie’s intro song is Paul Simon’s Mama Pajama, which is about underage sex if you actually listen to the lyrics.

(Oh – and as far as I can tell, they didn’t screw around with remakes of the songs. They played the real things. Kudos.)

The Muppets stay relevant not by tying us back to something bygone but by touching on modern themes that matter. In all truth, the running gag is accurate. They’ve been superseded by Dora The Explorer and her fake under-mature clones. I suppose in prime time verbage, that means Phineas and Ferb and i-Carly. Producers prefer kids content that is so inoffensive as to be completely lifeless.

In contrast, producers are scared of Muppets. Muppet humor appeals to everybody because it doesn’t set an imaginary bar between children and adults. And no people, I’m sorry, the ‘adult’ stuff does not go over the kids’ heads. They may not get every single reference. But Caroline sat up and pointed over at her brother’s crotch when Jack Black started griping about his balls. If the kid with Asperger’s who was nearing a sensory meltdown clued in, then I’m pretty sure every other child in the room got it, as well.

The Muppets stay in tune by recognizing that kids aren’t stupid. Their adult humor isn’t adult humor. It’s family humor, because “family” doesn’t have to mean inane and childlike doesn’t have to mean naïve. And even if they’ve been outdone on the TV screen, the Muppets’ movies are still popular. I think this one is going to be a blockbuster.

And this is one of the things in life that makes me wish I had the capacity for belief. I’m agnostic because I’ve got serious issues with organized religion.. But watching that movie, I wanted to think Jim Henson could see it, too. That some vestige of self remains after we die. Some part of us that can still experience human joy. I don’t really think so, though. I think Henson is dead and the closest I’ll ever get to him is watching Kermit in new movies and old reruns. I want to bring the man back to life, but it isn’t going to happen.

The king is dead. Long live the king.

Go watch The Muppets.

You probably won’t cry as much as I did, and you absolutely won’t regret it.


Red Writing HoodIf you’re here from Red Writing Hood, you probably noticed that I appear to have stuck my middle finger up at the word count. Sorry. Really. I get horrible anxiety when I fail to follow some crucial instruction like that and then claim to have completed the assignment. But also, the song is still running through my head. So maybe I get extra words for that. Or something.

And if you think I ignored the part about magnum opi, then you don’t read this blog very closely. At the moment, this is the area that gets most of my writing. It’s twisted. But I think it counts.

In which turkey is consumed

I don’t get off much on the winter holidays. Other than my birthday, it would pretty much be OK with me if, after Halloween, we skipped right to New Years. I don’t associate Thanksgiving and Christmas with love, togetherness, and warm fuzzies. Mostly, it makes me think of being trapped in a tiny house with Mom, Dad, and my sister, all of us wanting to kill each other. Even though I’ve been having pleasant holidays with Scott for over a decade now, the associations remain, and I always approach the season with a sense of trepidation.

This year, we had planned to celebrate with our friends Linda and Robert. Only at the last minute, our plans changed. So did theirs, so we still get to go have Thanksgiving with them on Sunday. But our plan change was so cool that even a holiday skeptic like me couldn’t help but be excited. (Holiday excitement, like hope, is one of those extremely dangerous emotions that typically leads to bad things like expectations. But this time, things turned out OK.)

Anyway, Scott’s cousin Michael, who we haven’t seen since I was pregnant with Caroline, e-mailed to say that his family would be having dinner with his wife Michelle’s family in Duluth Georgia, and to ask would we like to come. Yes, of course we would! Purely aside from the fact that the last time we saw Michael and Michelle, their now-ten-year-old son Devon was a toddler and our now-eight-year-old daughter Caroline was a bun in the oven, we all now have second children.

Also, our second children are all named Sam. Seriously. Our four year old is Sam, and their three year old is Sam. Clearly, the meeting was meant to be.

Of course, we were worried at our end. Holidays with the Asperger’s duo are always a crapshoot. Caroline is prone to meltdowns and Sam is prone to biting. We had contingency plans for what to do when our Sam bit their Sam that involved running and leaving the shoes and pie plate behind. Fortunately, we didn’t need those plans, but it wasn’t because Sam behaved himself. Oh no. Not at all.

We got there at around 11 in the morning, and the two older cousins promptly fell into computer talk. Devon plays several online games Caroline hasn’t previously heard of, and she was more than happy to be indoctrinated. By 11:15, they had taken up residence on Michelle’s father’s computer.

Devon and Caroline conquer the world

And Sam and Sam launched within minutes into a giant game of chase-your-cousin-up-and-down-the-hall.

Sam and Sam prove that parents don't just get motion sickness in cars. They also get it hurrying after little boys.

So things started off well.

