Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Six Ways You Can Tell If Your Kid's Not Brushing His Teeth

1.       There are only three toothbrushes in the family toothbrush holder but four people in the family. (However, this phenomenon can also be explained if you have a spouse with OCD tendencies, who uses toothbrushes to clean mildew on bathtub grout while sitting on the can. Lars, I may or may not be talking about you.)

2.       When you send him up to bed, say don’t forget to brush! and go up there twenty second later to  check, his lights are out and he’s already snoring.

3.       The dentist's disclosing tablets make him look like he just bolted one of Aunt Ida's blueberry pies. Every. Single. Tooth.

4.       His breath smells like your hundred-year-old grandmother’s does.

5.       He does not look you in the eye when he assures you he did the deed (this becomes a bit less reliable if he’s on the autism spectrum).

6.       He asks for the meaning of “tooth sweaters.”

Dr. Watson, I think we can deduce that Benjy has not been brushing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Surviving a Storm, Irreverently

Last night we, our extended family, and our friends all weathered a mega-storm with little more than inconvenience. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

What did we do while waiting for the lights to go out? We sat down to my awesome chicken and white bean chili, defrosted in a microwave that still worked just fine. Serenaded by chilling and discordant winds, we watched the trees do their Bacchanalian dances. Lovely and scary, all at once. We strove to keep Benjy seated at the table. And we worried aloud about what the night would bring for millions of our fellow Northeasterners.

Then I did it. I just couldn't help it. It came from nowhere. "Lars," I said with a grin. "You are Eurotrash. Going out to the hotel pool at six a.m. with all the other Germans, laying your towel on the best pool chair before Brits wake up and get down there."

Lars looked startled, and then he laughed. He knew what game I was playing.

"Anna, you Ugly American," he retorted. "Always complaining to the waiter that the coffee's not strong enough, like it is at home in the States."

We practically hit the floor laughing. Our kids look mystified. (Neither of us has ever lived up to the stereotype, so they had no idea what we were talking about.)

Saskia, always with an opinion, said, "The two of you are an embarrassment to the species."

Benjy agreed. "Yeah, what she said."

Then we left all the dishes on the table and sat down to watch some irreverent TV (South Park, anyone?). And we laughed some more.

You know, we had a tragic storm here in the northeast. Our family survived. So did the Hellacious Hound, and the Rockin' Hermit Crabs. (The fishies didn't, but their sad demise preceded Sandy.)

Many families were not so lucky. We talked about those families today. The folks perched on top of their trailers all night in a New Jersey trailer park while the waters rose about them. How utterly terrifying. The family whose child, the husband whose wife, the kids whose grandparent, were crushed by falling trees, or who drowned. Queens -- Queens! -- was burning this morning. A conflagration of scores of apartment buildings. I told that to Benjy and he said, "In 1660, London burned down." And I replied, "Benjy, this is here and now. This is close to us."

Our hearts break for those people, even as we feel gratitude that not even one shingle blew off our roof.

We were lucky that last night we could be silly. Eurotrash, Ugly American, South Park, are nothing to those people who have to rebuild their lives. How fortunate we were that they meant something to us in the middle of Sandy's fury.

Life can be so damn good, even in the face of others' pain. I'm still wrapping my mind around that one. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Larsapalooza

Tonight, Lars, Benjy and I saw "Hotel Transylvania" at a local multiplex. We had a blast. The parts I didn't sleep through were truly adorable (I've been known to sleep through all genres of movies, including thrillers and horror flicks, as well as World Series and Super Bowl slugfests. I am an equal opportunity sleeper).

Anyway, the movie was a hoot but the funniest moment was on the ride home. You see, there is an "homage" to (read: satire of) "Twilight" in the movie. Benjy was appropriately eye-rolly at the reference to his least favorite franchise.

"Geez, 'Twilight' is a worse love story than watching some guy pooping," he said.

"Ew," I said, and laughed.

Lars took his eyes off the road for one of those frighteningly long moments he likes (the kind of long moment he used to terrify me with while driving in Europe) and said, "What is this 'Twilight'? Is it on television?"

Snorts from the back seat.

"Watch the road," I said sternly. "And, REALLY?"

"Well, what is it? And what is it about?"



"And you NEVER heard of Twilight?"

"No. What's it about?"

"Lars. Do you live in a GODDAMN BUBBLE?"

