Friday, November 1, 2013

Commitment..Or Why I'm The Go-To Girl

I have a problem with commitment. I understand the importance of it. 

Last weekend, my husband's family had a get together. This is a regular occurrence at this point, because his father is 88 and in failing health. Every month, my sister-in-law makes the roundtrip flight from Florida and we have a family dinner night. I endure these nights with a smile firmly in place. I say that because I've been married to my husband for 21 years and we have been a couple for 26 years. His family is important to him. I, however, have put up with....lets say less than acceptable treatment from his mother regularly and his siblings on multiple occasions. 

I won't go into the details. I'll just say that I tolerate my mother-in-law with gritted teeth because she is my husband's mother. She gets credit for that. But it doesn't excuse her. In order to get through these events, I need to either take anti-anxiety medication or drink. Because its that unpleasant for me.

As a preface to this story, you need to know a few things. I don't have a job - not because I don't want one. I'd love nothing better than to get out of this house and work. My work is here at home, caring for my almost 19 yr old son who has Aspergers Syndrome and suffers from depression and anxiety. He's struggling with everything and leaving him alone for even an hour makes me incredibly nervous. He doesn't handle being alone well. Also, I might come home to find he's disassembled his computer, or done something equally irrepairable. (This has happened!)

Kiddo is on a weird schedule, where he often stays up all night with insomnia. Because I don't like him being alone, I'll stay up until 1-2am, to keep him company. My husband usually gets up around 4am. And I drag myself out of bed at 7-8am, so I'm often exhausted. 

At one point during the family get together, I asked my sister-in-law how she was getting to the airport since she was flying out on Monday. I knew my husband had meetings that day and would be unable to do it. My father-in-law is no longer well enough to drive and my mother-in-law doesn't drive. I knew (from years of experience) that the rest of the family would not offer to take her. She replied that her friend was taking her. That was the extent of the conversation. I didn't actually offer to take her. But I would have to take the burden off my husband. For some reason, they all seem to think he can just leave work and do whatever they demand. He does so, but at this point its at the risk of being fired. (Because he's had to take a lot of days off to deal with these family issues.)

At this weekend's dinner, I happened to overhear a conversation between my sisters-in-law. I was walking into the kitchen where they were talking in soft voices. I heard one say, "I just don't feel like doing it." The other replied, "So let Karen do it. She sits home all day doing nothing and she offered to take me to the airport. She can take some responsibility." Now, I never offered to take her to the airport, but I would have if she didn't have a ride. 

At this point, I want to interject that my in-laws have 4 children. One works evenings and could easily step in and help out, but doesn't. Their daughter who lives in Florida. The oldest works out of his house on his own schedule - again, available but unwilling. His wife (who was the first voice I heard), who is a visiting nurse & she does go to the in-laws every week to make sure their multiple meds are organized. They have two adult children. One of those children works part time when work is available, so he is also available. Then there is my husband, who works 60-70 hrs. a week. And me, with the full time job of caring for my son.

On Monday afternoon, my husband called. My mother-in-law had called frantic because her ride to her doctor's appointment on Tuesday had cancelled. This was obviously the conversation I'd overheard looking back on it. My husband said there was no way he could take her because of what is going on at work. So, as nervous as it made me to leave my kid & as much as it pained me to be stuck with her, I agreed to take her to her appointment. On Tuesday, I got up at 6am, despite having been up until 1:30. I drove the 45 mins to my in-laws, picked up my mother-in-law and took her to her appointment. It ended up being a 5 hour ordeal. Because she's 87, and partially deaf, I kept track of what the doctor said because she can't. Thankfully, my son slept through the time I was gone. 

I hoped that would be the end of it. I did my good deed. I'm not opposed to helping out, mind you. I was raised by my parents to believe that its important to help out. When I married my husband, I married his family. But, I don't like being taken advantage of and I know that's what his sisters-in-law did. 