We had worried a little about what to wear. I mean, it’s kind of weird to go visit your cousin’s wife’s parents’ house (or, in my case, your husband’s cousin’s wife’s parents’ house)  when you’ve never met them before. Michael had assured us they were a pretty casual crew, but we knew from experience that ‘casual’ has a broad definition and felt concerned that we would completely miss theirs. (We got it fairly right.)

Anyway, Michelle’s parents are very cool, laid back people who enjoy hosting a crowd. They had setup a giant table with room for a dozen, and they were equipped to elongate that for even more. We all settled in and started visiting right away. For two hours, we barely saw our children.

Except for the obligatory "You're not killing each other, right?" checks.
And then it happened. At one or so, right around our Sam’s naptime, their Sam started wailing, “I got a boo-boo.” Oh yeah. That boo-boo involved tooth marks. But it wasn’t a huge big deal. Scott and I are so used to people overreacting to Sam’s behaviors that it was an unspeakable joy to remember that there is an appropriate reaction that doesn’t involve panic and loud voices.

We separated them, and I made my Sam sit with me on the couch for awhile. He said he was tired and fell asleep. In fact, he went ahead and took a two hour nap on the couch. He slept through most of dinner. It was fabulous.

Purely aside from being allowed to eat in reasonable peace, I got to enjoy the food because it was the first holiday meal in I can’t remember how long that nobody has offered to pray about. I did not have to say an awkward “pass”, because there wasn’t a moment where we went around the table saying blessings or giving thanks. We celebrated in secular fashion, and that is absolutely in keeping with my idea of enjoyable.

In fact, we adults held a lengthy conversation about how difficult it is to not be churchgoers in the South. For the record, I think Scott would enjoy it if there were anything like an appropriate place here in Montgomery, but there’s only one that’s even close, and it’s way too small. Michelle’s uncle is a lawyer who spent many years in the coast guard. He and his wife remembered being stationed in Virginia Beach and getting just bombarded with religion. Scott and I talked about how for our first year in Montgomery, everyone we met asked where we went to church, largely because they were just sure we were going to hook up with one. It was so nice to enjoy like minded company who recognized the basic intrusiveness of that question. At the end of the day, we had no idea what religion anybody else at the dinner might have been. How delightful.

Then, Sam woke up, and he was actually un-cranky (often naptime wakeups are evil wakeups), and he and Sam resumed their playtime without any bad blood over the teeth. The big kids settled back onto the computers, and the little guys took over a bedroom to watch TV. Periodically, one of us grown-ups would check in to make sure things were going well upstairs.

And then I went up one time and found this:

Caught red ... er ... faced

The culprits

No. That isn’t lipstick.
It isn’t blood either.

They don't seem to feel much remorse, do they?
The Sams got into Michelle’s mom’s nail polish and went to town. By and large, they spared the comforter on the grandparental bed (though that will never be the same again). But they took great care to decorate their cheeks, and our Sam made sure to take care of his clothes as well. Because, you know, they needed more ‘festive’.

I walked in the room and my nostrils were assaulted with that distinct amyl acetate odor, and then I knew the two little boys on the bed, besides being well decorated, were getting pretty loopy. And in spite of our regular check-ins, they had done quite a job in a pretty short time. I mean, there are two shades on those cheeks. Our Sam did one color per side. Their Sam opted for layers on both sides.

Michelle’s parents proved how laid back they are. They didn’t even express moderate displeasure or concern about the bedspread. “It’s just stuff,” Michelle’s dad said. How delightful. I know a lot of people who would have gotten very bent out of shape about that stuff.

Of course, we’re going to be looking at this

The evidence that keeps on giving

for some time, as all current wisdom suggests that the best way to get the stuff off of skin is to just wait it out.

Later, as we got ready to go, my Sam told me, “I want to paint my face some more, now” like maybe I’d let him just nip back upstairs for another coat.

The best news is that I think we’re going to be able to meet up with Michael and Michelle in Atlanta some next summer, as Michelle and the kiddos come down for several weeks each year. Caroline and Sam are already looking forward to it. So are Scott and I.

All in all, this was one of the happiest Thanksgivings ever.

Take that Charlie Brown.

Train In The Distance

For our honeymoon, Scott and I took the train to Denver, then rented a car to go  in a giant circle, ending in the Mile High City once again. In two weeks, we drove, rode, or slept through thirteen states. (Travel tip? For Christ’s sake don’t do that. Take more time, OK?)

Amtrack from Cincinnati to Chicago was awesome. We took a Pullman and ate in the dining car. From Chicago to Denver? Less so. We were on top of a double decker, and my motion sickness never once relented. My body was sure the train was climbing into the mountains when it was on the flat plains of Nebraska. I slept poorly, we overpacked, and Amtrack will never get anyone anyplace on time ever.

