Wednesday 31 October 2012

Happy Hallowe'en

And now for what you've all been waiting for: adorable pictures of my kids and house from tonight.  Fresh from the camera to your screen.

Here is Nathan as Wags the Dog.

And here is Alex as Captain Feathersword.  He had a drive-thru uniform but decided to stick with his Feathersword costume.

As I mentioned previously, we did up the front of our house as a drive-thru.  We got a lot of compliments from the kids.  I heard a lot of "awesome" and "cool" and my sarcasm detector didn't go off, so I'm pleased.  I did up our window as the store sign by cutting foam letters and taping tissue paper over the frame.  Put on the house light and you have an instant light box display.

And this was our storefront for the kids to place their orders and collect their candy.

Of course, every drive-thru has a little clutch of people standing around and drinking coffee, so I had to put in my own.

For the curious, those are pie pumpkins and bell peppers carved into jack-o-lanterns.  Thank you to Tim Horton's for donating empty coffee cups.  I especially like my red pepper with his drinking straw.

Ironically, Alex ended up going trick or treating up and down the block while Nathan wanted to hand out candy.  Several of his friends stopped by to see the house and were delighted with the service.  No matter how many kids we got, Nathan remained calm.  He just kept handing out the candy and telling people to stay in line and wait their turn.  There has never been a more enthusiastic drive thru employee.

Everyone is happy.  We're out of candy.  Kids are tucked into bed to sleep.

It's a win all around.  Happy Hallowe'en.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

Hallowe'en Thoughts

I love Hallowe'en.  It's one of my favourite holidays.

But I've never been a fan of it being exclusively a horror celebration.  I remember being so frustrated as a child when people insisted my costume had to be scary.  I didn't want to be scary.  I was an overly sensitive child who got scared a lot.  To me, Hallowe'en was an opportunity to dress up in costume and explore different personas.  I could be She-Ra or Laura Ingalls or a gypsy princess for one night.  I liked that experience.

Fast forward to today.  I've built a drive-thru set for Alex.  It's quite cheerful and bright and colourful. 

And I'm getting some flak from the neighbourhood about it not being scary. (Okay, one person ... but still!)  It was like a flashback and I bit my tongue to keep from being inappropriate.  (I do that a lot which proves I can be taught.)

I get the horror-Hallowe'en tie in.  I really do.  Ghosts, goblins and witches ... all scary (and I'm suppressing a Buffy quote about: witches, they were persecuted and Wicca good and love the earth and women power and I'll be over here.)  (Huh.  Guess I didn't suppress it that well.)

But I still don't think it should be exclusively scary.  A time to dress up, explore and pretend.  That still sounds good to me.

Monday 29 October 2012

Know Thy Limits

This is good advice for alcohol and parenting.  (Don't mix those two ... it never ends well.)

This weekend Alex and I were building some puzzles together.  Normally, I really enjoy doing this with him but it lost some of its novelty around the third 500 piece puzzle.  The second challenge was that he was humming something which he must have picked up from a damaged source because he'd repeat the same few notes and then jump to another section while making an incredibly awful grinding noise between them.

We've noticed this in the past.  He was reciting the lines from a game and included the whirring noise of the CD grinding in the drive between each one.  He doesn't distinguish between relevant and non-relevant sounds.

I'm a sound-sensitive person.  I cannot ignore the annoying music in the background.  A few years of working retail at the holidays nearly killed my enjoyment of Christmas carols altogether.  Especially the employer who insisted on rerunning a single CD of It's A Dolly Parton Christmas over and over during twelve hour shifts.  You know who you are and there's a special place in Hell waiting for you.  Guess what?  It'll involve a Dolly Parton Christmas.

Veering back on track ... I was getting annoyed and I decided to call it before I started losing my patience with him.  Social interaction is good and you should do as much of it with your autistic child as you can.  But know when the interaction is going to stop being positive on your end.  The endless stimming and verbal repetitions can really get on your nerves.  Know when you're going to start losing it and stop before that.

I managed to transition him to watching the Weather Network and curled up in the other room with a Kathleen Turner biography to regain my emotional equilibrium.  As I've told many new parents, raising an autistic child is a marathon event and it can be very easy to burn out, leaving your child with no one in his or her corner.  Taking care of yourself is essential.

After an hour or so, I went back and found he'd finished the puzzle by himself.  I told him I was proud of him. 

But I'm proud of me, too.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Weekend Surprises

It's not often I'm pleasantly surprised by a film but it happened twice this weekend.

