My aunt had a helper named Nora. Nora came weekly to clean the house, organize whatever she hadn't already encapsulated in a succession of Ziploc bags, and take care of the laundry. Like Jack Aubrey's Preserved Killick, she was absolutely steadfast and, although hilarious, also a little bit terrifying. When I visited my aunt I'd invariably find these weird agglomerations of stuff, all organized after a fashion, but in arrays that made no sense: a plastic bag containing three rubber bands; several used fabric softener sheets, each folded with naval precision; a plastic bag containing another several plastic bags, nested matryoshka-style; a handful of foreign change; a shower cap from a hotel; and several tiny tubs of non-dairy creamer, like: what? And I'd ask my aunt what those things had in common, what Nora could possibly have been thinking, and she would placidly answer, "Whatever Nora wants is perfectly fine with me." Well, okay, then. Back into the glove compartment it goes.
I only heard my aunt complain about Nora once. "She was sitting on the sofa folding laundry when R. came over," she said, speaking of a male friend of hers. "It was all socks and underwear, and she just kept...on...folding! Nora picked up a pair of my drawers," demonstrating by stretching out her arms to about four feet apart, as if her smallclothes had been gigantic, "and just kept...on...folding!" With that she shook out her imaginary underpants so extravagantly that you could imagine her taking flight, and continued, "Right in front of R.!"
And this has nothing to do with anything, except that I thought about it this weekend when we had houseguests. (God, they are lovely people; they made everything -- everything! -- easier and more fun, and I mean that beyond the carload of liquor they brought.) Specifically, I felt relieved that I'm honest here about our life, because nothing destroys your pretensions like having people in your home, seeing how you really live. It's like those clean-your-house-quick-for-company tips, that involve things like putting your unwashed dishes in the trunk of your car or someplace. That's fine for the duration of a quick cup of coffee, but any more than that and someone's bound to need a set of jumper cables, or possibly flap out your step-ins.
Because -- I am getting to the point, but slowly, as is my way, and excruciatingly, as is also my way -- Charlie lost his shit on Sunday. He and our friends' son had been playing pretty well up to that point, but there had been indications that Charlie was getting a little edgy, and I didn't pick up on them quickly enough. It wasn't that anything extraordinary happened; I think it was just the continuing fact of having another kid around, someone he was expected to play nicely with and defer to in some things, and being decidedly off routine...you know, just. And after dinner, when there was a dispute about a toy both boys wanted, Charlie simply exploded.
It was the kind of wobbly he hasn't pitched in months, but the sort of thing we've seen before. I didn't expect it, but its intensity didn't shock me, especially when I later considered the lead-up. I was embarrassed, not only because it happened but because I agonize over how to handle it even when no one else sees it. Mortified because I didn't see it coming, and by now I should have learned to do that, and to help Charlie by taking some of the pressure off when that happens. Even now I'm squirming a little bit to know we showed so badly. But if our friends hadn't known before, if I hadn't been honest here, how much worse it would have been. I'm grateful that our friends were so kind about it; I'm also glad, for many reasons, that I tell us like we are.
Here is the only thing I have to say about Rep. Anthony Weiner: He repeatedly introduced into Congress the Family Building Act, calling for insurance coverage for infertility treatment. Just thought I would point that out, lest his wang overshadow his work.
Charlie's evaluations continue. Yesterday, on a day that topped 90 degrees, one of the assessors sent him home with Silly Putty, which immediately melted into a runny, sticky web, instantly indivisible from everything it touched. Although Charlie said it was a reward for participating cheerfully in the process, I can only see it as an additional test: how long it takes your mother to give up, saying, "Screw it, it's just a ruined T-shirt. And a pair of shorts. And socks. And his hair. And duodenum."
Now let me see: card table house...
Yeah. Hey, good thing summer's nearly over, huh? Because I've pretty much shot my wad.
A few weeks ago a note came home from school, coolly informing us that current kindergarteners would be out of school for two days in May, to allow the upcoming class to visit and familiarize themselves with the school. Nowhere on the official calendar did this interlude appear, so I was surprised, and I confess it: I get a little squirrelly when the school starts throwing around official-sounding phrases like, "Jesus, would it kill you to care for your own kid for a couple of days, lady?" Therefore I did the obvious thing and overreacted. I planned a trip to Montreal.
A couple of years ago Charlie and I took a trip together, a quick flight over to Ohio to pick up some furniture from my parents' house and then a much longer slog home in a U-Haul. My time with Charlie was fantastic, but the 14' truck was frankly kind of a dick, so I remembered those 750 miles with ambivalence. But to Charlie, it turns out, it was all good: a hotel pool, carte blanche with the snacks, and my mostly undivided attention -- mostly, because I did occasionally break into his conversation with an expletive or two while I wrestled the truck through, like, one-lane mountain passes and rickety rope bridges and over roiling volcanoes and shit.
