Monday, April 30, 2012


…In which I expound, dear readers, upon a small spectrum of handy-to-la famiglia FSM tools that might be useful and/or laughable in your rainbows.

The “My Bad”

We all aspire to the wielding of copious quantities of positive tools like respect, patience, unconditional love and consistency.

My favorite progressive tool, though, is more negative.

My mother’s generation – whether traditional or hippie-mama – often felt pressure to act as if mothering felt happy and easy at all times, as if motherhood was totally fulfilling and came naturally to all mothers. Parents, especially fathers, were deemed omnipotent and all-knowing.

As our culture has become – however incrementally – more open and less sexist, we have gained some additional tools at our disposal. We are now free to admit to each other that parenting is sometimes hard, and often baffling, and that – even as we fiercely, fully love them Every Second -- we sometimes don’t entirely like our kids at a given moment.

It may be even more important that we are able to admit to our children (friends, family, partners…) that we ourselves are human. So, I celebrate the following three phrases:

“I don’t know.”
“I messed up.”
“I ‘m sorry.”

The use of these phrases demonstrates that parents (friends, family, partners…) are fallible human beings who will try to figure stuff out and do better next time. Just like kids can be – if shown the possibility.

The “My Bad” is liberating, but by no means a license to ill. At its best, though, it offers possibilities of redemption, learning, healing.

The “Locked” Door

Among other things, Z’s agenda includes using the stovetop and oven at 2am. Because of this, I have had to confine her to her room until I officially get her up in the morning. This involves keeping a chamber pot in her room and my “locking”[closing] the door every night after I put her to bed. Somewhat paradoxically for Miss Independence – but well within guidelines set by the aforementioned therapist -- this has been a very comforting process for Z herself.

The first (initially) unknown-to-me reader of FSM -- and someone I think of as a real live guardian angel -- has degrees in Education of Young Children, Child Assessment and Development, and Psychiatric Social Work (with specialty in the field of children and families).  She also has decades of experience working with children. She keeps me on track and within the bounds of my knowledge while still tolerating, even celebrating, my flights of fancy. Any errors, of course, are all mine.

She recently asked me,  “How do you as a mother create a safe home for Z while still feeling your home is as you want it to be?” My answer was…I don’t. I used to wear a lot of jewelry, for example, until some of my most precious pieces disappeared. Some did reappear, only in different and unsalvageable forms.  Now my jewelry is so hidden away that just getting to it is way too much trouble for a busy mama.

Some other nighttime concerns, besides stove on-house fire-gas explosion and jewelry-ruined-gone include:
food-hoarded-infestations-grody stuff-smears-rot-botulism
lotions/creams/polishes-ingested-poisoning thereby
pets-tied up-enslaved

Z has her own jewelry and creams and an array of dolls and stuffies, but they are never quite enough. Her night machinations made this very clear. Admittedly, with her high level of competence we might teach her how to use the stove, etc. in the not-so-distant future.  Until then, we say that Z “isn’t ready to get up on her own.” We try to meet her where she is on the developmental spectrum, protecting and nurturing the baby inside, while allowing for her exceptionally high acumen on mental and physical spectra by essentially baby-proofing the house for a really, really advanced baby.

Oppressing Z was a concern, but her “locked” door liberated her from her compulsion to do verboten “projects” in the night and allowed her to sleep soundly, thereby enabling her to not only feel better but to feel better about herself.


Also from my children’s therapist-angel reader came the suggestion to use humor. She reasoned that with all the progress Z had been making I might begin to use wit in our interactions. Instead of sticking firm and strong to my “put the dish in the sink” order, for instance, I might -- according to therapist-angel -- say, ”Put the dish on the floor.” Essentially, I should continue to contain Z's actions -- but with a light touch.

Yeah, I am not ready for that yet. The therapist Pardner and I go to who specializes in attachment disorders suggested the same thing. He thought, for example, that when Z looks at one of her adoring aunties and haughtily points to her plate to indicate that more food must be provided I should say “Oh…is that a plate?” I told him,  “Please. Just tell me one thing to say for all situations. Funny is too confusing. In those moments I can’t remember more than that.” Someday I do very much want to be funny. For now, I aim for functional.

Ripping Bag

Z likes to rip. She likes to rip Everything. She rips paper into tiny strips, all of a size. She rips clothing -- seam from seam, or expanding upon a pinhole or snag.  She rips horns off beloved childhood unicorns saved especially for my some-day daughter. (I’m not bitter about that one.)

