Tuesday 30 April 2013

Birthday Season Mayhem

I have 3 birthday parties to plan for 30 collective children in the next 21 days.

Postings will be irregular.


Monday 29 April 2013

Dialling the Cuteness Up To Eleven

This weekend, Nathan and I had a minor argument.  He wanted to watch TV when he'd already been told he couldn't. 

And so he threw a fit.  A proper little foot-stomping, shouting, look-at-me-like-I've-betrayed-him fit.

These things have little effect on me except in the restraint I have not to laugh in his face.  However appropriately childish his actions are, the feelings behind them are real and so I try to respect them.

Seeing that I wasn't being convinced by his display, he decided to pull out some big guns:  "If you don't say yes, I calling Memee!"

All right, little dude.  You want to threaten me with grandma?  Let's go.

He was disconcerted when I dialed the phone for him and gave him the receiver.

An interesting fact about my little guy.  He has huge overwhelming emotions, but he couldn't hold a grudge to save his life.  By the time my parents' answering machine came on, he'd forgotten about being mad.

He left a lovely long-winded message saying hi to Memee and Avi, followed by lengthly instructions on how the machine should get the message to their house.  Including detailed (if inaccurate) driving instructions. 

I love the image he created.  A little message, zooming around the city until it finds the right house.  Then it crawls inside the phone to wait to be picked up.

But he still didn't get to watch TV.

Sunday 28 April 2013

Taking The Online Plunge

Over the last few years I've been very frustrated when trying to pick up simple clothes in my size.  I'm a t-shirt and jeans kind of gal most of the time which sounds like it should be the simplest thing in the world to replenish.

Instead, I haven't been able to find much over the last 3 years.  The cuts aren't flattering and neither are the available colours.  And when I do find something, it's only in the tiniest and largest sizes, not mine.

This has been very frustrating, especially since it left me wearing some things which probably would have qualified me for What Not to Wear.

I decided to try the plus-size online options for typical clothing stores, such as Old Navy and Reitmans.  (It annoys the heck out of me that there are no stores where I can go to look at the material and cuts but that's a separate issue.)

I ordered some simple t-shirts and then sat back and waited to see how awful they would be.  Would the sizing be consistent?  I'd ordered tall so I also had to wonder if necklines would end up being indecently long for the playground.  Of course, if I'd ordered regular, I would have ended up flashing my belly and I'm a little past the age where that's flattering.

To my surprise, the clothes were acceptable.  Not great but acceptable.  Since I was in desperate need for replacements, acceptable was good enough.

Having to order clothes online bothers me.  I live in a relatively large city with a good economy.  I'm not particularly abnormally shaped or proportioned.  Yet I do not fit within the current standards of body image (as indeed, most women do not).  To me, refusing to carry clothes which fit me (although their brand does provide them) is a deliberate relegating of me to a second-class citizen.  I'm not good enough for other people to see me shopping at their store.  I'm a not a "desired" customer image for their brand.

As for plus-sized stores, I'm finding them to be more and more unpleasant to try and shop in.  Everything is expensive and boxy and the vast majority of it is unflattering.  (The number of plus size designers who use horizontally striped fabric boggles the mind.)

It's irritating and humiliating.  But apparently, it's how it's done.

Friday 26 April 2013

My First Likes

I joined Goodreads back in the fall and I've been endeavoring to put up a few reviews a week.  This effort has mostly gone unnoticed but in the last few weeks I've gotten notification of two "likes" on a review I wrote.

Interestingly, both are for the same reviewThe Human Predator: A Historical Chronicle of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation.  The book was interesting (provided you're interested in the darker side of humanity) but encyclopedic at times.  The author had an interesting theory that serial killers play out unacknowledged cultural tensions but didn't go into details as to why she felt this was the case.

Either way, it's still encouraging to note that my little online profile is growing. 

Thursday 25 April 2013

Party Update

There have been a surprisingly large number of people curious to know what will happen with the competing parties.  I thank everyone for their advice and input.

However, luckily, it has become a moot situation.

The other family made the extremely generous offer to move their party to the following weekend so that everyone could attend both parties and no one had to choose.

Dave and I had been trying to figure out an alternate date for Nathan's party but things get very cramped here during birthday season.  There are birthday events every weekend from now until the second week of June.  We actually began mapping everything out back in January-February just to make sure nothing got overlooked and we didn't end up overwhelmed.

I'm very thankful to the other family.  It would have been easy to stick to their guns and assume it wasn't their problem.  Instead, they chose to be generous.

Sometimes I get cynical about humanity in general.  Probably because I watch too many police procedurals and was a devotee of House (Everyone lies).  Gestures like this go a long way towards restoring my faith in the community at large.  People really can be considerate, even when there's no underhanded reason to be.  They're nice simply because it's the right thing to do.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Striving For Independence

One of the great fears I've had as a parent to an autistic child is my sleep-stealing worry that my sons may not be able to live independently.