If you read this blog (or know me) you know I'm a comic book geek.  You also know I love The Avengers.  Love it.  Love it.  Love it.  Could go on about it all day.  And I have so I'll force myself to stop now.

Marvel gave almost everyone a movie prequel for Avengers so that we didn't have to waste time with origin stories.  I watched all of them, except Captain America.  Iron Man and Iron Man 2, enjoyed very much.  The Incredible Hulk, absolutely adored.  Thor, shook my head and asked myself how JMS could be involved in this drek ... at least Chris Hemsworth is worth looking at.  But I'd been warned that Captain America was worse than Thor and thus avoided it.

But I was told on Friday that I should give it an honest chance.  I was bored ... so I did.  And I really enjoyed it.  Chris Evans does a good job as both pre-transformation and post-transformation Rogers.  And if someone had told me that I would get to see Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci, I would have been in theatres.

It was a good story.  A little overly syrupy and patriotic at times but understandably so.  And the ending wasn't a surprise since I'd seen the flashback clips in Avengers.  So the ratings stand with The Incredible Hulk still on top and Thor still bringing up the rear. 

My next surprise was one I taped off TV with an eye to killing a couple of hours with the kids over the weekend.  (I can only take so much Treehouse and then my synapses start to collapse.)  I hadn't seen Monsters vs. Aliens and thought to myself: how bad could it be?

The shaky animation was nearly enough to kill it before it started but cheap gags (and lack of alternatives) kept me going.  And I ended up having a good laugh.  Nathan sat with me and watched the whole thing.  I shamelessly used it as a parenting opportunity to point out that there are good monsters and thus he doesn't need to be afraid of things which look different.  And told him Mommy and Daddy weren't crazy for having to pause the TV because we were laughing like crazy people at the President mis-playing the five tone sequence from Close Encounters.  I explained to him that it was funny because it was from a famous movie and then laughed even harder when the guy started playing Axel-F.

Nathan is still unconvinced on the his-parents-aren't-crazy thing and honestly, I can't blame him.

The final verdicts:  Captain America, worth making the effort to see.  Monsters vs. Aliens, if it's on TV anyway, give it a try.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Happy Birthday, Erin

I want to take a moment to send a big Happy Birthday to my friend, Erin, who always surprises me with the depth of her enthusiasm and generosity.

She genuinely cares about other people and their welfare, giving us all opportunities to think about the impact of our actions.  She's fearless about trying new things and unusual experiences, a quality I admire but have never been able to emulate.  Life never stopped being an unexpected delight for her.

She was with me, coaching me while Nathan was born and I will be forever grateful for her help.  Underneath the sweet exterior is a wickedly smart brain and a quick sense of humour.

I'm proud to call her my friend.

Happy Birthday.

Friday 26 October 2012

Final Push to Hallowe'en

It's the last weekend before Hallowe'en which means it's crunch time.

Nathan's "Wags" costume is done.  Alex's drive-thru set still needs some work.

I still need to find some washable face paint for Nathan to use for his dog nose.  Finding something which is both easy to apply, easy to remove and not too expensive is proving more challenging than I thought.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Problem With The System

Can you feel my frustration buzzing through the Internet?

After much pushing from various groups, I was convinced to apply for the Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities grant program.  This group has the laudable goal of helping parents with the expenses raised by special needs children. 

The challenge?  Like 99% of the programs out there, they give their grants based on income levels.

Which means that we're considered "too rich" to qualify for help.

Now, I don't harbour this particular group any ill-will.  They're trying to do what they can on a limited budget.  But I am very tired of this income cap slamming the door in my face when I try to get help.  It's a systemic problem.

Simple math tells you the income cap is flawed.  Average costs for treatment for a child with autism are around $50 000 a year.  That doesn't cover equipment or special clothing or any of the other dozens of expenses we have to deal with.  Most income caps are set around $60 - $70 000.  Having a second child with autism grudgingly raises that by another five or ten thousand dollars.

Ironically, we're doubly penalized because we try to be responsible.  If we were missing mortgage payments or were about to have our utilities shut off, we could get money.  But because we're responsible citizens, we get bupkas. 

So I haven't been able to buy clothes for myself without a gift card for a couple of years but somehow, we're swimming in enough money that we apparently don't need any help.

I'm frustrated that every single program is aimed exclusively at low-income families.  Could there not be some relief offered to the rest of us?

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Sigh of Relief

I was able to get back to writing today.   Which felt really good.

I probably did around 2000 words.  Not as much as I had been doing but still very respectable.

My heroine's mother is developing a really sarcastic drama-queen tone which I hadn't originally planned for her but I think it could work for the character.  Those kind of people are always fun to watch other people deal with (but not fun to deal with yourself which leads to character conflict).