This morning, I read my emails. There's one there from my mother-in-law. In it is a list of next week's doctor appointments (plural) and when I need to pick them up to get them to these appointments on time. Apparently, someone has decided that I'm the go-to girl. Without consulting me. Because I don't have anything else to do. And the worst part? I'll end up doing it. Because I made a commitment to my husband to take the good and the bad. And I'll be panicking the entire time about the commitment I'm not keeping to my son, to take care of him. 

I didn't tell my husband about the conversation I overheard. And I'm not going to. He has enough to deal with. But it makes me angry that their own children - who can take them to their appointments - are dumping the responsibilty on me. And I'm angrier at myself that I can't say no. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Very Depressed Post...Just An FYI, Okay?

Today I feel like talking about depression. I guess that's because today I'm in a pretty severely depressed state. There's no rhyme or reason why - it is what it is. I have issues.

I don't know what set it off. Well, that's kind of a lie. In part its because its September. Kiddo should be just starting his college adventure this year. Instead, he's here at home, lost and alone. I'll save you the trouble of wondering why this is bothersome and explain...

Kiddo was bullied throughout school. Not just by other kids, which was bad enough. He was also bullied by adults - from his kindergarten/first grade bus driver to his school appointed occupational therapist, teachers, special needs bus drivers and finally his health ed teacher in 10th grade. For whatever reason (probably because kiddo doesn't tolerate misinformation and questions everything) this teacher decided to go after him. On Sept. 27th two years ago, he called kiddo a "stupid useless waste of space", involved the entire class in pointing out that kiddo didn't belong and shouldn't exist. Kiddo, who was having massive panic attacks already, stopped attending school.

We fought the school to allow him to move to a smaller high school, but they refused to allow him to leave. Their solution was to place him in the "behaviorally challenged classroom" which is an isolated classroom where kids who have shanked other kids (or in one case used a hammer to beat another kid over the head). We were threatened with being reported to authorities for not forcing him to attend school. They refused to take any action against this teacher because "that's just how he motivates students". Yeah.

Kiddo is not violent in any way. He struggles with aspergers syndrome, anxiety and depression. Putting him a classroom of violent kids, manned by a counselor and a police officer, was not the solution.

I cannot begin to describe how helpless and frustrated I felt - but I can say my depression became so profound I had to go on medication to even function.

Eventually we accepted that no one was going to help us. Kiddo dropped out of school on his 16th birthday with my permission. We couldn't take anymore.

Last year I didn't have time to think about all of this because we were going through kiddo's cancer scare. On the 30th of this month we have his first annual checkup to make sure there's no sign of the tumor returning.

On top of those things weighing on me, my father hasn't been well this year. He's undergone several surgeries. And my father in law, a quiet gentle man, has reached that end of life stage where he's decided its his time. This is causing my husband incredible stress and he's breaking under the weight of it, coupled with the weight of my son's struggles and the pressures of his job.

So...yeah...I guess I understand where my depression is coming from. It's made worse because I don't have any social outlets. Over the years, I've lost contact with all of my friends. Most of them didn't know how to deal with a person whose kid wasn't cookie cutter and dumped me. Some just drifted away with time and distance. I am house bound with no one to talk to all day but the dog and the cat. Without a schedule kiddo has become nocturnal - he sleeps most days until 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Hubs is gone when I get up and doesn't get home until 7ish most nights. And while kiddo is 18 technically, I'm loath to leave him alone except for short periods of time to run to the grocery store.

There's all this empty space in my life where I have nothing but my iPad, my computer, books and my depression. Sometimes I'm okay with that - I surf the web. I go on Twitter and read tweets from the people I follow or I tweet myself. I read. I play games. It's not fulfilling and its lonely, but I can shut that out and just exist most of the time.

It's hard to be so isolated. And on days like today, I start reading the tweets and I can't help it. I feel even more alone. The people I follow have lives. They have friends. They have stories to tell or pictures to share. They joke with each other. When I tweet a reply to one of them (which is rare because I know I'm a voyeur and I don't want to be intrusive), I think they must wonder "who is this freak that's following me thinking she has the right to tweet at me"? I want to tweet at them that I'm not a creepy stalker, just a very lonely person. But maybe I am a creepy stalker person by the fact that I follow them and read their tweets...

