Monday, March 31, 2008

Materialistic Monday: Drama Mama's Secrets, Part One

How lucky are you all today? The faaabulous Drama Mama is guest blogging here today to share her beauty secrets! Get your tabbing fingers ready - there's some good stuff here...enjoy!

Materialism is hard work, Wonderfriends, so I’m going to work fast and hard to get you in and out of here on this Monday morning.

The erudite and gregarious Jordan has asked me to guest on this auspicious day, mostly because she isn’t half has materialistic as I am, and partially, maybe, because she’s just tired, lazy, or both and just wants to pass the heavy lifting over to me. Never fear, mon amie, I am willing and able to transition you from the dregs of winter to the dawning of summer in just a few pithy paragraphs. Get your pens ready. And…Go!

First of all, as we move from Winter to Summer, you might notice that you are feeling… squishy, perhaps. Not heavy, but, er, well, not as toned and terrific as you’d like to be as those Land’s End Swimsuit catalogs appear fast and furious in your mailboxes. May I suggest a nice meal replacement that I’ve been doing that is filling and delicious ? (Well, let’s not go crazy here, how about pleasantly palatable?). Fiber 35 is available online, in your local health stores, and what I really like about it is that it does indeed fill one up and keeps things moving, shall we say? A few shakes throughout the day, with a Fiber Smart bar mid-day, and a salad with protein for dinner – an easy and painless way to shape up and clean out. Just in time for Land’s End season. Greet those waves with the semi-self-confidence that you deserve!

Now that your innards are singing, may I bring your attention to your skin? Yes, darling, it is lovely and wrinkle-free, but that long winter has left you –ahem- a little dull and not as baby-fine as you’d like. MAC Moisturelush line is just that – softening and hydrating and really, truly non-greasy. Truly. I would not lie to you. I do the Cremewash with my Clarisonic in the shower (oh, the ecstasy), then the Studio Moisture Fix while I dress and do my hair. By the time I get to my make-up, my face is ready to go. Friends, before I turned 40, I detested the feel of moisturizers. As it became a necessity, I searched vainly for an item that would hydrate me and not make me look like a fry cook in June. The real piece de resistance is the Moisturelush Crème at night – it goes on like a cloud, and is like a mini-facial; once you emerge from your morning shower, the effects of your nightly attempts are butter-smooth and have plumped up even the tiniest of lines – even around the mouth! Couple all of this with your Strivectin, and you are positively entering Dorian Gray territory.

Okay. Pens down. That's enough for today. Process. Rinse. Repeat. We'll see you next week at this time for the rest of Materialistic Monday Terrorist Takeover by Drama Mama. Please do your homework.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Recyclery

As long as we're talking about Mother Earth this weekend, I want to share a wonderful discovery we made yesterday.

Baxter and I were both in the market for new bicycles this spring, and so we went up to Evanston (a very short distance from our far north side neighborhood) to check out The Recyclery's Spring Sale. The Recyclery is a nonprofit used bicycle collective, meaning that they fix up donated bikes and give them to those who need them and occasionally sell them super cheap to the public.

To his utter delight, Baxter found this '80s Schwinn "Predator" (perfect for our Cheetah-obsessed boy) that is just his size. And when you only spend $15 on the bike, it's easier to promise a few add-ons, like a comfier seat and a kickstand.

As for me, I ended up with this silver aluminum frame Magna with all kinds of crazy shock absorbers. Between that and the hella cushy seat, all I could think about while I was riding it was the YouTube "Mom My Ride" video (which you really must see if you haven't). It's a Mom Ride all right, but for $65, bring it on.

Aside from the great deals on some kick-ass bikes, this was a fantastic opportunity to talk about the "reuse" part of what some refer to as the "Unitarian Holy Trinity": reduce, reuse, recycle. Baxter is feeling very proud of his 20-year old secondhand bike. I hope he remembers why when his friends show off brand new shiny models, but I don't think I have anything to worry about.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour

We are observing Earth Hour tonight, but adjusted it a bit. We started early - at 6:30 - as starting at 8pm would have had no impact whatsoever on the slumbering darlings we wish to teach about being stewards of the earth.

With no computers to lure an adult away, we spent half an hour together in the sun room, being goofy and chatting happily, engaged in such activities as Watching Lyle Put on a Ballet/Tap Dance Show and – always a crowd pleaser - Creating Harry Potter Characters and Artifacts Out of Silly Putty with Baxter. For the next half hour we took to our respective couches and each of us read to one of the kids.

I was struck by the way that the natural darkening of the night sky through our windows brought on a gradual calm in us all. No sudden, “Okay, it’s bedtime!” call tonight. When it was too dark to read, no one questioned that it was time to head off to sleep. We lit a big candle by which the boys brushed their teeth, and off they went. A very relaxing evening.

We have kept the lights and electronics off well into the official 8-9 pm time period. Feeling a little guilty about going to a fully lit establishment at 8:30, I left the house in search of the Starbucks down the block due to the fact that I am far too behind on work to even think of doing anything else, and Matt’s having some friends over tonight to watch a movie and drink White Russians. And whatever else a bunch of hip dads do. (I’m picturing some of them walking in not knowing about Earth Hour and feeling a bit awkward about the romantic, candlelit atmosphere Matt has prepared for them.)

But do you know what I love about my neighborhood? Even the Starbucks employees are supporting Earth Hour. I’m guessing that there are certain corporate non-negotiables around here, like the background music that is probably required by the higher-ups to set that Saturday night coffee shop vibe. But it’s almost pitch-dark in here, with precious few under-cabinet lights on – just enough for them to make drinks by.

So here I sit in the near dark with my laptop running on battery power, looking out at busy Sheridan Road with so very few windows lit in the big apartment buildings, and I think, we really can do this.

We can, can’t we? If we made this effort more often? On a regular basis? Nightly, even? Each of us. It’s not that hard.

I mean, really: if Starbucks can turn down the lights and still bring in a full house, can't we all do more?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Commenting Problems?

Hello, Wonderfriends!

It has come to my attention that some of you are having trouble commenting here on The Wonderwheel. First Shannon said she couldn't leave a comment this morning, and now Good Fountain tells me it happens to her all the time!

Ay, Dios Mio!

I am considering leaving Blogger for other reasons (my greedy eyes see features elsewhere that would please me) but this could really clinch the deal.

Has anyone else had trouble commenting here? I guess I won't ask you to tell me in a comment (because I'm not that stupid), but if you'd take a moment to email me at and let me know, I would appreciate it.

My apologies for the bizarre technical difficulties.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Autism: The Musical - Take 2

If you've ever met me, if you have visited this blog before, you already know that I want you to see Autism: The Musical for so many reasons.

But did you know that, as of this week, it's right here on the HBO web site - and free? It's 93 minutes of your life that are well spent.

Matt and I watched the documentary together tonight and I was so happy to be able to share it with him. We went through a lot of Kleenex. Both of us. A lot.

Some of my favorite writers out there who have children on the autism spectrum have written eloquently about the film here and here and here.

I can't speak about it from the parent's perspective, but I can say a few things about it as a communication specialist.