This may sound like a helicopter parent's dream come true but I'm not a helicopter parent by nature.  And frankly, I don't think most of them would like to truly believe their child was incapable of independence.

It's always been a delicate dance of pushing them towards independence but also recognizing that some things are harder for them.  Take what should be a relatively simple task: getting Nathan to zip up his coat by himself.

Next year Nathan will be in grade 1 and there will no longer be a solicitous teacher there to help him with his gear.  For the most part, he's quite good about getting everything on and in the right order.  But he won't zip up his coat most of the time.

He will do it if he's excited about where he's going, which tells me he's capable of it.  But most of the time, he wants someone to do it for him.  I think it's part of an emotional test: if you help me, you must care about me.  He's quite anxious about being accepted and liked and tests a lot of boundaries to make sure people like him.  (It may sound contradictory but it's actually fairly common, especially among younger siblings.)

I find myself walking the fine line of making him do things himself while still making him feel loved and cared for and special.  Sometimes I flub the balance.  But I'm trying to get it right.

This drives my husband nuts.  His psychological motto is: just get him to do it so we can get going.  He sees my reassurances as encouraging Nathan in his non-cooperative behaviour.  He might be right but my instincts tell me that pushing too hard will shatter the security Nathan will need to move forward.  I think that being harsh will only encourage more "helpless" behaviour as Nathan seeks to soothe himself.

It's a tricky situation.  Most of the time I respect my husband's views on the children.  Since he has Asperger's, he can sometimes be faster at picking out what's bothering them.  I always take his recommendations seriously.  But sometimes, I have to stick with what I believe is right.  It's rare that we both feel strongly about an issue and have opposite views on how to accomplish it.

We both want the same thing: for our children to be independent and happy.  Unfortunately, there's no way to know which one of us will be right until it's too late to do anything about it.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Happy Birthday Boys

It is the beginning of birthday season for us and we started off with a family birthday party.  It's a little earlier than normal, but due to scheduling conflicts, it was the best option.

Nathan's been a little confused.  Usually we celebrate his birthday first, then the family party, then Alex's, then Mom and Dad's.  He keeps asking if the next day will be his birthday but he still has a few weeks to go at being five.

I went very low key for the decorations this year.  Last year I found adorable Dr. Seussian tissue puff-balls in the party store but it took me almost two hours to tease them into shape.  This year, I went with ready made options.
I do like the boys' pictures with the "Presenting Star Attractions" banner.  They are my little star attractions ... and probably the reason most of the family comes to the party.  Birthdays are never quite as much fun once children are no longer involved.
Alex's food sensitivities have always made birthday cake a tricky proposition.  A few years ago, we made a brilliantly obvious decision: ice cream cakes.  Alex likes soft serve ice cream and it saves me having to bake at least one cake.  Usually our local DQ has been good about making the whole cake from vanilla ice cream (no cookie crumb layer or chocolate soft serve).  This year, they forgot and Alex was not impressed.  He's doing better with food but dry crumbly cookie was enough to put him off it.  At least he liked the Elmo decoration.
He and Nathan did very well with sharing the candles.
Nathan immediately demanded a piece with Elmo's eyes.  I'm not quite sure why, but I was happy to comply.
They received a wide variety of toys.  The immdediate hits were a Playmobil Ferry set:
And a Pull and Go Thomas the Tank Engine toy which I could not get a picture of because Nathan has not let it go from his little fist.  They were given a generous amount of Lego which led to the following building project:
This is what happens when geeks have spare time and Lego.  A table top Lego maze which both boys marvelled at.  Nathan in particular was very excited about it and eager to participate.  Alex watched from a distance but he, too, got very excited about playing with it.  I'm hoping we can inspire him to use his Lego for more than laying out in patterns. 
All in all, it was a very good party.  The minor crises were managed, everyone seemed to have fun and the pacing didn't seem rushed or tedious.  Clearly, I'm starting to get better at this.

Monday 22 April 2013

Happy Earth Day

Happy Earth Day everyone.

It's time to remember just how dependent we are on this little blue marble spinning in a sea of stars.  We are all Children of Earth, trapped in a fragile contained ecosystem.

Maybe we'll skate past this particular crisis and maybe we'll blow ourselves back to the Stone Age.  It's hard to tell.

But for today, I'm going to take a little time to be grateful to this amazing, unique little planet.  It has cradled us and allowed us to expand our minds and souls to incredible heights.  Nature is a model of creative solutions and efficiency: Saharan desert winds blow sand to feed the South American rainforest and a spinning metal core protects us from cosmic radiation.

