Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Jacket

Many moons ago, back in the 80's, I was a head-banger. Yes - mild mannered, suburban mom was a former rocker chick who loved heavy metal and spent every dime on albums, tapes, concert tickets, and band memorabilia. Ah, those were the days.

As you might imagine, to be a proper rocker chick, you had to dress the part. While some opted for mini-skirts and spandex, I was more inclined toward tight jeans and concert t-shirts. I had a studded wrist cuff, a chain-link belt and matching necklace, big hair (well, as big as I could fluff up this baby fine mop), and boots. The finishing touch, and my crowning glory, was my Levi denim jacket. It was well worn, butter soft, and covered in enamel pins. I had a pin or two for EVERY band I loved. The jacket was covered in them.

There were a few record stores and a couple comic book shops that carried these pins and I would spin the racks every time I stopped in. I was always in search mode. It took years, but that jacket turned into a real work of art.

When it was time to leave for college, I decided it was time to tone down my look just a tad. I didn't want to scare my new roommate (a decision I really regret now...she needed a good scare! But I wrote about that in another entry some time ago.) My best friend at the time had always admired my jacket. She was having a really hard time wrapping her head around the idea that I was moving away to school. See, she was a year younger than me, but two years behind me in school.

Kathleen was very unhappy. She was extremely attached to me and was emotionally fragile. While I hated leaving her behind and was seriously worried about her, I was also looking forward to some time apart. (She was incredibly needy and that could be exhausting at times.)

In a flash of brilliance, I asked her to baby-sit my jacket. I wasn't GIVING it to her, mind you, but I thought she would find some comfort in wearing that denim slice of my soul. She wrapped it around herself like body armor and it did go a long way in making her feel a bit better. She knew I'd never abandon that jacket so there was no chance of me forgetting about her, making new friends, and just never looking back. Nope. I'd have to come back! For the jacket. (Silly goose...she never felt worthy of my friendship and really believed this!)

This shared custody arrangement worked out pretty well, at first. She was always my first choice in side-kicks when I wanted to go to a show. Sometimes I would wear my jacket, sometimes I'd let her wear it. We always got comments on how awesome it was. Great conversation starter with cute rocker boys!

Fast forward a few years. Kathleen was now in college and I was living on my own and working full time. We still shared custody of the jacket, but it spent way more time hanging in her closet than mine. I was wearing business attire for work, so that left only weekends for me to rock out. Then the unthinkable happened. Kathleen was found dead in her bedroom one sad afternoon. I wrote about that sad day, I think, as my very first blog entry so I won't rehash it. Long story short, her death was ruled a suicide and her mother reacted very...oddly...to the loss.

Within days, she had cleaned out Kathleen's room and given away all her worldly possessions, including, my priceless jacket (among many other things.)

*sigh*

Fast forward another 13 years or so... One day, on a whim, I decided to buy a new Levi's denim jacket. I hadn't worn one since the loss of my first one. It was like welcoming home an old friend. The new jacket was a bit stiff, a different style, and I certainly wasn't the svelte teenager anymore, but I decided to make the best of it. After wearing it once or twice and looking at myself critically in the mirror, I realized something was missing. Besides my youth! Heh heh.

On a road trip with my husband, we stopped at a Hard Rock Cafe for lunch. While browsing souvenirs and thinking about buying a t-shirt, I noticed a spinning rack of...enamel pins! Just like the ones I used to have dozens of years before. I picked out a cool Hard Rock pin in the shape of a guitar and proudly pinned it to my new-ish jacket. I thought, "Pin #1 in my new collection!" Then the jacket got hung up in my closet and forgotten about. Life stepped in and kept us busy, distracted, stressed and occupied.

A year or so ago during a major closet clean out, I rediscovered the denim jacket yet again. It still had the lone enamel pin attached and gave me a pang of bittersweet memory. I spent a little time browsing on Ebay, looking for some of the pins I'd lost years ago but I never bought any. The jacket was rehung and out of sight and mind until about a month ago. That's when Think Geek released a new series of enamel collector's pins. First in the series was a set of vintage video game controllers. OK, so it had nothing to do with music, but hey - I am a headbanger AND a nerd. I ordered them.

Now my jacket has 3 pins. I don't know where things might go from here, but for the moment, it makes me smile.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Free Will or Predestination? A soul, redirected...

Lofty question in this post title...yep. Most of the time I think there is no rhyme or reason to our existence. It's just a series of random events that we control with the decisions we make each day. Until it isn't.