First of all, I had forgotten entirely that Elaine Hall (the director of The Miracle Project) referred to Dr. Stanley Greenspan and all that she learned from him that led to the amazing Floortime work she did with her son Neal. It makes perfect sense, given the nature of the program she put together for the kids, how she ran it, and what her agenda was (i.e., for the kids to have a great time and feel good about themselves). The way those kids felt when they were at The Miracle Project (throughout the entire 6 month process, not simply the performance) - good about themselves, loved, able to make friends, safe to explore some of the scariest and saddest parts of their lives - is how kids feel when they walk into our clinic here in Chicago and also what I saw unfolding every single day when I worked at Oak Hill School in the Bay Area. For kids like these, there is nothing better than having a place like this available to them and yet it seems to be so rare. I watch how Elaine and her staff interact with the kids and find it completely familiar and at the same time so uplifting to observe as an audience member.

I realized in this second viewing how much the film influenced me the first time. As a therapist, having such clear windows into the children's home lives was a gift. To hear parents talk openly about the strain autism has put on their marriages, to see what some of the interactions are like when there is not a therapist in the mix, and to be reminded of the nonexistent safety net our society holds out around families with these particular challenges - all of this has been priceless for me. I think that reading blogs has made a difference for me as well, but since watching Autism: The Musical the first time, I know I have been asking different questions and focusing a lot more on the emotional health of the entire family. We talk about support systems, who is getting how much respite and when, and how the sibling relationships are going. I do that now before we even deal with the communication needs, because a family in emotional crisis is going to have a hard time taking on the extra work required to learn new communication strategies, and in the end, if we don't have strong mental health, what do we have? I remember now how strongly I felt that message last fall when I saw this film.

The fact that there is always more to learn can be both overwhelming and inspirational. Yesterday I worked a 13.5 hour day. I didn't see my kids all day and got home after 10:30 pm. I'm tired. I feel like I'm fighting the illnesses that have plagued this household for the past few weeks and wonder which day will be the one when my body gives in. Some nights, to be honest, I look at the next day's schedule and think, "That would be a good one for the flu to hit - how am I going to do all that?" This work is hard. There are moments and hours so challenging that no one but my colleagues or a child's parent could understand. If I didn't have my days off at home to recharge with my kids I couldn't sustain it right now. It's incredibly rewarding and satisfying and I'd rather be doing nothing else in the world, but it's hard.

I need to watch this movie periodically. I need to sit back and watch how those children changed; how they lit up when someone understood them and when they expressed something new and wonderful. I need to see the changes in their parents and catch those moments of joy on their faces, and have a good cry with them all from afar. Because I know them all - not as individuals but as composites: a little of him, a little of her, and - voila! - there's someone I know and love. Observing it without being a part of it helps.

So yes, the fact that there is always more to learn, always more to do, can be both overwhelming and inspirational. Tonight it's leaning towards inspirational for me.

Welcome to High School

I had to go to a north side high school yesterday to sign the boys up for summer swimming classes.

(Because they are learning to swim this summer, dammit.)

It was some distance from our house and I hadn't seen it before, but it was a large, lovely campus. Lots of glass windows, newer construction. The guidance office, where registration took place, was a big, well-appointed room with computers for college searches and banners from top colleges all over the country on the walls. In fact, the school is called Northside College Prep High School.

But the fact remains that it is a public high school in one of America's largest cities. And so perhaps I should not have been startled to see this sign posted on either side of the front doors.

It's reality in the city, but hard to imagine my kids as gangly teenagers walking past those signs every day after passing the Chicago Police cruiser that's stationed out front. (Is it always there?)

I'm a strong proponent of public schools. Matt and I put in the effort required to find good ones for our kids in San Francisco and Chicago and have been happy enough with the results. The good far outweighs the not-so-good. But I've always said that I would consider a private school for high school, if need be.

Because if it meant my kids could walk into a school where there were no reminders to check your guns and knives at the door, it might be worth it to me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Professional Motherhood

Over at BabyCenter's MOMformation blog today there is a post by Betsy Shaw, one of its fine contributors. It was about a current poll on BabyCenter that asks, "Do you sometimes worry that you are not cut out to be a mom?" which has resulted in 77% of voters so far admitting that they worry about this. I was speedily reading along, when I suddenly came to this paragraph, which brought me to a halt:
"And sometimes I catch myself thinking 'this isn’t really how I imagined my life as a mother would be.' Then I hear, “Well how could it be? It’s not as if you spent a lifetime preparing yourself for the job.” How true. Unlike most professions, that require a regimented course of study, aided by experts in the field, before you are allowed to call yourself a “professional,” motherhood just sort of happens and y0u learn by design."
This is interesting to me. I'm sure it is the rare mom who doesn't wonder sometimes (or daily!) if she's up for the demands of parenting. (And I have no doubt that dads have the same concerns.)

But I stopped and thought for a long while about the concept of motherhood as a "profession" for which we might be unprepared. I mean, I understand what this means, which is that there's no parenting manual and we're all out there running around incredibly busy with the tasks associated with it, and it very often does feel like something one might refer to as a "profession".

But I still wonder how it is that some of us (namely, well-educated women in the middle-class and beyond, I'm guessing) have come to think of motherhood as a profession, something that extends far beyond the more basic premise of motherhood as the experience of being a female adult in a family who is raising children, something that's been integrated into women's lives since the beginning of time, and all over the world.

When did we start to look at it that way? I doubt most women in our mothers' generation had this perspective and wished they had the proper training to "get it right", worrying that one of the other play group moms was cut out for it better. And I don't think I'm reading too much into a little online poll, because the 77% results sounds about right, if not low, when compared to what I see and hear around me.

Matt summed this up recently. He asked with some frustration, "When did raising kids become such a Herculean task in our culture?"

Because - is it, really? For parents whose kids don't require unusual amounts of medical or therapeutic intervention, does it have to be such a task, one that many of us half-jokingly wish we'd gotten professional training for, beyond being surrounded by other mothers our entire lives? Or have our cultural expectations shifted in such a way that we have to give so much of ourselves to raise these children of ours that we've got nothing left for anything else at the end of the day?

It seems to me that there are many possible answers to this question. One might be that those of us who were raised in the '70s and '80s grew up hearing that we could "have it all", that the sky was the limit for women. Just do it! Many of us went to college and even went on to receive higher degrees, always striving towards a "professional" life. Whether we left our professional lives to raise children or not, perhaps we've brought that mindset to parenting - a need to excel, to keep our noses to the grindstone, and to prove our worth to others as has been expected of us all along the way.

The parenting pendulum has also swung back in favor of a more child-centered focus within our culture. More of us have a family bed, reject sleep "training", breastfeed our babies, and spend our days playing with them. We are told that the early years are highly critical for development and we pour whatever resources we've got (time, money, attention) into those years. One result of this is that we are with our kids a whole lot and they come to expect this of us, and there is no time or energy for much else.

It also occurs to me that perhaps there's been some backlash for mothers in the fight to gain recognition for the fact that raising children is hard work. Work without pay or benefits, for sure, unless you count the intangible benefits of time spent with young children, which society at large doesn't pay much attention to. I wonder if, in the fight to be seen as people who do work hard all day long and want to be recognized by society for it, we have also raised the bar on our own expectations of ourselves and each other to an unreasonably high level.

I'll be interested to hear what others think about this topic. Whatever the reasons for it, it's concerning to me that so many moms worry that we aren't "cut out" to be moms, that maybe we haven't got what it takes to do the job "right". Wouldn't it be a relief if more of us could enjoy the early years with our kids, worry less about what we're doing wrong, and revel in the knowledge that this is one "job" that doesn't include a nagging boss? We'd have so much more energy left over for ourselves, our partners, our friends, and our communities.

