November 17, 2015

Day 17: Do not read this if you love rodents.

Friends, today was a tough day. Not for me, so much. But for a rat.  This was not a pet rat and it didn't have a name. Though I suppose we could call it Number 5.

Several months ago, I found some rat droppings in the garage. It was, it seems, feasting on the dried pasta and dog treats I had on my makeshift pantry shelves. We cleaned up the area and removed anything but canned goods. Problem solved.

Okay, no. Obviously the problem wasn't solved. These little fuckers decided they really like my garage. And expensive dog food. LifeSourceⓇ bits were sustaining rodent life. We cleaned up after ourselves. Made sure not to drop any food.

Until one day when I walked into the garage and saw little pink plastic shavings on the ground from where the rat chewed through the food bin. Not a bag of food, but a solid plastic bin. We tentatively opened the door, expecting to see a rat eating to its heart's content at the Blue Buffalo buffet. Thankfully, it had already left. We left a trap on the floor near the food bin and within a couple days, caught one.

But that wasn't all of them. I guess it never is. Every so often, I'd turn on the light to the garage then open the door - always in that order - and see a streak of gray running across the floor and under one of the cars. I don't care how much laundry needed to be done, I'd just close the door and stay in the house.

We did more cleaning, even checking the earthquake supplies. We cleaned everything but eventually took to keeping a loaded trap on a top shelf. Every so often, we'd go out in the morning and the trap would be gone. It would snap, and flip off the shelf, leaving it to me and Jeff (okay, Jeff) to play find the dead rat buried in the junk in the corner of the garage.

We got a new and improved food bin for the dog food but we'd still find occasional evidence of rats. I picked up a gel mat for the kitchen that had been in the garage, only to find it chewed up. We found a chewed up roach trap. (There's so much wrong with that statement.) But it had been a while since I'd seen one or caught one. I forgot the trap was even there.

Now, this is the time in our story when I need to take you on a journey, back in time about twenty years. I was in college, living in a small cottage with a roommate. This cottage was, shall we say "shabby chic," literally insulated with newspaper. And at one point, we discovered that a rat was getting in the house. Through a hole in the wall. It was near the holidays, I believe, and we were going out of town. We laid down a sticky trap and left.

Upon our return, we opened the door carefully, turned on the light, and checked our trap. It was gone. Moments later, a large rat, back two feet stuck in the trap, front two out, ran across the cottage, dragging the trap behind it. In the commotion, it had picked up one of my slippers, which was now also stuck in the trap. We called our landlord, who "took care of" the problem. And also returned my slipper which, looking back, probably wasn't necessary.

This morning, Jeff had already left for work, and when our nanny arrived, I went to load the car so I could take Jelly to school. I opened the door and let out a gasp as I saw a rat in a trap in the middle of the garage. I closed the door and walked back inside.

Shit. I was going to have to deal with this. I told Jelly to stay inside. I could empty the trap. It was just a dead rat.

Except it wasn't. It was still fucking alive.

There was no way in hell I was going to pick that thing up and release it from the trap while it was still alive. I was also not going to use any of the large shovels or things in the garage to help it on its journey. I felt awful, but knowing it would be dead soon I did what any strong, independent woman would do: I put a cardboard box over it, got Jelly in the car, and texted Jeff that he was going to have to deal with this when he got home.

I also warned the nanny not to lift up the box. She even offered to deal with the rat. I told her that wasn't necessary. This, my friends, is called foreshadowing.

I came home from work as twilight was descending. I had all but forgotten about the rat, and was bringing in the trash cans when I noticed the boxes were moved. I smiled, realizing that our nanny did take care of the rat for me. She's the greatest.

And then the box moved. What in the ever loving fuck was that? The rat couldn't still be alive, could it? Maybe it was one of its rat friends, coming to leave flowers at the scene? The box moved again. I was frozen. Or stalling until Jeff got home.

I flagged him down as he pulled in the driveway and told him what was going on. I had yet to actually look in the box. He grabbed the sledgehammer and told me to take Jelly inside. I did what I was told. When I did, I went inside to learn that the rat had been running all around the garage, head stuck in the trap. Our nanny eventually put it in the cardboard box. I felt awful. For her and for the rat.