A few months ago, John ran across a old friend of a former girlfriend on a topical FaceBook page. One random comment and a conversation was started leading to this old girlfriend sending along a friend request. I'm not a jealous type. Well, not seriously jealous. Just somewhat insecure. I wasn't all that worried that John was friending his old high school fling on FaceBook. Really! I wasn't!

She sounds like a nice lady - mother, wife, friendly and a fun connection to John's youth. How odd that they found each other after all these years. Hmm!

Fast forward to this past weekend. J had a much older brother (17 years older!) who passed away a few years ago. J took the loss hard and decided to travel out of state to go visit her brother's widow and reconnect. She met some extended family including a grand-niece just 20 years old and already with 3 kids under the age of 2. We don't know the details, but we suspect there is an ugly story behind the conception and birth of her oldest child (a little boy, just 18 months old). Long story shorter, this young mother just never bonded with her boy. It happens, sadly.  The child had his basic needs met, but it was obvious that this girl didn't give a hoot about this sweet little boy. She did dote on her younger two, thankfully.

J felt an instant bond with this needy little boy, her great-grand-nephew. He clung to her like she was his port in a storm. She shared his tragic story with John who instantly thought J should suggest putting the baby up for adoption. It was obvious the mother wanted nothing to do with her boy child, so why not give him a chance at a happy life with another loving family? John counselled her on various forms of adoption and made suggestions on things J could do to help this little boy.

All that remained was broaching the delicate conversation with the mother.  Thankfully, she saw the wisdom in this option. (Why it had never occurred to her before is a mystery to us...adoption often doesn't occur to people whose lives were never directly touched by it in the past.)

Things progressed very swiftly and J was given temporary custody of the little boy and will bring him back to NJ for placement. The mother has already signed her rights away and a lawyer was contacted who has 4 portfolios in hand for J and her husband to look over and make the choice.  With luck, this sweet baby could have a new forever home in a matter of weeks!

We pray J and her husband choose the perfect new family for this baby boy. It's obvious that they found him just in time...before the complete lack of affection from his mom broke him forever. He is still young enough to bond with loving parents and have no memory of his rocky start in life.

We often find ourselves advocating for adoption with others who touch our lives. I have so many great stories, some that I have told here in my journal in years past. We love to help! Please pray, send positive vibes, or whatever voodoo you do do to ensure this baby finds his way home!

UPDATE:  The birth mom has asked for more help on behalf of a friend of hers who is currently pregnant and now interested in placing her baby for adoption. J was happy to help this new girl too. Then potential birth mom #2 told ANOTHER friend who is pregnant and she is interested too. That is 3 babies that may be on their way to loving homes from one seed planted. I am thrilled beyond words!

UPDATE 2:  The baby has been placed with his forever family - a lovely couple in their 30s. He is their first child and they are over-the-moon happy. Good luck, little guy!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Special Ed

I learned a new education buzz-phrase today. Pushed Out - That is when a school district works the system in such a way as to nudge parents into moving their "undesirable" child out of the school and into another out-of-district placement. It's very passive-aggressive! Don't get me wrong...I am not dropping hints that this is what happened in our case. No, no. Quite the opposite.

In some states, Charter schools are all the rage. They custom design their education programs to attract a certain type of student. Sounds great, right? If you have a typical child who is academically gifted, sure. But these schools don't have the funding or staff to handle most special needs kids. So they will tell perspective parents things like "I don't think your child would be a good fit for this rigorous and competitive environment." Thus ensuring their school stays high performing. It's a new kind of segregation. Ugly, right? Yeah, I'm not a fan of Charter schools anymore. It's not fair to take my tax dollars to pay for your pseudo-private school masquerading as a public school.

I'm also not a fan of school districts who very deliberately try to hang on to their kids with IEPs but don't make any effort to actually meet their needs. Oooh? Who would do such a crappy thing, and why? Funding. Special Needs kids represent a significant source of additional funding for a school district, if you have enough of them. Strike the right balance and you can keep those kids mainstream, ignore most of their needs, and keep all that sweet sweet funding without having to shell out the dollars for special programs or needed staff. Keep crying poor and underfunded to the stressed out parents as they try to help their floundering kids stay afloat in an environment that isn't suited or adapted for their needs. Then play dumb when those parents start to get wise to the tricks.