Because the truth is, children all over the world have been raised quite well, even without professional moms. What do you think?

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Men are ON IT

Those of you who have met my husband Matt in person already know that he is cool: far more techno-savvy than I am, well read, a great writer, and just generally hip in that "I can wear jeans and a black t-shirt every day and still be cooler than my cashmere-wearing wife" way. (And he'll wear a floral button-down shirt when we go out - how's that for cool?)

He's also been known to holler at the radio when he hears someone talking about autism the Wrong Way.

The man is edumacated.

It should not have surprised me, therefore, when he said tonight, "Hey, I subscribe to the Jumping Monkeys podcast, and Susan Etlinger was on this week!"

Damn! He was all over it. What's cool, happening, hip, and now. I mean, I knew about this exciting bit of Internet news because I'd seen it on Susan's blog at dark o'clock this morning, but I had never heard of Jumping Monkeys.

So, be hip like Matt and go listen to Susan talking about autism at Jumping Monkeys! You won't be sorry.


While I was writing the blurb above, my father called from California. Yet another man in my family who is all about what's hip and happening! He called to tell me that he'd heard two interesting NPR stories while commuting today - I am starting to feel like this is some kind of conspiracy of men-in-the-know. Here are the stories he recommended to me:

Confronting 'That Autism Thing' on Day to Day. A mother explains how different autism is than she had imagined, and tells about how a mall Santa recognized autism in her son when a neurologist didn't. Also highlighted is how her family's visit to the wonderful Dr. Rick Solomon, DIR faculty member who founded The Play Project in Michigan, gave them a great deal of hope for their child. Part II will be aired tomorrow.

"The Ten-Year Nap: Stay-at-Home Mama Drama" interview with author Meg Wolitzer on Fresh Air. This is an interesting piece. The novel is about four bright, well-educated women who leave their careers to stay home full-time with their children. It does not sound polemic, coming down in favor of staying home or working outside the home, but rather explores what happens in these women's lives when their children are all in school full-time. She suggests that the critical thing for women is to have "a sense of purpose" in life, whatever that may be, which is refreshing. Wolitzer makes some points that will simply need their very own blog posts later on.

Lots to read and listen to out there - go on!

(And PS: Don't forget that Autism: The Musical is on HBO Tuesday night!)

Materialistic Monday: Rush Hour

Aaahhhh, Rush Hour, how do I love thee...

You are the perfect blend of creamy color that looks good no matter the season and with whatever I'm wearing. I keep you in my purse and also in my work bag for those moments when I need a dash of color: pronto!

Rush Hour, you are perfect on my lips and cheeks, making you the ultimate in quick fixes. I cheated a couple of times - yes, my dear, I know! - and learned that any old lipstick won't do the trick.

Roses are Red
Rush Hour is, too,
I'll wear you always
I swear - I'll be true.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Hunt

The melting snow drip drip dripped from every rooftop and awning so steadily that it was possible to believe it was raining when I was out on the sidewalks of this city early today. The shining sun and singing birds, the joggers and bike riders, reminded me that spring really is here, emerging again after the recent snowfall.

The boys rallied for the egg hunt this morning - you'd have never known how feverish Lyle was if not for the bright pink cheeks. And although Baxter ventured so far as to say, "I think there really might not be an Easter Bunny after all - I think you guys might put out all this candy," he carefully avoided eye contact as he said it so I knew he didn't really want me to agree. My answer ("All I know is that I never touched an egg or piece of candy last night and yet they're all over the house this morning") was the truth; Matt played Easter Bunny this year.

Here is a 5-minute video of the egg hunt highlights. It may not be interesting to anyone besides the grandparents, but if you'd like to hear me making a total dork of myself acting surprised about everything, you won't be disappointed! We have watched last year's video quite a few times, the kids and I, and we love it - especially Lyle's adorable 2-year old ways and both kids looking so much smaller. Makes me wonder what next year's vantage point will be.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Toto, We're Not in San Francisco Anymore...

This is what we woke up to today. In, say, December I'd have said it was lovely. Today? Nah.

Although Baxter's feeling better, he's still coughing pretty horribly on a regular basis and is on a lot of asthma medications. None of us slept well last night, thanks to that cough. This afternoon, Lyle spiked a fever of at least 102 (he refused to continue with the thermometer), which when added to his own cough, makes us pretty sure he's got the flu as well. We have officially canceled all Easter plans for the kids tomorrow, but I still have to go to church because we had been asked to speak to the congregation as part of the Stewardship Campaign (i.e., why we give money to the church). Also I'm leading Children's Worship tomorrow, so I have to be there. A little strange, going to church by myself on Easter Sunday, but I'll just strap on my spring bonnet snow pants and get over it.

On the bright side, our neighbors made this fantastic Easter Snowbunny in our front yard today - pretty cute, huh?

When we moved here, it was summertime. I found people to be almost ridiculously happy about the sunshine and everything related to the season. This year, I totally get it.

Have a great Easter, everyone!

Friday, March 21, 2008

It's Take Your Wonderfriends to Work Day!

I am aware that I haven't talked about much of a professional nature here lately (unless you count the fact that I wear those cashmere sweaters to work), and I've wondered to myself why that is. I came to realize that my attention cycles through the major things in my life over time. When we moved here I was immediately aware of the need to get our family and home settled, but then once I started to set up my practice in Chicago I had to really throw myself into it with a lot of energy to get it up and running; I started with a full caseload the day I opened my doors, and that was very challenging. And so I think this past fall, when I took even more clients and there were far too many days that felt like the wheels might be falling off the bus - and then in the winter, when the kids were on sensory overload and Lyle was in dysregulation hell - I realized that it was time to shift the balance of my attention back to my family.

It's not as if I'm ever not present in one place or another, it has more to do with how I choose to tip the scale. Right now it's tipped in favor of home. And so, although I'm loving my work, working hard, seeing great progress in the kids, and continuing to do those fabulous Date Nights at the clinic, my thoughts (and, therefore, blog posts) are more firmly planted at home. I have no doubt that on some level my clients and colleagues feel the difference. I don't return calls or emails as fast. My notes don't always get sent around exactly on time. I forget things once in a while. Everything is getting done and done well enough, just not with the same level of precision.

However, exciting things are happening at work that I would like to share with you, and I'll start with one of them today. You may remember that I've participated in two SCERTS Model trainings this year and that I am a huge fan of the program for kids on the autism spectrum. It fills an enormous void in that it's designed to train school districts to use the SCERTS curriculum, which a) is developmentally appropriate, b) emphasizes social communication and emotional regulation as well as laying out specific strategies that parents, teachers, and therapists need to work on to support the child, c) is very family-centered, and d) encompasses the current best practices for children with ASD as described by the National Research Council. SCERTS is taking off around the U.S. as well as abroad; Great Britain in particular has been extremely open to adopting the curriculum. It is an interesting side note that ABA therapy, so popular here in the States, is far less common in England; this has probably led to a greater openness across the board for a solid developmental program since this tends to be their philosophical bent to begin with.