I'm still really excited for this story and I'm resisting the urge to use my Roxanne St. Clair notes for endless revisions on the first few chapters.  Give me another month or two and I might have enough done to justify bringing in some alpha readers. 

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Princess Experiment

As I was clicking through the various ads to check my email, one caught my attention.  A video experiment where a ten year old boy wants to be a princess for Hallowe'en and his mom is refusing.  The situation was played out in a mall and passers-by were engaged to get their reactions.

It made me think.  What would I do as a parent if my son wanted to be a princess?  (Leaving aside the social connotations of the importance of appearance over substance and focusing strictly on the gender role issue.)

To quote the ever-awesome Madonna: "it's okay for a girl to dress like a boy but for a boy to dress like a girl is degrading."  It's also a mainstay of British comedy.  Neither of those is exactly a ringing endorsement of acceptance from society.

I've had a little taste of this already.  When Nathan went to pick out his first backpack, he wanted a Dora one.  All of the Dora backpacks were pink.  I hemmed, I hawed, I offered a nifty Spider-man alternative but he wanted the Dora one.

If he had been a girl wanting a boy's backpack, no question, no hesitation.  So I had to ask myself, why was it so much worse for a boy to want a girl's backpack?  The truth is, there is no reason.  But the other side of the truth is that those kinds of decisions are the ones which can follow kids throughout their school careers and make their lives into bully-laden nightmares.

In the end, I got the Dora backpack and I'm proud of myself for doing so.  But I justified it to myself by saying it was just preschool and none of the kids cared yet.  By the time a child is ten, they and their peers definitely care about gender roles.

So would I let my ten year old son be a princess?  I like to think I would ... but I'd probably have a Spider-man costume standing by. 

Just in case.

Monday 22 October 2012

Puzzle Fun

Alex loves puzzles.  If it's under a 100 pieces, he can put it together himself in under two minutes.  300 pieces is his current "challenge" level.

He seems to like the art of Charles Wysocki, an artist who paints idealized, very detailed images of American life circa the turn of the last century.  This is the one we worked on tonight.

(Not the actual puzzle, that didn't last long enough to get a photograph.)  But you can see why it works as a puzzle.  Lots of details which makes it easier to keep track of what goes where.  (Not like a picture of butterflies on leaves ... stupid colours are all the same.)

Tonight, I thought I'd try and do some writing since it's been over two weeks since I got any work done on my novel.  I thought, kids'll be happy playing on the computer or watching TV.  Instead, Alex comes to me and asks for the "farm puzzle" and then "Mommy, help?"

How can I say no to that?  So we sat down and did the puzzle together despite wildly divergent puzzle-solving styles.  I like to find all the edge pieces first and put them together.  Alex likes to start with one recognizable bit (in this case, the writing on the side of the barn) and then keep trying pieces to see if they fit.  It's interesting to see that he doesn't look at all at the picture on the front (which is, of course, the part I'm relying on).  He's purely checking out the various shapes.  It's an example of how differently we see the world.

But he gets frustrated quickly if he can't find a fit on more than a half dozen pieces.  So I try and sort them as fast as I can into different areas, like the chicken feed wagon or the waterfall or one of the trees.  Then he can happily fit the bits together.

It's nice when he and I can do something together.  Even nicer when it's his idea.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Students First

Nathan's been having a rough time at school this year.  His friends from last year are in the French Immersion program while he's in the English program.  He's in a JK/SK split and is having a hard time adjusting to seeing the younger kids play while he has to work.

Watching his teacher try and find the right balance between accomodation and demands, I've been struck by something.  Most of the material given to teachers to help them deal with children with autism emphasizes accomodation.  If the child can't do something, they're told to keep making accomodations until the child does it.  It sounds good in theory but it supposes that all children are eager to complete the task at hand.

There's nothing about what they should do if the child simply isn't interested in the task.  And, let's be honest, how many five year olds would rather sit down and do desk work than play with toys? 

This is a problem I've seen with Alex in the past.  The emphasis becomes so much on making him comfortable that he ends up having almost no demands on him.  And being a smart little cookie, he's well aware how to manipulate the system.

A child with autism may not have the social urge to please a teacher, particularly if they don't have a good connection with him or her.  They may not feel the social competition to outperform the other children.  They also might not be upset at being isolated from the class.  These are the standard motivators which get ordinary children to buckle down and perform. 