Yep. THAT scenario was us. We are not dumb. It took us a while to figure out what was going on, but we fought for our boy and won. He's in a program that combines mainstream activities with typical school kids and a custom education plan that is project based and very progressive. Perfect for our non-neurotypical son. Fantastic! Oh, but wait, there are speed bumps on the horizon.

Enter Common Core. Lots of buzz going around about these nation wide education standards. 46 states have adopted common core, and counting. New testing standards are coming to our district. It means MORE testing and more frequently, too. Gives the department of education all those lovely data points they like to reference. Grade our schools. Sort them by test scores and fix the bugs...bugs being under-performing students or bad teachers. Get rid of the bad seeds and FIX our nation's education system. The proof is in all that *bleeping* testing, people!

But, what if you have a child who doesn't test well. Hell, he freezes at the very idea of sitting in a room for hours doing nothing but coloring in dots or checking boxes on a computer screen. Hmm? What then? Lock all those poor performers up in a couple centralized schools and don't count the scores of those "specials"? Don't think I am exaggerating here. Arizona is already stacking up special needs kids in segregated school programs away from the main stream. It could happen here too!

Education in this country is broken and common core is NOT the answer either. Sadly, it's going to take a generation of kids failing at life to prove my point. My next stop in my quest for knowledge on how our children are expected to acquire learning in this country...who did the research into Common Core standards? What collection of lame brains came up with THAT plan? Shouldn't educational standards for the whole country be designed and implemented by, oh, I don't know, SMART people? I strongly suspect there were not very many smart people working on this. Strongly suspect.

And that is my rant for the day. *steps off soap box*

Thursday, May 15, 2014

When it all goes wrong...

Someday, years in the future, will I look back at this moment and think "why didn't you DO something!"  I hope not. Tyler insists he tried to tell us things were going badly for him as far back as first grade. I just don't remember it that way. So I have been paying particularly close attention to what Max tells me.

He tells me some of the kids are making fun of him and picking on him. They sometimes make him cry. Thankfully, it's still OK to cry in first grade. He is a sensitive kid and gets his feelings hurt pretty easily. Should I worry? This could be where the bullying starts! *sweats*

Then there is that one kid who always seems to want to start something with Max. He pushes him, makes rude comments, threatens and hits him. Time to panic yet? I got a call from the school nurse to "alert" me to another problem today...apparently this kid threatened to stab my boy in the neck with a knife. As it was, he was in the nurse's office for an ice pack for his ribs.

Now? Do I freak out now? The kid was sent to the office for a "talking to" and his Mother was called in. She sent me a note telling me the boy was being punished. Ok.

*fiddles uncomfortably*

See, I was tortured as a kid. For YEARS. Bullied and abused. My parents did NOTHING. Sure, my mom would call the school and complain now and then (particularly when I brought home physical evidence of abuse.) But we all know that you can talk until you're blue in the face and it doesn't change a darn thing.

So I have no frame of reference. What my parents "did" was ineffectual. I've never seen anything done that WORKS other than to take your kid out of school and move them somewhere else or home-school them. We did the school change for Tyler (for way more reasons than just that he was being bullied, obviously) and he is happy as a clam now.

Do we move Max? He has several good friends. He is doing well, academically. It's only first grade.

*paces and chews nails*

I want Max to know we are in his corner. We have his back. He can count on us to really try and help, if he needs it. Does he need it? [talk amongst yourselves while I ask him.]

Max approves of what we have done, so far. He said the only other thing he would wish for would be if that kid were suspended from school for a while, but he understands that we have no control over that decision.  He also concurred that he CAN come to us for help and he knows we'll do our best to help fix things.

*whew*

That's very encouraging. I guess I'll just stay on top of the situation and keep paying close attention and hope that things get better.

Too optimistic?

*sigh*

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mother's Day - It's a wrap!

I know most Mothers look forward to a special day just for them each year. For some reason, I can't seem to get the day right. I seem to spend a lot of time worrying about MY mother or my husband's mother. (Shouldn't they have graduated to "Grandparent's Day" now? Isn't that how it works?) My mom, in particular, still expects the day to be about her. She's had a bit of a rough year, so I tried not to make a big deal of it. I indulged her. I gave up my own Mother's Day weekend to drive 6 hours north with Max and spent the weekend making my Mom happy.  I think that it went rather well.

