Monthly Archives: March 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.

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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?

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.

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?

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.

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.

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!

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.