I can't help but feel the system fails when a child with autism is treated solely according to their autism.  The goal of education should be primary with the autism as a consideration in pursuit of that goal.  Teachers should never assume a child is incapable of doing what they ask, not without a great deal of effort to prove the case.  As my husband put it, having autism may make it impossible to just run up the metaphorical stairs, but it doesn't mean they can't find ramps or elevators to get them to the same place.

I'm hoping we can find a good solution for Nathan to get him enthusiastic about school again.  I don't want him to end up labeled as unable to do any better.  Maybe this is parental blindness, but I believe in him.

Saturday 20 October 2012

Still Funny

"Finn MacMissile, British Intelligence."

"Tow Mater.  Average intelligence."

I've probably heard this joke a dozen times today.  I've probably heard it over a hundred times since I first saw the movie.

It still makes me laugh.

Friday 19 October 2012

Going A Little Stir Crazy

With all the sick kids, tantrums and Hallowe'en prep going on in the last two weeks, I haven't been able to write and it's starting to make me go a little stir crazy.

But I see light at the end of the tunnel.  I'm almost done Nathan's Wags the Dog costume.  This weekend, I can hopefully get Alex's drive-thru built and good to go.

I'm going to have to carve out some time though or I risk missing my deadline.  Not to mention driving myself crazy.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Werewolf ... Not My First Thought

I finally got to sit down and watch last week's episode of Paranormal Witness which featured two stories.  One was a fairly mundane haunted house but the other caught more of my interest.

A family on the outskirts of a small town starts to notice strange tracks around their house.  The mom gets freaked out because she notices two glowing eyes watching her from the woods which surround their home.  The husband thinks she's just not used to rural life, until he sees something sitting on top of their porch roof.  He tracks the creature to another cottage deep in the woods.

(Up until the cottage, I was thinking this was a Bigfoot story but that doesn't fit.)

A friend identifies the cottage as belonging to a strange guy who works at the tire shop.  The husband and his friend go to the shop to get a look at him but the fellow eludes them.  A few weeks later, the fellow is dead (natural causes).  The deputy sheriff, who is a friend of this family, tells them they have to come see what was in the cottage.

Inside is a room which locks from the outside.  It is plated with steel and has manacles.  The steel has been scratched up by whatever was being held.  And the scratches show this room has been in use for some time.

Then the husband turns to the camera, and with a straight face, tells us that the old man was a werewolf.


Supernatural explanations are all well and good but my first thought goes more to a purely human psychopath.  Maybe it's too much Criminal Minds but there are such sick people out there who hunt others for fun. 

It was still an interesting story and something about it has caught and held my attention.  So it's worth thinking about a little more and seeing if I can develop something from it.

I still prefer the werewolves from the Twilight series though.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Feeling Overwhelmed

All parents feel overwhelmed sometimes.  It comes with the territory.  Phenomenal responsibility ... no instruction book.  Or worse, thousands of entirely self-contradictory instruction books.

But I think parents of children with special needs feel overwhelmed more often.  There's so much more to do and fewer tools to do it with.  No matter how much work and therapy we give our son, we have to be prepared for the possibility he may never be able to live independently from us.  It's something we don't want and we're doing our best to avoid, but the truth is, it's a statistically-relevant possibility.

I find myself wondering if we're doing the right things.  It's part of my job to be constantly evaluating: is this working?  Could we find a better method?  Are we missing an opportunity?

Since I'm human, there are days when the pressure gets to be too much.  What I've learned is that I have to accept that fact, accept my feelings for what they are and let them run their course.  If I try to bottle them up and go on in spite of them, they'll boil up and backlash on me.  If I feel guilty because I'm not living up to a "supermom" standard, I get drained of energy and the confidence I need.

I'm not looking for sympathy.  In fact, it annoys the heck out of me to have to go through someone else dwelling on the unpleasant portions of my life.  But part of the reason I started this blog was to offer my experiences for other parents with autism.  And this is part of our experiences.  No matter how gung-ho, Pollyanna you want to be, sometimes its going to crash around you.  It doesn't mean you're giving up or that you're failing.  It's just a part of life and being human.

To risk exposing my extreme geekiness, in the words of Alfred (in the Batman trilogy):

Why do we fall, sir?  So we can learn to pick ourselves up again.

Not falling is impossible.  It's in picking yourself up that you demonstrate your strength.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Wiggles Farewell

Tonight I took the boys to see the Wiggles in their final concert tour.  While new people are taking on the red, purple and yellow shirts, it's still sad to see Murray, Jeff and Greg go.  While the new people are very good and enthusiastic performers, they don't have their heart and soul in it the way the old crew did.