The Earth is just plain cool and we should all remember that.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Home Repair Weekend

As the weather warms up, it's time to get started on home repairs.  So after a fun-filled birthday party on Saturday (I'll do a post with pictures when I'm slightly less tired), I settled down and worked on retiling the roof on Sunday.

Of course, the fact that its a dollhouse roof and my tiles are made of bristolboard and I'm using regular glue should in no way take away from my accomplishment.

Those who have been following know that I have been working on restoring the dollhouse my grandmother made for me when I was child.  I'd been dithering about whether or not to reshingle the roof since I would have to cut all the shingles by hand.  However, a fair amount of the roof was missing its tiles, so I realized I really had to do then.  I'd hoped to find something suitable and cheap online but I've since discovered that dollhouse materials are not cheap.

So I sat down and started cutting out strips of tiles from bristolboard with an exactoknife.  It's been a long and tedious process (taking me through one and half movies of the director's cut of Lord of the Rings).  Having sliced and diced two sheets, I figured I had enough tiles for my next step: repairing the turret roof.

There was a fair amount of damage to the tower.  The octagonal roof had been smashed into pieces.  With an unusual amount of foresight, I realized it would be easier to retile the sections before gluing them back into a roof.  Here is my first try:

The two upper pieces are the original roof with the original tile.  You can see how much they've faded from the black strip along the side.  The middle one is the section I retiled.  I think my handcut tiles are a fairly good match for the machine cut ones originally provided in the kit. (You can see the tile strips I cut out at the top.)
I've always liked having something creative to work on while I'm stressed.  As much as I love writing, it doesn't work as well as an outlet.  What I write becomes contaminated by the upset I was trying to avoid.  But something practical that requires my hands more than my mind is perfect.  For the next little bit, this will be it.

Friday 19 April 2013

Perplexing Party Protocols

We've run into something of a dilemma this week. 

I sent out our birthday party invitations to Nathan's class.  In the afternoon, I got a response from a parent that another child in the class is having a party on the same day at the same time and in the same place.  (We're using a local facility with multiple party rooms.)

It's a literal popularity contest as the children have to choose which classmate's party to attend.  A parent's worst party-related nightmare (especially one who was never one of the cool kids to begin with).

But it gets worse.  Nathan didn't receive an invitation to the other child's party.

Was it deliberate?  Did the invite fall out or get lost?  Is he the only child not invited?  The lack of answers is driving me more than a little crazy.  I keep going back and forth, wondering what I should do?

One parent suggested I get in touch with the other mother and arrange for it to be a joint party.  But if Nathan was deliberately not invited, I'm reluctant to do it.  I don't want to make it socially awkward and resentful.

On the other hand, I do not want my little boy sitting there and watching his classmates go to someone else's party.  I think of him sitting there in an empty room with balloons and streamers and it makes me want to curl up and cry.

The other option is to move the party but the timing is a challenge.  Move it to when?  I'd already arranged a bunch of stuff from the cake to having someone to take care of Alex.

I really honestly don't know what to do and I'm desperately afraid of tripping over social expectations here.

The only thing I'm certain of is that I don't want Nathan to be aware of any of this.  He does not need the anxiety. 

Thursday 18 April 2013

Apparently Fat Suits are the New Blackface

I'll give you a minute because I certainly needed one after reading that sentence.

I've been reading The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos which goes over some of the logical and research flaws in the current media model where fat is just the first three letters of fatal.  As part of his argument that the reports are being driven more by public morality than the actual data, he examines society's attitudes towards weight.

In doing so, he draws a parallel between actors in fat suits and actors in blackface (for those who may not remember, "blackface" was a style of makeup where a white actor put on makeup to pretend to be black, often as part of a comedic, yet racist, punchline.)  At first, my reaction was to reject the parallel.  But after the initial shock wore off, I had to conceed that maybe the man had a point.

I had read an article years ago about how it was socially acceptable to make fun of fat people.  If sketch comedy writers (Air Farce, Saturday Night Live) are running short of ideas, they will stuff someone in a fat suit and have them eat uncontrollably.  Certainly movies like The Nutty Professor and Shallow Hal were basically long fat jokes.  And the jokes always seem to be based on a few key (and untrue) principles:

- it is ridiculous for a fat person to believe that he or she is attractive.

- fat people constantly overeat and watching them lose control over food is funny for the audience who can then feel superior

- fat people are physically weak and thus will not be able to complete basic physical tasks.

Even without the fat suit, you can see the same principle in The Drew Carey Show, where Kathy Kinney's character, Mimi, is protrayed as a deluded woman who thinks she's hot even though she's overweight with apparent colourblindness.  The movie Identity Thief, currently on its way out of theatres, has much the same basis for most of its humour.  Heck, Homer's weight jokes probably took up at least a third of the plot for The Simpsons.