Meanwhile, Jeff was outside doing man's work. And by "man's work" I mean Googling the most human way to kill a rat. Which, it turns out, is by asphyxiation by CO2. You too can create a little rodent death chamber with vinegar and baking soda.

I'm sorry, Number 5. Rest in peace and may you find plenty of expensive dog food wherever you are.

November 12, 2015

Day 12: Why I still don't have a tattoo

I don't have any tattoos. I attribute this to several things:

  1. I'm kind of a chickenshit.
  2. I'm Jewish and even though I don't believe in God (now there's a good post for another day), I do have an overactive sense of guilt. Jews aren't supposed to get tattoos. (I also feel a tiny bit guilty every time I eat bacon though I've never kept kosher a day in my life.)
  3. My parents would be disappointed in me. Yes, I am over 40, have 2 kids and live 400 miles away from them. Why do you ask?
  4. Fear of making a bad choice. If I had gotten a tattoo back when I first wanted one, I'd be considering removal of a Winnie the Pooh and Piglet themed tattoo on my hip. I also definitely wanted Depeche Mode Violator and Hedwig and the Angry Inch Origin of Love tattoos. Which might have been cool. At the time anyway.
But I'm older now and while I'm still not so big on pain, I do know exactly what I'd get. I think I'd be ready to put all of the other reasons aside for this one. But the reason I want this tattoo is exactly why I haven't gotten it yet.

I have no desire to get an autism tattoo, by the way. I've seen some cool ones, but I'll leave the puzzle pieces for someone else.

This tattoo would be something to remember my brother by. Something that was between us and that would be cool even if you didn't know the meaning but that would make me think of him every time I saw it. Of course I think of Bill all the time anyway. I don't need something to remind me. But it would be something I could touch, and show, and talk about. Forever.

I don't think Bill would ever have gotten a tattoo. He wasn't especially religious, but certainly more than me. While that could have changed a lot by now, and I don't think he'd really care if I got a tattoo, it isn't something he necessarily would have done. So to have a tattoo to memorialize him poses a bit of a conflict for me. It probably shouldn't, since this is for me and he's not around to see it. But it does anyway.

November 11, 2015

Day 10: In Case of Emergency

There's been another case of murder suicide in the autism community. A single mother killed her 14 year old son and then herself.

This is not the first time this has happened and sadly it won't be the last. Events like this split apart the autism community, with cries of "parents need help" battling the idea that any hint of understanding is no less than condoning murder. I'm not going to take up that argument here. I've written about it before and that's not what is on my mind today.

Right now, I'm thinking about a friend. Her son is in the middle of a psychotic episode. He's been checked into the hospital, after having to be restrained by several adults in the emergency room to keep him from hurting himself and others. He's refusing medication. He's 9 years old.

The scariest part is that he's likely to be sent home. The doctors will manage to sedate him, keeping him good and medicated for a few days, and they'll send him home. Where he is so loved, but also feared. Where he doesn't have an appropriate school placement because if doctors don't know how to handle this, how could teachers possibly know? And that's at the good school. Where his psychiatrist will once again tinker with his meds and hope to find something that will keep him stable for a while. And where his parents will white-knuckle it until the next time, hoping they can keep him - and their two other children - safe.

And then what? I have another friend whose elderly parents are still caring for her adult schizophrenic brother. He's been in the emergency room so many times from overdosing and the only hope for relief was for him to die. But he hasn't died. And when her parents do, he's likely to end up homeless. They love him so much they're completely broke from his lifetime of treatments. And even though by all accounts they cannot physically care for him, they do it anyway. Because what choice do they have?

Moe is different, of course. Autism is different. But I do understand that there's no lonelier feeling than being in a room alone or with a partner, helping your child through a meltdown the best you know how, and thinking this is it. This is life now, with no one to help and no way out. You might as well be lost in the desert, your throat dry, every oasis a mirage.

November 8, 2015

Day 8: Living in the moment

We had a really rough weekend not too long ago. I won't go into the details, but it left Jeff and I reeling, and asking some really hard questions.

Later that week, things improved and have been stable, though certainly not perfect, since. Still, whenever Moe is awake, we are on guard. We are always watching to make sure he isn't about to get into something he's not supposed to, or hurt himself or someone else. Even when he's calm and happy, he's pretty needy. I supposed we all are, but we are able to help ourselves or at least communicate what we want. Moe communicates by leading you to where he needs to go, or showing you what he wants or, if frustrated, whining or shouting or worse.