The boys had a great time.  Last time, I managed VIP seats and they could wander but this time we were in the middle of a row.  In some ways, that worked better (at least for me).  To this day, I don't remember much of the show from the floor because I was so focused on keeping up with Alex and Nathan.  The hour and a half went by quickly but here are some of the highlights.

Nathan sang along with me for Rock-A-Bye Your Bear and Alex and I danced to the Shimmie Shake.  Both boys danced to Getting Strong, making muscle man poses.

But this was the big thrill of the evening:

Nathan wore Alex's old Murray shirt and Alex wore his Captain Feathersword costume.  Now as it happens, Captain Feathersword was collecting roses near our seats.  He spotted Alex standing nearby and I saw a spontaneous delighted smile on his face.  I'm guessing the good Captain doesn't get too many people dressing up like him.  Alex went down to the rail and the Captain shook his hand.

It's one thing I like about the Wiggles.  They have always made it clear that the children come first in the show.  They try to keep things moving but they're there for the children.  Not the parents.  The kids. 

Lots of people make fun of the Wiggles and pray for the day their children outgrow them but I've always liked their music.  They're passionate and lucky enough to do what they love for a living.  That makes them people to be envied in my book.

We'll miss you all.  The Big Red Car won't be the same without you.

Monday 15 October 2012

Roxanne St. Clair Workshop

Saturday was ORWA's big event.  We hosted a full day workshop by Roxanne St. Clair, a New York Times best-selling author with over 30 published books.

It was an amazing day.  The first part was on revising.  She brought in first drafts of scenes in her books and then showed how she made them better.  It was really neat to see the creative process in action.  Some of the stuff she talked about was obvious: keep the action going, show - don't tell, looking for passive voice.  Some was less obvious: how to avoid backstory dumps, keeping dialogue quick and necessary.  And some was stuff I hadn't thought of: how every scene in your book should be immediately identifiable as being from you as an author and from your genre in particular.  If you write racy, can you make the scene racier?  Funny, make it funnier.  Etc. 

She was quite funny and delivered a two and a half hour lecture without making it feel like two and a half hours.  She commented about the Canadian weather and how she'd gotten to wear her cute boots and borrow a dress.  (She lives in Florida and didn't have much for a chilly day.)

I was lucky enough to join her for lunch and she shared a lot of great stories about her experiences in PR and as a published author.  She asked what I wrote and was encouraging (really encouraging not polite encouraging).  She gave me some advice for breaking into the publishing world and was just a delightful person to spend time with.

Her second seminar was about pacing and she had a list of quick-pace killers: backstory, description, introspection, etc.  She went through all of them and had suggestions for how to get the necessary information in without slowing things down.  It was all really useful.

I'm definitely going to use her tips for rewriting Lord of Underhill although I'm going to continue with my as-yet-untitled Burlesque novel for the next little bit.

Another little thrill: ORWA gave her a souvenir to remember us by and what they chose was a book called Ottawa: Then and Now which is written by a friend of the family: Dave O'Malley.  I mentioned it to her and she was thrilled.

I know several published authors at this point (ORWA has over 20 published members) but it's still a little celebrity thrill to get to chat with one.  I got her to sign a copy of her book and got a picture with her to commemorate.  (Thank you, Shirley, for taking the picture since I didn't have a camera with me.)

Someday I'll get to be the one in the signing chair. 

Sunday 14 October 2012

New Computer Arrived

After some tricky borrowing of friends' computers and becoming very familiar with the sign-in sheet at our local library (thanks to everyone for your patience), the having to leave the house to blog phase is over.

A big thank you to Dave's friend who hooked us up with what we needed for a price that didn't break the bank. 

And thank you to Dave who has gone through the unbelievably tedious task of transferring everything. 

I'll post more about my awesome writing workshop with Roxanne St. Clair tomorrow when the computer is a little less being put together.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Two Sick Boys

Today I went to an all day seminar while my husband stayed home with two sick little boys.

Dave.  You rock.


Friday 12 October 2012

Some People Just Can't Take A Break Up

We're currently undergoing a bad break-up.  You all know the type.  You've made it clear you're not interested anymore and yet your ex keeps calling and calling ...

What makes it interesting is that it's with the lender for our mortgage. 

Five years ago, we signed with them and we've gone about our business, paying them their money on time and without fuss.  It really felt like more of a casual relationship than something committed and exclusive.  At least on our end, but now I have to wonder if we were stringing them on somehow.

The term drew to a close and our broker took bids for the next term and a different lender offered us a better deal.  Not being idiots, we took it. 

Now the company which was playing aloof and hard to get for all these years turned into a begging, needy, clinging ex overnight.  They're calling us all the time, sometimes two or three times in a single day.