"Language, Mom," said Benjy from the back, enjoying himself immensely.

"I try to insulate myself from that stuff," Lars replied coolly.

"Well," I snapped. "Let me just tell you that the "Twilight Franchise" is the brainchild of a woman who had an icky dream and woke up and wrote it all down, kind of like Coleridge -- remember Kubla Khan, and the messenger from Porlock? [Sorry, folks, a little English-nerd indulgence here.] Well, this was EXACTLY NOT LIKE THAT. And then Stephanie Meyer became ultra rich and lived happily ever after."

"So this Twilight is not something I would like?"

"You'd love it. I'll buy it for you tomorrow."

"Thank you," he said, without a trace of irony.

I looked back at Benjy but it was too dark to read his face. We got home and Lars disappeared upstairs.

I can't wait to tell Saskia this one. She'll say, "Why am I not surprised? The guy wears Birkenstocks with white socks, year round." She and I will share a laugh. Then I will go hunt Lars down and and give him a fierce hug.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

More Funny Google Search Terms

Here's how people searched for me -- or found me by accident -- this week:

the striped nickel

striped nickel blog

body sock

cod piece

nickel and anxiety


sensory body sock

dog in sofa

heartbreaking blogs

I'm sorry to be breaking hearts!
The list is not as funny as in times past, but still interesting.
Have a great Sunday!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A 47-Percenter, In All Her Glory

The title of this blog post could refer to any of my friends and most of my family. I don't actually know any one-percenters (although, funnily enough -- and I apologize for this indiscretion -- I am related to one or two of them). Frankly, the "takers" in my life by far outweigh the "makers," if you count amongst the takers folks who live paycheck to paycheck, and who are planning to collect (or already are collecting) the social security they've worked hard to earn. Some of them/us even rely on this wonderful state of ours (Massachusetts, I'm talking about you) for help with medical insurance. Maybe even food. I wouldn't be surprised.

Did I mention that every 47-percenter I have ever known, and I've known quite a few, has worked very, very hard, sometimes under unpleasant conditions, to take care of themselves and their loved ones?

But forgive me. this is not a political rant.

On Friday I met an inspiring woman. She broke my heart. I was at the hospital to pick up Benjy. To my utter delight he was ready to be discharged. I was sitting in the day room of the unit, waiting for his case manager to come with some forms for me to sign, and some prescriptions, and in swept a hospital cleaning woman. She was comely and energetic.

She started up a conversation with me. I had some trouble decoding her accented English -- she was clearly Latin American -- but I understood that she was glad the rain had held off. She would have gone shopping that morning if she'd known the forecasts were wrong.

I nodded and smiled, not really knowing what to say. "I know," I said.

There was a little girl, maybe ten years old, who had been admitted the day before, and both the cleaning woman and I kept glancing at her. She was a waif-like child with short, thin hair -- it looked like she'd taken scissors to it -- and sharp features. She'd been wailing fretfully since arriving on the unit, and because she seemed so vulnerable we both, the cleaning woman and I, felt drawn to her.

"I so sad for her," the woman told me, and a shade of grief passed over her face. "All these kids. Is sad. They try so hard, and life is so hard for them."

"I know,' I said again. I wasn't sure she realized my son was one of them. She smiled at me, such a warm smile, and all the while she mopped the floor. "Am I in your way?" I asked her. "Should I lift my feet?"

"No, sweetheart. No worry. You're not in my way."

I watched her in silence. At first she had seemed lively to me. Now I saw, in a certain heaviness of motion, that she was tired.

"How are you?" I asked her shyly.

She told me. How he brother had died of heart disease at the age of forty-four and left a wife and two children. How he'd said, in the hospital, that he was dying, and she'd replied, no you're not, we're taking care of you. How he'd said he was, and that his wife would follow soon after. How she had paid twenty-thousand dollars for his surgery and his hospital bed, because where she comes from there is no medical insurance, and how he was right about his wife. She died four months later, and the cleaning woman took on the job of supporting their children.

She told me how her sister is dying of colon cancer and her mother is old and infirm, and how her brother-in-law was murdered in a hold-up at a corner bodega. She is working to keep all of them afloat, scrubbing toilets and mopping floors. She is tired, and she is kind, and several times she called me sweetheart. She loves the children on that psychiatric ward and she pities their pain.