One day, after yet another ripping disastrophe, it occurred to me to fill a bag with stuff that Z not only could but Should rip. It was a great success and has substantially reduced free-form ripping.

Feel free to riff on this: what about a smashing bag? A coloring-on box? A food-hoarding bunker?

One Battle a Day

G has the typical aspergian penchant for obsession. Pokemon has been a focus for almost six years.  In order to make time for other activities and foci, such as eating and sleeping, we have devised a system in which we have one extended, all-out Pokemon battle a day, after which we have some time for discussion. A potential additional benefit to this system is that G begins to get the notion that other people have interests of their own.

When he raises the subject I can say, “Is this Pokemon time? Oh, you want to talk about Gyarados’s hit points? Good. We’ll talk about that during Pokemon time.” Ideally in this context, I don’t squish G’s interests, just corral them.

One battle a day is enough for anybody.

You flick, I tick

From time to time, G begins to develop a tick. The latest has been a sort of flicking of his fingers that seems to happen when he gets excited or anxious. Hoping to help him (and not his neurological hiccups) be the one in charge of his body I started a policy of “you flick, I tick[le].” That is, whenever he starts flicking his fingers, I tickle him. 

It is probably somewhat annoying, although he tolerates me.

“You flick, I tick” is also related to my “you flap, I clap” policy, for when G starts flapping his hands compulsively. These are intended as neither punitive nor judgmental; they should be merely observational. And, as I tell him, hey, if you love to flap, just keep on flapping…and I will keep on clapping. I like to clap -- and I love to tickle.

Tickling seems to be a good tool, also, when either child gets Stuck in a mood or thought process. Of course, this assumes a certain base level of receptivity to being tickled at a given moment.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could tickle ourselves out of being stuck?


And, finally…

The “Mombulance” (also available in “Dad” and “Person” models)

“Wheee-oooh, Whee-oooh…” You hear the siren in the distance. It approaches…closer and closer. To your surprise, it pulls up outside of your door! You venture onto your stoop. A hunky paramedic steps out (gender – up to you).

“Ma’am,” s/he orders, “Step away from the residence. Put down the crayon, computer, dishcloth, phone and banana peel.”

Several other paramedics roll a stretcher toward you. As you climb onto it you note that a nanny and several fun, inclusive kids are headed toward your house, loaded with healthy, delicious snacks, games and educational yet entertaining dvds.  You see a special caddy full of trashy magazines affixed to the side of the stretcher. You wave sweetly to your children, who don’t even notice you are leaving. As you are rolled into the ambulance you see that you are surrounded by clean, uncluttered, chic-yet-soothing décor.

Hunky Paramedic hands you a beverage, informs you that en-route massage is available by request, and closes the back doors of the Mombulance.

You are All. Alone. Ahhh.

Ok, I made that one up.

If anyone has suggestions about moderating random sounds that seem to sound good to G Inside his head but sound really bad to those Outside his head and/or on curbing jewelry appropriation and repurposing please to inform.

Full Spectrum Mama

Friday, April 20, 2012

Being True

G loves “aminals.” He also has some balance and large-motor impairments that we are tackling from various angles. Therapeutic riding seemed a good way to combine these factors. At the Southern Vermont Therapeutic Riding Institute (, Lorna Young and other amazing people (staff and volunteers) work with children and horses to the joy and benefit of all involved.

One time, we were milling about waiting for G’s lesson to begin and we saw the cutest jolie-laide shaggy old donkey kinda loitering a few feet away, all “Just hangin’ out. Nothin’ goin’ on here, folks.”

G and Z were entranced by the motley creature and asked Lorna about it. “That’s Frances,’ she informed them. She pointed to one of the stable hands, who was sweeping the floor a few yards away. “That’s his mother over there.”

G looked over at the woman, and then at the nonchalant donkey.

“I will take that as a joke,” said my boy, with a totally straight face.

Being literal, G often thinks people are lying when the “liar” in question might feel he or she is doing nothing of the sort.  He will say, “___ lied to me today. He said he would play with me at recess and then he played basketball instead.” It is so hard for him to be flexible and see incidents like this as change rather than betrayal. Having, also, an encyclopedic memory, he notes inconsistencies and reads them as untruths as well.  Therefore, among other things, he finds it profoundly disjunctive when people act differently in different situations, and with -- or toward -- different people. Your dork-kid who rejects his dork friends when the in-crowd comes around, your customer who is polite in a fancy restaurant and rude to a cashier at the 7-11, your parent who tells a child s/he is eating “nothing” when s/he has just shoved a piece of candy in her/his mouth…these “normal” people are disturbing to G.

