August 28, 2013

The Day I Lost My Mind (Updated!)

Out to breakfast!
I cannot believe I forgot the other craptastic thing that happened this week. See credit card debacle, below.

Write it down, people. August 28, 2013: The day I officially lost my mind. Let me explain.

Two weeks ago, Jeff decided to get sick. Like spent the entire weekend and better part of a week in bed sick. I reacted to this illness as any loving wife would: by getting totally irritated and planning an upcoming girls' weekend away. One course of antibiotics later, Jeff is back on his feet. Mostly.

Last week, we had a new kitchen floor installed. Our old cheap tile was pretty beat up and I wanted a nice, cushy, cork floor. The floor was installed Thursday and Friday. I was very stressed about this because Moe has ABA at home all day and I wasn't sure how we would keep him out of the house for that long. But with one community outing (see photo) and some creativity, we got through it.

Saturday, we planned to celebrate my book club's ten year anniversary. We had a big party at a friend's
Gorgeous, right?
house, and all the families were invited. In an attempt to allow Jeff some time to mingle and not spend the whole time chasing Moe, we brought our nanny to help. It was great, but Moe just wanted to jump into the (unfenced) pool. There were several near-misses. We did have the foresight to take 2 cars, so after a couple hours, Jeff took Moe and the nanny home.

The rest of the weekend was good, and included cheering our friend who ran in (and won!) the first annual Milton Friedman marathon, and a ride on a steam train.

This week was slated to be a busy one that included: a big job interview for me, back to school night for Jelly, Moe's IEP, and our eighth wedding anniversary. We planned to go out and get a babysitter and everything.

So what happened? Moe and I both got sick. Fever, chills, the whole bit. Jeff is sick too, still or again, we're not really sure. We've both got coughs. We canceled our anniversary dinner and I went to bed before 9. I had to reschedule my interview today.

Stuck at home, I checked my email and saw a credit card bill. I checked it, and it was larger than expected, which was odd since I knew I just paid it. Turns out that somehow I transposed some of the account numbers on my bill pay account (which is weird because I've been paying this credit card the same way for months, but that's a mystery for another time). Because the numbers I used were actually someone else's credit card number, I paid some random person's credit card. Lucky them!

This turned out to be a tricky thing to fix. As far as the bank was concerned, the money was gone. As far as the credit card company was concerned, it went to a legitimate account. Anyway, after several back and forth calls, I was able to get the information I needed, and within 24 hours, the issue was fixed. They even credited me back the late fee and interest charges! I apologize to the person who thought they had a benefactor paying their credit card.

But wait. There's more. Remember those beautiful floors? Well, today I smelled something funny. I looked alongside the fridge where I could see the one thing that is really bad for cork: water. That's right, kids, the refrigerator was leaking.

*insert expletives of choice here*

I immediately start texting Jeff who comes home and moves the refrigerator out. We sop up the mess and I decide I should get a fan to dry things out a bit more.

Fueled by adrenaline and cold pills, I made my first stop: Rite Aid. Their seasonal aisle was mid-transition to fall. I mean, it's August and 85 degrees out, so of course I'm ready to buy hay covered pumpkins. But they did have this:

Also available in chicken
Next stop: Home Depot. Veeerrrry long story short involving a new employee (who thought that the website said they had 101 in stock but that was really the number of reviews of the fan), they didn't have any fans.

At this point I was not going to make Jelly's back to school night and I was having flashbacks to the infamous laundry soap search of 2011. Jeff suggested Fry's (which to his credit he suggested initially) so off I went to that retail hell hole, where there was a huge display of fans right in the center of the store. Home again, home again, jiggity jig.

Which brings us to now. The corner behind the fridge is pretty messed up. Turns out that even though our contract stated that the homeowners would disconnect and reconnect the line to the fridge, the very nice floor installer guy did it. And why would we pull the fridge out when everything was working? But he didn't test it. If he had tested it, we would have noticed a small pinhole in the copper pipe that has been leaking water at a slow but steady rate for 5 days.

Five days. That's all it took for us to ruin our floor. Five days.

This is why we don't have nice things.

August 21, 2013

Skills, Expertise, and Cheese

A couple years ago I wrote a piece about being (or not being) really good at something. With autistic people, such talents are often called "splinter skills," meaning that an otherwise "low functioning" individual might have one outstanding skill. For some that may be true, but autistic people, like anyone, can be good at one thing or at many things. And non-autistic people can, of course, have an outstanding skill that stands out above the rest.