I have to admit, this line of humour has always bothered me but I told myself I was taking it too personally and that I should just accept it as a joke.  I avoided movies and shows which seemed based on this plot-line.

Campos makes the point that the fat suit plays on an underlying disdain for the 80%+ of the population who counts as fat under current guidelines.  Just as the underlying comedic prinicple of blackface was that no one white would really chose to be black, so the main comedic shock of the fat suit is that no one thin would really chose to be fat.

The book is interesting and I'm sure I'll have another post about it once I've finished and had time to think over what Campos says.  I'm not sure that I agree with all of his arguments but he poses salient questions.  Right now, the one which has me thinking most is:

One of the core tenets of the weight loss industry is that with sufficient motivation, people can lose weight.  In today's society, there is no question that fat people are treated worse than thin ones.    If both these facts are true, why do the vast majority of the population "choose" to be fat with all the immediate and long-term negative consequences that implies?

I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on it.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Putting a Face and Price on Autism

This clip is from The Price is Right and it features a player who I would strongly suspect is autistic.  (This is my first time inserting a video clip and I apologize in advance for any technical difficulties.  Just in case, here's a link to the video on Youtube.)

If your family is newly diagnosed, I think this clip might be a great one for friends and extended family to see.  Michael shows a lot of subtle signs and provokes many of the typical reactions.

There are a lot of misconceptions about autism in the popular media.  People like to point to the character Sheldon on Big Bang Theory as an example of someone with autism.  But while Sheldon is certainly obsessive compulsive with poor social skills, he doesn't really match.  People also tend to equate autism with being a jerk, but missing social cues isn't the same as being hurtful.

Michael clearly has a prodigious memory for details.  He knows the exact price of the scooter and the fireplace.  He remembers that Bob is supposed to give him $500 for getting the exact price.  He knows exactly how to play the game, technically.

But he doesn't know how to play the "game" of being a contestant.  He's not smiling at the cameras (his face is impassive as he concentrates on the game, despite clearly being excited to be there), he doesn't pump the audience for suggestions, he doesn't wait for Bob to finish his patter, he doesn't act anxious about the outcome.

He has obviously learned some basic social steps (perhaps specifically for this trip).  He shakes Bob's hand before and after and is unfailingly polite and respectful.  He simply doesn't get some of the cues.  When he explains his opening bid, Bob and the audience laugh.  Watching his reaction, he's not sure if he's made a mistake.  He tenses, waiting to see if it is going to be a problem.  When Bob comments that Michael makes him feel useless, Micahel takes it as a serious concern and hastens to reassure him.  The audience laughs again and once more, you can see he's not quite sure why what they're reacting that way.

On Bob's side, there are a few brief moments where you can tell he is irritated by Michael's unusual social style.  He is a gracious host but he's also trying to keep up a certain level of tension to maintain interest and Michael isn't cooperating by being an anxious guest.  For six minutes of television, it's not so much of an issue.

But imagine how quickly the irritation could escalate if Bob were Michael's boss.  Or if they had to ride the bus together.  Failing to pick up social cues tends to make other people upset.  People don't like it when other people don't react the way they expect, even if they aren't being deliberately offensive.

If more people could recognize these sorts of subtle signs, then I think people with autism would be more generally accepted.  Michael's lack of eye contact and intent focus become a part of who he is rather than something other people need to take personally.  We would be more willing to celebrate their abilities rather than being offput by their differences.

April is Autism Awareness Month.  So maybe this is a good time to spread the word.

And remember how much a scooter costs.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Promotion Lessons from Justin Bieber's faux pas

There's been a mild buzz over Justin Bieber visiting the Anne Frank museum and leaving a note which basically says he believes she would have been a fan of his.

People have said this was crass and disrepectful, immature and irreverant.  All sorts of negative adjectives being hurled his way.

But it also can serve as a lesson in self-promotion.

In today's writing market, authors are having to do more and more to promote their books in a crowded arena.  When anyone can put their grand opus up via Smashwords (with all the bad grammar, spelling errors and plot holes intact ... not that I'm bitter) then the market becomes crowded with low quality products and it becomes that much harder to get attention for the good and great writers out there.  (And for the record, self-publishing is not a sign of low quality.  I've read many amazing self-published works, some of which were later picked up by the publishers who first turned them down because the readers recognized the quality.)

The articles and stories around Bieber's visit have put him in the easily distractable public eye once again.  I'm sure that he has enjoyed a slight increase in sales despite the publicity being negative.

This is one of those aspects that I struggle with.  Media-attention grabbing antics are not something I would be comfortable engaging in deliberately.  I might put my foot in my mouth sheerly by accident but planning to do it just strikes me as wrong.  Yet, a certain profile is necessary in order to achieve my self-stated goal of earning money as an author.