But we'd been thinking about how nice it had been to have a couple of days with each other, so we did it again. At the Biodome I watched Charlie vacillate between an assumed hauteur -- That for your frisky tamarins. I distinctly remember being promised there'd be unicorns -- and bursts of untrammeled enthusiasm. Seeing his incredulity when I spoke French, I showed off a bit and inevitably came a cropper one morning when I accidentally asked our serveuse for another cup of René Lévesque was the son of a whore, cream and sugar, ess vay pay. We basked in the history and immersed ourselves in the vibrant cultural life of one of North America's oldest cities. Haaaa, psych, no, as if: We swam in the hotel pool.
But the highlight for us both was a trip in a jet boat. The boat buzzes down the St. Lawrence River, plunges crazily through the Lachine Rapids for about 20 minutes -- crazily, as in GIANT WALL OF WATER HA HA HA HA OH GOD NOT THE FACE WHOOOOOOOO HA HA HA IT'S PROBABLY GOING TO KILL US ALL HEE HEE HEE HEEEEEEEE THERE ARE TROUT MATING IN MY SINUSES AGGGGGGGGGGH ohIhopewedothatagain -- and then buzzes back to the dock just as you start to notice exactly how wet your underpants have gotten. Luckily we'd been advised to bring a change of clothes, including underwear, because by the end we were indeed soaked to the skin, despite three layers of Polarfleece, a waterproof jumpsuit, a life vest, and a poncho. If you happen to find yourself in Montreal, and if you enjoy thrill rides and inhaling ice-cold quarts of river water -- wait, no, metric and French, I meant quelques kilomètres de Celine Dion thumping her chest as if the entire Parti Québecois were lodged in her windpipe frigide -- do check out Saute Moutons [noisy auto-loading video].
And that plug was unsolicited and uncompensated, unless you count the fact that after the ride, when I declined, with a squawk of laughter, to purchase this photo, they kindly gave it for free:
Every once in a while I get the opportunity to do this, to drop everything and appreciate my kid. Oh, on a busy day I can take five or ten minutes at a time, focus solely on Charlie or Ben, and sustain myself with it, sure. Tune out the inessential garbage of our everyday lives for just long enough to reaffirm the whole point of the inessential garbage, the chores, the discipline, the count-to-ten-to-keep-my-patience: to make what's precious possible. But to do it for a couple of days at a time, when my only jobs are to keep my child alive and to delight in him -- well, merci, Montréal, pour le Cirque du Soleil freaks me right the fuck out parfaitement merveilleux.
Okay. I have fifteen minutes to devote to the latest linkbaity sensation: the Canadian parents who have decided not to reveal their baby's sex, as a way to change the world a little when it comes to the way we think about gender.
And mostly I think it's just goofy, the kind of story where you double-check your browser's location bar to be sure you're not reading the Onion. Part of me, however, appreciates where the parents are coming from, if not the way they're getting there; yes, we are fucked up when it comes to our tendency to fall back lazily on gender norms, even -- maybe especially -- at our children's earliest age. But another part of me is irritated by what seems like the parents' eagerness to talk the talk, without a corresponding willingness to walk the walk.
The baby doesn't concern me much. Instead I keep thinking about five-year-old Jazz, one of the baby's older brothers, a kid who wears his long hair in braids and likes to wear a poofy pink dress.
Jazz was old enough for school last September, but chose to stay home. "When we would go and visit programs, people — children and adults — would immediately react with Jazz over his gender," says Witterick, adding the conversation would gravitate to his choice of pink or his hairstyle.
That's mostly why he doesn't want to go to school. When asked if it upsets him, he nods, but doesn't say more.
Now, I know we can't know the entirety of it, but it doesn't sound like anyone was truly harassing the kid; it sounds more like the kind of getting-to-know-you stuff children do. If this is true, why was the parents' response to keep him out of school rather than engaging the issue productively? Why not teach through these difficult moments, rather than absenting yourself from them?
I should say here that I disagree in principle with making a child a mouthpiece for any particular political or social agenda ("some people believe" notwithstanding). But assuming that Jazz's inclinations truly are pretty-princessy, well, don't you then owe it to your kid to show him how to broker these encounters? And if you're not willing to work actively to change the world in this most basic of ways -- by helping your kid learn how to be comfortable with himself in a society that's sometimes hostile, by helping other kids learn how not to perpetuate the problem -- well, don't you forfeit whatever moral high ground you're claiming by grandstanding about a baby's sex?
I guess I just mean that I'm all for changing the world, as imperfect as it is, but I'm also strongly opposed to refusing to equip kids to live in it. Forget what Storm's carrying around in (s)he(is)r(ie')s diaper; that is what bothers me about this story.
What do you think?