Speaking of skills, I've recently begun looking for a job. A job search is all about highlighting your skills, at least those that might make a difference in the workplace. I got skillz. I can write (see previous sentence) and speak in front of a group. I am good at making complicated products or topics easy for people to understand. I can organize and prioritize and probably some other izes too.

When I was interviewing for the last job I had, my interviewer asked me a question that threw me a bit. He asked me what I was expert at. I was momentarily stumped. Skill is different than expertise. In technology, someone might be a skilled programmer, but not, say, a security expert. She might be a skilled graphic designer but not expert in user experience.

I am a skilled baker and cook, but I am by no means an expert. If something goes wrong, I can't troubleshoot or adjust. I throw out and start over. Someone might be a skilled trumpet player, able to read music and play with good tone, maybe even improvise a jazz solo. But expertise requires something more, something reserved for that top few who really know the instrument. Who don't just read the music (or follow the recipe, or sew the pattern), but who take it to the next level, responding to shifts in the environment or the subtleties of the instrument or something that I'm not expert enough to even explain.

I don't feature my special needs parenting front and center on my resume, though several pieces about my experience are included as writing samples on my portfolio. It is hard to find a job after being out of the workforce for a while, and I don't want to give an employer any doubts about to my ability to perform a job. It's ironic, because I am confident that being a parent, and especially an autism parent, has made me better equipped to perform at any job. And now, because of this experience, I can say the I am expert in one very important thing:

Getting. Shit. Done.

If you've met an autism parent, you've met a parent who has battled regional centers, school districts, insurance companies and doctors offices. There's no roadblock I can't clear, no phone call I won't make, no schedule I can't maneuver. I cannot be swayed by intimidation or judgement or ignorance. I make critical decisions on a daily basis and multi-task like nobody's business. I have learned sign language, speech and occupational therapy skills, not to mention biology, neurology and law. No bureaucracy is too big, no budget too small.

I'm not sure I'm an autism expert. But if you need something done, trust me: ask an autism mom.

This post was inspired by The Whole Fromage by Kathe Lison, who traveled to France to discover its artisanal cheeses and speak with real cheese experts. Join From Left to Write on August 22 as we discuss The Whole Fromage.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

August 6, 2013

It's a Good Life

Yesterday afternoon, Moe ran over to Jelly, grabbed her ponytail, and threw her to the floor. As far as I could tell, he wasn't being mean, just impulsive. She was frightened, of course, but not hurt. But we are living on edge.

Moe has been going through a very difficult time. He's been unhappy and aggressive. We've been severely restricted in what we've been able to do and where we've been able to go, even canceling our much anticipated visit to the beach on Saturday. We're doing everything we can to keep Moe calm and happy.

While we try to figure out the root causes of these behavioral changes, which are likely numerous and complex, we have been trying hard to avoid some of the trigger interactions. Moe, for example, likes to go in my bedroom. That's generally fine, but has become problematic when we ask him to leave the room. But saying no has also become a problem, so yesterday, when he wanted to go in, I let him. Same thing with playing with the iPad. It's become a bit frustrating for him so we've been trying to take a break from that as well. But I gave in when he asked.

I realized how much we've all been walking on eggshells around here. Everything and anything can be a trigger and we're doing whatever we can to keep him happy. I was reminded of the Twilight Zone episode called "It's a Good Life." In that episode, there is a boy with extraordinary godlike mental powers. He uses those powers to keep the town hostage, horribly punishing anyone he doesn't like. Everyone is afraid of him, but they do what he wants, constantly praising him and saying how good things are, and that the trouble he is causing is "a real good thing."

I used to think the moral of this episode had to do with what happens to kids without discipline. Through a behavioral lens, I certainly don't want to encourage Moe's aggressive behaviors by being too lax with him or letting him get away with things we wouldn't normally let him do, like climb on the kitchen counter, just to avoid a meltdown.

But there's more to the Twilight Zone episode. The parents have so little control over their son's behavior and I feel this frustration. I think this shines a light on how most children feel, controlling so few aspects of their lives. Parents make decisions with what must seem like godlike powers. This feeling would be even more exaggerated for a child with communication challenges. And while I think there is a lot going on with Moe right now, he certainly does seem to be trying to exhibit some level of control over his life. So perhaps letting Moe climb on the kitchen counter isn't being lenient, but is letting him choose his own snack by doing the one thing he can easily do: get it down himself.

Living in crisis mode doesn't leave a lot of time for writing. I hope to have a chance to describe how we are trying to figure out what is going on with Moe and why it is so complicated. For now, I'm going to enjoy a moment of relative calm in the house, and hope that I haven't just crossed over into The Twilight Zone.


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