When Jelly says "I'm hungry," I can say "Just a minute and I'll get you something." I finish what I'm doing and then help her. When Moe is hungry, and points to the kitchen, there's no "just a minute." And I get it. If he doesn't understand the concept of "wait a minute", and I don't get up right away, he's anxious that he's not being understood. If I'm watching Moe, I can't stop and finish the sentence of the book I'm reading or help Jelly through one more math problem on her homework. I have to get up and take care of him or risk an escalating situation.

Despite the challenges, there are still many moments of laughter and love. This morning when Moe woke up, he came straight into bed and snuggled with me. There were no demands, no iPad between us or guessing game as to what he needed.  Just me and my son. Those moments don't happen nearly enough, but they do happen.

I have a hard time letting those moments carry me through the tough ones. Even now, after 9:00 at night, I had to take a break from writing this to go help Moe through a meltdown. And when the day ends on a bad note, or there are rough spots during an otherwise good day, it is hard to brush it off and move forward.

I think the people who are most successful at finding peace and happiness through challenging parenting journeys are those who are able to live in the moment, leaving the tough spots behind when they're over and fully relishing the good moments when they come. It is something I'm working on.

November 6, 2015

Passion in the workplace

Sadly, this post will not be as steamy as the title implies. Though I did meet my husband at work, and I've heard of more than one rendezvous in the server room, that's not the kind of passion I'm talking about.

I recently had the opportunity to volunteer with a company called Toolworks in San Francisco. The organization provides many services, including employent, for adults with disabilities, as well as those who are homeless or at-risk. They also run a bakery that not only employs some of their clients, but also brings in money for the organization.

As part of a skills-based volunteering program at work, I spent a week last summer at Toolworks. I and two co-workers spent a week at Toolworks redoing the website for Hayes Valley Bakeworks and setting up some analytics and search advertising campaigns for them.

There tends to be an arrogance in corporate American, and especially in Silicon Valley. We think that somehow we're smarter than the rest of the world. We think about what corporations can teach nonprofits about how to run more efficient businesses. I came away from my week at Toolworks thinking also about what nonprofits can teach corporate American. Here are a couple of those lessons. I'm sure there are more.

You've done enough today. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed with the amount of work there is to be done at my job. Silicon Valley tech companies like to try to solve big problems. And we need to do it faster and better than anyone else. But the work we have, with seemingly endless resources at our disposal, is not nearly as difficult as the type of work nonprofits have to do. These organizations serve populations who have the greatest level of need and the fewest resources. Caring for people who are homeless, who struggle with mental illness or developmental disabilities is a really hard job, and no one's getting rich doing it.

I met one of the Toolwork's clients, who has a full time aide provided by the organization. Because of her help, this client is able to live in an apartment with a roommate, communicate with others, and live as a part of the community. No one organization is going to solve homelessness or the housing crisis. Sometimes the small picture is what's important. Make an impact every day.

Passion: I do not think it means what you think it means. In Silicon Valley, we talk a lot about passion. Interview candidates are often rejected because "they're just not passionate about" television, or cell phones, or B2B cloud solutions, or whatever the company is doing. Is that what we want people to be passionate about?

I really love my job. I think the work we're doing has value, and it's exciting being around new technology. My company makes a thermostat. Am I passionate about thermostats? Not really. But I do think climate change is something to throw some passionate energy behind. People at my company are doing all kinds of projects around topics worth getting passionate over like equal access to information and improving healthcare.

Not everyone can be passionate about what they are doing at work, and that's fine. If you are happy and do a good job, I really don't care if you're passionate about analytics or advertising or meeting fourth quarter expectations. But if you are going to be passionate about something, or if we're going to demand passion from employees, make the work matter.

November 4, 2015

Day 4: Aging out

It's almost 10:00 and I've been working on a project for work. As I was closing the computer for the night I remembered that I haven't posted anything yet today. Fortunately, I have a pretty short post.

I want you to think about something. I want you picture in your head someone with autism. In all likelihood, that person was a child.