Monday 15 April 2013

Calling the Tooth Fairy

Mr. Nathan lost his first tooth.

At first, he was quite upset.  He came running into the kitchen in the morning, crying that he'd broken his tooth.  I thought he must have fallen and hurt himself so I insisted on prying his mouth open to have a look.

Everything looked fine to me.  Confused, I asked him to show me the "broken" tooth.  He wiggled one of his bottom teeth and began to cry more.

After a good cuddle, I explained that his baby teeth were getting loose so that his big teeth could come in.  (We had gone over this previously but it's still alarming when a piece of your body suddenly comes loose.)  After a bit, he stopped worrying that we would be mad at him and got interested again.

We talked about the tooth fairy and I told him a little story:

Far away, just past Neverland, is the beautiful world of the tooth fairies.  These tiny little winged people build huge, fantastical cities out of children's teeth.  They have elaborate castles, beautiful fountains and shining streets.  Everything gleams in the sunlight and the tooth fairies are very happy with their cities.

When children lose their teeth, they put them under their pillows and tooth fairies fly out from their city to collect them and leave presents.

This fantasy soothed and interested him and we went about our day.

That afternoon, the tooth fell out. 

I was in the middle of a phone call from work when Nathan came running, shouting for me at the top of his lungs.  I apologized to the client and said I would call back in a minute, certain there had been some kind of disaster.  (He's usually very good about not disturbing me if I'm working.)  He held out his little hand and proudly displayed a tiny chip of ivory.

"My tooth fell out and now the tooth fairy can come!"

We had a little party and I made him a little envelope to put the tooth in under his pillow.  (I cut a little strip about an inch wide and two inches long, folded it and taped the sides into a little pouch.)  I asked him what he thought the tooth fairy would bring.

"A toy and chocolate money!"

Okay.  Food for thought but not going to discourage him right now.  With that settled, I called back the client and got on with my day.

The next morning, the tooth fairy had left two small toys, a chocolate coin and a little note written in microscopic script on a 1 inch by 1 inch sheet of paper. 

Hi Nathan,
Thank you for the tooth.  It's beautiful!  I hope you like the toys and chocolate.
Vivi, Tooth Fairy

This is our first visit from a tooth fairy as Alex mostly swallowed or tossed his baby teeth and had no interest in putting them under his pillow or in getting anything.  All in all, I'm fairly satisfied with how it went.

Sunday 14 April 2013

Taking The Food Hill ... Step by Step

Last week we had quite a few accomplishments to celebrate.

First, Mr. Alex had his best introduction to a new food ever.  We've decided to target grilled cheese sandwiches as our next solid food introduction.  Grilled cheese is available at just about every family friendly restaurant and even more sophisticated places usually have bread with cheese as an appetizer.  If Alex were comfortable with eating that, it would open the door to have the whole family eat out without having to bring food for him. 

We started with toast with peanut butter.  He already likes bread with peanut butter so this is just a small texture step.  It only took him a few weeks to accept it.  Huge progress from the 18 months it took him to accept bread. 

Next step, toast with a small skin of melted cheese.  He took it right away.  No protest or bribing necessary.

He also independently decided he likes croissants.  Soft, sweet bread ... can't blame him for that.  They're now a handy portable snack for him and a great motivator to try new things.  We were at a family brunch and there was a plate full of croissants sitting in front of him as people passed around various dishes.  Suddenly we noticed that Alex had helped himself to a croissant and was happily breaking it into bits and stuffing it in his mouth.  At first we were sure it was a fluke but of the dozen croissants, he ate four of them.

And finally, our grand opus: the family dinner.  It's taken awhile for Alex to get comfortable with eating family dinner with the rest of us.  His distaste for solid food isn't just for himself.  He also hates watching other people eat it.  (Much in the same way I hate watching other people eat bugs ... call it cultural empiricism if you want but it's still gross.)

Usually he has his pureed food while Dave, Nathan and I eat a meal.  But this year, we've been working on getting him to eat pasta and he's learned to accept it with grace if not enthusiasm.  I decided it was time for the full on approach.

Last week, we all sat down to eat the same thing: a bowl of rotini pasta with spaghetti sauce and ground beef.  And Alex ate every bite. 

He wasn't happy about it and we needed to use the croissant bribe as an incentive, but he did it.  It's the first time we've ever had the same thing all together as a family.

Two years ago, I wouldn't have believed we'd see so many changes so quickly.  Clearly we've crossed some kind of tolerance threshold where each new introduction makes subsequent introductions easier to accept for him.  We still have to be cautious.  Each new food is still stressful for Alex and thus we try to give him a month between each new introduction before pulling out something new.

Our next pie in the sky dream: dinner out together as a family.

