Day 144: Tapering

No, I’m not tapering back in my training yet. I haven’t even started, so I’m a long way from tapering. Scared spitless of it, too. By the time I start to taper my training, I’ll be 2 weeks from The Big Day, but to earn that medal, I have to train. A marathon is just the party celebrating the end of all my training. I’m going to run a lot more miles in training than I will on November 23rd.

June was a crazy month in my house. We ramped up to the end-of-quarter at work, to the point where I was at the computer for most of my waking hours. Not solely for work, either, since I had to revise and send back my Sheila contest finalist entry, which I needed to send back before the June 30th deadline because we were going to Ocean City for the weekend, and on the 30th I’d be nose-to-grindstone for work. I also needed to figure out the changes to the ending/Big Black Moment, because the original one just wasn’t making my heart bleed enough.

So now it’s July and I have to taper my life back to normal speed, and I’m not sure I remember how. Yesterday I was restless, trying to find something I could grab onto and work on fast and hard, the way I’ve been doing for the last two weeks in June. There was stuff to make up for, like the things I didn’t get done in time, or the things I made mistakes on that needed correction, but come the afternoon when I needed a few minutes to lie down and relax, I couldn’t get my mind to stop whirling. It takes effort to remind myself to just pay attention to my breathing, but it can be done, and it’s a little easier than it had been.

The afternoon was pretty busy, too, but I got things done. Unfortunately I got them done to the point that I still hadn’t taken the time to catch up on home stuff like food. I posted on Facebook, “We’re so out of groceries that I have two choices for snacking: an avocado and water.” I ate the avocado but it wasn’t satisfying. Since we got back from OC, I’ve been madly jonesing for fruit but I didn’t want it going bad while we were gone so I didn’t restock. Now that it’s payday and I have time again, I was keeping myself so busy that again, I wasn’t going and doing the other things that needed doing. The real world stuff like dinner.

Alex dragged me out to Impact because it was his treat for getting all A’s on his 4th quarter report card, and when that was done we went to get a few groceries. It was satisfying to see food in the fridge again but it wasn’t all we needed. I know I can get better food prices at Aldi or Bottom Dollar, but I didn’t plan on going to 3 stores for groceries, so I grabbed what I could at Mega-Lo-Mart (I hate Wally World for so many reasons, but sometimes I just don’t have a choice; no other stores carry bird seed in 40 pound bags–I have a lot of hungry birds to feed–and Mickey’s favorite cat food) and left the rest for today. We grabbed Panera bagels on the way home and that was dinner.

By 6 I was feeling guilty that it appeared I wasn’t making time to work out again. I hadn’t exercised since Saturday morning, when I went for a run before our trip to OC. My plan had been to up my run frequency to 3 or 4 a week for July, since starting next month I’ll be running 5 days a week. I need to get used to the boost in volume. I felt like a slug until 7 when I decided I’d had it; I needed to drop whatever was in front of me, lace up and go. I was going to go to the gym and do 3 miles on the dreadmill, just because it was ridiculously hot/humid, but I remembered I also didn’t have time to refill the gas tank since NJ, so Farm Park, here I come.

Maybe another part of the problem with being crazy busy for so long was how tired I was. More than once I started feeling like hey, it’d be nice to have someone give me a hand once in a while, but I’m a single mom. This is what I got. It wasn’t my choice, but it’s my situation now, so I have to pull up my big girl panties and get on with it, right? As the song in Evita goes, “But all the same, I hate it.” I can do what I need to do but it gets lonely. Even if I still have all this work to do, it’d be nice to have someone to come back to, someone to tell me “It’s all right” or “Hey, nice job.” But In the last nearly 3 years, I’ve had to learn to do that for myself. Maybe even longer than that, considering that may have been part of the beginning of the end, when I stopped needing John’s reassurance that I was someone; I learned to be that for myself. (The end of codependency.)

I was about on mile 3 or 4 when it suddenly hit me, I like being alone. I do value that time of solitude, and I haven’t had it in a while. I’m at work where people can look over my shoulder the entire time; or I’m home, where the boys are ever-present (not to mention Mickey); or I’m at the gym with at least a dozen other people; or I’m driving somewhere on a public road. For a little while last night at the park, I was alone and it was beautiful. I smiled. It felt great. I had music playing, my form was good, my feet didn’t hurt, my knee wasn’t tweaking (the way it did when I tried to fast-walk; suck it, 90 degrees in the shade). I felt healthy and happy, and I was still alone. At the end of my run, the only thing waiting for me was more email; no smiling face, no happy eyes, no gentle hands.

Okay, so THAT’s depressing me again, but you know what I mean. 🙂 In the grand scheme, it was okay. Sure, I hate having to be the only one to get things done. I hate having to make a conscious effort to relax. I hate the pressure and the loneliness, but I like the solitude. Sometimes I do like the solitude. Isn’t it interesting how English has three words—alone, solitude, and lonely—and they mean the same and yet entirely different things?