Those kids are going to be adults. Every year 50,000 kids age out of the system of care set up for kids with autism. And some of those, like Moe, are going to need around the clock care. Think about that. For the rest of Moe's life he is going to need someone to take care of him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

According to the Autism Society San Francisco's website:
California's adult autism population is exploding, expected to double in the next five years and triple over the next ten, according to Department of Developmental Services data. California now counts 80,000 autism cases in the Developmental Services system, up from about 3,000 in the early 1980s. All 80,000 will be adults within 15 years, and in need of lifespan support from a system designed to serve just a few thousand.
I recently attended a conference on housing and support for autistic adults. I'm going to write about that in more detail, but for now, I want to leave you with a trailer for an upcoming documentary that was shown at the conference. It paints a grim picture of autism - one that some, including many autistic adults, don't like shown. But it is also one of the most honest portrayals I've seen of the challenges some, though certainly not all, parents face.

The movie is called Aging Out. Check out their website and facebook page. And I've included the trailer below.

November 3, 2015

How does she do it? No really. How?

Yesterday I wrote about why I work. Today I want to tell you how I work, or rather, how I make it work. We've got a lot going on, including a kid with complex educational and behavioral needs. Going to work came with a lot of challenges, but as a friend told me "Get the job. The rest is just logistics."

But people make entire careers out of logistics. Here's what we do to make it work.

We have a full time nanny for Moe. And not just any nanny. She's well trained and experienced with kids with autism. She is essentially Moe's head teacher. Having her also means that Jeff and I don't have to take time off for long school breaks, and she helps by doing the kids' laundry and keeping the mess relatively under control.

We have a well established home program. Moe's program was running smoothly before I went to work. Although Moe's therapists change periodically, the agency that runs his program and our supervisor haven't changed in several years. Jeff or I also make sure to attend the monthly team meeting.

After school care for Jelly. I take Jelly to school in the mornings before heading up to work. It makes my commute longer, but I like to be able to see her teachers for a few minutes every day. She stays in the after school program until Jeff picks her up between 5-6 pm. Her school is connected to a community center, which is fantastic because they'll walk her over for dance and other after school classes. Without that, she wouldn't be able to do any extra-curricular activities.

A relatively flexible work environment. I work at a large tech company, and I am really busy. But with technology comes some level of flexibility. I can work from home if I need to, and video conference into meetings. I can occasionally come in late or leave a little early. I can't do it all the time but when I need that flexibility, it's there.

Online grocery shopping. It may sound ridiculous, but knowing that I can have groceries (and everything else for that matter) delivered was one of the reasons I felt like I could actually have a full time job. Yes, I can shop on the weekends, but our weekends are unpredictable and I'd rather spend my limited time and energy on my family.

A supportive husband. It makes a big difference having a partner who treats your work as equally important as his or her own, and who understands that being able to work is an integral part of your identity. Jeff shares school pick up and drop off duty, and we help each other out when the other has to be at work early or late.

Letting some things go. This is the most important piece. There isn't time for everything. Some days, we have to get takeout for dinner. Some weeks, the laundry piles up. I don't exercise as much as I should because I race home after work. I don't get to volunteer in Jelly's classroom as much as I'd like to, and when I do make time for that, I'm always worried about what's going on back at work. There is no such thing as the perfect work-life balance. There will always be trade-offs.

November 2, 2015

Why I Work

I never thought I would be a stay at home mom. I was home with Moe for a couple years, then had Jelly right at the same time he was being diagnosed. With two small kids, and Moe's therapies as well as our eventual decision to homeschool, it made sense for me to be home full time.

After six years, I finally returned to work. It wasn't easy but it was probably the best decision I've made since the kids were born. Here are a few reasons I decided to return to work.

1. I was burned out

Moe's autism affects everything we do every day. For his safety, he requires full and constant attention. It's intense and stressful and once we started homeschooling, I felt thoroughly trapped at home. Though I have some really wonderful memories of our first few years together, I needed a break.

2. I was bored

When Moe was working with his therapists, and Jelly was in preschool, I didn't have a lot to do. It's one of the reasons I started blogging. I learned some sign language. And read a lot of autism blogs and books. But I missed the challenges of my career. I know many parents really love being at home with their kids, but I admit that maybe I'm not cut out for that much mommy-ing. Autism changed the type of stay at home parenting I could do, but that isn't the whole picture. I wanted a bit of my old life back.

