I stopped blogging on the newspaper’s mommy blog for a long time, tired of the shiny, happy motherhood stories everyone was posting. I haven’t been shiny or happy for a long time. I have to settle for, at best, bittersweet, most days.

But after talking to the features editor about it, I felt better and posted today. I might not exactly fit in, but I have a feeling there are mothers who will benefit from my point of view.

Here ya go:

http://blogs.twincities.com/dailyjuggle/2010/06/perspective.html

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It’s a beautiful, sunny spring day, and I get to spend it with Simon.

He’s sitting in the grass on the front lawn, picking dandelions and handing them to me.

“This is for YOU.”

His face is dirty because he couldn’t wait to be washed after eating. He just had to be in the sun.

“I want to stay outside forever and ever.”

He lays his head in my lap and pulls my arm over his 4-year-old body.

“The sun keeps me warm. And you.”

He sits up and picks at the grass.

“The grass is green. So green. Where did the snow go?”

I tell him the snow won’t be back for a few months.

“I want to bring the sun down here. I want to play with the sun.”

I tell him the sun is far away.

“Let’s get daddy’s ladder and climb up there to get it.”

A bunch of food bloggers have been posting lately about why they cook.

I hardly ever blog about food, except maybe to document tales of rib terror, or how I smoked my family out of the house, but most of you reading this know I love to cook.

Why?

It’s therapy.

After a day of thinking, screaming tantrums and time-outs, or even just doing laundry (I HATE LAUNDRY), nothing feels better than mincing, chopping and sauteing.

There’s a rhythm to cooking. One of my favorite rituals is to smash, peel and dissect a clove of garlic. The pungent smell, even the way the flecks stick to my chef’s knife blade. I don’t even mind when I catch a telltale whiff from my fingers later as I am shoving my glasses back onto my nose.

I love separating chopped vegetables into pretty little mismatched bowls. I’m making order out of something. No matter how messy everything else in my life is, I have control of this space.

But I think the most satisfying part might be the end, when I’ve been stirring and searing, mashing and whisking for hours, and somehow, magically, it all ends up on a plate together.

And it makes me, and usually Ed, happy.

This weekend, it was the ultimate comfort food — chicken cacciatore served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and a salad with prosciutto, pine nuts, Parmesan and a zippy vinaigrette.

It was just what the doctor ordered.

Though I didn’t take a picture (I’d make a horrible food blogger), here’s the recipe.

Chicken Cacciatore, adapted from Bon Appetit

  • 1 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped (scant 4 cups)
  • 1 pound crimini (baby bella) mushrooms
  • 1 very large red onion, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 4 1/2- to 4 3/4-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces, excess fat trimmed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 cup low-salt chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced basil, divided

Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine plum tomatoes, mushrooms, and onion in large bowl. Add 3 tablespoons oil and vinegar; toss to blend. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Spread vegetable mixture in single layer on large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until onion slices are golden brown and all vegetables are tender, stirring frequently, about 50 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon rosemary. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large deep ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and sauté until golden brown, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to bowl. Add garlic to pan, saute 30 seconds. Add wine to skillet and boil until wine is reduced by half, scraping up browned bits, about 1 minute. Stir in canned tomatoes with juice, then broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 10 minutes to blend flavors. Return chicken to sauce in skillet. Place skillet in oven and roast uncovered until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear when pierced with knife, about 25 minutes. Remove skillet from oven. Stir in roasted vegetables, remaining 1/2 tablespoon rosemary, half of basil, and half of capers. Simmer over medium heat until vegetables are heated through. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve over mashed potatoes, and for God’s sake roast some garlic and throw it in them. And use half and half or whole milk and real butter — not skim milk or any of that chicken broth stuff. Blech. This is comfort food after all.

Salad is delicious, but optional.

There are times like today, when I’m worn out and not in the mood.

Those are the times when I sit down, head in hands, and let the hot tears of frustration escape from my eyes.

And usually, when I’m sitting there, feeling oh-so-sorry for myself, I remember something else.

I remember one of the times that my love is so strong, so deep that I can’t see anything else.

It’s usually something simple that triggers that familiar, warm swelling in my chest.

Like him asking if he can cuddle with me.

Or saying to his sister, “Come on! Let’s share this!”

Or holding my hand as we walk to the car.

For most mothers, any of those moments are ordinary. They don’t even register on the map of milestones or memories.

But for me, each is a hard-fought battle that has ended in a small win for both of us.

I’m happy to report there have been some really rewarding wins lately.

I lied, I’m posting again. Thanks, friends, for making me feel like it’s OK.

Anyway, Simon had eye surgery Wednesday, and the recovery sucked. He was in pain, and none of us slept, and just blerg. (He has amblyopia, or lazy eye. We hope surgery will be the final step in fixing it.)

But the past few days, he had been oddly calm. VERY unlike the Simon we know and love.

I noticed, but said nothing for fear of jinxing it.

Then today, when I picked him up from school, his teacher said his eyes looked great, and I went ahead and said it. And she said she noticed it, too. So I felt all validated and called Ed. Who agreed. And we had this whole conversation about how maybe many of his issues would melt away with his newfound binocular vision.

And then, I got him home. I’m working from home today, which is often a nightmare, so much so that if I don’t have a night meeting and need to work through the afternoon, I’ve been putting the little monster in day care. But I had high hopes that I could plop the new Simon in front of a movie and get some writing done.