Given our strong belief in the SCERTS Model, my wonderful, talented colleague (who is also a certified RDI consultant and in the process of DIR certification) and I have created our own SCERTS-based therapeutic group program for the coming school year. We are going to work with 6 children, preschool aged, who are non-verbal or have emerging verbal language skills. We hand-picked the children from our current caseloads and all of those families have accepted. (In fact, we have turned away quite a few other families who have already heard about our program from parents and other therapists. While this is a hard thing for us to do, the quality of the program will drop significantly if we take more children than our staff and space allows.)

The program, called L.E.E.P. Into Communication, will run five mornings a week for 3 hours per day. My colleague will be there all five days and I will work three days as I do now. We will also have two paid assistants (who already work at the clinic) and 2-3 interns (mine will be an SLP grad student from Northwestern). This will give us as close to a 1:1 ratio every day as we can get. The kids will have SCERTS assessments completed by the time we start their group in the fall and each will have very detailed, highly individualized therapeutic goals that will be chosen in conjunction with their parents and based on the assessments (which will be naturalistic observations, not formal testing). We are asking parents to commit to spending a morning with us at least once every 6 weeks and we will hold meetings with parents as often. We will contract with a DIR faculty member (clinical psychologist) and an excellent OT to come in and consult with us about our program on an on-going basis throughout the year, and we will offer movement classes with a children's theater specialist each week. Whew!

It is really exciting to give this group of children an opportunity to have such a fun, appropriate, individualized program that also allows them the chance to begin to form bonds and socialize with peers. This particular group does not generally have the chance to do so in other settings and it's such an important part of their development.

Because I know that many of you are going to ask, I will explain how this will be set up financially. We are independent practitioners, creating our dream program. We have cut back on our typical rates in order to bring the tuition down, but it is still very costly due to all of our expenses, including the additional paid staff members and consultants. Our clients pay out of pocket and some of that is reimbursed by insurance; the hours when I will be there next year can be submitted to insurance by the families under speech therapy. By no means are all of our families extremely wealthy; many of them, like many of you out there, are simply doing what they know their children need no matter the cost and are under great financial strain. We have been very open with the families about wanting to brainstorm ways to cut the costs further, and there may be a fund-raiser to defray some of it, but the families have committed to attending either way.

With our local school district services in bad shape due to poor funding and inadequate training, and the deplorable state of insurance coverage for families in our country, there are no easy answers. Our best bet as therapists is to create the best program we can imagine and make it work for the kids who need it. We are thrilled that everyone has signed on so quickly and are looking forward to the adventures that await us next year. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Musings on a Day at Home

The boys and I stayed home together today, giving Baxter another day of rest. The kiddos stayed in their pj's all day, even when we walked the half block to 7-11 to pick up some eggs for the sugar "flu-kies" we made this afternoon. I am only dressed because I went to the gym early this morning, which was a bit rough after a poor night's sleep. The kids've done very little this spring break week, aside from our Horton Hears a Who outing. In fact, I've done very little myself, or at least it feels that way, and I seem to be in a bit of a time warp. Life is strange when there's no car pool, no nursery school, to give the week its familiar shape. Perhaps it's simply this combination of factors, but I was feeling out of it this afternoon. Fatigued. And I seem to have a bit of a fever tonight. I have an unusually full day at work tomorrow (6 hour-long clients back-to-back without a break - yowza) and hope that I will wake up feeling well enough for it.

But before I turn in early, I have a few observations and photos from my day with the boys today:

1) When left to their own devices for more than 10 minutes, they were able to amuse themselves quite well. At one point, they played a game in which they took turns giving each other a good thwack on the rear end and then laughing uproariously (I tried to figure out how to phrase that to avoid showing up on the freakier Google searches). Next, they were happy to "spit" (more like raspberries) on a piece of construction paper, declare it "Disgusting!" and then pass it to the other brother. Which begs the question: what will the teenage years look like? And one of my favorite games is when Baxter randomly asks, "Lyle, what + what = what?" to which Lyle earnestly starts guessing numbers. "100, Baxter?" - "Nope." - "17, Baxter?" - "No way, Lyle!" I love crazy sibling shit like that.

2) A highlight of my first use of the new Kitchen Aid mixer (which was mentioned in comments earlier today - it was fantastic!) was when I had my back turned and Lyle switched it on - with the mixing blade pointing up, full of the wet ingredients for cookie dough. One word: EVERYWHERE.

3) These boys are being ludicrously kind to each other these days. I think there was only one argument all day, and that was about whether there was enough natural light in the playroom to warrant turning the lights on. Lyle insisted it would be "wasting electricity" and Baxter turned the lights on anyway. High-pitched three-year old screaming ensued. But, really, if there's going to be an argument, I'll take that one.

3) As I mentioned earlier today, it is supposed to snow tonight, tomorrow, oh, and Saturday and Sunday a bit, too. I had to stop, mid-cookie baking, when I saw the sun hitting the tulips like this on our dining room table. I'm going to keep it in my pocket tomorrow to remind me that spring was once here for a short while and will be back.

We Aren't Going to Talk About This

I just saw snow in the forecast. Starting tonight, ending Saturday. Up to 8 inches.

I. am. not. amused.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Autism: The Musical - Coming to a TV Near You

Okay, so I didn't quite get everything up here today that I'd hoped for, but it was a bizarre day for sure. Turns out poor Baxter has the actual flu virus; that would account for all that coughing the past few days and the fever that popped up yesterday afternoon. The doctor said we are extremely lucky he had a flu shot (yes, he did!) because the kids who didn't are barely able to sit up on the examining table. And this makes me glad that he and Lyle and I got flu shots. Matt? Not so much.

Wish us luck.


But listen, one of the most important things I wanted to say today must be said before I go to bed. (What? More important than her Word Cloud? How could it be?)

You may remember that back in October I wrote this post after going to a Chicago premiere viewing of the incredible documentary Autism: The Musical. A quote from that post somehow wound up on their website in the "reviews" section. And since I said this about it and it went onto their site, I am now automatically an expert on the movie. So listen to what I am telling you! (Bossy much?)

Autism: The Musical will premiere on HBO on Tuesday, March 25!

You need to see this movie. It does not matter whether your child has autism, or if you know a single child with autism. Because whatever you think you know about the highs and lows of life on the spectrum, you will find that a great deal - if not all - of what you "knew" has changed when it's over. Out of my customary 5, I give it 5 stars and 4.5 teardrops. Seriously - have the tissues close at hand. You'll thank me.

And here's the cool part. If, like me, you don't get cable, and if you are not lucky enough to have in-laws who have their TiVo scheduled to record it for you like I do, you still won't miss it! It will be streamed live on the web the next day for you.

For more detailed information about Autism: The Musical, I would encourage you to visit the website or head over to Susan Etlinger's recent post on BabyCenter.

And then go watch the movie, Wonderfriends.



I have a lot to talk about today, and thanks to the bizarre day I'm having I might have time to say most of it over the course of the day. But I'm going to start with the fact that Libby introduced me to one of the best time-wasters ever this morning! It's called a "word cloud" and those of you at other blog sites often have them created from your tags. We aren't so lucky here at Blogger (as far as I can tell), but the Snapshirt site is perfectly happy to make one for us for free! One difference: it's not created from our tags, but rather from the most frequently used words on our blogs. Snapshirt gives us the option of ignoring certain words, which is handy but takes more than the initial 30 seconds required for its creation. A super-anal person could get really into this. Not that I'm saying that's me, or anything. Ahem. Anyway, this isn't useful in that readers can click on the words like you cool cats elsewhere, but I do like the way it looks. And so, I present to you my own personal Word Cloud:

Kinda cute, no? It seems that we can get them printed on t-shirts and mugs and such. I'm not sure that I'm that dedicated to it, but it will live in my sidebar for a while.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Spring Break Fun: Horton Hears a Who

It's spring break for the smaller people around these here parts and, although I'm still working this week, today is one of my days off.