Þlightly amuþing Þursday
Three things you might find funny, or maybe it's just me:
A couple of weeks ago I got a pitch in my e-mail for Ina May Gaskin's new book, Birth Matters: A Midwife's Manifesta. (I am not exactly sure what earns that word its terminal A, except perhaps that the book pertains to the vagina, noun, f., and not the testiclos.)
Gaskin, if you don't already know, is kiiiind of a big deal all up in your straining cervix; she's regarded as "the mother of modern midwifery" who has, it is fair to say, revolutionized non-hospital birth in the U.S. And however you feel about birth, whatever you believe about how it is best accomplished, no matter how hard you search for the missing F that makes us say midwifffffery, if you're interested in reproductive topics you don't immediately chuck that e-mail without reading it, the way you would the fourth — seriously, four — message reminding you that May is Pregnancy Awareness Month, Exclamation Point! Thank you, yes: I am aware that pregnancy exists.
So I read the mail, or started to, but I got hung up on the second line, which referred to "the magic key to safe birth: respect for the natural process."
And then sent a nice note back: "My blog is not, perhaps, the best advertisement for that natural process." And did not add any helpful advice about where to shove that magic key.
Speaking of respecting that ol' natural process all like I do, HA HA HA HA 15 EGGS ohhhhh. I love to laugh.
Wait, I'll let you in on the joke. Seems researchers have found that the optimal number of eggs to retrieve in a single IVF cycle in order to achieve a live birth is...15.
We didn't have that many mature eggs total over the course of many cycles, including our donor cycle. I'm glad we didn't know at the time that 15 was some sort of magic number. Otherwise we might have started thinking fertility treatment sucked or something.
And now for something completely different: A million years ago I used to be slightly famous on the Internet. This was back when I was in college, before Mark Zuckerberg founded Apple, when we were all still watching YouTube on 8-track in our Oldsmobile Cutlass Supremes. Men outnumbered women on the net then by about 17,000,000,000 to one, and I was one of those ones. And I was kind of cute, which I guess you could tell in those prehistoric ASCII times by the perky way I typed my @s, so I achieved some popularity.
I also got some dates. When a local gentleman ventured to chat me up online, I was generally willing to meet him, at least, and that is how I met Bloodaxe.
Face to face, he introduced himself by his Christian name, and he was exactly what you imagine when you think of someone who went by Bloodaxe online circa 1990: the sun-kissed outdoorsy type, gifted with an innate social ease, owning absolutely no clothing with wolves on it. Or, you know, exactly the opposite. I want to tread carefully, because he was a really nice guy and I don't want to make fun of him here. (That comes later in the story.) So just conjure a picture for yourself and I promise you won't be far wrong.
And he was perfectly pleasant, if you could get past White Fang there, so when upon our first meeting he invited me to the Founder's Ball, an event my school put on every three years, I accepted with pleasure. I duly poured myself into a beaded cocktail dress and tottered off to meet my destiny, who stood that night a full foot shorter than I in my ill-advised 4" stilettos. Which was only a problem, really, when we began...to waltz.
Waltz. It was that kind of ball.
But he was a sport and I was a sport, so we waltzed as best we were able. That is to say my heel only nearly tore through his Achilles' tendon every time we attempted a turn, and I only mostly died of embarrassment every time my chin brushed the top of his head. I will not speak of the single attempt he made, defying physics, to dip me.
We left shortly thereafter, before the ambulance could get there.
But the evening wasn't over yet. With exquisite delicacy and a becoming diffidence he asked me back to his room to continue this pleasurable congress; he was enough of a gentleman that I agreed, not fearing his advances.
Free advice, my Internet friends: Fear his advances. Fear them.
An unexpected snow had started to fall, disrupting his plans for us to sit outside. Instead he shooed out his roommate, who'd been studying at his desk. Topology mid-term be damned: this night was made...for love.
He dimmed the lights. He lit some candles. He spread a fake fur throw on the three feet of floor separating the room's twin beds and invited me to sit. My spike heels, my sheath dress, and I prudently chose a chair.
He offered me a glass of champagne from his cube of a dorm room fridge. And if I was the woman and this was the wine, could the song part be far off? Alas, it seemed it could not, because Bloodaxe took out a lute and then began to sing.
I don't remember what he sang; I'm not sure I noticed then, so intense was my horror, so loud was the shrieking in my head. Let's say it was olde and mystickal, though, as it would have been in character.
Plinka plinka oh cryngeing lady fairest of alle thinge plinka plinka longinge steales upon me lyk a hœngrye grue plinka plinka strummity strum treue of love, her knyght so bold plinka plinka more comely stille than Deanna Trói plinka plink ye Ren Faire soone attending...
The only saving grace was that he did not crouch on the fake fur at my feet to sing. He sat on the bed instead. The throw lay dead there between us, a lustrous gulf of Oh Hell No that he mercifully did not cross.