I have...well, I have nothing. I haven't held a job in 19 years. I haven't hung out with friends in 18 years. I haven't gone out to dinner with my husband in 18 years. I haven't been on a vacation in 12 years. I haven't been home to visit my parents in 10 months. I'm one month short of my 51st birthday and almost half of my life has been lived in this shit house in the middle of nowhere, with no one to talk to.

This house is my prison. It's Hell.

So this is what depression tells me - and yes, I know depression lies: No one knows I exist. No one gives a shit that I exist. On days like this I'm not sure I want to exist.

I'm pretty sure life isn't supposed to be this way.

I'm sorry for this shitty post. I just needed to get it out. Now I'm going to go lock myself in the bathroom and have a good cry. And then I'm going to put on my big girl pants and deal.

FYI: Its Suicide Prevention month. If you need help, there are places to turn. Suicide is never the answer. It is final and it leaves behind broken people who will never recover from your decision. It doesn't solve anything. Life has its ups and downs. It's messy, it's heartbreaking and it's beautiful. Sometimes, like now for me, it seems like it will never get better. But it does. It has to.

So reach out and ask for help if you need it. You are not alone.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

There's No Such Thing As Can't

First of all, I have to say as a parent of an 18 yr. old on the spectrum, there is no cure for autism or aspergers. It is a difference in the wiring in the brain. You can't change that. 

I just lost half the people who wandered to this blog....

Okay. You can't cure it. That doesn't mean that you can't find ways to deal with some of the challenges that aspergers presents (and autism for that matter). But to do that you have to abandon the word CAN'T. 

Can't kills. It kills dreams and hopes. It kills opportunities and chances. So erase it from your vocabulary right now because I can promise you this: you are going to hear that word a lot and you CAN'T buy into it. Your kid doesn't know he can't speak. He doesn't know he can't ride a bike. He doesn't know he can't make friends. Its a bullshit word.

That being said, what can you do? First, you have to toss out "normal" expectations. Those baby books where you record everything? Useless. Make your own with goals that your kid achieves.

My son wanted to learn to ride a bike from the age of four. We tried everything. From the age of seven until he turned thirteen! I tried to teach him. My husband tried to teach him. The neighbor tried to teach him. A family friend tried to teach him. Three separate occupational therapists tried to teach him. When he was thirteen, we began a new round of physical therapy to help him with some motor skills issues. The therapist, a man named Alan, asked my son what he wanted to learn. Ride a bike, J replied. I explained we'd been trying every technique available for years with no luck. When he looked at his feet, he could go forward briefly, but would fall over. If he looked up, he could only go in a tight circle to the left briefly before falling. 

Alan said to leave it up to him. First step? Spinning fast while lying on his side.  This was to improve his balance. They worked on this for several visits. Next, he brought out a bike with HUGE wheels and no pedals. He took him outside and had him just sit on the bike and steer while Alan ran holding the bike upright. When he was able to steer, they added in the brakes. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. Finally, Alan put the pedals back on, but only to get the feel of the pedals under his feet. 

Twice a week for an hour each time, Alan ran around the building with my kid on that bike, as he added in the steps to success. And then they reached the pedalling stage. I stood and watched as they disappeared around the building. And then waited for them to come back around. And when they did J was riding the bike! Six years. 7 adults. Countless techniques...

Alan managed to do it in 2 months.

We never assumed "can't". We just had to find the person who knew the way. It's what you have to do with everything. Our kids can learn, they just need us to find the way. 

So, if you're here reading this and your kid is struggling with something (or you are a person on the spectrum struggling with something), what is it? How can I help? I have 18 years of experience finding new ways to do things. 


Monday, August 19, 2013

Advice for Parents of Children Newly Diagnosed with Autism/Aspergers

I've vented a lot on this blog. Today, I want to try to offer some advice for parents of kids who are newly diagnosed. My son was diagnosed just short of his 7th birthday. We knew something was wrong & had even had him tested at 4 yrs. old, but no one could pinpoint what was going on with him. Once he started kindergarten, his differences became painfully clear.