At first, they were playing it stern, telling us that we needed to sign with them before the end of our contract.  We shrugged and said "No, we don't."

Then they tried playing on our greed, hinting at bonuses or cashback.  When inquiries revealed the "prizes" would be paid for in increased interest rates, we said no.

Next came the whining.  This was a brief phase, mainly because I started hanging up on them as soon as I recognized the number.  It's rude, I know.  But I needed to get the message across.  Hopefully they'll eventually get it.

This business had no time for us when I was calling to ask to get our payments reduced after stopping work.  No help when Dave had cancer and we had no income.  And yet now they're moping like a heart-broken teenager because we've gone with someone else.  There's a part of me which wants to sit them down and ask (in my best Dr. Phil imitation) just what they were thinking? 

Goodbye, mortgage people.  It's time to do what everyone else does when the break-up finally hits home: go home, pull the curtains, grab some ice cream and listen to country music. 

We know you'll find someone else.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Tantrum Morning

Today did not start well.

Nathan refused to go to school.  Flat out kicking and screaming refusal.  It's not the first time but it's happening an alarming amount this year.

He's been very anxious of late.  He didn't even want to spend time at his grandparents' (which he usually loves).  I'm not sure what's triggering this but looking back, he's had a lot of changes thrust on him.

He went to the cottage with his grandparents, which he enjoyed but was nervous about.  He worried about Alex being alone, about what he would do at the cottage.  Normal everyday fears. 

He came back from the cottage and then it was time for our Drumheller trip.  Lots of anxiety and tantrums.  He wanted to go home and we literally couldn't do it.  It was a surprise to us.  We expected him to enjoy the trip and being the center of attention and staying in a hotel.  Clearly, we were wrong about that.

He gets home from Drumheller and two things hit at once.  School starts and I start a new job.  Now he's doing lots of tantrums and hardly an hour passes without him telling us he doesn't want to do something because he's afraid.  Call me skeptical, but I doubt he's really afraid of putting his plate on the counter.  But I do think he is experiencing a lot of free-floating anxiety. 

Sometimes Nathan is doing so well that people forget he has autism, too.  Change is difficult for him, just like it can be for Alex.  He has a lot of expectations on him and puts a large burden of responsibility on himself. 

The only thing I can think to do is to reassure him that Mommy and Daddy are there to take care of the scary stuff.  And not let being scared become an excuse not to do things.  Exposure therapy is the only way past a phobia: keep on doing what scares you until you realize you can handle it.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Big Bird ... Really?

I'm going out on a limb and saying that using Sesame Street characters in a political campaign is just sad.  Pathetic.  Pathetisad, as twere.

For those (like me) who are desperately trying to avoid the mud-slinging going on south of the border, Mitt Romney said he would stop funding public broadcasting (which is where Sesame Street is broadcast).  Obama retaliated by poking fun at him by pointing out the sheer ridiculousness of refusing to regulate Wall Street but cracking down on Big Bird and Elmo.  And in fairness, it's a fair poking of fun.  Jon Stewart could make a whole week of it (and might have ... I haven't been watching).

But going beyond a few wisecracks wasn't cool.  No matter how big a target Romney made of himself (and I'm fairly sure he must be swallowing his own thigh since his foot is so far down his mouth), Big Bird was off limits for political ads.

A brisk tsk, tsk for Obama.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

A Lesson In Grief

I heard a story today and it really touched me so I'd like to share it:

In Heaven, all the little children's souls have a daily parade.  Each bright and eager little boy and girl gets to walk through the streets of Heaven, carrying a candle to show how brightly their spirits shine.

An angel was watching and saw one little boy sitting on the steps by himself, holding an unlit candle in his hands.  The angel went over to him and asked why he wasn't walking with the others.

The little boy explained he couldn't because his candle wouldn't light.  He said "Every time it starts to shine, my mother's tears snuff it out."

The story is used in grief counselling to remind those left behind that a departed one's memory should not be a legacy of pain.  If there is a life after death, who would want to be a source of pain to their loved ones?

I think the story can also be read as a reminder to mothers (and fathers) with living children.  No child should have their light snuffed out by a parent's disappointment or sadness. 

Feelings are feelings and never right or wrong.  But as I see it, part of my job as a parent is to suck it up and be the adult.  My feelings shouldn't cause my child pain or guilt.  Their feelings and needs should surpass my own.  It's not always easy and I don't always make it but it's a goal I work on.

When the boys were diagnosed, we were told that we should grieve our expectations of who we thought they might be so that those expectations didn't get in the way of us seeing who they actually are.  I think that was good advice.