It was awful. Somehow I kept my composure, not so much out of kindness — because he was a nice guy, and surely kindness was called for — but because I was frozen by the awkwardness of the entire scene. I don't care how nice you are; you just don't serenade on the first date. Busting out a lute is like third base, dude.
But my composure would not last. He had hardly finished his song, its plangent nøtes still echœing in the ær, and I had barely begun to untwist out of my involuntary convulsion of embarrassment, when he produced a little book. It was a plain black notebook, its pages much thumbed, and he held it up to show me, before uttering the seven little words that freed me from my chair:
"Would you like to hear my haiku?"
Reader, I married him.
Hahahaha, no. I just slandered him on the Internet 20 years later.
Hahahaha, yes. Well. Because he was a nice person, I left decently, suddenly noticing, my, how late it had gotten! I thanked him nicely for a lovely evening and assured him that he need not escort me home. NO, REALLY. If I am menaced by a bear I will simply gouge its eyes out with the fearsome point of my shoe, which incidentally provides excellent traction in the inch of snow that has fallen, and you probably wouldn't think so but these tiny cap sleeves are actually quite warm, so, thanks, but I wouldn't care to borrow a coat, and NO, REALLY. I WANT TO WALK HOME ALONE. The snow has stopped! Probably! Almost, anyway! It's fyn! Marry, I lyk it welle! The ære out here is só criðp!
And none of this story has a point at all, except as an illustration, I guess, of what a tool I was and still am, that I find this whole thing hilarious. Recently an old boyfriend found me on Facebook, and it got me thinking about those college years. Out of idle curiosity I Googled Bloodaxe and a few other relevant terms last night, to see if he'd left any online traces from that time — a post in the school's Usenet gaming groups was honestly all I'd expected.
I didn't know his last name — hadn't known it even on our date — so I didn't expect to find much. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found him in one of the school's publications, an official document that indicated that Bloodaxe...was his last name. His legal name. The name he actually goes by. Like, when telemarketers call his house, they ask for Mr. Bloodaxe.
I waltzed with a man named Bloodaxe. With Bloodaxe did I quaff the elixir of the grape. I fled the haiku of Bloodaxe, and I lived to tell the tale.
And when I found out that was his real, for-true name — assumed, I am sure, and not inherited, although now probably one of you will tell me that, actually, when your ancestors arrived at Ellis Island in 790 they were known as the Bloodaxekovskeviches — I had qualms about telling this whole story. I mean, who wants to Google themselves and find some asshole laughing at your earnest 20-years-ago self, when your only crime was that you worked very, very hard to show a girl a harmless good time?
But then I realized that when you Google Bloodaxe, really, all you get is results like these:
...not one of which is wearing a wolf T-shirt. And I decided it was probably okay. I think he or his kids or employers are frankly unlikely to find this. After all, I'll never be Ynternet-fæmous ynough to outrank Wikipedia.
Posted by Julie at 12:13 PM | Comments (59)
The Thursday assortment
Is it weird, I wonder, that I don't exactly know how the first part of Charlie's evaluation went? Sure, we went in and met the evaluator, a pleasant guy with a disarming manner. We answered his questions, filled out his forms, and laughed only a little hysterically when he asked whether there was anything unusual about Charlie's birth or infancy. (This is a big step down in intensity from my normal response, which involves falling into a seizure of hilarity, lying on the floor and maybe kicking a little depending on how tough the room is, and then maybe shrieking, "That man stole my wallet!" if I feel the need to create a diversion.)
He took extensive notes and asked good questions, my favorite being "What's great about your kid?" It felt good to be able to reel off six or seven things without missing a beat, which is ridiculous; any parent worthy of the name could do that. Still, it seemed like a useful indicator of how beaten down we're actually not: "Charlie is funny, cheerful, inventive, affectionate, clever, curious, adventuresome" comes easily without a "...but."
And he explained in great detail the kind of one-on-one work he'd be doing with Charlie during the day. He was also going to meet with Charlie's teacher and spend time in the classroom observing not just Charlie, but Charlie in juxtaposition with a representative child, for the sake, I guess, of contrast. All fine, all good, and when Charlie came home he said it was fine, and good: so I still don't know how it went.
Really, that's all he said, beyond showing me the toy he'd been allowed to keep, a water-filled glittery rubber mace. (...What?) And because it felt slightly absurd to grill him — "He had you repeat words back to him? Which words? Do you remember? Try. It's important." — that's pretty much all I got. For the rest, we wait for the next phase of testing; then we wait for results.
So I think it went okay, but it does feel strange to know that someone somewhere is thinking about, tallying up, working on my kid, in a way I'm not currently privy to.
Ben cried in the car the other day, really wailed, fat tears rolling, button nose streaming. Why was our toddler crying? "Because I can't find my eyebrows."