We have a three day weekend ahead, and after the last couple of weeks, it feels like a vacation. I may be running the July 4th 5k in the rain but after doing a half in the rain, I don’t care. It might even give me a chance to rain-wash my Timex hat, and at last get the mud from my Love Run sneaks. I can do whatever I have to do, because no one’s going to do it for me.

As for those edits…uh, yeah; the same still applies. 🙂

Something else on my mind was positive affirmations. I’ve been working on thinking positive and seeing great things ahead in my future. (Bradley Cooper, I’m still looking at you, babe.) The odd thing was that some of the things I see ahead are so fantastic, so amazing, so wonderful, so joyful, that for a moment I was afraid. I mean, seriously, do I deserve all that? It’d be great to get it all but it’s scary too, because at some point I see myself thinking, “This can’t be real. This has to be a fantasy or a dream, and at some point I’ll wake up and go back to the real Orwellian world I live in.” Again, it takes effort to stop and say, “Hell yes I deserve to live in all that wonderful, not just because of the crap I’ve been through already—because in the grand scheme, bad as anything was, I know I’m really and truly blessed—but because I am who I am and I do deserve to have a wonderful life in which every one of my wonderful dreams comes true.”

So yeah, bring it. I got this.


Day 157: Carpe Diem

Remember the line at the end of the opening credits to “The Jetsons”, when George is running on the treadmill and he can’t control it, and he yells, “Jane, stop this crazy thing!” That’s been my day.

Last night I put together the end-of-year teacher gifts for Alex to give his teachers. Today was the last day of school so it was now or never. (Or really, then or in the morning, and given that the bus could come anywhere in a 20 minute range, the night before was a much smarter option.) Fortunately the a/c unit cooperated when I put it in place (I call it R2D2) and worked on the first try. Nothing short of a miracle considering the outlet is touchy and won’t work for a stand lamp, so I didn’t expect the a/c to work so easily, but we were blessed. It was hotter than hell yesterday and today is expected to be worse–can you say “dreadmill”? I knew you could–so I had to cave in and put on the a/c. Really, there was no choice.

This morning Alex told me he was sad about it being the last day of school. This from the kid who’s been counting down the days since Memorial Day? I said, “Why are you sad?” He said, “I’ll miss my friends.” Sniff. But it’s only 10 days ’til ESY (extended school year); he’ll see them again soon, and next week he’ll see the kids from summer camp. Some are his Red Dawgs friends, too, but camp is always fun.

Since the dining room was cool(er), I decided it was time to kill the clutter and get through the pile of unopened mail, and organize the boys’ school stuff. Usually it all just ends up on the table for “Some Day”, and today was Some Day. Now it looks much better and if we want to eat there, we can. There’s no TV in there, though, so we usually don’t, but it’s nice to know we can. While I was at it, an old UFO caught my eye. It was going to be a 3-colored afghan but I fell out of love with the pattern, so it was sitting on the UFO pile, collecting dust. As I was sipping coffee and going through email, I saw an adorable daisy-filet afghan pattern that I really wanted to try, and seeing the UFO, it clicked. I just needed to unravel the UFO and reappropriate the yarn. Not a problem with the table all nice and spacious now. I’m one unraveled ball into it so far but it’s adorable and, as usual, I’m already wondering what other yarn/colors would look cute in that pattern. My stash, like my imagination, goes on forever.

Before Alex’s bus came in from the half day at school, the mail came. It usually comes at 5 so I was surprised. In it was a summons from the court to appear in my burglary case from last year. Tomorrow at 9 a.m. I was like, “WHAT? I don’t have time for this! This says the trial could last 2 weeks, and Alex starts camp on Monday, and this is June; I can’t call in to work.” After panicking, as well as letting my boss know I’d be in court tomorrow, I called the Witness Services clerk and found out no, don’t show up unless the DA calls. WHEW. It could turn out that they all show up in court and decide to take a plea deal. No fire here, folks; all is well.

But then the president of my writing chapter let us know one member lost her father yesterday, and another lost her 25 year old son. That one hit me in the solar plexus. Worse still when they said he was her only child. I can’t wrap my brain around it. As I was trying to process this information, I heard Alex up in his room, talking to his tapes, and it was music to my ears. You never know. I’m usually really good at empathy but for the life of me, I can’t even begin to imagine what she’s thinking and feeling right now. If I were her, I’d be pounding some kind of sedative; I don’t think I’d want to think or feel. Ever again.