He’s been a screaming, tantruming mess since we walked in the door. My ears are ringing from all the yelling at me. (And yes, people who think I don’t discipline him, I did point out repeatedly that I don’t do things for boys who yell. I waited until he asked nicely. Which often takes four times.)

He’s got an eye doctor appointment this afternoon, and between this morning, Ed taking him to the appointment and my night meeting, I will more than log in my eight hours.

But my Utopian vision of a calm afternoon has been blown to bits.

Here’s hoping tomorrow is a better day.

I feel like this blog has turned into a place to vent about parenting a child with autism.

That’s OK, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not why I started writing here. I was hoping to experiment, not really focus entirely on the kids, try different writing styles.

At first, I did that. Quite a bit.

Now, well, I’m exhausted. Drained. It often seems like, outside of work, this disorder saps all my time and energy. What little I have left goes to the other kids, who I am trying desperately not to lose in the autism shuffle.

I had always considered myself a positive person, but I seem to be spiraling the drain of negativity. I was hurt recently by someone close to us suggesting that Simon’s problem might not be autism, but simply poor parenting. I haven’t been able to let that go.

Some days are good, but many days are bad.

You see, this is not the kind of stuff I wanted to put out there. It doesn’t seem like me. But lately, it is. And it scares me. I need to find that positive person, the one who can see good in anything. The one who can laugh at herself. I know I’m still there.

But until I find myself again, I might steer clear of depressing the hell out of my friends and family on the Internet.

I promise, my next post will be funny. Or I won’t post again.

I have to remember some aren’t. But often, parenting a child with autism can be a series of irrational arguments:

While reading a book:
“The blue dog is on the yellow tree.”
“I want the blue dog to be on the GREEN tree!”
“Sweetie, I can’t make the dog move.”
“ON THE GREEN TREE! GREEN TREE!”
Turn page.

Getting dressed:
“Lay still so I can change your diaper.”
“I DON’T WANT YOU TO CHANGE MY DIAPER! I WANT TO GO POTTY.” “Great! Let’s go!” Take his hand — try leading him to the bathroom.
“I WANT TO WEAR A DIAPER! I want to be a BABY!!!”
“OK, lay down and I’ll put the diaper on.”
“No! I don’t want to wear a diaper!”
Bucking, screaming. Ten minutes later, finally diapered.

Petting the cat:
“I want to pet the cat.”
“OK. Be gentle. Stoke his back like this, see?”
Smacks cat. Cat runs away.
“I want to hit the cat! Bring the cat back here!”
“But the cat doesn’t like it when you hit him.”
“He DOES like it! I want to hit the cat!”

A three-inch-long object has lifted me out of a pretty dark week.

No, it’s not my phone.

It’s a surgical brush that we run over Simon’s arms, legs and back about every 90 minutes.

It sounds crazy, but it WORKS.

It gives him sensory input, which he really, really needs. There is a noticeable difference in his mood and behavior. He is sitting next to me right now, calmly watching TV without kicking me or trying to grab my phone, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but IT IS.

So instead of moping around feeling sorry for myself, I’m hopeful. If such a simple thing can make such a huge difference, think what all the things we haven’t yet tried can do.

I am posting this with my new iphone, which is not really all that practical, but I don’t mind. BECAUSE I HAVE AN IPHONE.
It’s precisely the kind of thing I don’t usually buy for myself, which is precisely why I bought it.
Yesterday sucked. I spent the day as a punching bag for a frustrated, sensory-seeking 3-year-old. Nothing seemed to help.
So when his dad came home all happy from a great day in the field, I decided to go get me some of that.
It worked, at least temporarily. Not for the kid, but that’s not something a sparkly new toy can fix.

It’s funny how public places, especially those meant for children, are carefully laid out so those with disabilities can get around easily.

That is, kids with physical disabilities.

For autistic kids, the claustrophobic mazes and tunnels, low-ceilinged playrooms and jumble of screaming children crowded around every feature are basic nightmares.

The children’s museum is a mecca of childhood playtime where everything is meant to be touched and interacted with. Where other children happily flit from feature to feature, forgetting an adult is anywhere nearby.

Other children. Not Simon.

His sweaty little hand grips mine tightly. He offers a throaty scream intermittently — a signal to me that it’s all just too much for his system. He eventually crawls through the tunnels in the ant hill, but only if I’ll come along.

He’s of course drawn to the features where he can drive something — a truck, a car, a boat. But inevitably, there is  another child already at the wheel. He is pretty good today about waiting his turn, but refuses to share once he’s seated. Toddlers, especially, tend to violate his personal space bubble.

The other kids like it here, but not as much as the zoo or the blow-up jumpy place, they say. Clare complains that I’m not spending enough time with her. I am not, but she doesn’t need me.

He does.

All in all, it’s a pretty good day with no major meltdowns. But I’m left wondering if Simon really had a good time.

I also wonder if I should, or should not, be exposing him to situations like this.

Most Fridays, our time for Mommy-kids fun, are a few hours to just play and see and do and forget about the rest of the world. But today, all I could think about was the autism. Around every corner was a booby trap set for Simon’s sensory system.

I’m glad the older two weren’t super excited about the place. I don’t think we’ll be back for a while.