We had Big Plans to go to Pump It Up for a rambunctious indoor play date with Lyle's nursery school classmates, but when Baxter was still up coughing last night at 10 pm I realized it was time for Plan B. Now, Plan B had to be good, Wonderfriends*, because there was a lot of pre-asthmatic-coughing excitement built up around Pump It Up. At the same time, Plan B had to involve a certain amount of stillness so as not to aggravate the cough. Tricky combo, that. Matt bailed me out last night from Madison, where he's on his third business trip in as many weeks, by texting the word "movie?"

Score! Movie! And thank God I'd planned ahead, because I was able to present Plan B this morning when the boys climbed into bed with me, Baxter's lip already quivering due to his suspicion that I was going to say a big fat "no" to Pump It Up (I may have hinted at something along those lines when I came in with more medicine late last night). Tears were barely averted - it was only when the words "popcorn" and "candy" were uttered that Plan B became acceptable. Phew!

Our outing to see Horton Hears a Who at the Davis Theater in Lincoln Square was made all the more exciting by the fact that it was Lyle's first visit to a movie theater. It really helped that he was at the Dan Zanes show two days ago and so understood that the seats would tilt and it would get dark. He was a little disappointed, however, that there were no numbers on the movie theater seats - he will probably remember Seat 17 for the rest of his childhood. That was apparently worth the price of admission to the little one.

My expectations of this movie were fairly low, to be honest. As far as I'm concerned, Pixar has set the bar awfully high for kids' movies and I've become a bit of a snob about anything else. Which may be, in part, because I haven't seen anything else halfway decent for kids in a long time. I'm not going to say that Horton Hears a Who was fantastic, but it was perfectly enjoyable. There were some real laugh-out-loud funny moments for all three of us, and Baxter was frequently leaning halfway over the seat in front of him (which, thankfully, was vacant) out of pure excitement. I also heard him say, "Oh, MAN!" quite a few times. Further, I was pleasantly surprised with 3-year old Lyle's ability to sit through this 1.5 hour movie, although I'm not going to lie: the movie popcorn in a small Lyle-sized bag and occasional M&M's really helped. I was pretty sure that he wasn't taking in much more than the snacks and the thrill of the cup holders, but on our way out he was actually able to talk about the movie with us, so I guess he did.

And, you know? Even with the whole "A person's a person no matter how small" and the "we're just people living on a speck on a clover but we are interconnected with the larger universe" thing going on, I didn't cry much at all! So I'm thinking it wasn't that schmaltzy, either, because there was a lot of potential for weepiness in that story, let me tell you.

So, I'm going to go ahead and give it 3 stars and 1 teardrop (out of 5). Go out and enjoy it with your kids.

* Thank you, Cara, for coining the term Wonderfriends in my comments today. LOVE IT!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dan Zanes = My Hero

Yesterday afternoon found us at the Dan Zanes and Friends show at the Harris Theater here in Chicago. We'd been to a couple of their amazing shows in the past and this was equally wonderful.

Dan Zanes gives off a vibe that resonates with me so strongly: a positive, upbeat attitude about making the world a better place by making music and dancing together...sort of an "it's okay if you sing off-key as long as you're singing" philosophy. It fits right in with my "go ahead and buy the cupcakes" tendency. And his music is fantastic. I don't think of it as "children's music" but rather "family music" in the way that anything can be family music. It's music that I have been known to leave on in the car when the kids aren't with me. The shows are a big party - children and their grown-ups getting down in the aisles and up front in the mosh pit. I can't recommend it highly enough.

If dancing in the kitchen to The Wonderwheel with my kids gets me right here, imagine my reaction listening to it live, dancing with the boys and my niece, and Matt and his sister, and holding Lyle up right in front of the stage to see the instruments and super hip brightly-garbed band, a mere ten feet from Dan himself, crazy hair sticking out so far that I felt we could reach out and give him a big hug and then start jamming on his harmonica and ukulele.

It's moments like these that I look around and have to ask, "How is it possible that no one else here is crying?" It occurs to me that perhaps I'm simply crazy, but I prefer to think that I've learned to allow myself to feel what I feel and I don't bother trying to repress it. And perhaps I tend to be more emotional than average, who knows?

Or maybe I'm crazy. I would never rule that out.

Materialistic Monday: Cashmere

Until January of this year, I had never owned anything cashmere, nor had I bought anything at Bloomingdale's. Within two days, I had two cashmere hoodies, and Matt liked them so much that he went out and bought one, too. At Bloomingdale's.

This is all thanks to Kristen. You may know her as a very thoughtful and kind blogger, a wonderful writer. Sure, that's all true, but I also know her as my personal shopper. Because once Kristen, Queen of Cashmere, found out that I didn't own a cashmere sweater, she made it her job to change that. You think I'm joking? Exaggerating? I am not.

I will let Kristen herself tell you about her cashmere addiction obsession adoration because I cannot do it justice. First there was the IM chat in which she extolled the virtues of cashmere: it's soft, adjusts to your body temperature, perfect for a climate like Chicago! Then there was the email with some ideas about where to shop for my cashmere sweater (high end department store sale racks, J. Crew, Lands End). Later, when it became clear that I was interested but wasn't taking the initiative to buy the sweater fast enough, there was the email with a series of actual links to four cashmere sweaters that Kristen had judged to be the best quality for the best price in stores at that moment.

If someone had told me that blogging would yield a personal shopper in New York willing to help me pick out a good cashmere sweater, I would have started a LOT sooner. Because as soon as I had a free Sunday afternoon, I went to Bloomingdale's, where they were having a fantastic sale on cashmere sweaters. I took about 10 black cardigans into the dressing room (because Kristen had also insisted I make my first one a black cardigan and at this point I was willing to do whatever she said) and found one I loved so very much that I also bought it in pink (and hey, looks like they still have it and it's still marked down!).

I cannot tell you how much I love these sweaters, but especially the black one (she was right, of course). I wear it almost every day. I also bought some cashmere-lined black leather driving gloves from Nordstrom after Christmas and I adore those as well. My hands have stayed so toasty, and they're incredibly soft. Aaaaahh...cashmere.

Right now my black hoodie is waiting to be washed, and I am really missing it. Speaking of washing it, I am still unsure about the best way to care for it. My understanding is that my choices are hand wash or dry clean. When I dry cleaned it once, it came back less soft, but Kristen tells me that hers have been fine and I need to try a new dry cleaner. I found this piece at Friday Style, all about caring for cashmere, that I wanted to share with you and in it Susan Wagner begs me to hand wash it. Anyone else want to weigh in on that?

So, yes. People who tell you that cashmere is wonderful are right. And so are friends who are willing to shop for me. Kristen, have I mentioned that I'm in the market for some spring slacks?

Friday, March 14, 2008

BlogHer '08 Facts

Lori has brought to my attention the fact that BlogHer 'o8 is in San Francisco this summer. Allow me to share some reasons why I see that as incredibly convenient.