As far as Alex knows, going to Rita’s for custard tonight is to celebrate the end of the school year, but it’s also Carpe Diem day. I did that after Sandy Hook, so we could get away from the everyday and make some fun memories together. (Which we did. The boys had fun goofing around together at Chickie’s & Pete’s. I loved watching them just be kids because after that day, too many parents in CT didn’t get that privilege.) I’m also going to finish this afghan, because 50 years from now I want some little kid to say, “Mom/Dad, where did we get this blanket?” and they can answer, “That was made by your Grandma Carla. She used to make TONS of these things. They were all over the house. No one ever got cold at Grandma Carla’s!”

Carpe Diem, folks. Because you never know.


Only Getting Better

Oops. It’s Thursday, isn’t it? But there’s been so much going on that I lost track of time.

It’s all been good, too. I took the boys to Ocean City, NJ, last weekend and we had THE time of our lives. I honestly think OC is now my favorite shore town. The boardwalk is like Wildwood but not so crazy, and the town itself is WAY easier to navigate than Cape May or Atlantic City. We figured out fast where everything was and how to get there. We had a BLAST at Fishing For Kids–didn’t catch any kids, but we took home two fileted flounders, and yes, this vegetarian ate fish–and met some great people, and we can’t wait to get back!


I’m back to writing again. At least, revising. I’m making changes to All or Nothing that I really like. They incorporate a lot of recent personal experience that, for me, makes the characters really pop. I’m feeling good about it, and it’s not at all like pulling teeth, aka writing fresh stuff. But I’m confident I’ll get there again too.

I’m losing weight. I finally broke the Mendoza line for the first time in years and I feel damn good. Actually, I did it last week, but knowing my plateaus, I waited until I’d been under it for at least 4 different scale readings before I said anything. The last thing I wanted to do was to go bouncing back over it. Disappointment is a b*tch and often sends me running to my buddy, Little Debbie. 🙂

My knee is getting better. I figured out what was screwing it up:  my foot stool where I sit at the laptop at home. When I relax, my left leg tended to slouch off to the side, and apparently it was putting stress on a tendon or ligament in my knee. I stopped doing it two weeks ago and it’s steadily improving, to the point that for National Runner’s Day yesterday, I ran 3.1 miles and marked a personal best: a mile in 13:02. My previous goal was to break a 14 minute mile, so my next goal is to break a 13 minute mile. I’m told that at some point the body hits a point at which you’re not going to do better. I’m interested in finding out where that point is for me. I’m not there yet.

I have my therapist call today and boy, are we going to be on the phone for a while. 🙂 But it’s all good and it’s getting better.

A Show of Brotherly Love

I love Philadelphia. I’ve loved it since Ryan was little and being treated at Shriner’s Hospital, and one day I asked if I could go out to get him some McDonalds for lunch as a treat. The nurses said, “Sure! Go on out and take a break. He’ll be fine.” I’ll never forget pulling out of the parking lot with the windows down and smelling the clean, fresh air. Anyone who’s been on North Broad Street in the summer would die laughing, but that’s how it felt to me. People were nice, the air was clean, and I felt like I was home, even though I lived in New York at the time.

Now, chances are good you’ve heard stories of the other side of the coin where Philadelphia is concerned. The dumbass kid who ran onto the ball field during a game. (And the copycats later.) The guy who got drunk and threw up on a cop’s kid. The fights in the stands. The snowballs thrown at Santa Claus (and I still hold that if the guy shows up at a football game with 70K people in attendance and he doesn’t bring any presents, he gets what he deserves). The way the Phillies’ fans took over Nationals Park for Opening Day a couple of years ago. (I don’t hear Nats management complaining about the revenue they took in, but that’s a different can of worms.)

Today I experienced Brotherly Love.

I had our usual Sunday season tickets for the Phillies game. It being the first Sunday home game of the year, I couldn’t wait. I missed the place over the long and lonely winter. Citizens Bank Park is practically my second home. I know where everything is, to the point that I could probably navigate the place blindfolded. I love it there and I love baseball. If Heaven doesn’t in some way resemble Citizens Bank Park, I’m not going and that’s all there is to it.

John went to the Saturday game with a friend, and a Mets fan’s kid dropped his ice cream down his back. Not on purpose, of course, but still an inconvenience when it’s the 1st inning. I didn’t give his bad fortune a second thought as Alex and I walked around the ballpark today, soaking in the atmosphere as fast as the crab fries. We got to our seats, the game started, I was knitting, Alex was recovering from eating $50 worth of food, and all was just great. Cole Hamels looked pretty good despite giving up a 2-run homer in the first; he put it behind him and got on with the game. Awesome stuff.

Fourth inning, and behind me I hear, “BLURP.” I feel something hit my back. I look behind me. The woman 2 rows back has vomit down her shirt, across the bag on her lap, down her shorts and legs…and across the seat in back of me. And, consequentially, my back. Then I turn to Alex. It’s down his back too. I look at her. She looks like a mannequin, staring straight ahead of her like nothing’s happened, other than she’s been pithed through the spinal cord. I wait for a word, an explanation, an apology; something. Nothing.