I rather know where he gets all of this –the literality, the trash-can memory, the perceptions of dishonesty. As an adult, though, I am able to choose to associate mostly with people who present fewer such conundra. G doesn’t yet have that discernment – or that luxury.  He gets confused, hurt and angry in commonplace contexts.

Nonetheless I will never advise him to be untrue to himself. I’ve never forgotten learning the literal definition of integrity in graduate school: it comes from a coin that is, on the inside, what it purports to be on the outside. G’s inside is pure gold, but that integral and external softness is going to get him a bit scuffed.

So I’m going to suggest to him that the next time someone “lies” to him he might tell himself, “I will take that as a joke.” The next time he asks Z to play and she says, “Ask me again later and I will say yes,” and, later, she doesn’t [whole ‘nother post]: ”I will take that as a joke.” When someone utters a small white lie that to him feels like a violation: “I will take that as a joke.”

Perhaps that’s not such a bad idea for all of us. 

Full Spectrum Mama

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

High Five!

I was driving with G and a sleeping Z the other day and the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” came on and I told G, “You have to know this song. It’s one of the songs of our people.” The internal litany of my fears for his teenage-period drenched my brain instantaneously. As I sometimes do -- since my stated position vis-à-vis worrying is Against -- I proactively reviewed my mental checklist of the tribes that might protectively accompany G through his teen years: Dungeons and Dragons and other gaming groups, dorky smart kids, lonely Goths, Drama Club, the Society for Creative Anachronism folks (sensing some overlap here?)…Then I started to actually listen to the long-familiar lyrics of the song I had instructed him to follow (


“Never mind the song, buddy,” I said, hitting the scan button pronto. Anyway, who am I to decide which people my son will affiliate with? Maybe I am erroneously offering him the signifiers for particular alternative tribes while he is or will be drawn to a completely different subgroup. Still, I hope he will be able to discern and master those actions and items that we use to recognize others “like us” – whatever and whoever they may be.

For now, he’s really digging on “The Black Sabbaths.” One of his signature communiqués involves growling, especially if he thinks anyone is teasing him. Another is his jig of joy, hands and feet flapping, a big goofy grin on his face. Sometimes, during the latter, he trips himself.

I’m not sure I ever quite got the signals just right…but I still have some friends. One time my dear friend Bob  ( was out on a run and passed by my house and I happened to be outside. We had a nice long conversation about aspergers syndrome and how both of us identify as neurologically different and aspergian although we remain undiagnosed. Then, when he was about to leave, we tried to high five…and missed.

Z will have her choice of tribe. She will wear a glitter sock with a thrifted ‘70s hiking boot (real-life example) and the cool kids will think it is cool and the anti-cool kids will think it is anti-cool. My urge with her is more to de-commercialize/de-massify, to offer choices that allow her to go inside and see who she is -- not in-relation but in Herself. 

As things stand, she prefers to be surrounded by acolytes at all times.  The phrase, “I need space” feels useful to many of us because it has a certain neutrality. It sounds better than, say, “I don’t want to play with you,” or “I don’t like you.”

Not to Z.

Recently, my resilient girl was uncharacteristically devastated by two different friends using this phrase with her to, well, get some space.  When, after the second incident, we had a talk about “needing space,” she shared that being told someone “needs space” felt very hurtful, but she also said it was “hard to understand.” Because of the latter, she found the request difficult to honor and exacerbated both situations.

Not knowing what else to do -- and aware I was not being entirely truthful -- I told her, “Mama will never need space from you;” I grabbed her and made her walk around clutched (by me) to my leg for an afternoon, much to her delight.

These “need space” incidents notwithstanding, Z will undoubtedly be able to attract an endless stream of people to her side and she will understand and manipulate their diverse cultural signals and signifiers with ease.  My hope is that she will feel fully worthwhile when alone. I hope she will learn to take “I need space” – in whatever form it is expressed – as, if not a totally positive thing, something that she can at least comprehend...and respect.

Another beloved friend – always a teacher, and variously a dean, headmaster, and minister -- once asked me if I thought that perhaps G and Z in some sense constitute and intensify one another’s differences. He wrote, “I wonder if Z's most challenging explorations to the left sometimes encourage G to the right, sort of like a couple that can afford for either [one] to have a tantrum or ‘break down’ but not both simultaneously.” At times, it does seem to happen in this way; other times, the opposite seems true and they seem to symbiotically draw one another closer.