Every year on the first Sunday in May, my town celebrates All Species Day. It's exactly what it sounds like, a celebration of...everything. People dress in elaborate costumes, salute various natural forces, dance around a drum circle, and generally get their grateful hippie on under the warm spring sun.
The suit itself is impressive — rather Acme Bat Man, actually — even though it's mended visibly in several places by what appears to be black electrical tape. I thought about mentioning it and offering a fix but worried he'd peck out my liver.
Oh, and that burning thing there in the foreground? It's a torch. Made of a roll of toilet paper. That's been soaked in biodiesel. Happy flaming Beltane!
The costumes are generally fantastic, really inspired, and represent I don't know how many hours of effort. (Unless you're me, whose creative zenith thus far has been a gray sweatsuit for Charlie supplemented by a long felt tail: "You're a mouse. Or a rat. Or possibly a lemur. Let's hang you from this branch and see." This year I stuffed Ben into a too-small Elmo shirt and declared that my work here was done. Elmo is too a species, pained-looking man whose kid just went apeshit. I believe you when you say you don't have a TV; all I'm observing is that your toddler loves Elmo, too. So stop glaring and blessed be.)
Anyway, there are lobsters and centipedes, hummingbirds and jellyfish, trout and birch trees and sunflowers. There are guys dressed as Hobbits and forest gnomes, not so far from their usual look. There are pregnant women in tie-dyed Spandex with their bellies exposed, giant and gleaming, blue-veined white in the sun. There are babies dressed as larvae and one boy dressed as Pikachu.
There are two or three dozen white geese held aloft on poles, my favorites. I squeal to see them every year. They are carried nearly ten feet high, and appear, to my delight, at every parade this town ever has. (Ours is a big puppet area. By which I mean both that we have a lot of them, and they are huge. And certainly not at all creepy. Nope!)
There are marching cows of virtue: Wisdom. Justice. Compassion. ...Vocational Training. You know, the traditional virtues. (Funding for the Arts cow wanted me to tell you that Alternative Energy cow headed back to his car for a minute. No, wait, shit, I mean his bike. His recumbent bike, if you really must know, made entirely from free-trade organic...bicycle parts...and why are we even discussing this, anyway? What have you got against Peace, Tolerance, and Adult Literacy? What are you so afraid of?)
From the fire circle in the park to the leisurely parade down the hill, the whole thing culminates on the state house lawn downtown. There are musicians. A maypole. A flutter of dancers in white. Charlie and Ben tangled on the grass, half-wrestling and half-napping.
I love this day. I love this town. Days later, I'm still smiling, even though I'm also still itching from what I think were probably wood ticks.
Today volunteers from all over the country are in Washington, DC as part of RESOLVE's Advocacy Day. They're asking for a tax credit for infertility treatment costs; for Congress and the CDC to reinvigorate the National Action Plan for Infertility; and for greater awareness of the impact of infertility and the current barriers to care. Thank you to everyone who's there, to everyone who's meeting with their legislators locally, and to RESOLVE for channeling our energy and frustration into meaningful action.
Posted by Julie at 02:57 PM | Comments (32)
I just had this epiphany. This morning I read a piece of celebrity news that irked me. Or rather it wasn't the news itself -- producer/songwriter Kara DioGuardi, formerly of American Idol, is trying to conceive -- but the way it was reported.
At a book signing for DioGuardi's recent memoir, Access Hollywood asked her what she hopes to accomplish next. "I’d like to have a baby," she said. "I don’t know, I've been having a lot of sex, but it's not working. I'd like to succeed at that, if my damn body would get with the program."
Yeah, if only; in this memoir, DioGuardi reveals that she's undergone three unsuccessful IVFs so far. So naturally the story about her attempts to get pregnant begins...
"Kara DioGuardi appears to be having a good time while she and her husband try to grow their family!"
Yeah, boy, Access Hollywood, you sure picked up on the salient point there. Infertility sex is a blast. Nothing more frolicsome than getting it on by the calendar, and sometimes even the clock, and if you're really far gone, the stopwatch. What a romp it is, gazing lovingly into your partner's eyes and whispering throatily, "I know you're tired and need to get up early and have that thing going on with your neck, so you can just lie there while I do all the work"! I mean, what could be better than doing it solely because not doing it is going to make you cry?
My point is, it's hard to think of anything less fun than the sex associated with hardcore infertility, as compulsorily frequent as it is. I don't know, a colonscopy? Performed by a swarm of live bees? While listening to Jack Johnson?
Yet that's what Access Hollywood takes away from it: She sure is hitting it regular. Woooo!