It was a scary time for us. Here's this child who we love, who we've imagined a future for...and wham. Suddenly that future is something very different. A future that was very uncertain.

First, I want to say, pick up your child and hold them. Love them. They are the same child you held in your arms yesterday. Nothing about that has changed except now you have a word to explain why they are struggling. This word gives you options. It gives you opportunities. I know that it feels like a death. You're questioning if they will ever graduate from school, have a family, have a job, be a contributing member of society. So take the time to grieve the future of the child you thought you had, but don't take too long. You have a lot to do.

You are about to embark on an odyssey.

I want to warn you that not everyone is accepting of a child who is different. You need to grow a hard shell. You need to be prepared to let go of people who you expected to be a part of your lives forever. You cannot predict who will be there for you, but I can promise it may not be the people you expect. Other people will do everything they can to help you. Some of them will be complete strangers who will become integral to your lives. Embrace them. Take what they have to offer. You will need the support.

You need to find a pediatrician who understands autism. My pediatrician ignored all the warning signs and told me for years that I was being an over-reactive first time mother. When presented with letters from the kindergarten teacher, the guidance counselor, and my list of things I'd been telling him for years, he finally listened. I knew my son had autism before he did.

You may also need someone trained in ABA in the beginning. Kids on the spectrum don't learn like their typical peers. They can't sequence, so simple tasks like brushing their teeth are confusing. My son used to get angry with me when I told him to put his shoes and socks on. It would lead to incredible meltdowns. Then one day he told me that you can't put your shoes on before your socks. By asking him to do that, I caused him to shut down.

For your own sake, break down tasks. You'll be amazed how many steps there are in getting dressed, brushing teeth, taking a bath...anything you do, really. Teach things in steps. Maybe they can learn to put toothpaste on their toothbrush first. That's a number of steps in and of itself. A person trained in ABA will be like gold to help you with this.

The next thing you need is an occupational therapist to deal with any fine and gross motor skill deficits. Kids on the spectrum often have uneven development. They have issues with proprioreception and motor planning. An occupational therapist will not only work with them, they are down to earth and priceless fountains of information.

You're also going to want an occupational therapist skilled in working with sensory integration dysfunction. My son had issues with sound, motion and touch. Our OT worked endlessly with him to help him develop coping skills and to improve his sensory function. I can recommend a swimming pool and/or a trampoline. Both are amazing at helping with sensory integration. And while we never used it, people swear by horse-riding therapy.

You're going to want someone (a psychologist) skilled in cognitive behavioral therapy. This helps work on understanding theory of mind, executive brain fuction, and general thinking skills. My son's psychologist was the most important person in his life from the age of 10 until 17. He gave him the social skills to cope with a world that isn't always user friendly.

I'm going to throw this out there. The doctor who diagnosed my son said to us to remember that it may take him 2 times to learn something, it may take him 20 times to learn something, but assume that its going to take him 200 times to learn something and then we won't be frustrated. This is maybe the best piece of advice I received in the beginning.

The next thing I want to tell you is you have to HAVE TO make time for yourself. You're going to be tired, depressed, frustrated, discouraged, and worse. Whatever you have to do to get it, there needs to be a portion of your day that's "Me Time". During that time, you have to do something you love - read, blog, craft, dance, exercise...whatever it is, it has to make you happy. You have to do it. It will keep you sane on days when sanity is iffy.

Find yourself a community of other parents with children on the spectrum. There are organizations out there (more than when my son was young). Contact them. I spent a lot of time trading information with other moms on delphi forums because when my son was diagnosed, there wasn't a lot of information out there. No question is stupid. Plus, they get it. All of our kids are different, but in some ways they are all the same. And no one will understand the challenges you face better than other parents facing the same challenges.