Despite their seeming to occupy very different spots on a Full Spectrum I have to allow room for these two children to grow in their own unique ways, perhaps even to grow closer to “normal,” and therefore also more similar to each other.

I have to let my children be themselves. But one of them – guess which -- will probably miss high fives a lot of the time.

Most adults, at least, know the proper response to such goofiness: So what?

High five!
Full Spectrum Mama

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Holidays can be a little bit tricky in a Full Spectrum household. Take Easter, please. The morning egg hunt presents huge problems when one child goes Machiavellian (strategy, speed, ruthlessness; goal: vanquishing cousins, sibling…result: victory) and one goes aspergian (general neural overload - candy, neural/visual/auditory overload – frolicking cousins, warp-speed sibling; goal: vague…result: paralysis, tears). (Please see self-explanatory Figures 1 and 2.) Ditto, Birthdays: think piñatas, favors &c.  We have adapted by focusing on the pre-filled Easter basket, the set number of packets – one for each child – in the piñata, and so forth.

                      Figure 1                                                                                            Figure 2

St. Patrick’s Day, too, has its potential pitfalls. Over oatmeal breakfast on that fateful day, I was sharing an uplifting story of how the children’s Scots great-grandfather would wear a button on his bum that read, “Kiss me, I’m Irish,” much to their Irish great-grandmother’s chagrin, when Z asked me, “Mama, am I Irish?”

[Censored!] I was completely tongue-tied. There was a long and (to me) somewhat uncomfortable silence. I’d’ve preferred to have been thinking about many other questions right then, including my ongoing internal debate over which is better as the face ages: the jowl-less wrinkles of your skinnier folk or the wrinkle-free jowls of the pleasantly plump?

Ahem. Since Z was adopted from China, I have a ready-made response for one of the hardest questions: “Why didn’t my birth mother keep me?” China’s one-child policy –for all its questionable aspects – offers the option of a simple answer to this complicated question: “Your birth Mama gave you up because she had to, since in China most couples are allowed only one child.”

But what about this question? Is Z Irish or not? Clearly she is not genetically Irish. But her maternal great-grandmother was fresh off the boat from Ireland. Pardner, G and I are all genetically part-Irish. As I sat there, mouth agape, Pardner (Thank you universe for Pardner! Thank you! Thank you!) came to the rescue, assuring her in a strong brogue that, “Everyone’s Irish on St. Paddy’s Day!”

“Good,” she said, “because the leprechauns are going to come to our school this weekend and turn everybody’s chairs over.”


Walking into school several weeks after St. Patrick’s Day, Z asked me, “Mama, if we can have ancestors…can we also have ‘anbrothers?’” After I stopped laughing and, frankly, bragging to everyone I ran into over the next few hours about how funny Z is, it hit me that she is still thinking about ancestry a great deal.

Maybe all those Easter eggs – and all those other material, tangible, often-edible (and sometimes eaten even when not-edible) things -- feel vitally important to a little girl who’s not quite sure what’s inside herself.

Next year I am just going to say, “Yes. Yes, you are Irish baby. Because you are mine.”

Love and leprechauns,
Full Spectrum Mama

Monday, April 2, 2012

Would You Rather…II

Many people worry. I don’t remember worrying much before becoming a mother, but back then I used to, how you say, “sleep.” All parents worry, I know. To be sure, we all have different worries -- but one thing we do share for sure is a novel and intensified capacity for terror. It’s almost as if when we become parents – however our families are formed – many of us develop an extra mental organ (or augment the one we already had) …Let us call it the extrapolator-catastrophizer gland.

The frenzied activity of this new (or newly expanded) organ is certainly enough to lead to a wide range of emotions, or what Pardner and I refer to as WROE (pronounced “roh”). After all, our children are our hearts walking around -- outside of us! -- in an uncertain world.*

I imagine the average parent shoves elements of many of the following sorts of concerns into their extrapolator-catastrophizer gland:

School Quality
Family Issues
Perfect Parent, the attempt to be
Bad People, contact with kids thereof
Athletic Ability

Some parents with “special needs” children might consider themselves lucky or wish to have these concerns, rather than worrying about, say, whether their child will ever walk or read or live a full, satisfying life. Some parents of children who inhabit areas of the spectrum other than “normal” may share these “normal” concerns, too, of course. In any case, although all parents -- and some people -- share this capacity for worry, I have to speculate that the extrapolator-catastrophizer gland of parents with “high needs” or “special needs” children may be slightly more taxed than average.  But let’s explore this assertion – because I am not actually sure it is true.