I think, “Well, okay, I’ve got a problem here.” I wave to get the usher’s attention, to get a rag or something. He’s distracted. I dig some napkins out of my bag and start wiping off Alex’s shirt. Pretty futile, but it’s better than doing nothing. A woman in the row behind me hands me a handful of baby wipes, bless her heart. It does more for Alex’s shirt, and I can clean off the seats too. I peel out of my jersey (thank God I opted for the tank-under-the-Utley-jersey look) and hang it inside out on the railing.

Alex and I sit back to watch the game–it was the bottom of the inning; of course I’m not leaving–and then I tell Alex we’re going to go get him another shirt. I’d seen t-shirts with Hunter Pence’s famous, “Good game; let’s go eat” on it, and it’s perfect for Alex (considering he just ate $50 in concessions). I wanted it anyway; now I have a reason.

We get the shirt. I ask for a shopping bag. I take Alex aside and have him change shirts right there. I put the dirty shirt inside out in the shopping bag, and we go back to our seats.

Where three rows around our seats applaud us. I’m blown away. I guess they were glad I didn’t blow up or cry or do something pathetic. I just cleaned up and went back to the game. Pretty sweet.

Someone in our row says she talked to a CBP employee about getting Alex a replacement shirt, saying it’s the least they could do. (Someone else complains that the woman who threw up had staggered into the seat. Apparently she was WAY overserved. I’d like to credit her as a Mets fan, but I couldn’t tell; she wore no identifying fan colors, or maybe it was hidden under the spewage.) When I get back, the area manager has a shirt but says, “It’s not big enough. We’re looking for a bigger one.” An inning later, another CBP employee comes to the seats and brings us both shirts “because you deserve them.” More applause in our section. She also notes, “Just so you know, you can’t buy these.” One shirt is mostly red with the CBP logo on it. I’m guessing it’s something they only give employees. (It’s a 2XL so it’ll fit Alex.) I tell the woman, “He wears red for his soccer team so this is perfect.” She was delighted. The green shirt is from the Phestival, the one volunteers were given. That’s mine. 🙂

Other ballparks, I’m sure, might’ve seen the same scenario played out and said, “Wow. Sucks to be you.” But not Philadelphia, and not Citizens Bank Park. I love this place. This was home to my family a few generations ago, and it’s home to my family now. When someone asks where we’re from, there’s no hesitation in my heart. I may have been born in NYC, but I’ll hold my head up and say, “I’m from Philadelphia.”

And in case you were wondering, the Phillies avoided the series sweep by beating the holy snot out of the Mets. Despite the puke shower, it was a good day all around.

Tell Me Who I Am

This is a short story I gave to my son’s teachers with their Thank You gifts, on the occasion of his last day at middle school.  I don’t know where four years went, but we made some terrific friends along the way.  

Tell Me Who I Am

 There once was a young boy.  He didn’t look very different on the outside.  He didn’t stand out in the crowd, but he had a problem.  He was lost.  It was through no fault of his own.  Little by little he worked to find his way, but it wasn’t easy for him like it was for other kids.  He needed help, so he went to find it.

 There was a new building with people and rules.  He asked them, “Who am I?”  They worked with him, told him things, showed him what to do, and gave him rules to follow.  All the while he kept asking, “Who am I?” 

 “We can’t tell you,” they said.  “But we can show you.”  They smiled so he knew it was okay.  Over four short years, they watched the boy grow and change.  They knew who he was, and they knew he wasn’t lost.

 One day the people all got together.  They smiled at him and said, “You’re ready.”

 He was scared.  He said, “What do you mean?  I’m not ready.  I don’t know who I am yet.  You didn’t tell me.  Just tell me who I am, and maybe then I’ll be ready.” 

They shook their heads.  “No, we can’t.”

 He was sad.  “You still can’t tell me who I am, after all the time we worked together?  All the things I learned from you?  I only want to know who I am.  I’m still lost.”

 “No you’re not,” they said.  “The things we’ve taught you are the tools you need to help you find your way.  We’ve only taught you how to use them.  Because you’re special—not lost—they were a little harder to find.  Now it’s up to you.  You’re not done yet.  You must keep moving and learning and trying.  Use your tools and you’ll find out who you are.”

 He was scared.  “I will?” 

 “You will.  We promise.”

 He believed them, and he smiled.  He said, “Okay.  I’ll go, but I will miss you.  Thank you.   I’m going to go use these tools you’ve given me so I can learn who I am.  I will be even better.”  He walked away, in search of more tools with which to build himself, and people to learn from, and someone to share them with.

 They waved and wished him well because they loved him for who he already was.  He would never be lost as long as he carried the tools they gave him.  The tools he had all along.