Don't sell your kid short. Everyone kept telling me what my son would not be able to do. They were all wrong. Why? Because I didn't accept that. I follow a woman on twitter whose daughter is a little older than my son. She's non-verbal and just got a therapy dog, and she's freaking amazing.

There will be many challenges to come, but there is hope. If you don't give up on them, you will find that your child will be teaching you about perseverence, strength, courage and the power of love.

Stay strong. Stay positive. Take care of yourself. Build a team to help you. Read everything and anything you can get your hands on. Educate yourself. Question things. And feel free to ask me anything. I'm here.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

OUYA Review...Or Why Customer Service Is As Important As Your Product

I'd like this to be an actual review of the Ouya. Certainly, they would probably like a positive customer review for future buyers. Unfortunately, I can't provide that. Why? Well, despite being an early Kickstarter funder of the project and dropping my $100 down for a unit (along with money for two additional remotes), I still have not received my Ouya.

As an avid gamer (rare for a 50 year old mother) I hopped on the Ouya bandwagon the week it came out. I promoted the shit out of it to friends, family and twitter followers. I signed up for notifications and watched Kickstarter daily as their sales numbers went through the roof. I cheered them on! Because, seriously, how could I not get excited with the prospect of it? I even put money in my son's bank account so that he could buy his own, as he was going away to college and wanted to be able to take it with him.

And then it was done. Funded. In production. The updates were sporadic, which is understandable with a small upstart company. I get how business works. I know all about multitasking. I waited patiently for each and every update. I followed them on Twitter and Facebook. I visited their Kickstarter site. I followed game developers who were working on projects. Damn, I was so fucking excited for this little game console.

They began shipping in March. I waited. I waited and waited and waited. I watched as they said they'd completed US shipments. I emailed because I'd heard nothing. No reply. I watched as the number of units shipped climbed. I waited. I emailed. No reply. I emailed again. No reply. They began announcing shipments of foreign units and special units. Still my son and I had not received our Ouyas or any information regarded them. We both emailed and posted our concerns on Kickstarter.

And then it happened.

My son's Ouya arrived 6 weeks ago. He purchased his two days before the fund raising ended. But there was no sign of my Ouya. I emailed. I posted messages on Kickstarter, Twitter and Facebook seeking information. Nothing. No response. No acknowledgement even of my posts. I began spamming them with tweets, trying to get some sort of response. Nothing. I even emailed and tweeted Julie, the founder. Again, no response.

I was concerned that my Ouya order had been confused with my son's since they were coming to the same address. I was concerned that my order had fallen through the cracks. As the days and weeks went by, I desperately tried to get someone to respond to me. What I was able to gather from other Ouya purchasers was that all the backers who ordered extra remotes were in the same position I was - wondering and waiting about our units.

And then finally after what seemed like my hundredth time trying to reach anyone even remotely related with Ouya, another frustrated person on Facebook gave me an email address to contact them. At this point, Ouya was claiming all units had shipped. I'd received NOTHING. I emailed and received an automated response. I waited a few more days before I finally FINALLY received an actual reply. It was a bit of a confusing reply in that it said my Ouya was already on the way, but later in the email said it would be going out soon without the additional remotes (which will be coming "at a later date") and I would received some sort of confirmation shortly.

Two days after that, I received a notice from Ouya that my unit had been delivered to DHL with a tracking number. That tracking number is still inactive with DHL. I still DO NOT HAVE MY OUYA.

I call BULLSHIT!!!

This is where the importance of good customer service comes in. You see, I don't think they know where my Ouya is. I don't think they even know if the Chinese company has manufactured it or if it's actually somewhere in the warehouses of DHL. I don't think they have any handle at all on the whole scope of this project. I think they raised the money, created the device and then handed it over to the manufacturer without any oversight on their part of the manufacturing/shipping progress, process or quality of it. (And I'll get to that word - quality - in a minute.)

Now, I don't know how they broke things down. I asked if they shipped by date funded and was told no. I know they didn't ship alphabetically by name, because mine would have gone out at the same time as my son's (unless they did confuse us and I was lied to by their rep). Maybe they worked backwards from last funded to first funded. However they decided to do it, I can only say it wasn't organized with any common sense.