3. I was scared

I still am. I'm scared of what will happen to Moe in the future. I'm scared of his ability to hurt others and himself. I'm scared of what Moe's level of need is doing to Jelly. When it comes to the battle between fight and flight, I admit that I'm more of a flyer. I needed an escape.

4. I wanted to set an example

I'm not sure how Moe felt about my going to work, but Jelly didn't love it. She still complains sometimes. But it is important to me that Jelly knows that both moms and dads can work. I grew up in a traditional household, where my dad worked and my mom stayed at home. This was great for me and my brother. But I have a fancy education and I want to use it. I want Jelly to see that women can have important and fulfilling jobs just like men. And that Jeff and I share the parenting jobs that often fall to moms (especially stay at home moms), like driving on class field trips or taking them to the pediatrician.

5. The money isn't bad either

I wanted to go back to work and was willing to do it as long as I could make it break even after paying for childcare. Fortunately, I'm able to bring in a bit more than that, which helps. And even though I make significantly less than my husband, I work for the company with amazing benefits. So I know I'm contributing to the household, which is important because raising a special needs child (who will also be a special needs adult) isn't cheap. Neither are those boots I just bought.

6. I like it

This may be the most important point. I like working. I like having interesting conversations with smart people. I like solving problems that don't involve my kids. Work is personally fulfilling and that is, in itself, enough of a reason to do it.

Working is hard. Sometimes I miss out on things. I like to think that working gives me the energy to make me a better parent, but I'm not sure that's true. I just know that I'm happier when I'm working than when I'm not.

November 1, 2015

NaBloPoMo Day 1: Halloween recap

It's November 1, day 1 of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and this year I'm not participating. It's too much for me to do right now, and I'm okay with that. I don't need to write 2,000 words a day. I don't need to write that novel right now.

But I do need to write. And so I'm going to attempt NaBloPoMo: National Blog Posting Month. One month in which I attempt to write a new blog post every day. Can I swing it? We'll see. I do have a lot to write about, though some of it will have to remain quiet for a while. Since yesterday was Halloween I'll start there.

Moe doesn't "get" Halloween, but he doesn't seem to hate it either, so every year we dress him up in a relatively comfortable costume and attempt to participate as much as he wants.

Some years are better than others. Moe's first Halloween, at 6 months old and dressed as a chili pepper (an homage to my brother, a die-hard Red Hot Chili Peppers fan), was less than amazing. We went to a large mom's group event, which was noisy and hot and, as I've said about other such things, the opposite of fun.

Following years were okay. At one, Moe enjoyed his monkey costume, and at four seemed to tolerate the m&ms costume for the school parade. At 5, the cookie monster costume worked well. And for the last 3 years, he's gotten skeleton pajamas, which work well for a brief walk around the neighborhood.

Our neighborhood is pretty active on Halloween. Since Jelly was born, we've gone out as a family. We walk to see a neighbor's haunted castle, complete with animatronic dragon out front. Then we take Moe and Jelly to trick or treat at a couple of houses, walk back home, and turn off the porch light so the dog won't spend the night barking and the kids can get some sleep.

But last year, Jeff and Moe came back after a few houses and handed out candy. Moe seemed to like that so we thought we'd try it again this year. Unfortunately, Moe had other plans. We got the kids ready but by the time we got out the door, Moe was already really over stimulated. He wouldn't walk with us and started to scratch Jeff. So they came back and Jelly and I walked the 'hood by ourselves (and a ton of other families out and about).

Jelly and I had a good time collecting candy and even venturing into one of now two haunted houses in our neighborhood. Meanwhile back at home, Moe and the dog were too wound up for trick or treaters. Jeff had to deal with a perfect storm of not one but two leaky pull-ups, spoiling the last ofthe clean pajamas. So Jelly and I came back to a really overtired Moe, with at least another hour to go until the laundry was done.

I try not to have too many expectations for holidays like Halloween. Moe doesn't understand it, so I know he doesn't feel like he's missing anything. It is really easy to get down about what we can't do as a family, or how tough even a night at home can be. I try to focus on what went right. Jeff took good care of Moe. Jelly had a good time. It was a beautiful night and Jelly's Joy costume didn't even require a sweater. The laundry did get done and the kids eventually fell asleep.

And well all got that extra hour of sleep this morning. Or not. Whatever.


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