(I apologize for not coming around lately, but I’ve been insanely busy.  I hope to do better but in the mean time, if you’re looking for me, check Facebook.)  🙂

Bridge to Immortality

I started thinking about the kids today.  Not that I don’t think about them all the time, but, well, several things came into play.  For one, I have an iTunes gift card on my account, and no music is jumping out at me to go get it.  That’s breaking my heart. 

 So browsing iTunes, I saw Darius Rucker in my “ping” (whatever that is), and it reminded me of his song, “It Won’t Be Like This for Long”.  I so totally love that song because it serves as an accurate reminder that my teenagers upstairs are working their way out of the house.  One’s anxious to go, and the other has no idea he’ll ever have to leave, but I suspect his world view will change when his big brother is gone.  The song reminds me to appreciate every minute I get with them because, literally, it won’t be like this for long.

 I especially like how the man in the song imagines the day he walks his little girl down the aisle, but then he stops and remembers, “But for now she’s up and crying.”  I so miss those days.  I’m still Mommy once in a while, but it’s usually Mom.  With the oldest at 15, I’m probably closer to being Grandma than I am to the day when I became a mother.  Oops; was that another gray hair popping out? 

 But while it thrills parents to watch their children grow, they have to accept that at the very same time, they’re aging.  I’m 43; I’ll be 44 in a few weeks.  (Hell, a few days.)  I’m never going to be 20 and innocent and excited by everything ahead of me.  So much more is behind me.  I’m probably more than halfway through this trip. 

 Something today got me thinking about dying, and the words echoed  in my head, “I’m not ready to go yet.”  There’s SO much more out there I want to do.  It’s not as if, should (God forbid) the Angel of Death visit me tonight, I’ll whine about all the stuff I haven’t done yet.  I’ve done a lot.  I’ve had a really good time.  There’s more I’d like to do, but if I had to go tonight, I think I’d be okay.  I’ve done what I set out to do.  I fell in love, I brought children to this planet, I wrote a book.  A few, in fact.

 As I’m sitting at the computer typing this, I’m hearing my oldest laughing his butt off in his room.  No idea what he’s laughing at, but it’s a nice sound.   It’s peaceful to me to know he’s happy.

 I also realized tonight that I’m not doing enough for him.  I’m performing basic maintenance, but I’m not teaching him.  I’m not pushing him to find out what he’s going to need to know before he goes out on his own.  Not that I’m an expert on much of anything, but I know things that he might need to know some day.  Time to get started on that.

 You never know.

 Oh, and right after the Darius Rucker song ended, the youngest’s favorite song came on.  We always make a game out of it.  It’s the Bob Rivers’ Twisted Christmas version of “The Twelve Pains of Christmas”.  We’ve heard that song so many times, we know every word, every inflection, until we make each other laugh by singing the lines.  Great memories, there.  I hope they take those memories with them.  My grandmother had knitting as her bridge to immortality.  My Mom…I’ll have to think about her bridge, but I think a lot of it has to do with curiosity, learning and laughter.  I hope my bridge to immortality makes the boys smile when they think of me.  That’s the best I can hope for.

The Impossible

Somewhere I had a horoscope that said Wednesdays are my lucky days, but so far, I’ve had my best days on Thursdays.  I could sure use one today, since it’s accrual day at work (which is actually two days) and our processors were on duty ’til 10:00 eastern, trying to get last-minute stuff done.  (For the record, I want to slap their manager when he gets on conference calls and says stuff like, “We’re looking good here.  I have no concerns for month-end.”  Obviously the man isn’t a baseball fan, or he’d know, you don’t tempt fate like that.  You never say a pitcher has a no-hitter going–unless he’s on the opposing team–you never talk about the streak, and you never say, “Everything’s fine.”  That’s exactly when things stop being fine.)
That aside, last night I did the impossible.  I’ve had a barghello afghan pattern on my to-do list for over 10 years.  I found the pattern back when I first started to crochet, and the colors were SO pretty, I wanted to make one.  The design is HUGE; you could fit two kids under one of these things and neither one would catch a draft.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to make sense of it.  I tried it a few times, frogged, tried again, and finally gave up.  Over the years I’d try it again with no success…until last night.  I found a reprint of the pattern on Facebook, so I saved it to my flash drive and printed it.  When I brought it home, I dug out some purple Red Heart and gave it a shot, and wouldn’t you know, NOW I get it.  I’m on the 3rd repeat (two stripes, then change colors; I’m doing it at random, based on what falls out of my stash first) and I’m madly in love with it, to the point where I’d gladly stay home and spend the day on it, both because it’s just so gorgeous and because today’s perfect afghan-making weather, which we won’t have on Sunday.  (And yeah, there’s that month-end crap at work going on that I’d love to avoid.)  I should be writing-slash-reading through the Donald Maass workbook, but tonight, after I get home from work, get off the 4:00 conference call–which I suspect is going to wrap up around 5:30, because some people love to hear themselves talk–and go to the gym, I’m going to make the boys their dinner and watch the Phillies game while adding to this afghan.  Then the trick will be, deciding who to give it to, because now that the pattern makes sense, I’ll be making more of these.  Once my yarn embargo is over, I think I’m even going to treat myself to the colors the pattern calls for.  🙂
And on top of that, this morning I was digging in my purse for money to give to Alex for the camp bake sale today—he’s all excited; I think they let him help bake—so I told him, “Get me something.  Chocolate chip cookies are my favorite.”  (He knows I’ll share.)  I pulled out my walllet and voila!  Just beneath it was the size 3 DPN I thought I lost on the first day of camp.  I was working on a sock when I was surprised to see the counselor waiting for us, and I shoved everything back in my sewing bag, but couldn’t find the needle. I thought I dropped it in the grass—and could only imagine the havoc it would cause when the lawnmower found the needle—but no, somehow it fell into my purse.  Yay! 
On the other hand, I’m a little nervous that this is as good as my day’s going to get.  🙂 