What Ouya should have done is hired an administrative assistant (or two or three). They're cheap enough salary wise and hell, they raised $8M, so it's not like they couldn't swing the cost. $12/hr., 40 days a week. I used to work for a temp agency that hires people out who do things like that. I was one of these amazing people. I used to go into companies all the time, with no knowledge of what the company did, be given a task that might last a day or a week or a month and just run with it. I was good at what I did, and you can be damn sure that I would have been on top of whatever snafus were going on behind the scenes at Ouya.

They should have had a dedicated person and email for anyone inquiring about their Ouya, because with that many units in production there are GUARANTEED to be problems. It's inevitable. An administrative assistant dedicated to answering customer questions would be worth their weight in gold.

Ouya should have had person with a master list of all the units sold, whether they had extra remotes, whether they were special units, shipping addresses, contact info, etc. WHATEVER. This person should have been coordinating with the factory. As units were shipped, they should have been cross referencing them so they knew exactly what went out to who and when. It just makes sense to have someone monitoring this, one contact person handling customer inquiries into their units, one person with a master list updated as frequently as possible from the factory, doesn't it? I mean, seriously, doesn't it?!?

Apparently not.

So here I sit. No Ouya to play with. No Ouya to review. All I can review is the lack of service from the company. At this point, I wouldn't recommend doing business with them if every other game system company went out of business and they were the only company left on the face of the earth. I wouldn't recommend them if someone was threatening to stick a burning poker in both my eyes so that I could never play another game again. I wouldn't recommend them if they showed up at my house tomorrow with a gold Ouya, a lifetime supply of free games and Dave Grohl (I lust for Dave Grohl but that's another story) get the picture.

Ah...but here's the thing. Remember when I used the word "quality" a few minutes ago? Remember I said my son did get his Ouya? His goal, as a gamer, a programmer and a game developer, was to make games for it. He was so excited when the system arrived. He opened it. He turned it on. He spent about three hours with it. They say anyone can develop for it - but the software they recommend is not usable with the unit. You can't program for it the way they have it set up. They say there are hundreds of games for it. Where? Where are these games? How do you find them? He couldn't figure it out. The kid has a genius IQ, can program in his sleep and created his first game at the age of 10!

According to his its a nice desk decoration. He is NOT happy. And he couldn't get responses to the problem with their developer software, either. He's given up.

His Ouya is sitting in his room next to his computer. He hasn't touched it since the day it arrived. He has, however, found that he can use the remote with his computer and he's enjoying that immensely, so I guess that's something.

On a scale of 1-10, I give my experience with Ouya a big fat ZERO. I don't think mine is ever coming. I hope the company is having fun partying outside E3 because they aren't taking down anyone. Unless they get their act together, this console is a joke. Their customer service is definitely a joke. Their organization of the production is a joke. I'm at the point where I don't even care if my Ouya shows up. I honestly believe it isn't going to - I don't think the factory has even made it yet! And I don't think the people at Ouya have taken their heads out of their heaping pile of cash long enough to realize they have a problem. Or maybe they have and they're laughing at all the idiots who invested in them as they spend that buttload of money.

I can tell you this. If someone asks me about the Ouya - even if it eventually comes and even if its a fucking awesome product - what I'm going to tell them about is the PISS POOR SERVICE from the company. I'm going to tell them that if they buy one, they'd better not expect any help if they have a problem. I'm going to tell them you get what you pay for. And I'm going to steer them toward Playstation or Nintendo or Microsoft, because at least they get that it's important to respond to your customers in a timely and intelligent fashion.

So fuck you, Ouya. Fuck your promises. Fuck your product. Fuck your customer service.
A VERY disgrunted, disgusted and dissatisfied backer
You can take your revolutionary gaming system and shove it up your....oh, whatever.

Monday, April 29, 2013

My First Attempt To Be A Better Blogger...