1. It's July 18-20. I will be attending a SCERTS training in Monterey, CA July 20-25.

2. Susan, Drama Mama, and Cindy are all locals, and as such they are automatically completely available.

3. Vicki, Kristen, and ghkcole could be bullied into taking the short flight up from L.A., I've decided.

4. All the rest of you wonderful bloggers near and far could be talked into taking the longer flight from the midwest, south, and east coast (and Australia?) because you know you deserve a break - and that we'd have a really super-groovy time.

Look, folks, BlogHer was in Chicago last summer and I really blew it. Missed everything but the parties. I need a chance to redeem myself. And here's the best part: if we all go, I promise to blog drunk again. Drunkard's Scout's honor.

Early Spring by the Lake

The boys and I found our local park by Lake Michigan to be more mucky puddle than play area yesterday, so we headed over to the beach and reacquainted ourselves with its streams, rocks, and the chilly sand of the early season. We also found that the other children had come out of hibernation. I wanted to stay out until dark.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

That's My Boy

Taken from outside the car window at the gas favorite face-making opportunity with the boys.

Perftic Enough

Shortly after reading the letters on the peanut butter jar ("S-K-I-P-P-Y") and declaring, "That spells 'peanut butter'!!", Lyle made his own sandwich.

For the record, I was actually going to refrain from saying anything about spreading that huge glob of peanut butter around, but as soon as he saw me eyeing it with an amused expression, he shrieked defensively, "NO! It's perftic enough!"

And "perftic enough" is exactly what it was.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Only Child

The large yellow padded envelope was delivered unceremoniously to the floor of my home office by a diminutive, cranky postal carrier wearing CARSTM pajamas.

"Here, Mommy, there's mail for you," he said, turning on his small heel and running back down the hall in search of more mischief.

I picked up the envelope, curious about the return address label, which bore the name of an unfamiliar contact at a prominent publisher. Unable to guess its contents, I finally opened the envelope. Inside, I found a brand new copy of a lovely book titled "Only Child: Writers on the Singular Joys and Solitary Sorrows of Growing Up Solo", edited by Deborah Siegel and Daphne Uviller.

In the past I've received a new book in this way when I've been asked in advance to review it, but that was not the case this time. I couldn't figure it out: I don't have an only child, I am not an only child. There did not seem to be a professional connection; no mention of autism or speech therapy on the book jacket. I must have stood staring at this book like a fool for quite some time, because Matt eventually took it out of my hands and I continued to get the boys ready for school.

"This might be a clue," he said, coming back to me a few minutes later, holding the book out. Matt had opened the mystery book to a random page and found himself looking at an essay written by a high school friend of mine, Ted Rose.

Previously on L.A. Law, I have alluded to the fact that I attended somewhat mediocre public schools with some fantastically witty and bright high achievers in Middletown, Connecticut (many were the children of professors at Wesleyan University) who are all dear to my heart. Ted Rose was no exception. Here's a recent bio for you; note the essays published in Wired, Slate, Salon, and The New York Times. He's also been an NPR All Things Considered correspondent. Seriously.

(As an aside, I have always been shocked to hear myself described as "ambitious" or "intelligent" because in my growing up experience, I was decidedly not, relatively speaking. It is only in the past couple of years that I've been able to see myself in relation to a more, perhaps, typical and diverse population, and have been relieved to find that I am actually a little bit brighter than the neighbor's schnauzer. But only a bit, mind you.)

Ted is the son of well-known writer and English professor Phyllis Rose, who was, when I knew her son as Teddy, living with Laurent De Brunhoff; the two are now married. Yes, it's true: Babar essentially lived at my friend's house. Anyway, Ted is in good company in this book, which also includes essays by the children of Alice Walker and Erica Jong.

I carried Only Child in my bag all morning and sat down to read Ted's essay "Air Only" as soon as I had a few minutes. It was poignant and beautiful. It's a rare gift to read something so well written that also provides unique insight into the life of someone you know.

Turns out, Ted did not send this book to me; the fact that his essay is in this anthology is mere coincidence. This does not surprise me, as we haven't been in touch. I suspect that, although I discontinued writing for Chicago Moms Blog many months ago, perhaps my name is still on some lists out there. I used to get a lot of review opportunities through them.

Whatever its source, the mysterious appearance of Only Child is a gift in many senses of the word. I'm enjoying reading the rest of the anthology, bit by bit, but the happy surprise of a window into the world of an old friend will be hard to beat.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hope Springs Eternal

This afternoon found the boys and me coming in our front gate after school at the same time as the 6-year old who lives up on the third floor - a boy who Baxter's really been missing this winter. They love to wrestle each other to the ground and play wild games of tag in the front yard.

It was around 50 degrees for the first time in months. As we got a rousing game of tag going (in which I, playing tag in my clogs, had to establish the new rule: "The next one of you who spanks me is automatically IT"), more and more neighbors appeared. In short order, all five kids in our building were out front, and a great neighbor from down the block walked by and came in with her 2-year old and a new baby I hadn't yet laid eyes on. (Because, you know, he was born in the winter, and here in Chicago neighbors go into serious hibernation in the winter, especially with a newborn. I do believe if I'd had one of my children in the middle of a Chicago winter I'd have totally lost it.)

It was a grand way to pass the time, reminiscent of long, sunny spring, summer and fall afternoons spent out there last year. Matt, who was working from home and heard the cacophony, paused to take this photo through the window. It's all of the moms hanging out on the front steps. That's me in the black sweater, warm enough to set aside my winter coat, with one of the neighbor kids lounging on my lap. The kids were all around us, poking at each other with sticks, attempting to dig up the lawn, throwing a Nerf football through the gate repeatedly (that was one of mine, of course), wrestling, playing tag, and relaxing with the adults.

I know we'll see more snow - probably later this week - but now I am sure of it: spring is coming!

Random Tidbits: Lylisms

Lyle, sitting at the desk in our freezing-cold sun room: "I'm going to write you a note, Mommy!"

Me (making lunch): "Mmmmhmmm..."

Lyle: "It's a really special note for you!"

Me (starting to pay attention): "Oh, thanks, Lyle! What does it say?"

Lyle (deliberately pointing word by word to each scribbled line):

"It says, 'My. Butt. Is. Cold!'"


Lyle appears in the kitchen in his dress-up chef hat, which is falling over his eyes.

Me: "Wow, Lyle, you look like a chef!"

Lyle: "Yeah, I'm going to be a baker when I grow up! With Baxter!"

Me: "Mmm, what will you make? Cakes and...?"

Lyle: "Pies!"

Me: "Oh, yum! I love pies. Anything else?"

Lyle: "Yes! Frozen hot dogs!"

Monday, March 10, 2008

Yes. No. Maybe.

Yes, I am aware that it is Materialistic Monday.

No, I am not prepared.

Yes, I will be at the friggin' nursery school "gala" fund raiser this evening, drinking wine and finding another $100 worth of items to bid on in the auction so that we'll have met our friggin' $500 per family annual fund-raising goal.

Yes, I do think they should just raise the tuition by $500 per year and leave me alone with the fund-raising, already.

Yes, I'll be praying that someone bids on my donated speech-language evaluation so that I don't have to purchase anything else at all.

No, I'm not bitter. Why do you ask?

Maybe, if I buy something really fantastic, I'll try it out on the way home and post about it later. But I doubt it.

Yes, you do have to come back another day for my Materialistic Monday post because I'm cookin' up a good one.