Look out; clear a path.  Soap box coming through.  

I just learned this morning that at the last Norristown Area School District Board meeting, the CFO (now identified as Anne Marie Rohricht) called Special Education a “burden” on the school district’s budget.  To my knowledge, the District Superintendent, Dr. Janet Samuels, did not refute the statement.  It’s fairly common knowledge among families with special needs kids that Dr. Samuels agrees with that statement, insofar as the special education department at NASD has been hacked since she took over the school district.  The latest attack came two weeks ago with the unannounced firing of several special ed paraprofessionals in an effort to save money.

As far as I know, and I’d love to have someone clarify this for me, there isn’t a single school board member with a special needs child.  If there were just one, I could say the families of special needs children are being honestly (if not adequately) represented, but to my knowledge, there isn’t.  Safe to say you’ve heard the expression, “Taxation without representation”?  The board is looking at Special Education from the bottom line, and the bottom line only.  What they’re failing to see is the kids behind it.  Perfect or not, these children are our most precious resources, even if they’re considered by some to be a “burden”. 

Trust me, dudes, we didn’t choose this.  If I could go back in time and have a “normal” kid, even if it meant taking 10 years off my life, I’d do it in a heartbeat.  At least then I could trust that my son had a chance of growing up to be a productive, contributing member of society instead of a “burden” on it.  As of right now, because my 13 year old son has the intellectual capacity of a 6 year old, I’m not allowed to dieWho will care for him when I’m not here?  No matter what they say about Special Ed being a “burden” on the district, it’s nothing compared to the rest of my natural life.

Let’s also consider what it would cost if Special Ed weren’t available (and a federal law, if I’m not mistaken).  These children would be a lifetime “burden” on society.  At least with education, understanding, and guidance, they have a chance at a happy life.  Without it, we’ll be going back to the days of Willowbrook.  I lived on Staten Island and I saw it when it was still operational in the early 80’s.  I cry every time I think of the naked 8 year old child standing in an open doorway, watching as my bus passed by.  It’s an image I can’t burn from my brain (and I’ve tried).  If his mother could have seen the lonely, empty shell of a life her child was living, she’d have jumped off the nearest, tallest bridge. 

I’d like for the school board members to realize that regardless of anything else, when these children graduate (such as it is), they’ll no longer be a “burden” to the school district, but my son will be with me for the rest of my life.  As challenging as our lives may/will be, I have never once thought of him as a “burden”.  I’m insulted and disgusted to think that someone who, theoretically, should have my child’s best interests at heart considers him a “burden”.  Shame on you, Norristown Area School Board and Dr. Samuels.  Just you wait ’til the next election.  We will not forget.

My family made an effort to buy a house in Norristown solely for the purpose of keeping our children in the Norristown School District.  In 2002, we were delighted with the curriculum, the teachers, the methodology, and the people.  Now I’m just disgusted, and I’m sorry as hell we didn’t move out of the district and take our tax dollars with us.    We could’ve saved an enormous amount of money on property/school taxes, gotten a bigger house with a bigger yard, been much safer than where we are now (my car was broken into twice since we moved in a year ago) and been just as happy.   Seriously, Norristown Area School District was a great place before Dr. Samuels took over.  Years ago, I went on the Autism Society email loop, extolling the virtues of this place, how wonderful the autism support staff was (I posted a blog about this 2 years ago) and how thorough and child-dedicated the program was.  If someone asked, “Where should I go for the best services?” I waved them on over.  I may be responsible for at least half a dozen families moving here, just to go to the NASD schools. 

Now I’m just sick to my stomach.  Now it’s all about the goddamn bottom line.  “Burden”, my ass. 

I believe in karma.  I hope you do too.