I'm making a face after that heading, because I know KNOW how my life rolls. There is no set time or day when I'll get the chance to blog about life and my take on it. Sometimes I go for weeks or months with my head tucked down, surviving on pure granite determination to get through each second of each minute of each day.

I was at the grocery store the other day, standing in line. As my turn approached, I noticed the cashier and the girl bagging were giggling. "Did you see that tee shirt?" I heard the cashier whisper in a not-so-whispery voice. "I know!" The bagger exclaimed. "I'd take a picture for my boyfriend, but its just too scary." They dissolved into fits of laughter. Then it was my turn to be rung up. They looked at each other and burst into more giggles. "I'm sorry," the cashier said. "Private joke."

I knew they were laughing at me. While it pissed me off, it also brought me back to high school and the pathetic social anxiety I struggled with. I endured so much bullying by the popular girls back then because I was so painfully shy I wouldn't stand up for myself. I'd prefer to forget that high school me existed.

So, the first thing you need to know about me is that I'm a geek. I was born a geek. I will die a geek. I'm happiest that way and I don't give a shit what society says I'm supposed to be. It's taken me 50 years to get to this place. (Okay, I'm 50 and I'm still not sure I'm at that place but I fake it really well most of the time.)

My tee shirt - the tee shirt they were making fun of, I'm assuming because I am 50 years old and had the nerve to be so comfortable wearing it that I didn't even think twice running out to the store in it - is from Ript Apparel, where I buy most of my tee shirts. The design on it is the Death Star from Star Wars, only instead of it being gray, the Death Star is red and white, with a gray band down the middle and its a fucking pokeball! Yes, I was wearing a PokeDeathStar. It is AWESOME.

And yet these two high school age girls managed to make me feel like a ridiculous freak in it.

First of all, I fucking LOVE Star Wars. When it first came out, I was a teenager about their age. I lived in a small rural town with 2 movie theatres. Star Wars was playing at the Paramount Theatre - one of those old cinemas with the huge screen, velvet seats with wooden arms, a balcony, church-like sconces along the walls and gilding everywhere. It was the brass gonads of movie theatres. (It burned down a few years later.)

Annnywayyy.... Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw that spoke to that geek in me. It reached into my soul and captured it. I don't know how many times I saw the movie that summer, but I know it played all summer. We would go for the early showing with our popcorn and soda (they allowed you to bring your own) and stay right through the second showing on Saturdays. I wanted to be Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan and Han Solo, even if I was a girl. I'd always been an avid reader - and loved science fiction books - but to have a story come to life like that? Well, it was magical.

I have loved that movie from the first time I saw it and I still love watching it today. (The old version - not the crapped out, digitally reinvented version.) Han Solo shot first, goddamn it. (Just sayin'.)

Second, I have a kid with Aspergers Syndrome. For those who don't know, Aspies often have specialized interests. My son was big into pokemon from the age of four until he was sixteen. Since he didn't really relate to other kids (in other words, he was bullied/tortured for being different), I had to be his friend in addition to his mother. This meant playing games with him and immersing myself in his world to have conversations with him. I know every fucking pokemon and can probably recite them in order along with their moves from the first gen of pokemon. In fact, I probably know more about pokemon than most pokemon fanatics.

When I saw this shirt, I fell in love. It was my interests wrapped with my son's interests into this beautiful work of art that I can wear whenever I want to. This shirt is so me its not funny. And these two teenage girls reduced it and me to a laughing stock.

I'd like to say I made a comment. I'd like to say I told them to go fuck themselves. But I didn't. I silently stood there - like teenage me would have 35 years ago - and let them laugh at me. I paid for my groceries, refused the bagger's help and raced from the store with embarrassment. And it pisses me off more than you can imagine.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Holidays, Religion and Me

Today is Easter, which for me is a pretty sacred holiday. I was raised a devout Catholic in rural Vermont. Until I was somewhere around ten years old, the masses were still done in Latin and women were expected to wear kerchiefs or hats with veils on their heads. If you forgot yours, you couldn't enter the church.