And yet? Magic. When I stepped down and felt myself still swaying like I’d just gotten off a boat, all I wanted was to climb back up and ride on to the next station.

Cincinnati’s Union Terminal is a phenomenal location, and every year I fear the trains will stop running. It was worth a 2:12 AM (delayed from 10:15 PM) departure to be in that building at night, without the buzz of the museum/ event center it has become. Denver’s station is equally compelling.

Our families are railroad heavy. One of my great grandfathers was the superintendent of the L&N Line. Scott’s grandfather shoveled coal to power a steam engine in Vermont. We were both raised dreaming of tickets and cabooses. Steeped in the romance of steam trumpet whistles and train horns.

So that whole trip was like coming home for us. I want to do it again, only without the part where we have to stop riding at the end. Conductor, punch my ticket. Take me home.

Sam Part II

In case you aren’t familiar with my situation, you should probably start here, with Sam Part I. It’s short. But highly informative.


November 2011

I’ve blogged before about how much Sam loves ballet. And about my bipolar disorder. And about how, at its worst, bipolar robs me of the activities I love. Can you already see where this is going? Back at the end of September, Sam suddenly wanted to quit ballet. He went from one week loving it to the next week screaming and fighting over having to get dressed and dance.

It was that fast.

And he was adamant. “I don’t like ballet. I can’t do that. I hate ballet. I want to go home. I don’t want it to be my ballet day.” I suspected, though there was no way to be sure, that his disorder(s) had stolen away his love. And it broke my heart.

It wasn’t just ballet, either. He stopped working puzzles and playing video games. He only wanted us to read to him at bedtime, and even his trains got minimal mileage. He could barely even sit still to watch DVDs. His emotions had been going down the toilet since late May, but he was approaching a nasty kind of rock bottom. At age four. Giving up on puzzles and books bugged the hell out of me. But the ballet was the worst, because it put me in an absolute quandary.

I’m not the sort to force a kid to keep up with an activity whose time has passed. Sure, as the kids age, I’m going to make them stay in to finish out any commitments they have made. But honestly, right now Sam is four, and even a typically developing four year old changes interests as fast as he can flush the toilet. There was no reason to keep him doing something he had ceased to enjoy.

Except I didn’t think he had really ceased to enjoy it. I thought he had become so defiant that he even had to defy himself. He contradicted everyone about everything. There was one whole week that I derived bleak amusement from asking him, “Are you Sam?” just so I could hear him shout, “No! I’m not Sam. I’m SAM!”  And he wasn’t being funny at all.

At school, at his new school, he tried all kinds of attention getting tactics. One day, at snack, he waited for his teacher to look at him, then dumped all his crackers on the floor. She’s pretty cool. She said, “You have a mess to clean up,” in a neutral voice. So he waited until she looked his way again, then stomped the crackers and ground them in with his heel. If he was trying to get a rise out of her, it didn’t work, because all she said was, “Now you really have a mess to clean up.”

So it was no real surprise that our attempts to get him to ballet on time and dressed were colossal disasters as soon as he decided he was done with the activity. Once he got in class, he was sort of OK, but ultimately, we had to start keeping him out because we worried too much about how he might act out.

But then, in direct contrast, at home, he would beg me to hunt up a particular Youtube video of Aaron Copeland’s Rodeo featuring the Colorado ballet. Or else various combinations of “The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” and the Russian Dancers from The Nutcracker. He had options on obscure alt rock, well known classic rock, and everything in between. He could have picked The Stones, The Beatles, The Sweet, Beyoncé, or The Travelling Wilburys.  But he chose to watch ballet.  He would look while the dancers jumped and spun, and we would ask him, “Can you do that?”

Though his answer was sometimes a defiant, snarling, “No”, it was far more often a yearning, “Not yet.” And the hell of it was that the real answer is “Yes”. He actually does do powerful four year old versions of nearly everything those dancers put out there. He can do that wicked cool thing where the danseurs jump up straight legged and touch their toes. He can gallop sideways. And when he thought we weren’t watching him, he was still doing those things in secret.

Nearly as soon as I pulled him out, I realized that was the wrong decision, and I worked him back into attending class again. First, I let him just sit and watch for the whole session. Proof that he was still engaged? He sat still the whole time. He didn’t act out at all. More proof? Well, I’ll tell you in a minute. But he wasn’t willing to get up and dance, so we still had a way to go. Then, I made him get dressed, but still let him sit and watch. Finally, two weeks ago, I told him he had to dance.

And he did. With only minor moaning. Part of the reason was that he had started medication and he was finally improving. But part of it was that he had backed himself into a corner with all of the “I can’t”, “I won’t” garbage. After saying he hated it, he needed to be pushed to continue so he could save face.