And I was fuming about this when it suddenly hit me. I've been frustrated in the past when celebrities were, oh, let's say less than forthcoming about the fertility challenges they might have faced. (I totally said might, y'all. Progress!) Let me be clear: I don't think anyone has some automatic sacred right to know about anyone else's personal business. When anyone does share, I think it's a gift, so that's not what I'm suggesting. No, what's disappointed me in the past was rather the missed opportunity, the actively declined opportunity, to do a very specific kind of good in the world, one that I know has enormous benefits to people I care about: Be open. Fight the stigma. Disprove the myths, simply by being who you are and owning it.
I don't think we're owed it, but I still wish people would do it, and for that I thank Kara DioGuardi, Carefree Avid Sex-Haver. But reading that article this morning, something new occurred to me, and it gave me an enhanced compassion for people in the public eye who deal with infertility. It was this:
For every one person who says something stupid to one of us plain old normals, there are fifty saying it to the famous. On camera and in print, with headlines like, "Kara DioGuardi Having a Lot of Sex in Hopes of Getting Pregnant." Today for the first time I was moved to imagine what it would be like to open a magazine and read, "Julie Robichaux, After Three Failed IVFs, Is Having the Goddamn Time of Her Life."
That...that's not such a pleasing thought, and inspires in me a new understanding for why some public figures stay quiet. Because it's one thing to hear it from your dumb brother-in-law -- "We want a baby, but we're having trouble." "Well, at least you get to have fun trying," complete with a waggle of the eyebrows and a leer that makes me want to slap him, God, I mean, I'm sorry, I don't care how much money he's loaned you; I've always hated your brother-in-law -- and another thing entirely, I suspect, to hear it from UsStarPeopleToday.com. Plus your brother-in-law. And probably Jack Johnson. And bees.
I didn't exactly bust a myth here (and may even have promulgated one myself, since surely there are couples who do somehow manage to stay matrimonially freeea-kaaay during a long slog through infertility, although, ahem, video or it didn't happen), but in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week a bunch of other brilliant bloggers have. If you're not in the know about infertility, why not find out more?
Posted by Julie at 11:42 AM | Comments (26)
This week we signed the papers to initiate an evaluation. "For autism," said the special educator, making an X near the signature line on one particular form. As we signed I wondered how many parents hear that word so baldly stated and want to correct him. No, no, I think you made a mistake. You don't mean autism. You mean Asperger's. Or "something on the spectrum." Or...I know what: quirky. How about you just write quirky? And put in "delightfully" if there's room.
This is not a new idea, that something's going on with Charlie more complex than "doesn't feel like listening" or "harmless goofballing" or "overindulgent parents, Jesus, did you hear them?" even though any of those might be concomitant. Autism? ADHD? ODD? NVLD? OMGSRSLY? Yeah, sure, maybe, I guess. Throw 'em on the stack, whatever consonants you have, and let's just please find out.
And "Let's just please find out" is not a new request. He's seen his pediatrician, two OTs, and a neurologist; the school counselor, the support specialist, the special educators. In fact, for the last six months the school has been doing its due diligence to determine whether the lower-level interventions they provide as a matter of course might be sufficient. While it could have been stopped at any point if the smile charts and sensory breaks and social coaching had shown much promise, the process has been in motion for some time now. This is simply its culmination.
So we are accustomed to the idea that there's something, whatever it'll ultimately be called. (I call it "I just want my kid to make it through the school day in the company of his classmates having learned something without an outburst." The eventual DSM-VI is going to be all over that shit.) We know we need some help.
And yet there's something about signing, about taking the pen in hand and making that mechanical squiggle, saying, "Yes, please classify my child," that feels like standing over Pandora's Box, reading the packing list carefully, and then asking for a crowbar. Like we're setting something big and possibly dangerous in motion without knowing how it works. Simultaneously like we're doing absolutely the right thing for our child, and like we're selling him down the river.
If you're not kind of totally freaked out, you haven't been paying attention
A brief selection of images from the bookshelves of my children:
"Wait, wait, Ben, why are you crying? I thought you liked dogs."
"Shhh. Shhhhhhh. Don't cry, bunny. Does this one make you feel better?"
Criteria to consider when selecting a children's book:
Does it make me think of cat nipples?
...or that? (Still, it could be worse. It could be scratch 'n' sniff.)
Can you look at that picture without thinking of Boogie Nights?
...Bet you can't now.
To exorcise that vision, please enjoy...a piglet...hungrily eyeing...the meat case. Yes. That's much, much better.
An update as quick as the call was
I saw the principal again at pickup yesterday. From down the block he saw me coming and made that "telephone" hand gesture. I shrugged extravagantly, palms up, in the universal signal for, "Dude. WHAT." As I got nearer he nodded ruefully, the very picture of regret. I widened my eyes all crazy-like, and may have bared a fang. "I'll call you," he said, as I moved into earshot. "Please," I said, and passed.