I thought she was a beautiful woman, radiant in her kindness, in the way she labors, without complaint, for others. She takes responsibility for herself and for her family. For these aching, broken kids she cleans up after.

We talked for about ten minutes and then the case manager arrived and I was swept into papers and instructions and thanks.

I never got to say goodbye to my friend. Floors mopped, she had slipped away. And even in the flush of pleasure at taking my boy out with me for good -- or, for now -- I felt sad.

I wish I could have told her she was beautiful. And good. Even without an evening gown, or a dressage horse, she is a maker. She made a huge impression on me. I wish I knew her name and address; I would send her a poem.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Lesson In Perspective

Today I braved a horrible, throbbing, choking head-and-chest cold to pick Saskia up from volleyball practice. I was feeling blue because I was simply too sick to drive a second time into Boston to bring Benjy dinner at the hospital, so he was going to have to eat whatever slop they serve.

(This means he will go to bed with an empty stomach -- he doesn't eat my slop either, or anyone's. He only eats double quarter pounders, Big n' Toasteds, and the occasional "BLB" (bacon/lettuce/bbq sauce) from Subway. Period.)

And I wouldn't have the satisfaction of wishing him  goodnight in person. So I was kind of sad.

Well, Saskia gets into the car and tells me that practice sucked because she was tired, but that it was actually quite good (that ol' teenage logic), and that her day off on Friday, for a visit to rheumatology, cost her big in terms of make-up homework. She expects to be up until midnight.

The visit to rheumatology was about a stiff, aching, hot and swollen knee. When you have "pre-lupus" and that happens, the doc has you get in there to be seen, pronto.

Turned out it might have been arthritis and it might have been an injury. She didn't remember injuring her knee, but volleyball is a knee-intensive sport after all. So how could we be sure? We scheduled an MRI and blood work, and were told to cancel if the knee miraculously got better on its own, Because only an injury does that -- arthritis does not. And now I get the distinct pleasure of canceling those appointments, because the knee is cool to the touch, doesn't hurt anymore, and no longer looks like a blob of risen dough.

Saskia: 1
Lupus: 0


But you were expecting a lesson in perspective, no? Fine, here it is:

Me (in car, driving): Do you have a lot of work from Friday to make up?

Saskia (in passenger seat, head resting dreamily on hand): Yeah. I have to do most of a science project tonight, on top of everything else. But I told my teacher I've been sick, and that our family is, uh, having problems, and I think she won't take points off.

Me (wondering what her teacher thinks is going on -- infidelity? Drinking? Abuse?): Welcome to the School of Hard Knocks, Sweetie.

Saskia (with a slight shake of her head): Not really. I mean, we're not hungry or homeless or anything. And no one is dying.

Me (beaming, and if truth be told, a bit teary): Thank you for that lesson, my dear.

That kid is going to do big things someday. :)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

This Lonely House

This house is so lonely without Benjy in it, I could cry. I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, and peeped into his dark, open bedroom. Because for a tiny moment I had forgotten he was gone.

His narrow bed with the white down comforter was empty.

I caught my breath and when my heart calmed I went back to bed. I woke Lars and told him I missed Benjy. "Me too," he said. "And the sad thing is I have so much work on my plate right now I probably cannot even visit him."

Because Benjy is back in the hospital, the same one I wrote about last October when this blog was born. He knew he was struggling beyond our ability to help him, beyond the collective abilities of all his outpatient mental health professionals, and he wanted to go. We left him last night at peace with his surroundings and himself.

It reminds me of the story of Mary Lamb, early 19th-century writer/intellectual and sister to the essayist Charles Lamb. I only know about Mary Lamb because in some college English class we read something by her brother, and the Norton or Oxford anthology offered a little blurb about them.

Apparently, Mary Lamb was intermittently "mad" (yes, the Norton or Oxford editors chose to use that word), and whenever she felt the madness coming on she would calmly and patiently ask for her strait jacket, and Charles would strap her up, and they'd walk to the nearby lunatic asylum. (Forgive me that -- it's what they called them in the 18th-19th centuries, and you'd be better off in prison. Really.)