Friday 12 April 2013

The Tyranny of "Pretty"

In my wanderings through the Internet, I found this article "Daddy, Am I Pretty?" on the Good Men Project.  It's a letter from an anonymous father whose little girl came to him asking if she was pretty.  She'd been with a friend on the schoolyard when a boy asked them a question.  When she started to answer, the boy said "What does the pretty one think?"

It's a pain every woman is familiar with.  No one wants to have the identifying tag as the "other" girl.  No matter how much we focus on being fun, interesting, kind or any other worthwhile character trait, we want to be pretty, too.

Feminists and dozens of strong female role models tell us that "pretty" is limiting, a shallow, one-dimensional facet.  It's a ever-shifting goal post created by advertisers to get us to buy hugely inflated products of dubious worth.  It's something concocted and imposed and we would all be happier with beautiful spirits than poisoned with beautiful bodies.

Except most of us are still fairly certain the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Yes, an imposed one-size-fits-none standard of beauty is incredibly damaging and should be rejected.  But "pretty" is a more universal option.  Almost anyone can aspire to pretty.  And I don't think it's unhealthy.  We all want to be attractive.  We all want to be admired.

This would be a hugely difficult parenting dilemma if it had happened to me.  There would be so many messages I would want to convey, I would probably drown my poor daughter in them.

I would want to tell her the boy was being thoughtless and was probably trying to be funny, not thinking it would hurt her.

I would want to tell her that relying on an outsider's opinion of her looks is a waste of time.  Especially a chance met stranger.

I would want to march her over to a mirror and show her the incredible beauty of her smile, her eyes, everything about her.

I would want to tell her that looks are the smallest piece of the fabulous being that she is.

Most of all, I think I'd want to hold her and repress my urge to go hunt down the little snot who hurt my precious baby girl.  And then I'd want to scream at the society which says it's okay to judge a woman by her looks.  Too pretty?  Can't be competent.  Not pretty enough?  Well, that must be your own fault and thus we can judge you even more.  The magic zone eludes us all because there will always be someone who thinks it is amusing to put someone else down.  And we will believe the one jerk over the dozens of supportive, wonderful people telling us how marvelous we are.

We've all seen the jokes where the punchline is that a horrendously ugly woman (or man) thinks she (or he) is hot stuff.  No one wants to be that punchline.  And so with every criticism, we have to wonder: is it true?

I hope that one day we'll have a society built on self-confidence instead of insecurity (even though the economy will suffer because we'd buy a heck of a lot less).  But until then, we'll have to make do with as many hugs and compliments as our arms and tongues will allow.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Guns, Germs and Steel

Time to share a little geeking out.  A few months ago, I put my name on a library list for Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.  And now I finally have a copy to read.

I was intrigued by Diamond's theories in the Discovery miniseries of the same name.  He posits that Eurasia became the dominant civilization because of their environment.  A wide east-west corridor of similar climate without significant geographical barriers (like an ocean) allowed for the flow of technology via trade routes.  It also created a superpopulation where diseases could multiply and evolve.  This combination proved lethal when interacting with other civilizations.

Obviously the Discovery miniseries was simplified for easy digestion so I've been looking forward to reading his theories and evidence for myself.

I'm a big fan of parallel universes and alternate realities in fiction, thus I'm also usually interested in discovering how our current reality came into place and where it could have been altered.  One of the best alternate reality books I've read is Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus which prevents Columbus from leaving the Americas and prevents the New World-financed massive wars in Europe.  I'm curious to see if the alternate history will hold up under Diamond's theories.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

I Reject Your Reality And Substitute My Own

According to the weather network, we are supposed to get 15-20 cm of snow on Friday.

I realize Canada is traditionally portrayed as the land of 365 days-per-year snowdrifts but this is April.

Thus I am refusing to acknowledge the snow.  I'm channeling my inner Oprah and pretending that if I believe hard enough, it will be spring.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

My Criminal Minds Guess (Might be a spoiler)

This season the Criminal Minds team has been stalked by someone called the Replicator, who takes old crimes they've solved and recreates them.

I assume the finale this season will reveal the Replicator's identity but I'm going to take a stab at guessing.

I think the Replicator is Gideon. 

Gideon was a member of the team for the first two seasons, played by Mandy Patinkin.  He was a brilliant profiler, able to creep into anyone's mind and outguess them.  His girlfriend was violently murdered by a psychopath who made their games personal.  (This seems to be a common fate for significant others of team members ... which is bad news for my crushes on Matthew Gray Gubler and Shemar Moore.)  Gideon left the team (Patinkin went back to Broadway), saying he didn't want to look into the darkness anymore.

Here is my rationale:

The Replicator knows the team.  There are other behavioural analysis units but the Replicator focused on this one.  That makes it personal.

The Replicator is highly skilled at both manipulating others and staying unnoticed.  He not only kills people himself but convinces other people to become serial killers to throw the team off his scent.  That speaks to someone with amazing profiling skills.