So here's to all the those little people who carry lights to brighten both the day and the night.  At the risk of copyright suit: let those little lights shine.

Monday 8 October 2012

Life After Death

I've been reading a book by Alison DuBois (the woman who inspired the character of the same name for the show Medium) called Secrets of the Monarch about the lessons she's learned from the dead.

It's fascinating to hear her perspective on life.  To be constantly bombarded by impressions, whispers and images.  Despite her cheerful optimism in her writing, I'm sure there were days when she would have given almost anything to get rid of it.  Yet, at the same time, it's given her such an amazing opportunity to help people and support herself.

I like reading biographies of interesting people, particularly if there's a chance they've written it themselves.  It's a great little window into other people's personalities.  Sometimes you can tell just as much from what they don't say as what they do.  Cliched but true.

Sunday 7 October 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm taking today as an opportunity to focus on the things I'm happy about with no sarcasm. 

Today I'm grateful for:

My family.
My health and my children's health.
All the support we've received this year from family and friends.
Living in a society where I am valued on my merits instead of dismissed.
Dr. Seuss's ability with words and meter which turns a forty page book into a three minute read.
Joss Whedon's ability to make me laugh in less than three words.
Having the opportunity to have hundreds, if not thousands, of stories available in a variety of formats whenever I want them.
Having a job that works for us and makes me feel useful.
Children who appreciate Madonna.
Quality children's music from The Wiggles.
Being a fan of both romance and science fiction.  Satisfying and makes you think.
Still having my passport to Neverland.
Living in a country where my leaders annoy me but don't terrify me.
Being able to say what I think without any fear bigger than looking foolish.
My iPod, full of all the music that makes up my life.
Still believing there's more out there.
My favourite shows on DVD.
The privilege of understanding so much about the universe which mystified my ancestors.
Room service.
The dual burdens of freedom and responsibility. 
Still being able to cry watching Beaches.
Having a heart that still feels love.
Having an imagination.
Delicious food.
Comfortable shoes.
Pretty clothes.
A home.
Still feeling hope.

Saturday 6 October 2012

A Well Earned Vacation

"Earned" may be a strong adjective.

"Won" is more accurate.

Dave and I won a draw for a two night stay in a local hotel as part of a respite program for families with autism, run through Quickstart.

Tonight our parents come to the house to take care of our kids and we get to vamoose to a hotel to enjoy the unprecedented luxury of getting to sleep through an entire night.

Tears come to my eyes at the beautiful thought.

(Yes, we are getting old when a hotel weekend means actual sleep instead of something that could serve as an erotica outline.  But I'm cool with that because it means I'm going to get some sleep ... and my parents read this blog which makes it a little weird otherwise.)

A full twenty four hours of sleep, reading, sleep, some TV, sleep and more sleep.  Sounds like a fabulous vacation to me.

Friday 5 October 2012

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Alex loves riding on public transit.  His school told us about a special pass which allows an attendant to ride with him for free.  He's also gotten a bus pass so we've been able to go on more little trips around the city.

It's rare to catch him lit up with a smile.  Cameras usually produce a disinterested deadpan or a strange grimace (we tried to teach him to smile for the camera but ... missed somehow).

But this was the genuine article.

Thursday 4 October 2012

Another Awesome Writing Day

I had another writing day where I wrote over 2500 words, proving the first one wasn't a fluke.

If I had my doubts about working from an outline, they are rapidly fading.

It's really great to feel a story unfolding from my brain to my fingers again.  It's great to feel excited about it.  Right now, it feels like an interesting story that people will want to read.  Hopefully I'm right.

Time will tell and this is the part where I'm cautioning myself.  My first original novel did not explode on the world like fireworks.  That's okay and I still intend to work on it.  But I cannot let myself get so caught up in my own excitement that it crushes me to hear the genuinely constructive criticism.

Another counter-intuitive strategy I'm pursuing is to avoid reading the writing magazine I subscribe to.  It sounds like a bad thing to not have the knowledge, especially since it's aimed specifically at my genre.  But I find myself feeling discouraged and disheartened after reading it.  So many of the articles are cautionary that I find myself wondering if there's really any point in trying.  So while the information is useful, I'll leave it alone while I'm writing and then catch up on them later.

Not watching a lot of TV is helping too.  I ended up missing the finale and final episodes of So You Think You Can Dance although I did look up the winners.  (Congratulations Eliana, you deserved it!)  Some is good, to keep me creatively engaged.  (I'll watch and then think what I would have done differently with the story or try to understand why the story worked or why it didn't.)  I think I'm striking a balance.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Justice for All

I've been reading a book on the Canadian justice system called Getting Away With Murder.  As you may guess, the author is not entirely happy with the present system.