I can't help thinking about Mary Lamb when I think of Benjy's understanding of his own needs, his willingness, and even sense of relief, when we told him we thought a hospital stay might be in order. He WANTED to go. (Except Mary Lamb stabbed her mother to death, so I hope the similarities end there! ;)

What Benjy said was: "I need to take a break from things. Life is too hard right now, so I need to step off it." He didn't mean permanently. What's wonderful and beautiful this time is that he is NOT suicidal. He is just completely non-functional, at school and at home. Deeply depressed. Withdrawn. sleep-dysregulated (sleeps all day at school, up all night at home). Unable to eat much. Ticcing so severely his body is never at rest.

For us, that may be the hardest part. Watching him tic relentlessly. Of all the things that make Benjy different, that one is the most public, the most obvious.

I know that one very well, thank you. It is a curse. There's chemical help for it, but at the very least it makes you fat. At the worst it makes you a cognitively blunted, fat zombie. It makes you walk and talk funny. It makes you need glasses, and to drink water every ten minutes because your mouth is dried out.


I once swore I would NEVER, EVER make any child of mine take Haldol. The Soviets, according to my father, gave it to political dissidents to render them metaphorically impotent. So I was sure as hell not going to give it to any kid of mine.

Now, looking at my poor Benjy, I have to wonder what would be best. Because he's going to have to choose his evil. Would he rather be a weirdo due to the tics, which are exhausting to boot, or due to being a fat zombie (see above)? I'm afraid that may be a choice he has to make.

What is it about our family that we tend to be given shitty choices?

The Universe: OK, Anna, you can either have breasts and ovaries or I'll give you a fifteen percent chance of surviving into your forties. Quick, you don't have much time to decide!

Me: Uh, can I draw again?

Somehow, life doesn't want to reshuffle and give you anther hand. So you have to make dowith the one you got. Ben got the one that gave him Asperger's and Tourette's and OCD (I haven't even mentioned that DX yet) and mental illness. I got the one that gave me Tourette's and the breast cancer gene. Poor Saskia got the one that gave her what appears ever more convincingly to be lupus. (Did I mention that the day before yesterday her painful knees, thought by her rheumatologist to be runner's knee and not the arthritis caused by Lupus, because her knees were not hot and swollen, have now become hot and swollen? Troubles come in groups around here.

All I can say is, thank god Lars is completely normal. Except he's barking mad in his own, endearing ways.

Anyway, I am bracing myself for a lonely day, with no Ben to pick up at two-thirty (or hang out here with, as the case might have been) and Saskia out at a volleyball game until 7:30 or 8, and Lars no doubt working late.

Thank goodness for the Hellacious Hound, that's all I can say.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

And Melancholy Creeps In

A line from a melancholy 17th-century poem has been visiting me since last night. I can't shake it.

Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?
("But where are the snows of yesteryear?")

I know the poem is by Francois Villon, the "highwayman poet," and I know it is kind of sad. But I can't remember anything else about it, and I can't let that one line go. My own little obsession.

It might be sadness, or regret, that summoned Villon. Because the darkness and dysregulation of autumn are upon us, and I am not ready. Not strong enough for the challenges that await. Not yet, anyway. That sort of strength has to accumulate.

So, Benjy is not doing well. I can read in his face, his posture, the way he walks, and in his complete withdrawal from family life, that he is going down.

Last night he did not sleep at all.

And he is OBSESSED with that damn computer. He will not participate in eating with other people. He will not read, or bathe, or engage much in conversation that isn't driven by whatever digital realm he inhabits at the moment, unless I exert tremendous pressure on him. Half the time I don't have the energy for that. Because it's only early autumn and I am not yet strong again.

We see the psychiatrist on Friday. He's going to do some new (and expensive) test involving a cheek swab to see which of the few medications we haven't tried Benjy will be able to tolerate. Whichever is the winner we will try. Because what he's on is clearly no longer working.

I have this dreadful feeling that a third hospitalization is pending. Maybe every year when the days are short he will need a tune-up. I just hope, if it happens, they'll let him be in the children's unit as opposed to the adolescent one. Those teenagers are world-wise, hard-edged, drug-involved (some of them). There is a toughness to them. I know this; I've observed them before. I am so damn afraid that, if he goes to the hospital, they'll put him in unit 2 this time, because he's on the cusp of adolescence. Even though he is just a kid.

Oh well. He's asleep now, at last. My poor boy. I have hidden his laptop; we'll see how that goes over. I have got to get him unhooked from that beast. And I have to find the strength, the patience, and the ingenuity, to keep him from falling apart without it.

Wish me luck today, Readers. God knows I need it.