No, I won't keep babbling. I need to go home.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Here there be Scarves

Matt's parents came yesterday to spend the afternoon and evening with the boys.

And the skies opened, revealing the very heavens above, and together Matt and I flew on the wings of angels far up into the sky and slid down on a rainbow singing the Hallelujah Chorus...

Or holed ourselves up in the office for 3 hours and did our taxes and all kinds of other financial crap. But whatever. The Devil's in the details.

We did go out later for an absolutely incredible Indian dinner here. (We decided to do this once we found out we were getting a decent refund - thank GOD - because if we had owed, we'd have taken our forks straight out to the dumpster in the alley and started digging. I kid you not.) So we did go out and do something nice, I swear. Now stop hounding me. Sheesh.

Anyway, this is all a very long and obnoxious way of saying that Matt's parents were here and we were beyond grateful. Furthermore, my mother-in-law brought some adorable fleece scarves she'd made for the boys out of carefully-chosen fabric (CARS movie printed fleece for Lyle, sharks for Baxter), and they wore them all evening, by grandparent report. They were (appropriately) not allowed to sleep in them due to the inherent choking hazard, but one tiny scarf had been made for Lyle's "Baby" - it matched Lyle's, and Oma determined that Baby was unlikely to meet his demise by choking on a CARS scarf in the wee hours, and so he got to wear his to bed.

Have we discussed the fact that OMA ROCKS?!

Oh God. I have to cut back on the chocolate.

Fast forward to this of the best parts about having a 7-year old in the house is that he is savvy enough to operate most of our techmology himself. So when the boys woke up at 6:07 am (thanks, Captain Time Change!), they were able to go turn on a Wallace & Gromit DVD themselves and we could attempt to go back to sleep despite the sounds of Wallace asking for his Wensleydale and Gromit shooting at a penguin from a steam train car.

When I finally got up and went into the living room, I frightened the boys by laughing out loud very heartily. This might not sound nice, but you would have, too, even though most of you are ever so much nicer than me.

I can be certain of your laughter because this is how they were watching TV:

They are dorks, I know this. But they're my dorks. They come by it naturally, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

PS: Just to freak you out further, here's Baby all decked out in his jaunty new scarf as he headed to church today, tucked into Lyle's seat belt:

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Making French Toast with the Boys

As Baxter put it, "At least we didn't break anything..."

(Not unless you count the egg broken all over the counter, no. And, since the glass bowl Lyle threw into the mixing bowl was Pyrex, it didn't break.)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Autism and Vaccines

I'm sure many of you are aware of the headline story today informing us that the government awarded a great deal of money to the family of a 9-year old girl whose underlying mitochondrial disorder was aggravated after receiving 5 shots containing 9 vaccines at the age of 18 months. Her disorder's reaction to those shots took on the appearance of autistic-like characteristics.

And so, because we seem to live with one foot in Sensationalist News Hell and the other foot in Short Attention Span Hell, the buzz is that the government has acknowledged all of a sudden that there is a link between vaccines and autism. This is not the case, folks. Honestly, much as I would like the answer to be that easy, it is not the case; probably not ever, but at least not in this situation.

Two very intelligent woman have written brilliant pieces on this topic today and so, rather than attempting to unravel it for you myself in a less-than-brilliant manner, I am going to suggest you take a moment today to read what Dr. Kristina Chew has to say with these three posts at Autism Vox and then hop on over to hear what my friend Dr. Emily Willingham has to say at A Life Less Ordinary because she has her own way of explaining the genetic piece of the puzzle to us so that we can understand it.

We need more intelligent people out there who are able to talk about this issue with some facts that are based in reality, so read on!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

What Really Counted Today

You know those days? The ones when your children are clinging to their worst selves for dear life, as if by showing their sweetness they might be tossed into the wild ocean and eaten by bloodthirsty sharks? Do you know those?

Yeah, I thought so.

That's the kind of afternoon I had with the boys. The kind where Lyle doesn't nap and so is alternately grouchy and ridiculously punchy, and Baxter springs from the dismissal line at school like a hugely overgrown puppy, nearly knocking us over with his full-body hug and getting reprimanded by the older gentleman he smashed into along the way. The kind where I step out of the car to pump gas and wish I could stay all afternoon out there in the cold, hunched over alongside my car, breathing fumes. Where I have to pick up a couple things at the grocery store (is that really, truly so much to ask?) and they are so hyper I want to slink down the aisle while they are loudly suggesting I buy them some Popsicles ("Because it weally is a warm, warm day, Mommy...") and hide around the corner, preferably snuggled in among the really good cabernets, if you know what I mean. Oh, and the kind where I finally pull over to the side of a busy street and confiscate every last glove, mitten, hat, and anything else not tied down to the car (or the children) that might be thrown across the back seat or into the front seat because if that happens one more time I will lose my shit and start throwing things back at them. Big things.

Yes, the kind of afternoon where I suddenly grow sharp, ugly fangs, and frightening horns spring from my head, and I say crazy things at full volume and retract hot cocoa promises. And all I want is for these two crazy-making little people to find another corner of the house for, oh, 4 years or so, allowing me to read a book and cook some more good food. In silence.

But then. Then they decide they'd like to sleep together, since we're already warm and cuddled in the queen-size bed in the playroom reading Harry Potter and The Berenstain Bears, and they look so sleepy and sweet that I let them. And so I move the monitor and take about 10 essential items from their bunk bed and toss them into the big bed among the drowsy guys, and I see the adorable grins on their faces as they cuddle up together, falling asleep before I am even out of the room.

And I can see that this will work out just fine, them sleeping together tonight and this raising of two children, and realize that most of that time when they are making me crazy they are also really enjoying each other, and although I lingered at the gas station today breathing fumes in exchange for peace and quiet, that does count for a lot.

A whole lot.

Cooking Day

Today is a Cooking Day.

These days don't come around all that often here at Chez Wonderwheel, but I'm always happy when they do. In fact, I don't usually know it's a Cooking Day until the morning comes and I see that rare block of time that would allow me to both shop and cook. Today, for example, was supposed to be a Workout Day, until I rose and realized that my chest cold was holding on just long enough to cause too much asthma and coughing for a good workout. And so - presto chango! - it became a Cooking Day.

Rushing to the local market after preschool drop-off, where I would someday like to spend hours exploring the aisles of food whose labels are in languages I can't even recognize let alone translate, I picked up the ingredients for Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken, Quick Tortellini Soup, and Chickpea and Sausage Stew. I also have ingredients ready for Slow Cooker Sweet Potato-Pinto Bean Chili, which is outrageously delicious and will be made as soon as the slow cooker is free of the Salsa Chicken that is currently making my home smell fabulous. A shout-out goes to Shannon, whose selections for her Tuesday Do-Little Dinners series have been really yummy and (as promised) easy, even for me! I'm always looking for easy meals, especially ones I can throw in the crock pot in the morning and either freeze or eat later.

None of these will be tonight's dinner, which is going to be Sloppy Joes, much to the boys' excitement, but when a Cooking Day arrives, I make as much as I can for all the rest of the days when I come home at 5:30, hang out with the boys and then realize they're falling apart and famished and it's time to pull out the Panini Press for Yuppie Grilled Cheese and warmed up veggie soup - or something a bit heartier that I've made ahead on a Cooking Day.