There was a hiccup last week when I arrived late because Caroline had a doctor’s appointment, and I was the one who had all the dance clothes. Sam refused to dance that week because he sees the world rather rigidly still. One must wear one’s ballet clothes if one is to dance. One cannot plié in one’s civvies.

But. Two nights ago was ‘observation night’, when parents can come in and watch the class face to face, rather than on the closed-circuit cameras that broadcast to the waiting area. Sam was so excited. All the way from school to ballet, he asked me, “Is it my ballet day? Are you going to watch me dance today? I can’t wait!”


There are only three kids in his class. The little girl on the right was totally excited and showing off too much for family. The girl on the left was a little shy, but possessed of incredible grace. She could perform even some pretty complicated maneuvers.

And Sam? Here’s the proof that he was totally engaged even when he wouldn’t set a toe on the floor. Every time the class performed a step, the teacher asked “what does that mean?”. “What’s a tondu?” “How about pas de chat?” “What about sauté de chat?”  Which kid do you think answered her every single time?

Prince Charming

Uh huh. That one.

Learning poise through bean-bag-balancingBalancing the beanbag Sam-style

French is the language of ballet, and most of these were steps learned in his struggling weeks. Not only could he perform them with reasonable grace and four year old accuracy,  but he knew the translations. If his mind had been closed when he was resisting the class, he would not have learned those words, would not have been able to complete the moves so easily. In short, on Tuesday, I learned I guessed right. His emotions were robbing him of his loves.

And also, he may just be getting some of his groove back.

Feelin' Groovy

The story continues here

Beauty and the Beast

Sam Part III

Sam Part IV

Fix You

Sam Part I

Smilin' SamNovember 2011 — I still don’t understand what is going on with Sam. I know we’re looking at Asperger’s Syndrome. There’s never been any real question in my mind that he has the same form of high functioning autism as Caroline, even though it manifests in different ways in sister and brother. But I fear he also shows signs of my Bipolar Disorder. Things fell apart for him so fast this summer. In the space of three months, he went from being my happy little mischief to being violent and angry nearly all the time. I’ve seen some of this coming. I always worried about the biting. I always worried about the way he would hurt other children with almost no realization that he was the one causing the pain. When he realizes he has hurt someone, he invariably feels remorse. But half the time, even now, he gets so caught up in his own needs that he fails to acknowledge the needs of others.

But the sudden descent from basically happy-kid-with-a-few-behavior-issues to anguished-defiant-child-with-viperous-anger happened right around his fourth birthday. I’m told this isn’t uncommon for early onset behavior disorders.  Still, it’s getting a little better.

We found a good psychiatrist who found us a therapist. And then, after two sessions, that therapist died. (Yes, really. He died. He wasn’t an old man, either.  Here is the only name I’ll place in this post or the next one: Dr. John Mark Trent. The man was amazing, and in only two sessions, he made an enormous difference for our son. And we probably suffered less than nearly all his other patients when he got pneumonia, fell in a parking lot, then died due to a brain bleed brought on by a combination of the fall and blood thinners he was taking.)

The psychiatrist has now got us a new therapist. And possibly also a psychologist specializing in autism. And also a drug that may be finally starting to make a difference. The drug is where the majority of my hopes lie. (Though hope is not really the right word. Hope is the most dangerous emotion for me. I try hard not to hope about anything. I cannot prepare for  the worst and hope for the best. I must prepare for the worst and be relieved if it’s anything better. Because otherwise, I haven’t really prepared, and I get caught out by middle ground and think it is worse than worst.) Anyway, the medication is called Tenex, and it used to be used to treat high blood pressure. I’ll blog about Sam’s harmless heart abnormality and our two efforts to keep him strapped to an EKG machine for twenty four hours some other time. (It went better than you might expect). But I’ve started seeing flashes of my little boy under all that confused anger.

His behavior has started to become something we can evaluate on a day-to-day basis as opposed to a baffling maelstrom worthy of a kid ten years older. The biggest change, the hardest change for me, is that from now until forever, we are going to have to approach Sam’s life one day at a time. A good day today will not necessarily be an indicator of another one tomorrow, and hoping for that is unreasonable. (There’s that hope again.) Mercifully, the reverse is also true. Today’s bad day won’t necessarily be tomorrow’s bad day anymore.

I still hold my breath every day at pickup time. And I still live in fear that we’re going to have to pull him out of school until Kindergarten, which would pretty much force me to quit working. But something isn’t going wrong every single day now.  That’s progress. And it’s probably about the most I can hope for, given the circumstances.

Sam Part II,

Beauty and the Beast

Sam Part III

Sam Part IV

Fix You