Oh, and if you want a real kick in the teeth, here’s a picture of Dr. Samuels with my son Alex, taken last February after she praised him at the district science fair.  As Bob Dylan said, “They smile in your face, but behind your back, they hiss.”

Full Circle

When I was in third grade, I took an aptitude test to see if I’d do well in band.  I passed and chose to learn clarinet, but only because there were no flutes left.  Somewhere in the basement is the clarinet my parents bought for me for $100.  I still have it. 

I played in the school band from  fourth grade through eighth grade.  It doesn’t sound like much on paper but it was five very big years of my life.  The band was a clique all its own.  We even had special classes.  When everyone else took wood shop or home ec, we took typing.  Several times, because it was the only thing we could fit in around our band practice schedule.  It worked out because now I can type 100 words per minute, and for a while there I considered a career as a typing teacher.  We actually had one teacher at IS 61 dedicated just to teaching typing.  These days, that just doesn’t happen, and besides, modern-day kids are practically born knowing how to type.  RIP, Mavis Beacon.

Anyway, band was a big deal then.  We learned the basics with Miss Forsell in fourth grade and Mr. DeTaranto in fifth.  In middle school (aka Intermediate School) we had Mr. Laurenzano, a giant of a man with a booming voice that could span the Grand Canyon.  He scared the crap out of me.  There were actually two bands in middle school; there was concert band (us) and orchestra, which was for the kids who couldn’t cut concert band.  Think “Glee” with instruments.  And we were cool.  To this day I can see Willy Hakim on trumpet, Andrew Terjesen and Dawn Farley on trombone, Robert Powell and William Harding on drums.  There were some flute players too but I never quite got over getting shut out of that and I resented them with all my middle-school fury.  Heck, I had the fingers for it.  I could’ve been great at it. 

There were so many clarinets that we had 3 levels:  first row, second row, and third row.  I was third row, along with Rosemary Moser (my BFF) and Lisa Copeland.  I’ll confess right now, I wasn’t that good at it.  When I practiced at home–and trust me, my mother drilled it into me; I think it had something to do with the $100 they spent on the clarinet which, at the time, was a huge chunk of change–our dog, Shirley, would hide on the back porch and wail in pain for her poor ears.  Our poor neighbors couldn’t get away from it; they got misery in stereo.  I hit “clunkers” all the time in practice.  Play a woodwind instrument and you’ll know that ear-bleeding screech when the air doesn’t quite go in the right way.  I also hit clunkers in practice at school, but I tried my heart out.  

The best times were the concerts.  We’d all get dressed up, and we’d be scared out of our shoes that we’d screw up but we took our places anyway, read the sheet music, followed along when it was someone else’s turn, waited for our chance to play.  Man, we could wail.  We played some tough stuff, too.  Much as I love my son’s school, I’ve heard their middle school band; they struggle to play basic songs, and half the time the beat machine plays more than they do.  Us, we tackled the disco version of “Star Wars”.  We played pop music from our era, not our grandparents’.  But the best of all was Rocky. 

The movie came out in the middle 70’s, when we were in school.  I have no idea how Mr. L got the sheet music but he got it, and we played the sh*t out of it, let me tell you.  To this day, when the movie starts and that music cranks up, I get chills from my scalp to my toes, and my eyes well with tears because that, my friends, was one of the greatest moments in my life, when I belonged to something really, really good.  That was my Glory Days.  The staccato trumpets, the pounding drums, the fire and energy of putting everything we had into making that auditorium ROCK. 

And dammit, we did it. 

Eventually Mr. L realized I wasn’t cutting it and I got moved down to orchestra.  (There was that minor discipline incident where I put cork grease on Lisa Copeland’s chair.)  I hated every minute of orchestra.  We played lame classical music that meant nothing to me, and the teacher was as far opposite of Mr. L as any human being could be.  He was soft-spoken and low on discipline; he couldn’t get the orchestra organized if he used a bull whip, and it showed when we played.  I don’t even remember playing with them onstage.  I think I did, but if I could’ve played clarinet with a paper bag over my head, I would’ve done it.  At that point, I couldn’t get out of middle school fast enough.

I’m 42 and a mom of teenagers now, as you know.  Last night on the drive home from Variety, Alex and I fiddled with my iPod, and I remembered I have my “old” one.  It won’t update any more; it’s got corrupted software or something.  (Use the word “software” to me when I was a band geek and I would’ve given you the same blank look I gave most adults.)  But I figured maybe Alex would want to listen to it; there’s a playlist with songs I know he likes.  He was more than happy to take it, but what surprised me is that of the 900+ songs on it, he found a song on there that really caught his attention.  Last night, before I made him go to bed, he was playing “Gonna Fly Now” from the Rocky soundtrack.  The same song we played in band with the staccato trumpets and the thundering drums and the hard, sharp beats at the end that still raise the hairs on the back of my neck.  The song that still makes me remember how perfect life was when I was 12 and playing clarinet and belonging to something really, really good. 