And he called, beginning with a litany of reasons he hadn't called sooner. I listened, hoping any of those reasons would seem relevant -- pertaining directly to my child -- or urgent -- involving a hungry live tiger on the loose during school hours. But no; I think he was trying to placate me.
In fact, the entire call was about placating me, but in the briefest, ten-foot-pole-est of ways -- so maybe not about placating me, but in fact about shutting me up, presumably so he could go ward off an outbreak of ebola or quash a rising junta or something. I hear he is a very busy man.
The takeaway from the conversation is that Charlie is back on the bus; I made it known that Paul and I are not happy with the way the situation was handled; and that velociraptors must have been tearing through the corridor eating children, library books, and test scores left and right, because, damn, did that principal get off the phone fast.
(I kid because I love...being put off for days.)
Deeply unsatisfying, but not the end of this particular conversation. We have the luxury of a planned conference next week, during which I'll bring this up, maybe even without crying. Thank you so much for all your suggestions and encouragement. I'm learning a lot -- some of it depressing, but all of it useful, and every bit gratefully received.
In an abrupt change of subject, because I do occasionally look up from my navel for a minute, if only to say, "Oooh, linty," I want to point out Keiko Zoll's fantastic multipart rant about PETA, which is giving away a free vasectomy...to encourage people to spay or neuter their pets..."in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week."
In case that pissed you off, why not channel your anger into action? Consider this your yearly reminder about RESOLVE's Advocacy Day, when we formally ask our congressional representatives to -- stay with me, this is crazy -- represent us with meaningful action. Either in Washington or in your home state, you can officially make your voice heard about infertility, and RESOLVE will help.
I've been perseverating on this for what feels like a week now but has only been two days, wearing away at it like the metal-gnawing rodents we discussed at breakfast this morning. (Rodents came after monkeys; monkeys came after horses. "I like to eat horses," Ben cheerfully said. Hush and finish your Wilbur.)
I've told everyone I normally talk to, and when I ran out of people I unloaded on the cat. (He eyed the flecks of spittle in the corners of my mouth, judged my mood to a nicety, and backed away slowly from my crazy-eyed self.) Having talked all my friends into catatonia, I still need to say it some more. It's all I can think about so I'll post it here: Charlie's been banned from the school bus.
About three weeks ago, we were called to pick him up from school. He'd had some classroom outbursts and hit a couple of other kids. (Oh, the sinking in my stomach as I type that — not only that he did it, but at what it means to say on the Internet, Sometimes my kid hits.) As a bonus, apparently there'd been an issue with a kid on the bus.
So we picked him up, brought him home, and attempted to talk it all out. The classroom behavior was of much greater concern, particularly since he was in agreement that things had gone badly there. The bus incident, on the other hand, seemed to be a question of roughhousing gone too far. "M. and I like to sit together and punch ourselves" — not each other — "and pretend to knock ourselves out." M., it seems, amid this play had hit her head on the window pretty hard.
With larger matters to worry about — oh, God, sometimes my kid hits — we resolved the bus situation, we thought, by warning Charlie that he needed to avoid the appearance of violence as well as the violence itself, that that kind of play was likely to lead to trouble, and that he shouldn't sit with M. anymore.
This Monday, a few weeks later now, Paul took a call from the principal. Something had happened on the bus. M.'s mother had gone to the school, incensed. The upshot was that Charlie was not to ride the bus anymore "until we work out a solution."
On hearing this after school hours, I had a million questions: Did something new happen that we didn't know about? What? Why was this the first solution the school proposed? Did it occur to the school to simply separate the kids, have them sit in different seats? Did no one ask Charlie his side of the story?
Sort of seems like not.
Without telling Charlie what was up, I asked him casually about the bus. He seemed entirely unaware that anything alarming might have happened; his only perception that something was out of the ordinary was that when he tried to sit with M. on Monday morning, she told him, "My mom will get mad if I sit with you." As far as he understands it, M. is his friend and they like to goof around together.
For a variety of reasons I believe him, that he didn't do anything mean-spirited or out of anger. He is always perfectly willing to cop to it when that's been the case, "I didn't mean to" being his version of an iron-clad defense, like, whoa, there, Clarence Darrow, your legal kung fu confounds me. I acknowledge Charlie's difficulties in that area, but I think this is a different matter entirely: this is pretty much the definition of everything being all fun and games until someone loses an eye.
(Oh, God, y'all, no: she still has both of her eyes.)
Now, one thing I need you to know about the principal is that at our last meeting, I really felt he heard our concern that Charlie's enthusiasm for school is fast diminishing. He instructed the team — the classroom teacher, the counselor, the support specialist, the occupational therapist — to do what they could to set him up for success, to make school fun for him. He didn't come right out and say, "Go easy on him," but he might as well have, as that was the implication. He did say, "Let's make it our project to keep that light shining."