Speaking of the boys, I should add that they eat almost none of the foods listed above. (Other than the aforementioned Sloppy Joes, of course.) This may sound heartless, but I sort of don't care. I hear that other kids (like Shannon's) do eat some of these meals and love them, but my boys only rarely enjoy something that wouldn't be found on a Kids Menu at your local American Cuisine restaurant. This is not something we encouraged, nor do we support it, it's just reality with their particular taste buds right now (although I see it gradually changing). But we don't make separate meals. I try to make sure there's one thing on the plate they like (maybe a few apple slices or half a slice of bread if I know the entree is especially unpalatable to them) to get Lyle to the table and seated without a big fit, but if they don't like dinner they don't eat it. (But they still have to stay at the table until we're all done.) Thankfully, they'll eat a good variety of vegetables and that's not usually a battle. They don't get more bread or apple slices unless they've tried everything (at least a "no thank you" bite). Yes, they go to bed hungry sometimes. Tough luck, guys. It's not like they're underfed. And as a toddler Lyle truly went to bed without a bite of food multiple times - nor milk because he was so upset about the offerings that he wouldn't come to the table - and gone to sleep hungry, but he has never woken up hungry in the night since infancy. He just eats a ton of breakfast the next day. And there are enough other nights when they get things they love and they chow down.

Here is part of what drives this decision for me - I don't want my kids to behave like whiny little buggers at other people's homes, which is what Baxter used to do when we catered to him more at home. It's downright embarrassing when the child gets to be around 3. Now they know, wherever they are, that they can eat what they like on their plate and need to keep quiet about the rest.

And so, it's a Cooking Day. Thankfully, I know that at least the adults in this household will love everything that is on the stove, in the oven, and in the crock pot, and I'm having a great time making it!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Navigating Negative Emotions (Part One)

Come on over to The Family Room, where I've got a new post up tonight about why some children with autistic spectrum disorders have such a difficult time accepting and understanding negative emotions in themselves and others.

(And after you've read it, keep reading, because if you haven't read Susan's blog yet, you're missing out!)

Lyle Goes 'Round the Sun

Today was my monthly "assist day" at Lyle's co-op nursery school. It also happened to be the day we chose with him to do the school's little birthday celebration "Lyle goes 'round the sun" since he has a summer birthday and wouldn't otherwise get to do it. They don't do treats (ever!) but let the kids sit on a plastic cut-out of the sun and sing a little tune about how they've gone 'round the sun again. It's very cute and although Lyle is not totally comfortable with being the center of attention, he was looking forward to it.

Here are a few photos I took while there today:

Lyle at the writing center.

Learning that blue and yellow paint makes green!

Reading stories with Daddy at the end of the morning.
(We also had our teacher conference after school.)

Lyle going 'round the sun!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Materialistic Monday: Safety 1st High-Def Digital Monitor

Night One
It was midnight last Wednesday. We were wrenched out of deep sleep by sudden, horrible screaming. "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!", Lyle screamed in a really unusual, horrifying way. Matt tore off downstairs. Seconds later it changed to, "Mommy! Mommy!" and I followed. But by the time I got down to the kids' level, Matt was leaving their room, shaking his head. "It's not him," he said.

It wasn't Lyle.

This had happened before. We are in a condo building where three other young children live. If our monitor is on the wrong channel, we pick up the signal from one of them in the middle of the night and get scared shitless for no reason whatsoever. Hearts pounding, grateful that Lyle was fine, we finally went back to sleep.

Night Two
It was 11 pm. I picked up the monitor. "Is this on the right channel for sure?" I asked Matt, who was already in bed. "Yeah, we changed it after last night," he replied. I felt uncertain. The loud static wasn't exactly the same as its usual loud static. I switched it back and forth to demonstrate this. But he insisted. And we were both so tired that we decided it had to be fine and was not worth testing. After all, the kids so rarely wake up during the night and our sleep was disturbed last night - we were sure to be fine even if it wasn't fixed (you see where this is going, don't you?). So off we went to la-la land.

Until 1 am. Never have I been jarred from sleep in this way. In my life. I pulled myself out of an intense dream (I recall pushing people out of the way in my dream in order to get myself up to the surface of consciousness), only to start screaming. Loudly. I was screaming because Matt was screaming. Matt was screaming because, from somewhere else in the house, both of the boys were screaming. At the top of their lungs. As if the house were on fire. That is truly what I believed (in my semi-consciousness) must have been happening. We could hear someone pounding up the stairs towards us, screaming and crying. I fought my way off of our bed, not even aware of my screaming, and pushed towards the doorway, where Matt had stopped to meet Baxter. Matt turned to me in half-asleep anger, and hollered, "WHY ARE YOU STILL SHOUTING?" Trying to catch my breath, I shouted, "WHERE'S LYLE?? WHAT'S GOING ON?"

Matt could see that Lyle was running up the stairs screaming and crying behind Baxter, but I couldn't, being trapped in the bedroom and all. Once all four of us were in each other's arms in the doorway, it became abundantly clear that all of us had been hollering at the very top of our lungs together.

"I had an earache," cried Baxter.

Um, an earache?! You mean the house is neither on fire nor full of armed militiamen?

"I was calling for you and calling for you," he started wailing, "and you didn't come! And then Lyle woke up and he was calling for you, too. When I came upstairs to find you, he got scared and upset and started to scream and chased me. I was so scared that I started running and screaming, too!" We were all shaking.

Holy Mary Mother of God, you have no idea what it sounded like. If not for the storm we were stuck in last summer in Michigan, this would have been my scariest parenting moment ever. We took the kids into bed with us and held them tight for the rest of the night. It took some of us many hours to fall asleep again.

Enter: a new monitor. One that not only does NOT pick up any neighbors' children but has no static whatsoever. It is clear as a bell. And only one channel that only connects to my own children's room! Imagine! I could go on and on about this monitor but I'm sure many of my readers have no use for one anymore. Just know that if you do need one, or know anyone who does, this Safety 1st High-Def Digital Monitor is truly amazing and you can read all about it here. It also looks damn cool, like something from the Apple store, which you know will always make us happy. We have always leaned towards the $19.99 baby monitors, but this time no price was too steep to guarantee that we would always hear our kids - and only our kids - during the night.

We're all sleeping better now.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Happy Birthday to the Wonderwheel

A year ago today I wrote my first post here on The Wonderwheel.

I'd been blogging since August 2005 in conjunction with Matt; first on Baxtergarten (chronicling our experience of sending Captain Enthusiasm to kindergarten) and then on Show Me Another City (in which we prepared for and made the move to Chicago).

But after a while it became abundantly clear that I was the big mouth in the family. Furthermore, the more settled we became here, the less I was writing specifically about the transition to our new city, and thus my writing ceased to fit with our blog theme. It was time to move on and set up shop on my own. (And by the way, Matt set up camp over here.)

Writing here for the past year has been a tremendously rewarding experience on so many levels. When I started blogging for the very first time I think I had three readers and they were all related to me, and that was just fine. At that point, having a place to reflect and record it all was a huge positive change. But as time has gone on and the community of readers out there has grown, I have come to value the support, input, and reciprocity of blogging a great deal; not to mention the true friends I have made!

Thanks for sticking with me on this wild ride. I truly appreciate the fact that there are so many of you out there coming back time and time again and for all of the feedback you give me, no matter what I'm sharing from my life.

And so, without further ado...on to Year Two!