The funny thing is that he’s playing that song all the time now.  He really likes it.  He even sings it.  I guess he gets that from me.

PS, I’m sitting in the dining room with the windows open as I type this.  It’s a gorgeous early fall evening, and the Eagles, our high school football team, are playing just a few blocks away.  The band is rocking on with “Rock & Roll Part 2”.  I guess they scored.  The Eagles’ band isn’t half bad.  🙂

This sounds a little like us , but this was the one that still gives me chills.  (It was a Rocky Medley we played.)  We had French horns and everything.  We didn’t use violins; our clarinet section played instead of violins, and We.  Were. Good.


It’s that time of year again.  Kids have gone back to school, parents are back in the routine of “normal”, and schools hold their Open Houses so parents can see how their kid spends his/her day.  This is the first year in a while that I have two kids in two different school levels (high school and middle school), so I get to do two Open Houses in two weeks.  As compared with having to be in two different schools on the same night, this works for me.

I visited Ryan’s school on Wednesday night and it hit me on multiple levels.  It still feels like it was only a little while ago that I was the one in high school, navigating unfamiliar halls for the first time, dealing with kids whose priorities were different from my own (aka, bullies and cliques) and praying that in the sink-or-swim world of academics, I could at least keep my nose above water. 

Also, the hero in my latest project is a high school English teacher who writes fiction, so I drank every detail I could gather of the school layout.  Public high school in Pennsylvania is SO different from private high school in a converted mansion in Staten Island NY.  I can’t say I preferred one over the other; they just are what they are.  (Though I have to say, it surprised me to see that Ryan’s HS bore a little resemblance to the school in “Twilight”.)

And then there was the academics.  I have to say, I love all his teachers.  Well, all the ones I met.  I was a little disappointed that the English teacher wasn’t there.  Ryan had some issues with English in middle school, and I wanted to make sure the teacher and I were on the same wavelength.  Since my mother was a teacher (now retired), I know how vital it is for teachers to be present at these functions, so I can’t imagine what pulled Ryan’s English teacher away for the night.  Must’ve been something big. 

Each of the teachers I met gave a detailed explanation of what curriculum was covered and what their teaching philosophy was.  I didn’t know what to expect so all in all, I was pleasantly surprised. 

The real surprise was in finding out that Ryan’s in all honors-weighted courses.  If he can keep up with the curriculum level, he could make the National Honors Society.  I remember some of my friends belonged to NHS, and I was so jealous, but like I said, it was a struggle for me just to stay above C level.  Please don’t ask me about my Law grade in senior year.  I’m still so disappointed in myself because for one brief, shining moment, I thought I could be a lawyer.  Law is fascinating.  It’s like geometry, in that you have to put all the right pieces together to construct an accurate theorem.  One wrong piece and the whole thing falls apart.  But I digress.

NHS was unattainable for me, but Ryan’s on track for it.  I could not be prouder.  Somehow I managed to deliver unto this world someone who has the capability of exceeding me.  I still can’t figure out how I did that.  What did I do right?  And can I give it one more try to see if I can do better?  (Just kidding, God!)  He has the potential to do right, all the things I didn’t.  Color me delighted, surprised, and thrilled. 

Of course, I fully realize it might not happen.  When I started in high school, I was placed in advanced math but after the first semester, it became apparent to all involved that I couldn’t cut the mustard, and I went back to “regular” math.  I’m sorry, I’m just not a numbers person.  My checkbook looks like a natural disaster.  I can’t count to twenty without thinking, “Did I miss something?”  So if Ryan gets through this first marking period and we find that the honors course load he’s carrying is too much for him, I’ll still be proud as hell of him because he tried.  Yeah, sure, I know Yoda said something about, “Do or do not.  There is no try,” but in this case I think we can make an exception.  He’s still the best kid he can be, and that matters more than anything else. 

Yesterday he mentioned that he “still hasn’t figured out what I want to do”, but I reminded him that he’s a freshman; he doesn’t have to chart a career path yet.  I also mentioned that at the Open House, instead of just hanging a flag in the corner in the morning, each room has a television set and every morning, a broadcast team presents the news and annoucements.  (A far cry from that scratchy speaker stuff we strained to hear when we were in school!)  They’re looking for anchors and technicians, and knowing he loved working the camera in our in-house studio on Take Your Kid to Work Day, I told him he should apply.  He surprised me by saying he was thinking about applying to be an anchor.  I told him, “If you want some good examples, watch the news tonight.”  Can I see my kid being the next Walter Cronkite?

Hell yeah!  Go for it!  I love you, Ryan!

Addendum, 9 hours later:  watch this video by Billy Ray Cyrus.  I’m fine right up until the little voice says, “Dada,” and then I lose it every time.  🙂