So the most urgent question I had for the principal was whether it had occurred to anyone to attempt a resolution that didn't summarily take away one of the very few things my kid enjoys about his school experience.
I left a message for the principal at 8:30 yesterday morning. I left another at 1:30. And when I went to pick Charlie up yesterday afternoon, I found him on the steps of the school, presiding over pickup. "I'll call you," he said.
So this is me, perseverating. I cannot let this go. I'm anxious and furious and, on and off, kind of teary. I'm a little twitchy right now, truth be told, keyed up and angry and all too ready to say things I'll surely regret. (As mad as I am that no one has called, I wouldn't want to talk to me, either. I appreciate that the school's first priority is to guarantee the safety of students. But having acknowledged that, I'm still feeling pretty snarly.)
It's only a bus, I tell myself. (The cat agrees from his hiding place, wishing I'd stop hyperventilating. It's harshing his nut-licking mellow.) But it's also something more. It's the suggestion that my kid may be seen as a problem to be solved instead of a child to be understood and met where he is right now. It's the worry that, huh, maybe the school isn't going to go to bat for him when he needs it. And it's the dawning awareness that there may be lots of battles just like this one, simultaneously small and big, to be fought and, God help me, won.
Awkward to tack this on, I know, but I wanted to let you know that among about 60 donors, you gave $2130 for relief efforts in Japan. That's…a lot of money, y'all. The winner of the quilt is Susan, from comment number 33. Susan, it's on its way.
It feels weird to thank you, because I know you didn't do it for me — you do so much for me already, just by being here — but I do want to let you know how grateful I am to you for being part of something big with me. Thank you.
Two minutes' self-indulgence
Happens every time: I can take bad news with great aplomb, as long as no one is kind. Tell me hard facts, and I sit up straighter, but use that tone and I crumple. That was me on Thursday, sitting in a meeting about Charlie — not the hitting meeting, which was five minutes in the principal's office, only long enough for me to think, I wore my Confederate flag bikini for this? but another, an hour and a half, all about our boy and the trouble he's having in school.
I was fine as long as we stuck to plans and procedures. I nodded intelligently through percentiles and programs. I remained detached during a recitation of Charlie's less amusing idiosyncrasies. (I won't reduce him to a list of behaviors, so let's just say he has some.) I was fine until I brought up my most urgent concern, that the problems Charlie's having in the classroom are dampening his enthusiasm for being there and reducing what little engagement he has. I was fine until the principal agreed, saying, "Some of Charlie's light is going out."
Said so kindly it made me cry, silently like I do, but still. If you're going to say shit like that, Mr. Awesome Empathic Principal, ditch the tone of concern and hire a robot to do it for you. Or maybe a Speak and Spell. Because I cannot be a badass with tears dripping off my nose.
The upshot, the short version — because typing even that much has a tear wobbling on the edge of my eyelid — is that Charlie is being evaluated to see if he qualifies for special education. I will be shocked if he doesn't.
Don't mistake me: That's not the problem. I mean, we all have something, right? Getting picked last for sports teams or not having dates in high school or needing Xanax to get on an airplane or looking in the mirror and not liking what we see: Whatever it is, we are all, in some way, irregular. I've known too many families of every stripe — happy families, successful families, regardless of their challenges — to assign it any stigma.
The problem for me is me. I am finding it really hard to shake an ugly idea: that we should somehow be exempt. That because we had it hard early on, now we're due for unremarkable-ever-after. That, Jesus, hasn't that all been enough?
Through our years of infertility, I was never really inclined to feel especially hard done by. Oh, I hated it, but never did it feel like we were unjustly singled out by Fate, the universe, or God. Where some would say, "Why me?" I was content with "Why not me?" If infertility was the worst thing that had happened to me — and at the time, it was — I didn't have much to complain about.
The same is true now. I haven't lost perspective entirely; this is not the worst thing that's happened, not by a long shot. Charlie having trouble is, after all and more importantly, still Charlie, and, my God, how lucky am I? And it's real, what he's experiencing, and it's hard for him and us, but I know it could be worse, so drop the melodrama, Julie. Cut the crap and get on with it. I know it's not that bad. Nevertheless, I am furious, with the kind of anger that's made more frustrating by the fact that it has no target. There is no one to be mad at.
It's the same old anger, I guess, but this time it's being fueled by a feeling that embarrasses me (which is why I'm sharing it here in the quiet with only two or three of my most intimate friends who can be counted on not to judge me for it). That feeling is entitlement. Oh, come on, I think, listening to the neurologist muse, or seeing the school's number on the caller ID. Come on. Do we really deserve this?
And I hate that feeling in myself, because of course the answer is no; of course it is. Deserving's got nothing to do with it. Better people than I have it worse than we ever will. No one ever deserves this kind of difficulty. Therefore, kind of, if you think about it, well, we all do.