Meanwhile, because of a series of unfortunate events, the husband had to stay home (at first it was work-related, but then his mom was hospitalized.)  My eldest boy, Tyler, also begged to stay home. Travel is really hard for him, as is being outside his comfort zone. For my high-functioning autistic pre-teen, I am willing to bend and compromise quite a bit. We have learned a LOT in the last year or so about how he functions and are finally making strides in keeping family harmony and peace.  Sadly, that knowledge is not easily transferable. Extended family don't "get it" and I feel sad that they don't know him like we do.

Thankfully, Max seems to wear the mantle of family ambassador very well. He was the dutiful grandchild and dispensed hugs and adorableness wherever we went. He had a great visit, lots of Lego gifts and building, bonding with his Uncle and future/adopted Aunt, and ate like a boss. He was a total delight and beyond helpful to his very tired and slightly stressed out Mommy.

When we finally arrived back home Sunday night, I got a very brief and abbreviated Mother's Day celebration with all my boys. Cards, nifty gifts made in school (a Queen's crown decorated by Max with a coupon good for 1 day of "kitchen duty" and a mason jar of home-made scented hand soap created in chemistry class by Tyler) and cream puffs from the Daddy. Max was tired and cranky, Tyler was a bit annoyed by all the added hubbub in his previously quiet home space, and John was, well, worried about his Mom and a little worn out I guess. Me? After 12+ hours of driving over the weekend, little sleep, heat exhaustion...yeah, I was no bargain either.

Crankiness aside, I love my little family. I just hope that next year I finally get breakfast and cuddles in bed on Mother's Day. That's all I really want.


Saturday, May 03, 2014

Gamer's Paradise

I had a dream last night. (Yes, this is going to be one of those posts, but bear with me!) I was in a mall and saw a store front with big windows and a revolving door. Pretty unusual for a store to have a door like that. A big purple neon sign proclaimed it "GAMER'S PARADISE" so, naturally, I had to check it out.

In the front to the left was a half-walled area full of cafe-style tables and chairs. It looked like a party or function room and was unoccupied when I came in, but there was a schedule of events displayed on a screen on the wall. Behind there was a series of built-in desks/cubbyholes installed along the wall. Some had individuals seated with their laptops and some had groups of 2, 3 or 4 people with chairs pulled up in front of various computer screens. I noted that each cubby had cables and gear for free high-speed wi-fi or cable access to the internet.  Walking further to the back and left I found a cozy area of larger octagonal tables, each with a different featured table-top game and a wall full of "floating" shelves loaded with more games. Now I was getting really excited!

The table-top gaming area was as far as I could go to the left, so I turned and wandered back through the gaming station/desk zone and through a short hall that had restrooms to the right. The space opened up on a room with a big screen TV and a sort of living room arrangement with low tables and squishy sofa/chair seating. There were about 8 or 10 people gathered here watching and discussing some kind of tutorial videos for a new MMO out of Korea. The huge universal remote for the TV was navigating to each section and selecting the English language versions of the tutorial videos, but every now and then the girl holding the remote would accidentally click on the wrong language and everyone would laugh and groan, trying to wrest the remote away from her. They seemed like a very friendly bunch. I watched the videos for a while and took notes so I could install the game at home, later.

Curiosity eventually won out, and I crossed to the far side of the room to a series of sliding panels/doors that revealed a craft area with long tables, a couple sewing machines and a cabinet that I saw was overflowing with fabric and supplies. There were a few adjustable dress dummies against the wall displaying costumes in various states of completion. One had an elaborate Victorian style gown that I instantly fell in love with and another had something made from silver fabric with a cleverly quilted cod-piece. Very Renaissance. There were two women collaborating on a project on one of the tables and a guy using another table. I stood admiring the gown for a bit waiting for someone to question my presence there or offer help. Other than a couple friendly Hey's or a nod of greeting, I was left to explore.

Finally, I approached a girl who was sitting in a quiet corner reading a book with a very familiar cover. (I'd read it too.) She looked up as I approached and smiled as I gave her a little wave of greeting. I had just opened my mouth to ask about how this Gamer's Paradise "worked" and I woke up.

Yes, people, it was nerd-vana. They didn't SELL anything, that I could see. Everything was open and available to use. There was no desk at the front, no membership cards or keycard access points... I was left wondering how a place like this could exist. Membership fees? I'm sure it was user-supported in some way, like PBS. Maybe it had corporate sponsors too? I don't know. All I know is, I really really hope a place like that exists in the real world. If not, it totally should.