But mostly, he believes people would be less unhappy with the current system if we understood why it works the way it does.  His argument boils down to: we do it this way to protect innocent people who wander into legal crosshairs by accident or ill luck. 

This wasn't news to me.

I don't think it's news to most of us.  Recognizing that the police and courts have the potential to become corrupt tyrants, the law seeks to limit their ability to do damage.  Offering anyone unlimited and unaccountable power just sets up a big want-ad for bullies.  (For the record, I don't think the vast majority of today's cops and judges would qualify as bullies.  I think most of them genuinely want to do what is best for society and the law.)

The author points out lots of examples of people who literally got away with murder under the current system in order to protect the rights and freedoms of the public.  He thinks its sad that the public gets so upset about this and wrote the book to explain it to us.

To be fair, he acknowledges there are some real flaws in the system which need to be addressed.  But thus far he has missed a very crucial point.

The law is meant to reflect the values of the society it protects.  When we believed in segregation, it supported that but when we changed our minds, it changed too.  If the majority of people believe the system has become too complex and that the rules are too unfairly weighted towards the accused, then that needs to be addressed by laws.

Of course, part of the problem seems to be an ongoing contest and disagreement between police, lawyers and judges about how to handle the situation.  The complexity makes it easy to distort precedent.

I don't think the justice system should stand apart from society.  It does have an obligation to protect the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority but the rights of the public also need to be protected.  If the problem is that the law in question is unclear and prone to too many interpretations then that needs to be fixed at the source.  Too much speciality and complexity makes the law self-referential and then it loses touch with the society it is meant to represent.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Synopsis Workshop by Vanessa Kelly

The workshop wasn't given by my normal writing group so it was a little nerve-wracking to go among strangers.  But it was worth it.

I've always been a "pantser" (short for seat-of-my-pants), intuitively feeling my way through my original stories.  For my fan fiction, I was invariably doing a variation or expansion on an existing plot which meant most of the key points were already decided, not to mention all the character biographies.

But for my own fiction, letting myself wander often means missing the point entirely.

She suggested a very simple, but effective, technique.  Plot out the whole story using different coloured sticky notes, one per scene: pink for the heroine's point of view, blue for the hero's and another colour for the villain.  Then put them all up on a poster board.  It's a quick way to see if your story is balanced.  If one character disappears too much, then there's a problem.  If one character's point of view predominates too much then you should either change it all to their point of view or switch sides for some scenes.

She writes out each subplot on stickies, ensuring that she doesn't lose any subplots.  The stickies can then be moved around to appropriate points on the board.

Her point isn't that all this work is necessary.  After all, even a wandering novel can be tightened up in rewrites.  The point is that all this work helps to write a cleaner, tighter first draft, a must in genre fiction where editors expect two or three books every year.

I was really excited by the workshop and it's making me even more excited for the revision workshop coming up next weekend.  I hope it's just as informative and useful.

Monday 1 October 2012

Stuck In the Middle With You

Alex is giving us a conundrum of late. 

He's smart.  Every bit of evidence we have confirms it.  He's capable of quite detailed planning and shows a diabolical brilliance for outside-the-box problem solving.

He's physically adept.  From riding to skiing, we keep having to tell his instructors he's never tackled these particular tasks before.  He shows natural talent for every physical challenge we've thrown at him and consistently displays a sense of internal balance and core strength that most Cirque de Soleil performers would sell their souls for.

There is no reason why he couldn't keep up with (and occaisionally surpass) any child his age.  I may be his mother but I don't think I'm being biased when I say this: he could do anything he wanted.

Therein squats the toad of our conundrum.

He doesn't want to.

He's not socially motivated.  He's not reward driven.  And while a child who isn't vulnerable to peer pressure and doesn't pester his parents for toys sounds like a dream, it has a distinct down side.  Without those motivations, how do you get him to do the things he doesn't want to do: like go to school, sit down quietly and do the work the teacher asks him to do?  Or go to a sports club and participate as a member of a team or even just participate under the direction of a coach?

We're really stuck right now.  As much as we want to challenge him and share all the awesome things life has to offer, he is unable to participate with neurotypical children.  And if we stick him in the special-needs programs, he's bored out of his mind and doesn't want to do it either.

I have no idea how to go about getting him motivated.  Even the behaviour intervention plans all assume at their goal that a child is motivated by either social praise or reward.  I'll have to do some research and see if there's anything out there.