The Replicator used the term "Zugzwang" which is a chess term.  It's the point in the game at which check mate is inevitable.  Gideon was a champion chess player, capable of beating resident genius, Dr. Reed.

And my final reason for believing it: it would be an amazingly cool twist in the series.

Have to wait until the end of the season to find out if I'm right.

Monday 8 April 2013

I Got Had

Today Nathan woke up with a bit of a fever, a very congested nose and complaining of an upset tummy.  Since his stomach had been bothering him yesterday, I let him stay home.  I told him we'd have a nap in the afternoon so he could get better.

Just before lunchtime, he came and cuddled up to me, sounding very sick and pitiful.

"Mommy, did I miss school?  Is it over?"

I gave him a hug and told him, "Yes, honey, school is over."

Immediately he perks up like a jack-in-the-box, all big eyes and smiles.

"I feel much better now.  I don't need a nap."

This will sound strange, but this is an excellent sign for his development.  It was a fairly elaborate deception to sound sick at first.  Lying requires the liar to realize that other people don't automatically know what they know.  This can actually be a challenge for some people with autism. 

There's a great anecdote about a husband with Aspergers who could not understand why his wife got upset when he went out without telling her.  After all, he knew where he was and what was going on.

As pleased (and amused) as I was with his performance, I still got the last laugh.

I insisted on a quiet time after lunch with him curled up on the couch to watch a movie on TV.  Ten minutes in, he was sound asleep.  So clearly, his acting abilities weren't stretched too much to claim he was sick.

But he's still going to school tomorrow.

Sunday 7 April 2013

Selling My Book

I'm not there yet but I'm hoping I will be soon.

Today's ORWA seminar was all about different ways to raise your profile and sell your books.  Even traditionally published authors are being expected to take a significant active role in promoting their books, so it's something anyone who wants to make money should know.

The advice came down to three areas: blog, Twitter and Facebook.  All of these can be used as tools to direct people to a website where they can purchase books.  It's familiar advice and I've heard it before but it always leaves me a little bit frightened.

I am not an intuitive social media user.  The format isn't something I'm comfortable with and I've never had much luck building up a "friend" circle of people I don't actually know.  However, I know it's something I'll have to learn.

The speaker advised us to get started on our platforms before we publish but I worry about audience fatigue.  I've already been blogging a year and I still don't have a book out to point people towards, even though I set my site up primarily as a writing site to promote my work.  Not smart timing on my part.

Having this blog has been good practice.  It's taught me some of my limitations and how to work around them.  Now I just need to move to the next step.

And actually finish my book.

Friday 5 April 2013

An Experiment

Last weekend, Alex came home with some lovely spring-themed craftwork: a giant egg cut out of bristolboard and painted in bright colours and a sheep face made out of a paper plate and cotton balls.

Nathan has a section of wall where I display some of his craftwork from kindergarten.  He has a half-dozen paper plate flowers, various paintings and other works.  I've wanted to have something similar for Alex, but his desire to shred usually triumphs. 

He's been better about shredding paper of late.  It's been over a month since I lost a book (although having said it, I'm probably going to lose two or three at once now) and so I decided to give it a try.  Maybe shredding paper was no longer satisfactory.  Sometimes children with autism do seem to grow out of these stims.

I put the sheep head and the egg on the back of his door, figuring on increasing my odds by making it less likely he would notice them right away.  If they could become part of the background, they'd have a better shot at survival.

It took less than two hours for the egg and sheep to be shredded into miniscule bits of confetti.  (Maybe we'll be lucky and if this fixation persists, he'll be a dream candidate for a shredding company.)  It was disappointing but not entirely unexpected.

I'm sure I will get heat both for allowing him access to the artwork to destroy and for expecting him to destroy it.  But I made a deliberate choice to give him a chance.  It can be very easy to stay in a rut when your child has autism, to avoid the inevitable headache of introducing new things or the building frustration of repeating patterns of behaviour.  But I think it's important to try.  Otherwise, you'll never know what potential is there.

I was listening to another parent awhile ago complain how tired she was of listening to her son watch Disney cartoons.  He'd fixated on them when he was three and at seventeen, it was still all he watched.  I wondered if she'd ever tried introducing different films and television shows (it's not impossible that she did and failed, I never did ask).  Alex still adores the Wiggles but I'm slowing introducing him to other options.  Thus far he's warmed to 80's musical movies and Star Wars.  Not so much to Spongebob Squarepants. 

I can see he's comforted by the familiarity of the Wiggles but also getting bored with them.  He only wants to watch his favourite parts over and over again (sort of the same way I watch The Avengers these days).  I'm lucky that he's fairly tolerant of small changes, as long as he's not denied his favourites.