Figure 1: Venn Diagram: People, Parents, “Special Needs” Parents, Gland

Above, we see the scientific, spectrum-based proof that we all share more than we differ. I think within that context it becomes acceptable and safe, even useful, to make distinctions.

Relativism makes the Ethics teacher in FSM nuts. Of course context has weight, but some things just are right and wrong. Sure, everybody has their troubles, but some things Just Are harder than others. I have friends who are raising children who may never talk, never interact…who try for not days, not months, but Years to communicate with their child(ren) and cannot get through…and they keep trying. I have friends who are raising multiple, non-typical kids on their own on practically nothing. I have been a single mother. I have been broke. I have been a single, broke mother of two extraordinary and challenging children. I’m neither broke nor single now and it’s just plain easier. I am not saying it’s better, necessarily, but on a purely practical level it is, without question, more easierer.

My dear friend Noodle has two children. Her son is a well-adjusted, neurotypical, socially at-ease, sweet, lovable dude, and her daughter is a brilliant, non-neurotypical, evil mastermind, Goth genius, Feminist Riot Grrrl artiste. Noodle says parenting her daughter is simply exponentially harder. She worries about her more than she does her son. Period.

This may be partly because there is more material for to fret. For example, when your child is neurologically inward-focused, you tend to catastrophize about basic practical matters – safety, hygiene, self-sufficiency. When your child is delayed in developing a superego (a.k.a. conscience), you tend to extrapolate to larger potential dirty deeds. Think “Mean Girls.” Think Enron. 

These concerns do not just regard individuals or families, but society as a whole. For instance, in a piece on last week's "troubling" new CDC figures on autism (1 in 88 children today is on the autism spectrum; 1 in 54 boys) commentators on today's "On Point" ( discussed some of the challenges in parenting "special needs" children and the need for supporting parents, children and communities now -- and as these many, many children make their way into adulthood. 

On the other hand, there are people with traditional two-parent families, good job(s), plenty o’ dough and neuro- and psychotypical children who are consumed by angst.

Maybe the size of each individual extrapolator-catastrophizer gland is set – and we each worry according to its putative capacity. Or, most likely, there is a Full Spectrum of extrapolator-catastrophizer tendencies as well. If, for any given individual, we take into account the specific activity level of their E-C gland and their actual life concerns as input I think we are going to need a matrix here.

                      Figure 2: A Matrix: Extrapolator-Catastrophizer Gland Activity/Situation

My worries about G being able to live the life he wants to live and Z not becoming a grifter feel like they would fit into that matrix in a reasonable spot. I hope that Z will allow herself to feel and not just Rule, but I don’t worry over her popularity or job prospects.  I hope that G will develop a capacity to Pay Attention to the World, but I don’t waste time worrying over whether he is a sweet, honest person.

My worries are not entirely coincidental with the most regular concerns, but they are also distant on the spectrum from both mountains-out-of-molehills AND the concerns of those who deal daily with challenges much greater than mine.  It’s a decent place to be, all things considered, so let’s proceed from the pity party to the party. I suspect laughter may be the key to moderating the effects of an active extrapolator-catastrophizer gland.

Want to make me laugh? How's about a game of “would you rather…”

Would you rather…eat frozen moose poo shavings*** garnished with your choice of grubs (mashed, guts oozing [but, possibly this is good, dead] or live and writhing) or do a modern dance interpretation of your favorite poem in front of all of your facebook friends?

Would you rather…eat a puss-smeared band-aid that you found on the subway floor or drink dumpster juice from the bottom of a smelly kitchen dumpster that has been out in the blazing sun?****

Would you rather…be stung by an angry hornet or drink a cup of sour milk with a straw made of a rotten old bone?

Would you rather…have the kids you have – with all their challenges and quirks and catastrophizer-extrapolator exacerbating facets – or some other kids (or no kids)?

Would you rather…be yourself or someone else? Live now or in the future…?

Extrapolating and catastrophizing,
Full Spectrum Mama

* Thank you, Elizabeth Stone, for putting this concept into words!
** I love this quote re: friends from Ask Moxie ( “I would go through another 10 unmedicated labors, 20 bouts of mastitis, two solid years of potty training, and an infinite number of sharp jabs to the kidney in the middle of the night if I never had to worry about my child making friends.” Thanks, @Elysia, for the reference.

***"Humorous" moose reference: quite likely evidence of living too long in Vermont.

**** This entry courtesy of a reader with a very sick mind. When I asked, merely in passing, if she had any good new “would you rathers” her response could barely be contained in an email.