My mother sometimes circumvented that with kleenex.
In my parent's household being Catholic meant that every Sunday and Holy Day, we went to church. We were also required to regularly attend confession once we were old enough and attend catechism classes.

Somewhere along the lines, I started to see religion as less than holy.

When I was thirteen, that belief solidified. My father had taken us to church for confession. My sister went first, and then my father. I was last to enter the confessional, a place that to this day makes me nervous. The priest slid open the little window and I looked at the shadow of him behind that grate. I began with the typical "Forgive me father for I have sinned..." And then I confessed how I had argued with my mother about something trivial. My parents were very strict and didn't tolerate bad behavior. This particular fight, which I can't even remember, was nothing unusual or horrible. Just a small rebellion on my part over doing the dishes or cleaning my room or something. I'd been punished - I don't remember how. Sent to bed without dinner or maybe grounded for a week.

The priest listened to my confession and then scolded me a bit for my sins. Then he handed down my punishment: he wanted me to say 100 Our Fathers, 100 Hail Marys, 50 Acts of Contrition, 50 Prayers to the Holy Spirit, and 25 Prayers to My Guardian Angel.

I was the last confession of the day.

When I left the confessional, my father was standing at the back of the church waiting for me. I scooted into the closest booth to the confessional and knelt to begin my prayers. The priest followed me out and chose a seat directly behind me.

"Aloud," he told me. So I began to recite the Our Father aloud. Whenever I picked up speed or slowed down or spoke softer, he would place his hand on my shoulder and tell me to begin again.

At some point, my father left. He went home, never questioning what the priest was doing or why. He left me there, in that church, alone with that priest for more than two hours while I worked my way through the prayers. We were the only two people in the church.

To this day, I wonder what the priest was doing as he sat behind me dragging out my punishment.
I missed dinner. It was nearly 7 pm when I walked out of that church. My father was waiting in his car, although he'd gone home and had dinner himself. The priest trailed me to my father's car, with his hand on my shoulder and explained to my father that I'd been a bad girl and had been punished.

He made me apologize to my father again. And then he left.

When I climbed in the car, I remember looking at my father who looked disappointed in me - although he had no idea what I'd done, he immediately accepted the priest's claim that I was a bad girl - and told him that I was never NEVER going to set foot in a confessional again. I said I would pray to God for forgiveness for mistakes I made not a priest.

There must have been something in my face - or perhaps he realized he'd made a mistake - because he accepted that and never made me go to confession again.

When I left home for college, I stopped going to church altogether.

In my house we celebrate many holidays, and we celebrate them low-key. If I were to believe the Catholic religion (and my parents), I'm not actually married since our wedding ceremony was performed by a Justice of the Peace. I had no desire to force my husband to attend religious classes so that the Church would recognize our marriage. And that in the eyes of the church, my son was born a bastard. My husband is Jewish. My son, although baptized Catholic, is agnostic. Or as he likes to say, he's "eclectic". I've never forced formal religion on him, although I've given him a solid belief in something more than him.

He has the added bonus of being born with Aspergers Syndrome, a form of autism. The Church until recently exorcised children with autism because they believed them possessed (I actually think this still goes on because I've heard stories). The Church also doesn't like to provide religious education to children like mine because they question everything. Had I wanted him educated Catholic, he would have been turned away.

My son believes that science explains most things, but that science cannot explain everything. He believes the truth of God is found somewhere in the teachings of all religions since they share many stories. He understands that they are all right and all wrong in different ways. He accepts there is more out there than we know and he has a strong moral foundation. I think that's good enough.

As for me, I've been a lapsed Catholic for a long time. I love Mass, but I don't go except on Christmas and for the Stations of the Cross. I like to think God and I have an understanding. I have intense faith but I don't shove it on others and I don't need a church to practice it. I believe in many things that the Church doesn't - and I'm happier for it.

But today is still Easter and it's still holy, so Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it today. And for those of you of the Jewish faith, Happy Passover. May whatever God you believe in smile down on you today and bless you with joy.