Thursday 4 April 2013

Breaking Into New Territory

A friend of mine from ORWA have set up a biweekly writers afternoon.  Our sons are the same age, so we get together and let the boys play while we write.  Thus far, it's actually working fairly well.  We're disciplined enough to write instead of chat and the boys have enjoyed their time together.

It wasn't a secret that I hadn't written anything since our last writing afternoon but between pulling out the laptop at Nathan's Beaver meeting and the writing afternoon, I got two and a half chapters done.  Over 5000 words total.

Every time I have a gap, I find myself afraid to look at what I've previously written.  Will it seem silly and stupid now that I'm no longer immersed in it?  (And if you don't believe that's a real phenomena, you've never gone back to look at things you wrote in high school.)

Maybe I'm delusional, but the story still strikes me as good and interesting.  Something I'd want to read.

Of course, I did end up with a rather peculiar bit of writer's block.  I have my hero and heroine's first kiss before a rather exciting plot twist.  As I was writing the kiss, I was eager to jump ahead to the next section.  Which made for one of the dullest first kiss descriptions ever in the history of the world.  And I could not for the life of me come up with something better in the moment.

So I decided to leave it as is with a big bold FIX THIS in the text.  Maybe when I start watching more romantic comedies and less dinosaurs eating people, then I'll be in a more romantic mood.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Love is Cleaning Up Sh*t

Earlier this evening I had a good laugh about this cracked.com article about love.  It goes over different types of love and rates them:

Love is never having to say you're sorry: 1 out of 5 hearts.

Love is mind-blowing orgasms: 1 out of 5 hearts.

Love is never arguing: 1.5 out of 5 hearts.

Love is being someone's hero: 2 out of 5 hearts.

Love is cleaning up sh*t: 5 out of 5 hearts.

True enough.  If you can love someone after cleaning up their BMs, that's not going away any time soon.

Which is why I know parents of special needs children really love them.  Because for a not-small percentage of us, we face a potential lifetime of cleaning up sh*t.  And we're still there.

I've just spent a half hour cleaning it up.  I have no real expectation of that situation changing any time soon.  And it doesn't matter.  (Okay, it does but not in a way which counts.) 

This is a badge of honour.  Of a war which is fought not because of plans of victory but because it needs to be fought.  Of parents who do not give up no matter what is thrown at them. 

Because we love our children and we stand beside them.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

I Find Your Lack of Faith ... Disturbing

I've been doing a lot of thinking about mistakes lately.  I've always had perfectionist tendencies but I realized they hindered me more than they helped.  I was paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake, any mistake, no matter how trivial.

This is one of the things I'm trying very hard not to instill in my own children.  I read books like The Joy of Doing Things Badly and Better by Mistake to remind me that in order to learn, we have to be willing to be less than perfect.  And that results shouldn't define enjoyment.

That said, a few days ago I was feeling very frustrated at being micromanaged.  When I sat down to pin down my thoughts to figure out why this was bothering me so, I realized it was all about mistakes.  When someone micromanages another person, it not only indicates a complete lack of faith in the other person's abilities, it reinforces the message that mistakes are intolerable.  After all, the only reason to exert such a level of control is to ensure that nothing goes wrong.  People who believe they can't do anything right themselves rarely bother to enforce their views on someone else.

No wonder it struck so hard.  Not only does it imply incompetence (an accusation which irritates me faster than almost any other) but it also reinforces the old poisoned messages that failure is not an option.  That it is so unacceptable as to require complete taking over, regardless of consequences.  That even the opportunity to do it right must be denied.

In other cultures, mistakes are seen as an opportunity to learn, a value-neutral method of evaluating levels of skill.  This is a concept which is almost unfathomable to a North American mind.  Imagine a school where children's errors are brought up in class and used as a teaching opportunity.  Imagine it being done without scarring the children in question.

Dr. Phil often points out that people can be right or they can be happy.  This advice is usually directed at feuding couples who insist on dragging out details of an incident which happened over a decade ago.  But I think there's a deeper logic to it.  If I don't have to worry all the time about being right, if it's okay to be wrong, if it's possible to be wrong and still be a worthwhile and good person, then that's a lot of psychological weight off my shoulders.  Because no one is right all the time and it takes a phenomenal amount of energy to try.

Monday 1 April 2013

Back to Work

Between Autism on the Hill and the Easter weekend, this has not been a good week for writing.

Time to buckle back down and work on getting the draft of Revelations done.

Sometimes I wonder if these gaps in productivity are part of a subconscious fear of failure.  Do I subconsciously set myself up with far too much to do so that I'll have a good excuse for failure?  Or is this simply the realistic result of the commitments I've made in life?

Hard to tell.  But I only have 3 months left where the boys will be in school and it's going to be much harder to be productive when they're both home.